The city has taken on a host of big-city issues in the past year, he said: broken sewer pipes, the “raiding” of money from the sewer fund to prop up the budget, homelessness, lack of affordable housing, traffic congestion and high tide flooding because of climate change. (“We do say those words here in Fort Lauderdale,” he said.)
The city can’t check off any of its problems as “completed.” But Trantalis said progress has been made on each of them, and the city has come a long way.
“Who would have thought that the trading post that was Fort Lauderdale would have turned into the megalopolis that it is today?” he said.
Hundreds of residents, business people and dignitaries — including former mayors Jack Seiler and Jim Naugle, state Rep. Bobby DuBose and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch — filled the NSU Art Museum in downtown Fort Lauderdale for the event.
Trantalis said the city moves forward on “the goodwill and the vision of the people,” and is known for its welcoming culture.
“We embrace diversity. We embrace different cultures, and that is the strength of our city, and that’s what sets us apart from almost any other city in Florida,” he said.
The commission itself is the most diverse in the city’s history: The commission members are gay and straight, male and female, black and white, Democrat and Republican.
Trantalis earned his loudest applause with a reference to President Trump’s border wall. Trantalis said the city is working to adapt to sea level rise.
“We can’t just build a wall” to prevent flooding, he said. “We all know that walls don’t work, right?”
One of the city’s biggest troubles in recent years — its aging water and sewer system — is being rebuilt. Some big expenditures and decisions still must be made. But the mayor said the city’s newfound commitment already convinced a renowned environmental activist to stand down.
“You’ve all heard of Erin Brockovich, and for some reason, she thought Fort Lauderdale needed some attention,” Trantalis said, to laughs. But he said he met with her associates recently and she now thinks the city is “a sterling example of how a city can be turned around.”
Another nettlesome problem is homelessness. In the past year, an encampment downtown was closed, in partnership with the county, and a new homeless court launched in City Hall, led by Chief Broward Circuit Judge Jack Tuter.
“We are going to eradicate homelessness as much as we can here in the city of Fort Lauderdale,” he said, a popular statement with the crowd.
In tackling traffic congestion, Trantalis hailed the city’s decision last year to stop the planned Wave streetcar system, which he said would bury the city in debt. He said rendering Andrews and Third avenue as one-way pairs, creating a loop from Sunrise Boulevard to 17th Street, “would be more effective and cost one-tenth the price.” A lane would be dedicated to transit shuttles.
He said the city also is working with the county on a road to allow traffic to bypass Southeast 17th Street through Port Everglades.
“The number one complaint we hear is traffic,” Trantalis said. “And no, scooters are not the answer. But they help.”
Trantalis also pushed two general obligation bonds the city is asking voters to approve in the March election. A $100 million bond would pay for a new police headquarters; a $200 million bond would fund improvements for every park in the city. They would be paid for with an increase in property taxes.
The city also in the past year stopped hosting gun shows at War Memorial Auditorium, and Trantalis announced Thursday night — to loud applause — that Florida Gun Shows Inc. dropped its legal challenge this week.
“It was guns in the middle of a kid’s playground,” he said.
The city is in talks with the Florida Panthers to remake that portion of Holiday Park for ice hockey and other sports.
At Lockhart Stadium in the city’s northern end, two groups are competing to revive it with professional soccer and youth soccer training.
Major crime is down, and the police department is fully staffed, he said.
A new city-county government campus is on the horizon, as is a new federal courthouse downtown.
Trantalis lauded downtown development, new amenities, and redevelopment at the beach.Yet, he said, the commission is taking a more responsible approach to development.
“No neighborhood is going to be infringed upon and their quality of life sacrificed,” he said.
As he concluded his remarks, the mayor asked for applause to honor prominent Fort Lauderdale residents who died in the past year: business giant Wayne Huizenga, hotelier Jack Ireland, beach activist John Weaver, police officer and neighborhood activist Ron Centamore, historian Merrilyn Rathbun, businessman and activist Birch Willey and Arnold Abbott, who fought the city so that he could feed the homeless.
“May they rest in peace,” Trantalis said. “Their contributions to Fort Lauderdale will continue to live on.”
The event doubled as the annual citizen recognition awards. Honored founders this year are Ramola Motwani and her late husband Ramesh “Bob” Motwani. Exemplary former employee is Franklin Adderley, the former police chief. Distinguished citizen is Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation. Citizen of the year is Jo Ann Smith.