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Downtown Fort Lauderdale neighborhood strives to create 'fun, hip' vibe

Flagler Village is creating a funky place to go for entertainment-seeking Fort Lauderdale visitors.

Construction dust is everywhere in Flagler Village, a rapidly growing neighborhood and future downtown transportation hub that is attracting millennials, developers and avante-garde entrepreneurs.

The village north of Broward Boulevard wants to be more than a bedroom community for the expanding downtown workforce next door. It's striving to include an eclectic mix of artist work spaces, shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.

"Flagler Village should be that fun, hip, energized, live-work-play area in Fort Lauderdale," said David Cardaci, who owns a Mexican restaurant in a converted auto-body shop, and a funky bar that serves drinks from an airstream RV.

The 250-acre village, which extends from the Florida East Coast Rail Road tracks to Federal Highway south of Sunrise Boulevard, is already home to a pair of art districts that have taken root in decades-old warehouses that are newly emblazoned with vibrant graffiti murals.

FAT [Flagler Arts & Technology] Village, circa 2000, and the MASS [Music and Arts South of Sunrise] District that formed last year hold joint monthly art walks and other events to draw the public.

Dylan Lagi, executive director of MASS, said one of his goals is to bring in more food and drink establishments.

"We want to help take down the cultural desert and bring more of an oasis to the area," Lagi said.

Eli Goldshtein, whose entertainment production company has taken up space on Northeast Fourth Avenue near the tracks, plans to turn one warehouse into venue space for live concerts, corporate gatherings and social events.

"It's more like a community-driven thing," Goldshtein said. "We see what's happening and we're really happy to be part of it.''

It's happening as part of a building boom. The city recently identified 16 Flagler Village developments that are in some stage of review or construction, and three more that have been recently completed. The projects contain more than 3,300 residential units and more than 700 hotel rooms.

Many are apartments designed to appeal to millennials, who prefer smaller spaces and easy access to shops, entertainment and transportation so they don't need a car to get around.

Part of the demand stems from the Brightline commuter rail station under construction at Northwest Second Street that will link the city with Miami, West Palm Beach and Orlando. In addition, construction is to start next year on the Wave, an electric streetcar system that will run through the neighborhood, connect it with downtown spots to the south and possibly go out to the airport and Port Everglades.

There's also anticipation that someday Tri-Rail will run on the FEC tracks, creating a commuter line connecting South Florida's coastal downtowns.

Robert Larsen, president of the Flagler Village Civic Association, said Brightline will be transformational.

"There's going to be a mass exodus from Miami when that train station opens," Larsen said. He thinks the commuter line will appeal to Miami workers attracted by the cheaper rents Fort Lauderdale offers.

The developments are providing the density needed to support a growing variety of businesses in the neighborhood, but it's also making it more difficult for those businesses to find affordable spots to rent or own.

Selling prices have doubled to tripled in just the past few months, Larsen said.

And it's getting harder to find space, Cardaci said, as speculators buy up properties and assemble whole city blocks for future development.

"You can drive around this whole area and you see these houses and buildings and you think, 'That would make a great bar or restaurant,'" Cardaci said. "I'd say 95 percent of those buildings are already spoken for."

The MASS District understands the changing dynamic that will someday lead to the redevelopment of its converted warehouses. That's why the district is less a geographical area than an amalgamation of business owners, artists and others who have paid membership dues to provide a unified voice.

MASS has incorporated other areas into its future, including warehouses on the north side of the FEC tracks as they curve east of Andrews Avenue, and another industrial area north of Sistrunk in the Northwest Seventh Avenue corridor.

"That's where the next expansion is, and that's westward," Lagi said.

But right now, Flagler Village is where the action is.

"We're in such a good volatile mode right now," Lagi said. "These old buildings are starting to turn over."

lbarszewski@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4556

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