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By Larry Barszewski, Sun Sentinel
4:37 a.m. EDT, October 22, 2013

If the city has its way, you'll soon be able to picnic atop traffic in one of the area's poshest locations.

The Federal Highway entrance to Las Olas Boulevard is currently bleak and unsafe, with a wall from the U.S. 1 tunnel pushed up against its northern sidewalk.

Officials want to move the tunnel entrance 26 feet to the north and put a plaza — with park benches, shaded areas and a tourist kiosk — on top of its extended roof.

The plaza would make a fashionable entrance to Las Olas and could make it more inviting for visitors to check out businesses to the east and west. It could also lead to the creation of more popular outdoor cafes to the west.

And, as important, it would improve safety.

"We've all experienced trying to cross there and it's extremely difficult. The cars aren't sure who's there and the people aren't sure where the cars are," said Chris Wren, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority.

Commissioners say the plaza is a high priority once $840,000 in funding is found — possibly in the next year or two.

"For less than a million dollars, you're going to change the entrance to Las Olas," said Mayor Jack Seiler, an advocate of creating a park over the tunnel entrance since 2009.

While the city's proposal is fairly modest, the development agency is preparing a more ambitious proposal, one with lots of open space and sculptures. It would combine a larger plaza on the north side of Las Olas with open space to the south, next to the Cheesecake Factory.

"I want that whole area to feel like a nice, special public area," Wren said. "I think it should all get unified, that it should be a grand public space."

Wren said that proposal has a pricetag closer to $3.8 million. He will be contacting other agencies over the next several months seeking partnerships to help cover the cost.

The DDA is hoping to convince Broward County to use some of the $1.1 million it is reserving for its 2015 centennial celebration, possibly for a signature artwork that could be seen from U.S. 1.

The area is next to the Stranahan House, one of the county's earliest settlements, and as such is historically significant.

City commissioners said the scope of the final project will depend on the dollars available, but they're covinced the plaza project will move forward.

"I think there are funding sources and an opportunity to get that done before 2015," Seiler said.

Source: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/broward/fl-lauderdale-las-olas-park-over-tunnel-20131021,0,182746.story


By Paul Owers, Sun Sentinel

Broward County’s median home price of $270,000 jumped 32 percent in September from a year ago, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors said Monday.

The large annual increase continued a recent trend. Broward’s median now has risen year over year by more than 20 percent for 10 consecutive months.

But since hitting $275,000 in July, its highest point this year, Broward's median has dipped in August and September, suggesting the recent price spikes may start to slow down. Analysts say big price increases aren't sustainable in the long run.

During September, 1,211 Broward homes traded hands, up 13 percent from a year earlier. Another encouraging sign: more homes are hitting the market, with Broward's inventory up 1 percent from September 2012.

Meanwhile, Palm Beach County’s housing market also enjoyed a strong September, but the median price of $250,000 increased a modest 11 percent from a year ago, according to the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches. There were 1,247 home sales, 21 percent higher than a year ago.

While Palm Beach County’s median price continues to increase year over year, it's virtually unchanged from March.

Source: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2013-10-21/business/sfl-home-prices-september-link-20131021_1_median-greater-fort-lauderdale-realtors-21-percent


By Donna Gehrke-White, Sun Sentinel

South Florida has 7,230 more businesses than a year ago, aggressively reversing the trend of the Great Recession and growing at a rate far faster than the national average.

Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties — which suffered more than the rest of the country during the recession — is experiencing a quicker bounce-back. The area has seen a 3.6 percent annual increase of businesses, from 199,459 to 206,721, according to a report by PNC Financial Services and based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

U.S. annual growth was just over 2 percent.

The region lost more than 10,000 business during the recession, the worst financial crisis in decades. Now, there are about 2,000 more companies operating in the area than before the hard times hit, according to the survey. An influx of foreign invesment has helped in South Florida — especially with tech startups — compared to the rest of the country.

The U.S. as a whole "has not generated startups — that's why job growth has been so sluggish," PNC economist Mekael Teshome said.

The increase in local entrepreneurs and immigrants launching ventures, particularly in the tech sector, said Tony Villamil, an economist and dean of St. Thomas University's business school.

One tech entrepreneur is John Benton, who recently started a Fort Lauderdale-based website, play2shop.com, after three years of planning.

