Spring Break helped define Fort Lauderdale, bringing it national attention as well as profit. But by mid-decade it had overstayed its welcome. It had to be crushed.
In 1985, Spring Break's peak year, more than 300,000 students mobbed the beach and what was then known as "The Strip." The stretch of A1A was a string of bars featuring all manner of contest involving the baring of female flesh. While hoteliers profited from full bookings, they wondered whether repairing trashed rooms and pulling vending machines from pools was worth the money.
Local residents, deprived of the beach, had to endure traffic jams as well as drunken students urinating and regurgitating in yards and parking lots.
City officials responded. In 1986, then-Mayor Bob Cox (who once said the city should spray kerosene in trash cans to deter the homeless) went on national TV to tell students they weren't wanted here. Try Daytona Beach instead, he advised. A wall was erected along A1A to contain the students. The city enacted, and strictly enforced, laws making it a crime to have an open container of alcohol. Capacity limits were imposed on bars. Police aggressively patrolled The Strip, making 2,500 arrests that year.
The heavy-handed approach worked. Spring Breakers migrated to Daytona Beach, which was soon asking Fort Lauderdale for advice on how to chase the kids away.
After Spring Break, Fort Lauderdale actively pursued international tourists. Beachside redevelopment resulted in more family-friendly venues. Restaurants and shops replaced the old wet T-shirt bars.
While the city was at first criticized for killing Spring Break, its methods paid off. By the early '90s, more visitors were coming to town and spending far more than Spring Breakers ever did, tourism officials said.
The city then turned attention to its cultural and historical assets.
Broward County's Main Library opened in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The city's Museum of Art moved to a spiffy new building at Las Olas Boulevard and Andrews Avenue. Florida Atlantic University joined Broward Community College at its downtown campus, and work was under way on a modern performing arts center west of the railroad tracks in a newly created arts and science district.
In preservation efforts, the oldest existing structure in Broward County, Frank and Ivy Stranahan's home on the New River, was renovated from the Pioneer House Restaurant into a historical museum. Evelyn Bartlett, widow of artist Frederic Bartlett, deeded their Bonnet House home to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. The estate, with 700 feet of oceanfront and worth $35 million, is the most valuable property owned by a preservation group in the country.
Business, too, focused on downtown. The 110 Tower, at 30 stories the tallest building in the county at the time, opened in 1988. A county government center occupied the old Burdine's building after the department store moved to The Galleria mall.
Interstate 595 was constructed in 1989, linking downtown and Port Everglades with Interstate 75. The highway was an essential artery for commuters; half the county's population now lives west of State Road 7, on land that was once underwater.