South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday)
Rest in peace, old FAT Village
Funky arts district readies for demolition and a reincarnation
FAT Village — the funky, freestyle, gritty, graffitied, nooked, crannied, caffeinated, cocktailed, serendipitous best-kept secret of your memories — is dead.
Downtown Fort Lauderdale’s once-remote pocket of art-making and creative commerce in 70-year-old muraled warehouses along Northwest First Avenue, inspiration for the city’s original art walk and spark for a multimillion-dollar explosion of residential construction, restaurants and bars in Flagler Village, is now all but empty.
Sometime in August, demolition crews are expected to begin clearing the way for a 5.5-acre, 835,000-square-foot, mixed-use assemblage of residential, retail and office properties on land bordered by the Brightline tracks and Andrews Avenue, between Sistrunk Boulevard and Northwest Fifth Street. Long-abandoned Maguires Hill 16 pub will be among the first buildings to go.
But from the dust of the old zeitgeist and the bones of those aged warehouses will come new life, a towering reincarnation of FAT Village that will be more lively than before, FAT Village founder and co-owner Doug McCraw said.
“This will still be FAT Village Arts District, and it still will be very focused on art activities and
environment,” McCraw said.
The new project, which will retain the FAT Village name, includes two towers, 24 and 25 stories each, that will house just over 500 residential units, along with 80,000 square feet of space devoted to food and beverage, shopping, entertainment, art studios and galleries. It is slated to take 18 to 24 months to complete.
The development is a joint project between McCraw and business partner Lutz Hofbauer; Urban Street Development, the partnership of Fort Lauderdale hospitality veteran Tim Petrillo (YOLO, Boatyard, Casablanca Cafe) and developer Alan Hooper; and global real-estate giant Hines.
The project has been several years in the planning, and for longer than that felt inevitable. From New York’s SoHo and Miami’s Wynwood to Deep Ellum in Dallas and Alberta Arts District in Portland, Ore., creatives have injected life into forgotten neighborhoods, then made way for developers.
Petrillo positioned the project as a metamorphosis.
“We’re going to be a version of what we once were, but just a newer version with more amenities, more things to do and places to visit,” he said. “We definitely don’t want to change so dramatically that it’s not recognized as what it once was. That’s not what it’s going to be.”
And yet, it is a shock to see Northwest First Avenue — once home to gallery openings, music festivals and a bustling thoroughfare during the monthly FAT Village Art Walk — so desolate.
“Where’s the funkiness gonna be?” said Jay Brown, 28, of Pompano Beach, of the new FAT Village. Speaking during a June 25 garage sale held among the warehouses, the visitor continued, with a smile: “We want the funk. Gotta have that funk.”
Going, going, gone
Among the recently closed holdouts, Ingrid Schindall of IS Projects has moved her printmaking studio to Miami. Barber Greg Young has relocated Noblemen’s Cut & Shave — where he trimmed Miami Dolphins stars including Dan Marino, Ryan Tannehill and Tua Tagovailoa — across the tracks to the up-and-coming Progresso neighborhood.
Sixth Star Entertainment, the massive warehouse maze of scenic props, costumes, lights and event decor that was one the most popular hideouts during FAT Village Art Walk, stands bare under a beautiful grid of Dade County pine trusses. The event-planning company is moving to a warehouse near Cypress Creek Station.
The new development will replace what resembled old concrete boxes with new, gleaming stateof-the-art structures — two of the office buildings will be constructed with timber using Hines’ new proprietary T3 process — but the refrain among those who have spent years on the block is about loss.
Jerron Pitts, longtime manager at Sixth Star Entertainment, said he won’t miss the company’s physical home of the past 20 years — the old structure had no air conditioning. But he will miss the camaraderie (“It was fun. Everybody was family.”) and Art Walk, which he said generated new business for the company.
“It brings people downtown, the cool people. I don’t believe it will continue anywhere else. It will just be something we lost,” Pitts said, while helping to load a truck outside Sixth Star recently. “Downtown Fort Lauderdale needs to be built up, don’t get me wrong. We do need that, but then we do need this.”
Young is happy where he is now — the new Noblemen’s space at 805 NE Second Ave. is bigger and brighter, with better parking. But he misses the industrial vibe of the FAT Village location and Art Walk, which he said taught locals to be more adventurous when they go out, a quality he calls “in the cut.”
“They’re more willing to turn down a side street, in the cut, to get what they want instead of looking into a shopping center. They’re more willing to look in a warehouse,” Young said, describing FAT Village as “in the cut.”
“I have mixed feelings. I understand they want to bring more value to the community, which I think is awesome,” Young said. “But at the same time, I like the character that was there. When you do too much [development], you’re taking away all the character that was in the community.”
Turn out the lights
Ellen Freed, of Fort Lauderdale, recalls her first Art Walk with her kids shortly after moving to the city five years ago.
“We were driving by, by the tracks, and saw the lights and the people. We had no idea. I remember the secret bar in the back with all the books … and I still have a cool pair of earrings I got. It was a great way to meet Fort Lauderdale,” Freed said.
The FAT Village bar with all the books is Next Door, reached through an unmarked hallway inside C&I Studios, a stylish hive of activity on the block for more than a decade.
If FAT Village has a soul, it is at C&I Studios, which founder and CEO Joshua Miller said he must vacate by July 31. He’ll likely be the last creative left on the street to turn out the lights on this era of FAT Village.
When Miller moved his multimedia marketing and advertising agency from a small warehouse near Commercial Boulevard to a 4,000-square-foot space at 541 NW First Ave. in 2010, he found “a terrible neighborhood,” he said, with cars being broken into regularly. He said trailblazers Jim Hammond of the Puppet Network, now organizer of the city’s wildly popular Day of the Dead festival, and Chuck Loose of Iron Forge Press were trying to create a community, but their nascent FAT Village Art Walks drew only a few dozen people each month.
Miller wanted to inspire activity in the neighborhood more often, opening the garage door at C&I Studios to host free barbecues, movie nights and art exhibits, and his For the Love Music Festival series booked local, regional and nationally touring acts.
Next Door opened inside C&I in 2013 and became an instantly popular spot for coffee beginning at 7 a.m. daily and for cocktails up to midnight Thursday through Saturday.