"South Florida is becoming this burgeoning startup community," he said. Play2shop is a gaming site where players can earn rewards to shop at Sears, Kohl's, Amazon and hundreds of other merchants.

A Fort Lauderdale native, Benton said he returned to the area from Las Vegas, which he said was harder hit by the recession than Broward. South Florida has more venture capital available for startups, he added.

Fort Lauderdale venture capitalist John Herbert said he invested in Benton's website because "I see a tremendous upside and potential." Plus, he said, "I can join in [on the website's] meetings and discussions."

Herbert and other local investors have more money to invest because "the real estate market is on the upswing, both commercial and residential," he added.

For example, South Florida's single-family home prices rose 13.7 percent in July from a year ago, the 19th consecutive month of increases, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index. That has helped some local entrepreneurs pay for at least some startup costs with home equity loans, PNC's Teshome said.

Business people from other countries are starting companies in South Florida, especially those from politically unstable areas like Venezuela, said Manny Mencia, South Florida-based senior vice president for Enterprise Florida's international trade and business development division.

Many Asians are funding South Florida ventures to qualify for the EB-5 visa program, which allows offshore investors to live and work in the country if they put at least $500,000 into projects that create at least 10 jobs within two years, Mencia added.

Source: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2013-10-07/business/fl-entrepreneurs-20130929_1_tech-startups-enterprise-florida-growth


Developers can head off a real estate bust if they examine the lessons of 2007
October 01, 2013
By Peter Zalewski

Condo developers are adamant that the final results of their building frenzy in South Florida — more than 160 towers already, and more to come — will end differently this time around.
The developers confidently proclaim that they have studied, and learned from, the mistakes of the 2007 real estate crash, despite the tri-county region’s history of dramatic booms and devastating busts that dates back nearly a century.

Several safeguards, the developers insist, have been put in place to avoid a repeat of the ravages that slashed sales prices, wiped out both homeowners and investors, and left thousands of new units unsold for three years — many much longer.

And they, along with their real estate brokers, are taking this message — a mantra, really — to prospective foreign buyers at the scads of presentations being put on around the globe to sell South Florida condo projects before a shovel of dirt is even turned.

At these recalibrated “dog-and-pony” shows, the developers make a point of talking a lot about the larger, nonrefundable deposits that buyers have to fork over; the more stringent financing requirements that lenders have put in place; and yes, those lessons that they have learned from the last housing crisis.

With the start of South Florida’s winter buying season just around the corner, it is conceivable that the developers might just be right — at this moment — about the cycle.

After all, inventory is tight and prices are rising — the consequences of strong demand generated by a stock-market bull run, attractive mortgage rates, and a deeply discounted U.S. dollar.
South Florida buyers had fewer than 19,400 resale condos to choose from in mid-September, at a time when nearly 4,500 units are being sold every month, according to the Southeast Florida MLXchange. At that resale pace, the region has less than five months of available inventory.
A healthy residential market typically has six months of resale inventory. Any more indicates a buyer’s market with weaker prices, and any less suggests a seller’s market with stronger prices, industry watchers said.

Another part of the equation: Out of nearly 49,000 developer condo units built during the last boom, South Florida had fewer than 2,000 still unsold as of June 30. At the current sales pace, those condos — statistically — will be gone in the second half of next year.

When the boom-era developer condo inventory sells out is important because a number of towers now under construction are scheduled to be completed in late 2014.

If the developers have timed the market correctly, the first block of new condo units from this boom could be delivered just as the remnants of the last boom are sold.

It would be just the thing to attract more domestic buyers into a pre-construction condo market that is being dominated by foreign investors with strong currencies.

Going beyond 2014, the unanswered question for South Florida is whether developers, lenders and buyers will still remember — and stick with — the lessons they profess they learned from the 2007 bust.

Peter Zalewski is the founder of Condo Vultures LLC, a consultancy and publishing company, as well as Condo Vultures Realty LLC and CVR Realty brokerages, and the Condo Ratings Agency, an analytics firm. The Condo Ratings Agency operates CraneSpotters.com, a preconstruction condo projects website, in conjunction with the Miami Association of Realtors.

Source: http://therealdeal.com/issues_articles/a-condo-bubble-or-not/


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