forget the makeover, Las Olas needs a shake-up

05/08/17 10:31

I recently read an article about a proposed makeover of Las Olas Boulevard designed to make our main street more attractive to pedestrians and people on bicycles. Apparently, it would involve reducing the number of traffic lanes, removing the median, and replanting the trees that now grace the median on the side.

Unfortunately, the problem with Las Olas has little to do with landscaping, though the sidewalks are too narrow, and the street (like most in the city) should be made safe for bicycles. The true problem with Las Olas is that the rents are so high that they keep out any business that is quirky, innovative, cutting edge, or, conversely, endearingly old school. Restaurants have to be expensive in order to survive there – I stopped going to Noodles & Panini years ago because I didn’t want to pay $14 for a chopped salad – and they have to follow a tested formula. Which is why it’s easy to find burgers and Italian food on the boulevard but impossible to find tapas or curries or even black beans. Don’t bother looking for a bookstore or a vinyl record shop.

 Las Olas, most of which is owned by The Las Olas Co., has a dubious distinction: It is a main street – a symbol of American small town values – that is not really for the people. One doesn’t find this exclusivity in other similarly sized Florida cities. The main street in Sarasota – a city perhaps more upscale than Fort Lauderdale – contains a number of affordable ethnic restaurants as well as two bookstores, one selling new books and the other dealing in secondhand ones. (None of these businesses could afford the rents that The Las Olas Co. demands.) West Palm Beach’s Clematis Street has the attractive and very popular Field of Greens, where downtown workers can grab a healthy lunch for under $10, something that is almost impossible to do on the leafy blocks of Las Olas west of SE 11th Avenue, the section that’s being considered for a facelift.  

 The best thing about Las Olas is that it has, by default, helped create interesting new neighborhoods like North Beach Village and FAT Village, where innovation is not only welcomed, it’s encouraged. But it would still be nice to have a main street that serves everyone, not just the well-heeled and tourists who, I suspect, can get burgers back home.   

By Thomas Swick • Category: hometown

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