Airport Hilton runway fight headed to court

Hilton Hotel must be demolished for new runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

DANIA BEACH, Fla. - A hotel that sits in the "safety zone" of the new runway being built at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has become a major thorn in the side of the $800 million airport expansion project.

The new $791 million runway will stretch west and be built up and over U.S. 1. But the eight-story 388-room Hilton Fort Lauderdale Airport Hotel must be torn down before the runway, which is expected to be completed next year, can be used.

The county is using eminent domain powers to condemn and purchase the Hilton, but the owners of the hotel, an affiliate of real estate giant Blackstone Group, are fighting it at every step -- and demanding way more money than the county believes it is worth. 

"[The owners] are resisting the condemnation process which includes how we determine the price," said airport director Kent George.

County appraisals value the property at roughly between $43 and $52 million. But the hotel owners are asking for about $75 million, according to sources. The problem for the Hilton owners is that they purchased the property for just $26 million in 2004, before the economic downturn and knowing full well that the runway was planned there. 

A manager at the hotel refused comment Tuesday. The battle over the money is headed to court, with a hearing scheduled for April 5.

Costs regarding the Hilton controversy keep mounting. On Tuesday, Broward County Commissioners approved $725,000 to be paid to engineer Atkins North America to plan the future demolition. And if the county loses in court it will be liable for what look to be very expensive attorneys fees.

QPS Marine right next door to the hotel has meanwhile struck an amicable deal with the county for about $1.8 million. The business is relocating to the New River in Fort Lauderdale.

"They're moving us out but on the same token, fortunately we found a better location so everyone wins," said Jason Gonzalez, a broker with QPS Marine.

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