Park closed while Fort Lauderdale makes deal with Broward Health

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FORT LAUDERDALE — There’s no laughter on this playground. No chats between friends. No breaking of bread at the picnic tables.

Locks went up on Fort Lauderdale’s Dottie Mancini Park on Dec. 7. More than two months later, the park still remains closed.

Nearby residents who have grown to love their little park are fuming. With patience wearing thin, they want to know when Dottie Mancini Park is going to reopen, if ever.

City Manager Chavarria told the South Florida Sun Sentinel he is doing all he can to get the park open as soon as possible.

But fans of the park fear it has become a bargaining chip in a proposed land swap between Fort Lauderdale and Broward Health that could take months to resolve.

Broward Health, also known as the North Broward Hospital District, owns the land beneath the park, a 1.2-acre parcel Broward Health Imperial Point at 6520 NE 22nd Ave.

The city wants to buy the land, but has been told it’s not for sale, Mayor Dean Trantalis says.

John Herbst, the district commissioner for the neighborhood, says he’s taken it on the chin on social media platforms from angry residents ever since the park closed.

“The residents are extremely displeased,” he said. “They understand we are doing everything we possibly can to get the park opened back up. But it’s really up to Broward Health. They own the land. If they don’t agree to what we’ve offered, we can’t force it.”

Herbst says the city requested Broward Health sign off on a temporary lease agreement so the city could keep the park open for the next six months.

“They said no,” Herbst said. “They did not say why. They just said no.”

Dottie Mancini Park, shown on Friday, has been closed since Dec. 7. Broward Health, owner of the land, closed the park less than a month after the city's lease expired. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Dottie Mancini Park, shown on Friday, has been closed since Dec. 7. Broward Health, owner of the land, closed the park less than a month after the city’s lease expired. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

For the past 25 years, Fort Lauderdale has been leasing the land for $1 a year from Broward Health. The lease expired in November.

The locks went up less than a month after the lease expired.

“Every effort is being made to open the park but we have to be cognizant of the cost to the taxpayers,” Trantalis said.

What would a new lease deal cost the taxpayers?

“We don’t know yet,” Trantalis said. “We have not settled on an agreement.”

Chavarria told the Sun Sentinel he has had several conversations regarding the closed park and the hospital district’s expansion plans over the past two months with Broward Health CEO Shane Strum, former chief of staff to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Chavarria says he is now working on a new agreement that would allow the city to lease the park space from Broward Health for one year for $24,203 a month. The total bill would approach $300,000.

Chavarria can approve the agreement for up to one year without getting commission approval, he says.

In the meantime, Chavarria says he’s trying to find the hospital district another piece of taxpayer-owned land to help aid the district’s expansion efforts — and get a better lease deal for Dottie Mancini Park long term.

If there is no such land, the city would buy a parcel and swap it for a better lease deal with Broward Health, Chavarria said.

“We’re looking to find another plot of land that would enable us to broker a deal so that Dottie Mancini Park can be available to the public,” Chavarria said. “Once we find that space we can renegotiate the lease, hopefully back to $1 a year.”

Once a new lease is signed, Fort Lauderdale can move forward with making $1 million in upgrades to the park. The upgrades were promised under a $200 million parks bond approved by voters more than five years ago.

As of Friday, the proposed one-year lease deal was still under review by the hospital district’s legal team, said Jennifer Smith, a spokeswoman for Broward Health.

“Both the city and Broward Health are happy with the state of the agreement and hope to have exciting news for the residents soon,” Smith said.

But the mayor thinks paying nearly $25,000 per month to lease space for Dottie Mancini Park is too high a price to pay.

“It’s a high number and I think the people of the community deserve a better price,” Trantalis told the Sun Sentinel.

Dottie Mancini Park in Fort Lauderdale, shown on Dec. 12, remained closed on Friday. Some fear the park will remain closed for months while Fort Lauderdale tries to find another parcel for Broward Health. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Dottie Mancini Park in Fort Lauderdale, shown on Dec. 12, remained closed on Friday. Some fear the park will remain closed for months while Fort Lauderdale tries to find another parcel for Broward Health. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel)

 

Broward Health has tasked the city with finding the district a parcel of land for a proposed 24-hour emergency medical center, city officials say.

How does that benefit Fort Lauderdale?

Here’s what the hospital district had to say in response to that question.

“Broward Health is always engaging with municipalities to consider opportunities that could create convenient access points of care for our community,” Smith said. “We are always open to partnerships that create meaningful benefits to our community, such as Broward Health sharing its privately owned property with the city for a park.”

Another plan floated last year by Herbst to build an ER center on the parking lot at Fort Lauderdale’s Beach Community Center died a quick death after an outcry from condo residents along Galt Ocean Mile.

An overflow crowd showed up en masse in May to protest the idea at a town hall meeting hosted by Herbst, who represents the neighborhood on the northern end of Fort Lauderdale’s barrier island.

More than 250 seniors, some in wheelchairs and toting canes, crowded into the community center to blast the proposal, saying they didn’t want to endure more traffic or the howl of emergency sirens day and night.

“Broward Health is still interested in building a free-standing ER center that was proposed near the Galt,” Herbst said. “They want to do that somewhere east of Federal Highway. We’re looking for something we already own or something we can acquire. If we can do that they are willing to let us use Dottie Mancini Park.”

Nearby residents still hold out hope that the park will open soon.

That includes Betty Shelley, president of the Imperial Point Civic Association and chief organizer of the many holiday parties hosted at the park over the years.

“People are so upset about the park being closed,” Shelley said. “We have a Spring Fling Easter Egg Hunt there on March 23. I’ve been told they will have the park open by then.”

Jeanne Milot, a Fort Lauderdale mom with three young children, is trying not to lose hope.

“We’re trying to keep up the pressure,” she said. “But it seems like it’s falling under the radar and being forgotten about. This park is right in our backyard. My children miss their park tremendously. They ask me, ‘Mommy, why can’t we go to our park?’ Now we have to drive so far away.”

Susannah Bryan can be reached at sbryan@sunsentinel.com. Follow me on X @Susannah_Bryan

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