Michael Nunziata, VP and principal at 13th Floor Investments and division president of Central Communities LLC, is shown at the site of their new development in Tamarac.
Michael Nunziata, VP and principal at 13th Floor Investments and division president of Central Communities LLC, is shown at the site of their new development in Tamarac. (Melanie Bell)

The old ladies in the knitting circle still meet every Monday, and weekly bingo games remain a crowd pleaser in Tamarac.

But cheerleading, teen club meetings and children’s craft workshops also crowd the town calendar—a sign the 50-year-old Broward County community is evolving from a retirement haven to a family town.

The change is shoring up demand for real estate, spurring the city and investors to launch multiple projects in the city nine miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale.

City officials are courting developers to create the community’s first downtown and build hundreds of apartments in mixed-used projects. Along McNab Road between University Drive and Pine Island Road, for example, it’s encouraging projects with up to 200 market-value apartments, 150,000 square feet of retail and 25,000 to 30,000 square feet of office space.

“We saw there was a hole in the market, so we said, ‘Let’s target it and see who shows up,’ ” said Michael Nunziata, division president of Central Communities LLC, a developer building 253 single-family homes north of Commercial Boulevard. “When we acquired the property, we weren’t really sure who we were going to be targeting. We didn’t really know who would show up.”

Central Communities is among a group of investors gauging the changing demographics to serve the emerging market. Instead of retirees, it’s found young professionals outnumber senior buyers 3-1, spending $240,000 to about $300,000 for up to four bedrooms.

“If you’re a young family and want to be in Broward County, there aren’t many options at this price point,” Nunziata said.

And that’s part of the charm for investors. Tamarac’s prices are still well below those of major neighboring markets like Fort Lauderdale or Miami, allowing Central Communities to scoop up more than 40 acres for about $6.5 million in 2011.

“We have strong interest from developers,” said Ana Zeinieh, the city’s economic development manager. “People are interested.”

Developers Wanted

Investors have been coming forward by the dozens since the city issued a request for proposals, or RFP, to find companies interested in building Tamarac’s first downtown. The RFP closes Sept. 3 when officials will weigh proposals from developers interested in creating a 23-acre city center to be called Tamarac Village on Commercial Boulevard near Pine Island Road.

“We’ve had quite a few inquiries,” Zeinieh said. “Over 40 inquiries have already been made, and it’s been on the street less than two weeks.”

The project is the latest for the city, which in June approved work on a 10-year economic redevelopment master plan for three major commercial corridors off Commercial Boulevard and McNab Road.

The goal is to measure demand and position Tamarac’s commercial areas to be more competitive for redevelopment over the next decade. It would recommend zoning changes to encourage sustainable, transit-oriented projects.

In one targeted corridor called the Nouveau Quarter, the city envisions a restaurant district with mixed-use buildings on assembled parcels.

In another segment near University Hospital and Medical Center, the plan is to attract developers for workforce housing, retail, restaurants and medical complexes.

And at the intersection of State Road 7 and Commercial Boulevard, officials want development on outparcels of the Sunshine Plaza and redevelopment to create a gateway to the city.

“We started out as a retirement community for snowbirds. We still have a significant portion of the population who is retired, but the demographics are changing,” said city spokeswoman Elise Boston. “It impacts across the board—from housing development to parks and recreation, schools and businesses.”

Gaining Momentum

The bedroom community of 60,000 has launched an RFP to develop a charter school. It’s also refurbished two playgrounds, improved its parks, launched a far-reaching program to create art in public places and plans to elevate a platform in a western park off the Sawgrass Expressway so visitors can look out over the Everglades.

“There are so many initiatives—more than people realize—that make this a wonderful city for people to retire, to raise a family and to do business,” Boston said. “I think people would be surprised by all the good things happening here. It’s a charming little jewel.”

Developers seem to be catching on, investing millions in the city and scooping up increasingly scarce parcels for large-scale projects.

Butters Construction & Development Inc., for instance, is at work on a $12 million development with two Class A warehouses on the last remaining industrial parcels in the Tamarac Commerce Center.

Once it wraps Central Parc, Central Communities plans to develop 200 lots on a neighboring site.

“Tamarac is really starting to gain momentum in terms of redevelopment,” Nunziata said. “It’s a city that’s been built out for a long time, that’s now starting to look at underutilized parcels and breathing fresh life into them. Our project is certainly a beneficiary of that.”