Broward Center for the Performing Arts

The Broward Performing Arts Center in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is the jewel of the city. Avid supporters of the arts in Fort Lauderdale worked tirelessly for decades to bring the original version of the arts center into being in 1991, and the general public responded with unqualified enthusiasm. Its success eventually led to the center being surrounded by an entire arts and entertainment district called the Riverwalk.

An Idea Born in the 1980s

The idea for the center became a reality in the 1980s, when a group of supporters of the arts and a handful of civic leaders lobbied the Florida legislature to start the Performing Arts Center Authority, also known as PACA. The center was a true public and private partnership, and by 1987 the center's fundraising goals have been exceeded. Public money was awarded from the city of Fort Lauderdale, Broward County, and the State of Florida. The federal government rounded out the budget for the project.

Three years after first breaking ground, the $54 million dollar complex was opened to the stirring sounds of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit play The Phantom of the Opera. Supporters of Broward performing arts made the facility into a smashing success, and the building's mortgage was paid off in just ten years - a full eleven years ahead of schedule.

The Broward Performing Arts Center Became an Anchor

The success of the center spurred other foundations and organizations to move to the banks of Fort Lauderdale's New River, and The Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment District was born. The enthusiasm of the Broward performing arts community for the newly minted entertainment district gave Fort Lauderdale a level of artistic prestige it had sorely lacked, and it made the city a favorite destination for the snowbirds and conventions that seek out cities with an active cultural life.

The success of the center attracted the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, the Florida Grand Opera, and the highly regarded Concert Association of Florida, and two important museums, the Stranahan House and the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society were expanded to join the Riverwalk community. This group of anchor sites attracted additional nightspots, restaurants, and retail establishments to form an entertainment destination that rivaled anything that any city in Florida could offer. Over one million visitors a year buy tickets to see shows and exhibitions in the center or its neighbors.

Success Comes With a Cost

The runaway success of the Broward performing arts center came at a price. Its three main venues, the Au-Rene Theater, the Amaturo Theater, and the Abdo New River Room weren't conceived, designed, or built to handle the overflowing crowds and constant use that the center drew year after year. The Au-Rene Theater was a 2,700-seat facility, capable of mounting Broadway shows and big opera and orchestra productions. The Amaturo Theater is much better suited for putting on plays, and the 590 seats make for a more intimate and enjoyable space to enjoy smaller musical acts. The Abdo New River Room is a classic conference center, able to hold 500 people in rows of chairs or 250 when seated around tables.

Success Also Brings Competition

The success of the Broward performing arts center enticed other cities in the area to establish entertainment zones of their own. Eventually, Fort Lauderdale began to lose conventions because of the overcrowding of the arts center, and as the wear and tear of many years began to show. Five years ago, the same civic organizations that brought the center into existence banded together once again to upgrade its capacity and embellish its surroundings to make it once again into a world-class facility. The price tag for the renovation was almost as big as the original cost of the facility, but the work had to be accomplished without disrupting the flow of tourism dollars into the area.

All-New in Eighteen Months

The renovation took place over eighteen months, and it involved installing new seating, flooring, carpeting, and fixtures that gave the facilities a much-needed facelift. A corporate club level was integrated into an existing mezzanine to attract more lucrative conventions, and the entire area around the three main buildings was turned into a pavilion where visitors could gather and mingle before, during, and after any performance.

The center was a favorite for artistic education, and as many as 175,000 students come to the center every year for instruction in dance, music, acting, and other performance arts. An education center was added to the compound of buildings, and state-of-the-art digital classrooms were constructed to make the center into a multi-use hub for education.

An Award-Winning Renovation

The Stiles and Miller construction companies teamed up to deliver the renovation on time and on budget, and they were awarded Project of the Year by The Associated Builders and Contractors chapter for their commitment to quality as well as safety. The center remained fully operational throughout the process, and the center reopened in 2014 to cheers from civic leaders, artists, and the Fort Lauderdale arts and entertainment community. Don't miss an opportunity to experience the Broward Performing Arts Center in its newly renovated, award-winning form. It's up to you whether you enjoy the performance or the surroundings the most!