By Robyn A. Friedman
City & Shore Magazine
The next time you stroll down Las Olas Boulevard, it might look and feel a lot different.
Las Olas, the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale, is as much an icon to the city as Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach or Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood. But its three major property owners — The Las Olas Co., Barron Real Estate and Hudson Capital Group — believed it could be even better. So, rather than competing for the best boutiques and restaurants as tenants, they joined forces and hired Michael A. Comras, a top Miami Beach retail broker who has a track record of recruiting exciting new tenants to urban areas and thus re-energizing and redefining them.
“We feel that what’s good for one landlord is probably good for another landlord,” says Vann Padgett, senior vice president and director of real estate for The Las Olas Co., which owns 127,600 square feet of retail space on the boulevard, not including its newest mixed-use project at 788 E. Las Olas Blvd., expected to open this month. “It’s rare that landlords cooperate and share their broker, but it’s worked quite well for us.”
In October, The Las Olas Co. announced that Red Door Asian Bistro has signed a lease for 4,000 square feet at 625 E. Las Olas Blvd. It will open sometime in 2018, Padgett says. Other new tenants include El Camino, a Mexican restaurant expected to open late this month or early January; cosmetics retailer Bluemercury, already open; and jeweler Alex and Ani, which is also open.
Padgett says she hopes to ultimately have a mix of independent retailers and national chains on Las Olas. “Our independent retailers are the spice of retail,” she says.
But after a series of focus groups last year, Padgett discovered that many of the independents on Las Olas lack name recognition with shoppers. “They didn’t know our brands,” she says. “But the brands we’re going after, they will know.”
Comras, president and CEO of The Comras Co. of Florida, wants to attract retail tenants that will meet the needs of residents living in the upscale new residential projects in the area, such as Icon Las Olas. “The idea is to bring in lifestyle-oriented tenants and combine them with great food and beverage such as chef-driven restaurants,” Comras says. He plans to create complimentary uses to not only attract residents to Las Olas, but to keep them there after the workday ends.
“Today, no one needs to leave the house — you can order everything on your computer or phone,” he says. “But people like to socialize. That’s what we need to propel onto Las Olas — the types of uses, restaurants and retailers that customers seek out because they have what they can’t get online.”
Within 12 to 24 months, Comras says Las Olas will become “café-rich, very pedestrian-friendly and appealing to families, single people and people who work in downtown.”
“It will be a completely different Las Olas Boulevard,” he says. “We want to make it part of everybody’s daily lifestyle.”