Residents rally to save olive trees that light up Las Olas

FORT LAUDERDALE — A controversial plan to remove the tree-lined median on Las Olas to make way for wider sidewalks has some wondering why the city wants to mess with the iconic look of one of Fort Lauderdale’s most famous streets.

On Sunday, critics of the plan gathered for a “Save the Trees” rally at Tunnel Top Plaza right on Las Olas.

Chris Nelson, the Fort Lauderdale activist who organized the rally, said he wants to bring attention to what some are calling a crazy plan expected to cost millions of dollars.

“When you Google Fort Lauderdale, what’s the first thing that comes up?” Nelson asked the crowd. “Las Olas. What makes it iconic? These beautiful olive trees.”

Under a long-planned redesign expected to cost at least $167 million, the trees would disappear and so would the landscaped median just east of Federal Highway.

Today, four blocks of olive trees line Las Olas. The trees — 16 in all — were planted decades ago, standing in all their glory in medians that start at Federal Highway and end just west of Southeast 11 Avenue.

Commissioner Warren Sturman, who represents the neighborhood, told the crowd he’s hoping he can help save the trees.

Instead of taking out the median, Sturman said he’d rather sacrifice the on-street parking along Las Olas. That would allow Fort Lauderdale to widen the sidewalks by 20 feet, making plenty of room for both sidewalk dining and folks out for a stroll.

Downtown resident John Gangne loves the idea.

“If you take away the parking, you save the trees,” he said. “They’re beautiful, all lit up at night.”

The rally spawned interest from people walking by, including Ricky Irizarry and his friends, tourists from Puerto Rico in town for a concert.

Irizarry was stunned to hear the city wanted to cut down the trees and take away the tree-lined median.

“We like the trees,” he said. “Don’t cut them, please.”

Jim Lewis, a mayoral candidate challenging Mayor Dean Trantalis in the Nov. 5 election, showed up at the rally to share his plan.

“I want to keep it just the way it is,” he said. “It’s beautiful the way it is. Don’t change a thing. That’s my plan.”

Ted Inserra, a community activist challenging Sturman in the District 4 commission race, was also at the rally to speak his mind.

“Las Olas is an iconic street in Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “To make it look like any other street would change that iconic look. You see Las Olas and you know it’s Fort Lauderdale.”

Susannah Bryan can be reached at Follow me on X @Susannah_Bryan