Glitzy lights have gone dark at landmark garage on Fort Lauderdale beach. Will city spend millions to fix?

FORT LAUDERDALE — This is no plain-Jane, square-box, gray-faced garage at the beach.

No sir, Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Garage has that “wow” factor others don’t: Decorative pulsating lights that can simulate everything from ocean waves to holiday fireworks.

But the lights that give the glitzy garage its landmark status have gone dark.

And Fort Lauderdale leaders are being called on to decide whether the city should pay millions to replace the lights or call it a day and walk away.

Not even the mayor and commissioners can agree.

Mayor Dean Trantalis and Commissioner Steve Glassman, whose district includes the beach, want the lights fixed.

Vice Mayor Pamela Beasley-Pittman and Commissioners John Herbst and Warren Sturman say the money would be better used elsewhere.

“I don’t want to waste any more money,” Herbst said. “This was poorly conceived and executed the first time. I don’t believe in throwing good money after bad. Cut it off. Pull the plug. Be done with it. Accept the fact that it was a bad idea and move forward.”

Glassman says the lights transform the garage into a head-turning showpiece admired by all who happen to pass by.

“You can’t just leave it broken,” Glassman said. “I really do look at that garage as a public art installation. Without the lights it’s unfinished. It’s really important that we fix it.”

When the lights work, Fort Lauderdale's Las Olas Parking Garage is a glitzy landmark showpiece, fans say. (City of Fort Lauderdale/Courtesy)
When the lights work, Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Garage is a glitzy landmark showpiece, fans say. (City of Fort Lauderdale/Courtesy)

The garage’s LED lights went dark nearly 10 months ago. The city flipped the switch when nearly half the lights stopped working. Those that still work could go dark at any time, commissioners were told during a recent meeting.

Replacing the lights would cost $2.1 million — money that would come out of Fort Lauderdale’s parking fund as opposed to the city’s day-to-day operating budget.

Bob Casullo, whose balcony at the nearby Venetian condo overlooks the garage, thinks the city should go ahead and spend the money.

“When it’s lit up at night, it’s beautiful,” Casullo said of the five-story, 650-space garage. “I’ll sit on my balcony and light up a cigar. They’ll run the American flag on July Fourth and the rainbow flag during Pride Month. They built that garage with the idea of perking the area up. And now to let it go dark, that’s insane.”

Losing the decorative lighting would change the entire ambiance of the beach and the surrounding area, Casullo argued.

“Spend the money,” he said. “It’s our money. It makes the beach more attractive. It’s crazy to do away with that. Don’t ruin a good thing.”

The Las Olas Garage at 200 E. Las Olas Circle, where it costs $4 an hour to park, opened in December 2018. The garage cost $21 million to build. The lighting alone cost $1 million. The exterior facade that simulates the motion of waves cost $6 million.

The Las Olas Parking Garage with facade lights on and facade lights off. (City of Fort Lauderdale/Courtesy and John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
The Las Olas Parking Garage with facade lights on and facade lights off. (City of Fort Lauderdale/Courtesy and John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Serious problems with the light display showed up less than two years later. The city contacted the manufacturer and repairs were completed in 2021.

But earlier this year, nearly 45% of the lights had stopped working. In addition, the metal mesh screen that supports the lights is rusting and needs to be replaced.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reached out to Skanska, the general contractor that built the garage, for comment but did not get a reply.

The lighting fixtures used on the garage in 2018 are no longer made and the software that runs the light displays is obsolete, City Attorney Tom Ansbro told the Sun Sentinel.

Commissioners were recently given an update on the lighting problems and five options to choose from:

• Option A: Replace all façade lights and upgrade the software for $2.1 million.

• Option B: Deactivate the lights on the north and east face of the garage. Buy new lighting for the south and west face and upgrade the software for $1.25 million.

• Option C: Deactivate the north and east face and continue using the current software. Move the lights that work to the south and west face for $1 million.

• Option D: Replace the non-working lights and upgrade the software for $350,000.

• Option E: Leave the lights off.

The mayor asked staff to come back in the next 60 days with recommendations on other products and manufacturers.

Ina Lee, a beach resident and publisher of TravelHost Magazine of Greater Fort Lauderdale, loves the light displays.

“The lights make it iconic,” Lee told the Sun Sentinel. “Anyone can build a garage, but those lights create a wow moment. I think turning them all off is a big mistake. Otherwise it’s just a parking garage without a very pretty façade.”

Longtime resident Mary Peloquin agrees.

“We should get the lights fixed,” said Peloquin, current president of the Council of Fort Lauderdale Civic Associations. “Those lights are a work of art. The garage is barely five years old. It should not be left in the dark.”

Susannah Bryan can be reached at sbryan@sunsentinel.com. Follow me on X @Susannah_Bryan

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