Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Gay tourism heralds Ft. Lauderdale's building boom


Fun in the sun: Sebastian Beach in Fort Lauderdale. Photo: Ed Walsh
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"If you look up, you'll see the state bird of Florida. You see them everywhere here," said the tour guide on the Jungle Queen boat as it cruised along the canals of Fort Lauderdale during a recent visit. "It's the crane," he added as he pointed to a construction crane.

In the Fort Lauderdale area, that "state bird" appears to be undergoing a population explosion. In the late 1980s, gay people led the way for the renaissance in Fort Lauderdale that is fueling the current high-rise construction boom. A massive Hilton resort hotel, a new W Hotel, Florida's first St. Regis Hotel, and a pair of Trump luxury towers are under construction along the Fort Lauderdale waterfront.

Fort Lauderdale's tourist board recounted that when it asked a Trump executive why they decided to build in the city, the response was that it was because gay people were already there setting a positive trend that they expected would continue.

With 30 gay resorts, Fort Lauderdale claims to be the gay resort capital of North America. While you likely will get an argument from Palm Springs over that claim, no one would dispute that Fort Lauderdale's gay resorts offer something for just about everyone. With many changes over the past few years, the overall quality of the gay hotels has remained top-notch.

The Bay Area Reporter last wrote about Fort Lauderdale in January 2005.

Sleeping around

The owner of the Royal Palms resort, Richard Gray, set a high standard when he opened his hotel 17 years ago.

He opened just after the city's only gay accommodation, the Marlin Hotel, closed.   Since then, more gay people took Gray's lead and transformed many of the rundown small mainstream hotels and apartment buildings into the jewels they once were.

There is a concern that some of the massive beachf

The pool at Pineapple Point Guesthouse is surrounded by lush vegetation. Photo: Ed Walsh
ront hotels in the city will eventually swallow up the gay resorts but so far that hasn't happened. Many of the gay resorts were hard-hit by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Ironically, the reconstruction that followed made them better than ever.

The newest gay resort in Fort Lauderdale, Mary's Resort, opened just before Wilma and had to shut down for weeks while repairs were made. There's no sign of any damage now and its lush vegetation has grown back. The eight-unit property is in a residential area and is a beautiful and quiet oasis away from downtown.

The Elysium is another examples of a gay resort in Fort Lauderdale that's come back better than ever. The owners had to replace an upper floor of one of its two buildings after the roof blew off. That floor had to be gutted and completely replaced. With 36 units, the Elysium has the most rooms of any of Fort Lauderdale's gay resorts.

The demand for vacation spa services is now satisfied by one of the gay resorts. The Grand Hotel, just across the street from the Elysium, unveiled a full spa a couple of years ago. It's also open to non-guests.

La Casa del Mar continues to be a good choice for lesbian travelers. Although it is mostly men, its manager estimates that about 40 percent of guests are gay women.

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