Tall tower plan prompts dueling petitions, snipes from builders

Related Cos.’ proposed 25-story tower on the waterfront in West Palm Beach

Sensing blood in the water, New York developer Charles Cohen has sent West Palm Beach city officials another letter urging them to act quickly on his proposal to build an office tower on the city-owned “tent site” land.

The move comes as city officials held two meetings this month, where impassioned city residents voiced opposition to The Related Cos.’s plan to build a 25-story office tower along the city’s waterfront.

The One Flagler tower would be on Flagler Drive, next to the First Church of Christ, Scientist. The land now is zoned for only five stories.

Related’s bid to build One Flagler has mobilized some city residents who don’t like the plan. They say the tower is too tall, will worsen traffic, will block some of their views and will forever ruin the city’s waterfront.

They’ve circulated a petition and now claim nearly 1,000 names on it from nine condos, including the powerful One Watermark condo. They’ve flooded city officials with emails, formed teams and organized a Facebook page, dubbed Preserve West Palm Beach Citizens Coalition. Now they’re working on slogans.

Their effort has become so aggressive that Related has started pushing its own petition, this one with the names of tower supporters collected during neighborhood meetings. The petition has about 700 names.

Related’s petition drive made a public showing this past weekend at CityPlace, which Related built.

At the shopping and dining center, bewildered Easter tourists encountered a table in front of retailer Anthropologie, seeking petition signers.

The table was meant to provide people with tower information and drum up support, said Rick Asnani, a principal with Cornerstone Solutions, the group hired by Related for community outreach.

In meetings with neighborhood groups, “once we explain what we’re trying to do the opposition melts away and we find people are neutral or gravitate to it,” Asnani said. “It’s amazing how quickly people are supporting this project.”

Unfortunately for Related, a lot of tourists were hanging around CityPlace this past holiday weekend, so Cornerstone officials couldn’t reach as many residents as they hoped.

Nonetheless, “it was a good experiment. We were happy to bring awareness,” Asnani said.

Related officials say there is demand for a new Class A office building that will bring more jobs to the city. Money from the sale of the land will preserve the 1928 Christian Science church, they add.

But residents in nearby condos aren’t buying it. Their growing opposition has prompted Cohen and another billionaire real estate developer, Jeff Greene, to openly criticize Related’s efforts to try to rezone the low-rise waterfront site.

This is especially the case since business and city leaders have been crying for some time about the need for new, Class A office space downtown.

“The site in play and the development planned does not comply with current zoning and has received community opposition that will delay any forward movement,” Cohen said of the Related site in his letter to city officials, including Mayor Jeri Muoio.

In a statement to this reporter, Cohen said the tent site “provokes much less consternation than any site that would compete with it.”

The letter comes one month after Cohen, the Oscar-winning owner of the Carefree Theater property, sent a letter to city officials notifying them of his interest in building a 300,000-400,000-square foot office building on the tent site. That land is at Okeechobee Boulevard and South Dixie Highway.

Meanwhile, Greene poked holes at Related’s efforts to create the Okeechobee Business District to justify One Flagler. A previous effort to create a waterfront historic district that would have allowed this tower failed.

“What’s next? The One Block From The Water District?” Greene asked. “We should just call it what it is: Spot zoning. And everybody knows it.”

Greene said the city’s citizen referendums are the reason the land is zoned for only five stories. If that cap is to change, “the city can have another referendum,” he said.

Greene is planning to build a 30-story, twin-tower complex featuring office space at 550 Quadrille Blvd. He said he plans to start building soon.







Related inks deal for office tower on Christian Science land

First Church of Christ, Science in West Palm Beach
First Church of Christ, Science in West Palm Beach

The Related Cos. has wrapped up a contract to buy prime property next to the First Church of Christ, Scientist, where Related hopes to build a soaring, 30-story tower along Flagler Drive in downtown West Palm Beach.

A top Related executive on Tuesday confirmed the church signed the contract, which now paves the way for the company to start seeking city approval to build a 300,000-square-foot luxury office tower.

“Yes, they signed it. And we made a deposit a week ago,” confirmed Ken Himmel, president of Related Urban, the mixed-use unit of New York-based Related Cos.

Related built CityPlace, the CityPlace Tower office building and the new Hilton convention center hotel.

But the company always has coveted the parking lot and building next to the Christian Science church, at Flagler Drive and Lakeview Avenue.

It’s a prime corner across from the Royal Park Bridge to Palm Beach.

Other suitors have wanted the property, too, but sources say they weren’t willing to pay the big bucks sought by the church’s parishioners.

Related was willing, however, and the church finally was ready to sell, too, after months of negotiations.

The membership is aging and dwindling, down to less than 75. That prompted interest in selling the land, which would finance the preservation of the church, built in 1928 in the Classical Revival style of architecture.

