FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- As a flamenco dancer twirled her ruffled red dress in front of a middle-aged audience at BeachPlace, 20-year-old Nate Dunlap wondered whether spring break could get any lamer.
"I guess I always assumed it was a spring break haven. I don't know why I assumed that," said the Cornell University sophomore. "College is definitely crazier, but it's colder."
Fort Lauderdale was immortalized as a spring break destination in the 1960 movie "Where the Boys Are." But the city has graduated from the days of overflowing bars, lewd behavior and litter-filled beaches. It has redefined itself as a spot for families, business travelers and well-to-do college students.
On a recent Wednesday, businessmen in ties sipped beers on their lunch break as college students in bathing suits tossed a volleyball on the beach.
"The younger kids that are here now, they're more mature," said Scott Loiselle, a manager at Hooters restaurant. "They're not as rowdy. We haven't had a fight yet."
In the early 1980s, hundreds of thousands of young people descended on the city, turning it upside down. They destroyed hotel rooms, left trash on the beach and scared away locals. In 1986, two spring breakers died in falls from balconies, and a third was killed in a motorcycle crash.
Faced with a record 350,000 students in 1985, business leaders and City Council decided to make a change. Mayor Robert Dressler went on ABC's "Good Morning America" to say that college students were no longer welcome.
The City Council said no to MTV and inflatable beers cans and passed a law forbidding open alcoholic containers on the beach side of U.S. Highway A1A. Overnight parking on the beach was also prohibited.
Police strictly enforced the new ordinances the following year, arresting almost 2,500 people during spring break. The students started staying away. Only 60,000 visited during spring break 1988. About 25,000 are expected this spring.
The city's raucous reputation lingered even after more and more students opted for other party locations, such as Panama City Beach, Daytona Beach and Cancun, Mexico.
"It probably took 10 years before we could go out and pass the straight-faced test in the marketplace and say we had an alternate destination to sell," said Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
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