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Hollywood Beach tries to rediscover its past

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The future of Hollywood's beach is in its past.

This year, the city will finally begin remaking the Broadwalk, the oceanside promenade now bordered by mom-and-pop motels, small apartment buildings, casual restaurants and souvenir shops. They hope to re-create the Mediterranean village it resembled in the 1920s.

With a design based on historic black-and-white photos and vintage postcards, the $20 million project will use different-colored brick pavers to divide the two-mile walkway into cafe, pedestrian and sports activity zones for bicyclists and in-line skaters.

A low, lighted wall to keep sand off the Broadwalk will be built. Utility lines will be buried underground, drainage improved, historic lightposts installed and the unattractive east-west dead ends will be turned into pocket parks.

Work will begin at the end of the month and could take three years to complete.

"The beach is why people come to Hollywood," said Audrey Joynt, past president of the Hollywood Beach Business Association. "We do have the most beautiful beach in Broward. We just don't have it polished yet."

Considered one of the last old-time beaches in South Florida, Hollywood attracts families as well as French-Canadian and European visitors with its village atmosphere.

At least 10 construction projects are under way or proposed, and many small property owners are fixing up their buildings.

"It seems like everybody is making renovations on the beach," said Realtor Dan Kennedy, who says he has bought and sold 14 properties on Hollywood Beach. "I think we're going to turn into our own version of South Beach, not a high-rise South Beach, but a mom-and-pop kind of South Beach."

He transformed a condemned apartment building on the north end of the Broadwalk at Carolina Street into the eight-unit Australian-themed Walkabout Beach Resort, which opened in December 2002.

Across the street, the 10-story Howard Johnson Plaza Resort Hotel is slated for a major renovation and expansion. Nearby, construction recently began on the nine-story Villas of Positano condo and townhome development that is replacing an abandoned motel and a vacant bank building on State Road A1A, just south of Sheridan Street.

Charles E. Smith Residential is renovating the OceanCrest Beach apartments at the south end of the beach. The new owner of the Dolphin Motel on Pierce Street spent $200,000 renovating the 47-unit motel last year and wants to triple its size to include a spa, gym, restaurant and shopping arcade. And the struggling Oceanwalk Mall at the Hollywood Beach Hotel is opening a television, film and music museum.

In the past five years, Hollywood beach has had two high-rises built: the 17-story Renaissance on the Ocean on the north end and the 39-story Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa on the south end, which opened in 2002 as the first new beach hotel in a half-century.

Currently, the 38-story Ocean Palms luxury condo tower is under construction near the Diplomat.

Still, large-scale new development is no easy task here. Developers must assemble dozens of smaller properties to make them work. And that's why the six-acre, vacant Casino property at Johnson Street and the Broadwalk is so prized.

But it's also a glaring reminder of the beach's unfulfilled promise.

"There is no question that this is the best piece of land in Hollywood, but it's been a big disaster," said Lewis Manesiotis, 58, who runs Hollywood Beach Realty across from the site.

The city owns the property and in 1999 bulldozed the restaurants and small businesses on it to make room for something they hoped would transform the beach. But that hasn't happened yet.

Manesiotis spent summers as a kid at the lot when it was a municipal pool and recreation complex. He has bid four times in the past to put a project on the property and believes the site needs a major hotel and retail mixed-use component.

Officials agree and, after city elections this spring, plan to seek a qualified developer for the property. But it could take as long as two years to get someone on board and begin construction.

The last time Hollywood sought to develop it, the city ended up paying dearly.

In 1999, Hollywood terminated a lease with developer R. Donahue Peebles and Gus Boulis, the slain real-estate mogul, because city commissioners believed the pair lacked financing for their proposed Diamond on the Beach project, which featured a 17-story, four-star hotel.

The matter landed in court, and a jury decided in 2003 that the city should pay $850,000 for the botched deal.

While development has proved good for property values -- Realtors estimate beach prices have increased 25 to 50 percent in the past three years -- some residents fear the scrappy, laid-back beach could become a concrete canyon.

"We don't need any more high-rises," said resident Emilio Benitez. "Go to Fort Lauderdale or Hallandale if you want a high-rise."

Mayor Mara Giulianti vowed this month to preserve the beach's charm by saying no high-rise development should be allowed east of Surf Road and along the Intracoastal Waterway.

"We have no intention of becoming Sunny Isles," the mayor said of the Miami-Dade beachfront community, where tall condominiums line A1A. "But not everything has to be one or two stories, either."

She said the city can maintain its ambience by allowing a mix of buildings that don't overwhelm neighborhoods.

City officials expect to get even more interest in redeveloping the beach from private investors once people see a refurbished Broadwalk taking shape and a wider beach from renourishment, which is supposed to put more sand on the beach starting this summer.

"Hollywood has all of the ingredients -- the water, the history, the ambience -- to create a great sense of place," said Richard Sala, director of the beach Community Redevelopment Agency, which is overseeing the makeover.

Doris Weinstein, who moved to the area 23 years ago, said she welcomes the much-needed facelift and supports redevelopment -- as long as it's not overpowering.

"Whatever we do, we have to maintain that open feeling of our beach and not overdevelop it," said Weinstein, president of the Quadomain condominium, which encompasses four, 27-story towers on South Ocean Drive. "The uniqueness of this beach is what drew me to it in the first place. We want to keep it that way."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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