Old and New Mingle in Fort Lauderdale

These leaders have helped to shape Fort Lauderdale in the last two decades.

By: Ray Brasted and Susan Lazarus

Fort Lauderdale is a young city in many ways and its future is still being shaped by the thousands of new residents who move here every year. Even as schools are built, classroom space is being added. High rises share neighborhoods with historic homes and long-time business owners welcome newcomers at chamber meetings.

Many individuals have helped shape Fort Lauderdale in the last 100 years, but it is in the past few decades that there has been a major leap forward. From the economy to tourism to downtown revitalization, these three individuals contributed greatly to the changing image and development of Fort Lauderdale:

H. Wayne Huizenga

Supporting the Local Economy

There is perhaps no other single individual who has shaped Fort Lauderdale as much as H. Wayne Huizenga, who built three Fortune 1000 companies and own three professional sports teams, all in South Florida. Today, you can find his name on parks and buildings, as well as the Huizenga School of Business on the campus of nearby Nova Southeastern University. 

As owner or part owner of the Florida Marlins baseball team, Miami Dolphins football team and the Florida Panthers hockey team, he brought new dollars and jobs to the region and stimulated the local economy.

His generosity and contributions to the community, as well as his and his wife's personal involvement of in local volunteer programs, have helped to shape Fort Lauderdale into the vibrant city it is today.

Nikki Grossman

Shedding the Spring Break Image

As chairman and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors' Bureau, Nikki Grossman has been a point person for the change of Fort Lauderdale's image from college spring break destination to an upscale community for visitors and residents. She never seems to tire of hammering home her belief that Fort Lauderdale is the best place in the world to live and to visit.

Grossman is a local resident who has stayed the course to change her community. Through strategic planning and continuous marketing programs, Grossman has stayed on task in making Fort Lauderdale a unique community and year-round destination.

Kitty Ryan

Breathing Life Back Into Downtown

Twenty-five years ago, Fort Lauderdale's downtown was similar to other downtown areas, as the development of suburban malls had drawn businesses and entertainment venues away from the urban areas. Las Olas Boulevard's boutique shops and trendy restaurants were often closed on weekends and in the off-season. Surrounding neighborhoods had fallen into disrepair.

Ryan had an idea to open a Jazz and Blues Club on Las Olas, but she had to convince the city to allow sidewalk tables. O'Hara's Jazz & Blues Cafe was opened in 1989 and until new development forced her to close its doors in 2008, locals and residents flocked to hear the hottest sounds in town.

The flood gates opened on Las Olas after her success, and the image of downtown Fort Lauderdale changed. Today, music from clubs and restaurants can be heard on the street, and diners sit at sidewalk tables day and night. As the surrounding neighborhoods made a comeback, Fort Lauderdale became the 24-hour, pedestrian community envisioned by local leaders.

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