Broward mayor details gains in tourism and more in ‘State of the County’ speech

Broward County’s mayor hailed its progress over the past year, detailing its efforts to boost tourism through cruises, films and cricket games, shoring up spending to help 911 operations and supporting housing-oriented initiatives.

The updates came Tuesday from outgoing Mayor Lamar Fisher, who delivered the annual “State of the County” 2023 address. “The state of the county is stronger than ever,” he said.

Here’s a look at some highlights.

Tourism

Among the notable increases were the number of travelers in the county. In the first eight months of the year, there were more than 23 million travelers, which was a 7.8% increase in domestic passengers and 23% increase in international travel, making Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood the 17th busiest airport in the country, Fisher said.

“Tourism is on the rise,” he declared.

Eight new cruise lines and 35 ships are now docking at Port Everglades. That includes the Ritz Carlton collection, the Disney Dream, Celebrity Beyond, and the Viking Neptune.

Industry experts said the comeback came as the industry dealt with protocols to safeguard customers against COVID-19 and recalibrated their itineraries.

The county film industry continues to attract TV and movie opportunities and has booked 12 projects since its 2022 inception.

There were more than 10,000 jobs created from cast and crew, he said.

Broward County's newest Mayor Nan Rich, right, hugs her husband David at the commission chambers in Fort Lauderdale after she was sworn in by him. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Broward County’s newest Mayor Nan Rich, right, hugs her husband David at the commission chambers in Fort Lauderdale after she was sworn in by him. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Broward will be the host of 2024 Cricket World Cup games. Broward County will hustle to complete renovations in advance of the expected crowds, including $6.6 million for creation of a media staging area to accommodate the anticipated influx of international press, and the installation of grandstand bleachers. There are now 5,000 seats, and officials said they need between 13,000 and 15,000. Another $1.8 million was approved by county leaders to replace the original scoreboard which has repeated electronic repairs.

And upcoming: Omni Hotels and Resorts will be the flag operator of the planned 801-room convention center hotel, Fisher. The hotel chain reported it could open in late fall 2025.

The Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center is still under construction, with an extension of the main exhibit hall to attract conventions, and a new 65,000-square-foot ballroom facing the Intracoastal Waterway.

“It’s going to be a banner year. I just feel it in my bones,” Fisher said.

Government operations

The county devoted $25 million for personnel increases at the Sheriff’s Office, another $3.4 million to fund new positions, and more for a new helicopter after a tragic crash. The county commissioner’s “priority” is public safety, he said.

There also was property purchased to become the new government center.

In June, the county purchased the Robert Hayes Gore State Office Building, 201 W. Broward Blvd., a five-story structure, for $65.5 million, not including closing costs and other fees. The choice means they could be moved into their new location by 2026, at an estimated $322 million to demolish and rebuild the building that’s there now.

Fisher also hailed a larvicide mosquito spraying contraption, an invention by county engineers that earned them a patent. “That was a game changer,” he said, with national possibilities.

Affordable housing

Fisher said a 5-acre Motel 6 in Pompano Beach was purchased to be converted for affordable housing, and $1.2 million has been earmarked to help homeless families.

He praised the Human Services department for its ongoing case management efforts to help 11,000 households from losing utilities, homelessness and foreclosure, among other crisis situations.

Facing challenges

But it wasn’t a perfect year. This past year’s “significant” event — compared to COVID-related concerns that marked previous years — was the unfortunate flooding that damaged homes and cars.

The rain event in April caused 26 inches of rain, flooding, and “unwanted guests” of snakes and catfish that were swimming in places they shouldn’t have been on airport grounds. The airport was closed for two days.

Fisher warned occurrences like this might happen again. “This is going to happen more and more and more,” he warned, “and so we want to be prepared for that at the end of the day.”

Broward’s next mayor

Also Tuesday, commissioners chose Nan Rich, a former state legislator, to become the next mayor, through November 2024.

“It’s an honor and challenge to follow you as mayor,” she told Fisher.

She said she’ll continue to promote tolerance with the message: “You are welcome here, you are safe here.”

Commissioner Beam Furr was chosen by his colleagues to become the next vice mayor, setting him in line to become mayor in November 2024.

Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at lhuriash@sunsentinel.com. Follow on X, formerly Twitter, @LisaHuriash

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