Big project broached for downtown—and other news of note

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Image Credit: dbox

BIG downtown news

What does Boca Raton need? According to a Broward County-based developer, something as distinctive as the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which at nearly 1,500 feet are among the world’s tallest buildings.

This is the language Elad National Properties uses to tout its plan for four luxury condo towers on what is now the rental complex Mizner on the Green. The 8-acre site is east of Royal Palm Place on Southeast Mizner Boulevard and just north of the Townsend Place condo. The towers would range from 22 stories to 29 stories and would average more than 300 feet in height in an area where the height limit is 100 feet. Yet as Elad Chief Financial Officer Arik Bronfman essentially put it in his June letter to the city, Boca Raton needs his company’s project.

Bronfman said the 500 residences at New Mizner on the Green would attract “high net-worth households from across the nation and worldwide” that would support downtown Boca’s “luxury retailers and high-quality restaurants” and perk up space that is “severely underutilized,” thus turning an “ugly duckling” into a “beautiful swan.” New Mizner on the Green would create this transformation by offering “views and world-class architecture” that would break from the Mediterranean-Spanish Colonial that is “no longer unique to Boca.”

He’s not kidding about that architectural break. Elad’s design for the futuristic complex comes from Daniel Libeskind, master planner for Freedom Tower (above), which will replace the World Trade Center. Libeskind has studios in New York City and Milan, Italy, and says architecture “is not based on concrete and steel and the elements of the soil. It’s based on wonder.”

Indeed, one might wonder how the Boca Raton City Council ever might approve such a deviation from the plan for that part of the city. Charlie Siemon, the land-use lawyer who represents Mizner on the Green, says he can “look out my window (in Mizner Park) and see a considerable number of tall buildings,” among them the 27-story tower at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, the city’s tallest building.

Siemon wants the council to consider the project “in the context of the area.” He acknowledges the height limit that applies to the site, but says the limit is 140 feet for the adjacent area. That, of course, still would be a hefty deviation, even if Elad wants a setback of 240 feet—Mizner on the Green and Townsend Place have none—and would use two acres of the property for a public park. So Siemon falls back on the financial angle.

Most of downtown Boca, Siemon says, doesn’t have “ownership opportunities” that justify prices of more than roughly $200 per square foot. For units of the size proposed at New Mizner on the Green—2,500 square feet to 2,800 square feet—that would be about $500,000. Siemon says the Elad plan would bring prices of between $750 and $800 per square foot, or more like $2 million per unit.

For the city, Siemon says, the return could be big. Because the project is within the boundaries of the Community Redevelopment Agency, any new property tax revenue would go the CRA for use within the district—which means downtown. Tax revenue from Mizner on the Green, Siemon claims, would equal or exceed that from all other downtown projects combined. Siemon said that money could finance long-delayed improvement work, such as dressing up Federal Highway, which Siemon called “an embarrassment” for a city like Boca.

So when might review of New Mizner on the Green start? There seems to be a semantic difference between the city and the developer. An official with the Development Services Department says no plans for New Mizner on the Green have been officially “submitted.” Siemon says the plan was “submitted but not accepted.”

A June letter from Deputy City Manager George Brown to Siemon says Boca Raton needs “a specific proposed amendment” to the city’s plan for the project “even to be considered,” given that Elad is asking for such a “significant policy change.” The plan must go to the city council—acting as the CRA board—for a workshop. For those reasons, Brown wrote, the city is “not processing the submittal.”

Whoever is correct is the difference over wording. The CRA is the first stop. Siemon said there is tentative agreement that the CRA will discuss the project at a workshop on Sept. 22.

And what about tenants in the 246 condos at the current Mizner on the Green that would be torn down? Elad owns and manages four other rental complexes in and around Boca Raton, and Siemon says the company would “work to relocate” anyone whom the new project—to be built in two phases—would displace.