The church’s reading room, now at 138 Lakeview Ave., would move to new space in the office tower’s ground floor.

Related’s plan for the tower is ambitious. The project’s architect is David Childs, who designed the Freedom Tower at One World Trade Center in Manhattan.

The Class A office building at the church site would offer tenants unobstructed views of the Intracoastal, Palm Beach and Atlantic Ocean.

In a statement, Childs said the tower’s design is akin to a lighthouse, linking the ocean to the “continent,” which in this case is West Palm Beach.

The slender, illuminating lighthouse-style tower might be creative, but it’s not without risk.

The big challenge: Winning approval to build taller than five stories on the property, which is zoned for lower-rise buildings. The tower would need special approval from the city.

Another challenge: The neighbors. The tower would rise above the nearest office building, the Esperante Corporate Center, which just changed hands for a whopping $127.75 million.

Also, it’s not clear if the city’s residents would favor another tall building near the water, even if it does preserve an aged church and provide the city with new office space.


Restoration Hardware ‘mansion’ now being built on Okeechobee in downtown West Palm

Progress is being made on the new Restoration Hardware in downtown West Palm Beach.

A man walks past the Restoration Hardware in CityPlace on March 12, 2015, in West Palm Beach. The store could move to a prime spot once planned to become a signature office building. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
A man walks past the Restoration Hardware in CityPlace on March 12, 2015, in West Palm Beach. The store could move to a prime spot once planned to become a signature office building. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

The store, in a key location between the east- and westbound lanes of Okeechobee Boulevard near the entrance to the city’s downtown area, is being built as a designer showcase.

» RELATED: CityPlace plans 400 apartments, new shops, eateries

The land under the building is owned by Related Cos., the CityPlace developer.

Artist's rendering of proposed Restoration Hardware Gallery. (Provided)
Artist’s rendering of proposed Restoration Hardware Gallery. (Provided)

Related top executive Ken Himmel has told The Palm Beach Post that the 50,000-square-foot Restoration Hardware gallery will be “a Mizner-inspired mansion.”

The four-story showroom will feature outdoor courtyards, a fountain and a rooftop park.

The new Restoration Hardware "mansion" in West Palm Beach is under construction on March 21, 2016. (Kristina Webb / The Palm Beach Post)
The new Restoration Hardware “mansion” in West Palm Beach is under construction on March 21, 2016. (Kristina Webb / The Palm Beach Post)

Miami Dolphins owner sees new coach as “next Bill Belichick”

Ross Gase010

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross expects victories from new head coach Adam Gase, who at 37 is the youngest man to fill that position in franchise history.

“Instead of getting a retread that really hasn’t had a great track record as head coach, I was looking for somebody that really could be the next, if you will, Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, you know, really great head coach, and I think we got one,” Ross said Monday morning during a speech to the Palm Beach Civic Association.

Ross praised Gase’s intelligence and work ethic, but he also said the former offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears has only three seasons to win.

“After three years, if we haven’t made the playoffs, we’re looking for a new coach,” Ross said. “That’s just the way it is. The fans want it.”

[UPDATE: “Ross was speaking broadly about NFL trends and not about Adam Gase specifically, associates of the owner tell the Miami Herald.” The shelf life of NFL coaches is notoriously short — Dolphins head coaches Joe Philbin and Tony Sparano each were fired after three seasons and change.]

During his 30-minute presentation to about 100 people at the Colony Hotel, Ross spoke about other topics, including:

The Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin saga. “This bullying incident was really a product of racism,” Ross said. The embarrassing episode led Ross to become active in the Jackie Robinson Foundation and to launch The Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, or RISE.

Concussions. “If I had a child, I’d let him play,” Ross said. He called for research that might uncover genetic factors that make some people more susceptible to concussions. And he lamented the criticism the NFL has taken in the media: “The New York Times is doing everything they can to kill the National Football League.”

The Dolphins’ dismal record during his tenure. “It’s a lot easier to succeed in business than it is to create a winning football team,” Ross said. “I’m going to get it right yet.”

Soccer’s future in the United States. Ross has invested in hosting soccer friendlies that bring top European and Mexican teams to the United States, but he said futbol is unlikely to rival the NFL here. “I don’t think it will become a major spectator sport in this country for a long period of time,” Ross said.

CityPlace’s troubled mortgage. Asked after his speech about the disconnect between bustling crowds and the default warning on the West Palm Beach property, Ross said: “Have you ever been there in July and August? … It’s so seasonal.”

Ross is a part-time resident of Palm Beach and a billionaire businessman who founded The Related Cos.

Mixed-use center CityPlace still struggling to cover mortgage

(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

Nearly five years after CityPlace faced foreclosure on its $150 million mortgage, the landlord again finds itself in a financial squeeze. Fitch Ratings said this week that the shopping-and-entertainment hub in West Palm Beach is staring down “imminent monetary default.”

