The 1990s: Air & Sea Show takes off — so does Huizenga's business empire
Fort Lauderdale entrepreneur Wayne Huizenga lands the Florida Marlins, who win the World Series in 1997. (Robert Mayer, Sun Sentinel / October 26, 1997)
Huizenga re-emerged on the business scene with his Blockbuster Entertainment empire. The half owner of what is now called Sun Life Stadium is also credited with landing the Florida Marlins baseball team franchise in 1991. Huizenga sold Blockbuster in 1994, and his new, downtown-based endeavor, AutoNation, became an enormous network of car sales and rental businesses.
Huizenga, at various times owner of the Marlins, Florida Panthers and Miami Dolphins, changed the business of South Florida sports. He and his Huizenga Family Foundation also boosted local philanthropy; recipients included animal shelters, Boys & Girls Clubs, the Salvation Army and the performing arts center.
In 1995, the city inaugurated its popular Air & Sea Show, which drew hundreds of thousands of fans to the beach each spring to cheer military flyovers. That same year, the city closed the book on another popular event: the New River Raft Race, which for 16 years had seen participants in often flimsy rafts compete through downtown. Spectators had marred the race, tossing water balloons, sometimes frozen or filled with acid, at the rafters.
The air show also was grounded in 2007, when sponsors could no longer afford the expense.
Port Everglades rose in prominence when the Greater Fort Lauderdale-Broward County Convention Center opened there in 1991. The city spruced up its beachfront and downtown two years later, completing its Riverwalk linear park along the New River, and creating a promenade showcasing a "wave wall" along A1A.
Cultural venues, ever an indicator of a city's maturity, also bloomed. In 1991 the Broward County Center for the Performing Arts, an elegant concert hall, opened to much acclaim. It was within walking distance of the city's other cultural jewels: the Museum of Discovery and Science, now undergong a $25 expansion, and the Museum of Art.
More downtown window dressing occurred when the Las Olas Riverfront entertainment and retail complex, site of the city's original main street, opened to much optimism. However, the $55 million complex couldn't overcome poor advertising, inadequate parking and negative publicity. The property is now up for auction.
Increasing numbers of homeless became a growing problem. Tent City, a temporary shelter for the homeless, arose near the bus station and City Hall. In 1999, after six years, Tent City was dismantled upon the opening of the Homeless Assistance Center on Sunrise Boulevard. But its 200-bed capacity was too low, and strict rules made it unappealing to the homeless.
The worst mass murder in Fort Lauderdale's recent history occurred in 1996 in a trailer where beach maintenance workers had gathered before dawn. A recently fired co-worker, Clifton McCree, shot and killed five city employees before taking his own life. Today, a plaque and pillars remembering the victims can be found at a beachfront park.
Did you know?
The city of Fort Lauderdale unveiled its first website in 1995.
The Las Olas Riverfront retail and entertainment district sits on the site of Brickell Avenue, Fort Lauderdale's original main street.