Eighteen months ago, the city council approved the Archstone rental/retail project nearby on East Palmetto Park Road. In that case, the council—minus new members Scott Singer and Robert Weinroth—approved plan exemptions for Archstone on the basis that the city needed those tenants to help downtown merchants. That council practically courted developers. Elad is saying, in essence, that however slick Boca Raton may think it is, Boca still lacks enough wealthy people to make downtown business thrive and also lacks, well, a defining structure. Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower at first. Now they love it. Elad is hoping to get past any hate and get right to the love.

Townhome news

If the Mizner on the Green proposal is sure to be controversial, you can’t say that about another change from Boca’s comprehensive plan that the city council almost certainly will approve at tonight’s meeting.

APK Homes, part of the Kolter Group, wants to build 75 fee simple—do your own exterior maintenance—townhomes on roughly six acres at Spanish River Boulevard and North Military Trail. The site is just west of the city’s Spanish River branch library and is bordered by Palm Beach County’s Pondhawk Natural Area.

In the last decade, another multi-family project was planned for the site. After the real estate bust, the land was zoned commercial. Now it’s back to condos, and everyone seems happy. The Planning and Zoning Board approved the change unanimously, and city staff is recommending that the council go along.

There’s no reason for the council not to do so. Homes would generate less traffic than stores and offices. As the staff points out, much of northwest Boca housing is higher end, and the area needs more choices. With Don Estridge Middle School and the Spanish River Athletic Facility nearby, the location could attract young families. Too many people who work in Boca Raton can’t afford to live there.

Wildflower update

Houston’s, Town Center at Boca Raton

Representative of Hillstone Restaurant Group wanted to talk homemade hamburger buns and terrific Reuben sandwiches. The Boca Raton City Council wanted a larger serving of answers to Hillstone’s proposal for the Wildflower property. At tonight’s meeting, the council may vote to start asking for those answers.

On Monday, Hillstone was back with the company’s third proposal for aHouston’s restaurant on the city-owned land between Fifth Avenue and the Palmetto Park Road Bridge. The council was acting Monday as the board of the Community Redevelopment Agency. As the Hillstone rep fumbled with getting the right slides for the A/V presentation—council members saw food, not drawings—he asked Mayor Susan Haynie, “Do you like cauliflower?” Haynie responded that she would prefer to see a site plan.

Indeed. Both sides agree that Hillstone, with roughly 50 restaurants, would build a stylish, profitable restaurant along the Intracoastal Waterway. Hillstone has operated the Houston’s near Town Center at Boca Raton (pictured above) for more than two decades, and unless you like dinner at 4 p.m. or 10:30 p.m., expect to wait. It’s very successful.

But that Houston’s is not in an established residential neighborhood. This Houston’s would be, so one key issue is how the restaurant would affect the area in terms of traffic. Since the council just last year approved the Archstone project just west of the Wildflower property – and did so despite strong community opposition—the council wants to avoid turning Fifth Avenue and Palmetto Park into a traffic chokepoint, even if Deputy City Manager George Brown acknowledged Monday that traffic there never would be “free-flowing.”

The other key issue is the lease terms. The current proposal is for 20 years, with five, five-year options. Hillstone would pay Boca Raton $500,000, plus a percentage of sales, with annual increases to be negotiated. The terms would have to be favorable enough to justify the city’s investment of $7.5 million to buy the site.

Longtime community activist/development critic Lenore Wachtel suggested that the city could use the land for a park and allow food trucks. Um, sure. Boca Raton wants that return on investment, and an upscale casual restaurant would work well. Hillstone is an established company, and executives agree with the city’s demand that it not use Silver Palm Park on the south side of Palmetto Park Road to help solve any parking issues.

As Brown noted Monday, all the council would do by agreeing tonight is to start negotiations that could end in success or failure. “This is not a done deal,” he stressed. But the city and Hillstone are close enough to start work on the final, tough details. After all, if the council members aren’t happy, they can send the deal back to the kitchen.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

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Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.