In a commercial real estate paradox, CityPlace combines bustling crowds with a constant cash crunch — a conundrum some blame on the center’s continual turnover of restaurants.

Fitch noted that CityPlace’s occupancy fell to 81 percent in the third quarter of 2015, down from 95 percent a few years ago. On the bright side, the new convention center hotel at CityPlace might boost retail traffic, Fitch said.

CityPlace’s mortgage was placed in “special servicing,” a category for problem loans, according to Fitch.

Proving that bustling activity doesn’t always translate to a profitable property, CityPlace was hit with a foreclosure filing in 2011. The project’s owner, The Related Cos., negotiated a two-year extension of the loan and kept control of the property.

UPDATE: CityPlace offers this comment:

“The CityPlace retail debt is not delinquent and remains current on its debt service payments. CityPlace Partners has proactively engaged the special servicer in an effort to seek flexibility from our lenders and ensure the long-term success of CityPlace. We have continued to significantly reinvest in the property and are seeking to realign the retail loan with the dramatic shift in economic conditions that have impacted the property.”

CityPlace didn’t specify what “dramatic shift” it was referring to. Commercial real estate values reached record levels nationally in 2015, and Palm Beach County’s economy has been on the upswing. Population growth has returned, home prices have rebounded, the county’s unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent in December and a record number of tourists visited the county last year.


While CityPlace packs in the crowds on weekends, the comings and goings of its tenants are legion. The roster of eateries that have left over the years includes Bacio, Brewzzi, B.B. King’s, Carousel Can Can Cafe, Cheeburger Cheeburger, Columbia, Field of Greens, Italian Oven Cafe, Jinja Bar, Kona Grill, La Salsa, Legal Sea Foods, Mark’s CityPlace, McCormick & Schmick’s, Original Steakhouse, Taco Vida, Taverna Opa, Wild Ginger Asian Bistro and Wild Olives.

When a tenant leaves, the landlord is forced to eat a variety of costs, including lost rent and legal expenses, plus tenant improvements and brokerage commissions for the replacement restaurant.

“The fact that you have 81 percent occupancy doesn’t mean you’re in a good cash flow position,” said restaurant broker Richard Lackey. “They’re having to replace tenants too often. The cost to replace a new tenant is an inordinate cost.”

CityPlace is home to a number of longtime tenants, including BRIO Tuscan Grille, Cheesecake Factory, City Cellar Wine Bar & Grill and Il Bellagio.

Top 5 things happening in West Palm Beach real estate right now

The West Palm Beach real estate market is hot right now, and there are some big things happening in the city.

We’ve pulled together the top five things you need to know about.

1. We have an opening date for the new convention center hotel.

(Brianna Soukup / The Palm Beach Post)
(Brianna Soukup / The Palm Beach Post)

It took decades to get a Palm Beach County Convention Center hotel off the ground. But now that construction of the Hilton hotel in West Palm Beach is underway, the process is going faster than anyone expected. In fact, the hotel now is set to open mid-January — weeks ahead of schedule, hotel developer Ken Himmel told The Palm Beach Post.

Read more here.

2. One developer has a plan for two massive towers downtown.


Billionaire Jeff Greene plans to build twin, 30-story towers on land he owns in downtown West Palm Beach. The property, at 550 Quadrille Blvd., is slated to be an office/hotel/condo complex that would total 829,000 square feet. Architectural plans for the project were submitted to the city on Wednesday.

Read more here.

3. That Darth Vader building? It’s on the market.


The Northbridge Centre, aka the Darth Vader building, is on the market for sale. Real estate sources expect the Force to be with the brokers who are peddling this property, which for years has been associated with the Dark Lord of the Sith, owing to its imposing black glass.

Read more here.

4. What’s happening with the 1515 Flagler property?

(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

With the real estate market so hot, you’d think there would be some development happening on the prime piece of land at 1515 Flagler, which housed the now-just-a-memory 1515 Tower condo. But real estate brokers and developers say the parcel and another prominent piece of land, Opera Place, are having trouble overcoming several factors: Price, timing and a concern the market may have become overheated, both in land and construction costs.

Read more here.

5. CityPlace is set to get two new restaurants

(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

Two new restaurants are coming to CityPlace in the new year. The deals give new life to the 15-year-old center, which is now undergoing a revival as a shopping, dining and entertainment destination in West Palm Beach. The Regional Kitchen and Public House, a creation of local restaurateur Thierry Beaud, will take the former Pampas Grille space along Okeechobee Boulevard. And City Tap House, a craft beer bar and restaurant, will take over the long-shuttered, 11,500-square Brewzzi restaurant and outdoor bar on the second floor of CityPlace, overlooking the fountain.

Read more here.