Fort Lauderdale's days of catering to retirees and college students on spring break are long gone. Squeeze—if you can—into one of the clubs or restaurants that line entertainment districts along Las Olas Boulevard, Wilton Drive, and Hollywood Boulevard and you'll be rubbing elbows with a vibrant group of young professionals who live, work, and play in Fort Lauderdale and nearby cities in Broward County.

Obviously, this is not your grandfather's Florida, and multifamily developers are taking note.

While some multifamily housing development is occurring in western Broward County's middle-class suburbs, the real action is centered on the east side. High-rise condominium and apartment projects are sprouting up in Fort Lauderdale's downtown core. Just to the south, beachfront redevelopment and mid-rise residential properties in a town center setting are transforming the Hollywood area. And just north of Fort Lauderdale, an innovative New Urbanist project is being built in Wilton Manors, a small city-by-the-city.

Economics 101 Broward County barely broke stride when much of the apartment industry nationwide stumbled during the past few years. The Florida metro area's formula for success comes down to Economics 101: Residential demand is substantial because a fast-growing economy is spurring new household formation. At the same time, land is available enough to allow meaningful pockets of building, while not ample enough for overheated construction activity.

SHIPSHAPE: Fort Lauderdale benefits economically from cruise and container ship traffic.
SHIPSHAPE: Fort Lauderdale benefits economically from cruise and container ship traffic.

Even as national payrolls inched ahead in 2004, Broward County employment grew by 2.1 percent: 15,100 jobs were created, bringing the employment base to about 735,000 jobs. The transportation sector lies at the heart of this metro's strong economic performance. Port Everglades, Broward County's shipping center, recently has been the nation's fastest growing major container port. More than four million cruise ship passengers come through the port annually, and massive infrastructure improvements are in the works to sustain this dynamic environment. Finally, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which serves more than 17 million passengers annually, ranks as the country's fastest growing major airport.

Compared to the economic growth in Broward County, overall multifamily construction there is occurring at a relatively moderate—but steady—pace. Firms delivered only 2,400 units annually from 2002 to 2004, and the stock of existing apartments actually barely edged upward because so many existing rental properties were converted to condominiums. (More than 5,500 former apartments were converted to for-sale housing during the past three years.)