Sunday, January 29, 2023

Bring on the Mandarin at Via Mizner; the Other Midtown in Delray

More than two years after the Boca Raton City Council approved Via Mizner 2 and 3, construction should start soon on the Mandarin Oriental hotel and the adjoining luxury condos that will have privileges at the hotel.

That’s the word from Al Piazza, senior vice-president of development for Penn-Florida Companies. We spoke in late December. The two buildings will join Via Mizner’s first phase —the 366-unit apartment building at Camino Real and Federal Highway. The Mandarin Oriental will be in the middle, with the condos at the north end. All three buildings will face the Boca Raton Resort & Club.

The project, which the company has called “an urban resort,” will bring a new level of distinction to Boca Raton. Mandarin Oriental has only one other location in Florida—Miami—and just five elsewhere in the United States—New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Las Vegas. The chain’s roughly two dozen foreign locations range from Hong Kong to Morocco to Barcelona.

And it all happened, Piazza said, because Penn-Florida President and CEO Mark Gensheimer made a cold call to Mandarin Oriental.

“He was trying to figure out what to do with the project and wanted to give a sense of what the community is all about,” Piazza told me. “He saw a void for a five-star hotel and made the call. That started a dialogue.”

Penn-Florida will own the building and Mandarin will operate the hotel, which Piazza said is typical of properties with the Mandarin brand. It will have 164 rooms and suites. That’s fewer than Miami but more than Atlanta and Boston.

The number of condos was 104 when the council approved the project. It dropped to 85 and settled at 92 as Penn-Florida adjusted the layout. Units will range in size from 1,400 square feet to 9,000 square feet—for the penthouse—and from $2 million to $20 million.

Just who will own those condos may surprise you. Conventional wisdom might be that most buyers would be from outside this area. Actually, Piazza said, he now expects that between 50 percent and 60 percent will be from Boca Raton or just outside the city.

“They’re older and living on the beach or a golf course,” Piazza said, “and want a newer product and less to worry about.” Piazza also rattles off the number of Michelin stars earned by Mandarin restaurants. The brand has had more stars combined than any other hotel chain since at least 2014, according to news reports.

Condos sales are “going really well,” Piazza said, though he declined to give specifics. “We are higher than we thought we’d be” at this point. For the sales center of what the company calls the Residences at Mandarin Oriental, Penn-Florida spent $3.5 million to buy and remake what used to be Old Town Tavern behind the old City Hall.

Council approval of the project was unanimous. Penn-Florida got permission for added height in exchange for adhering to downtown architectural guidelines. The only issue of note was parking. The three buildings will share parking and Penn-Florida has presented a valet plan for the hotel and the condos, which the city had requested.

Piazza said the construction loan for Via Mizner 2 and 3 is $400 million. Penn-Florida hopes to finish the hotel in late 2019, but Piazza said the date “probably” would be early 2020 with the condos “two or three months behind.” He predicts “sporadic” closings of Federal Highway.

Via Mizner 2 and 3 mostly will complete the redevelopment of downtown Boca Raton that began with the Boca City Walk rental complex and the Trader Joe’s plaza on the west side of Federal Highway. The hotel and condos will displace two buildings whose design looks like a combination of Arabian Nights and Boogie Nights. As Penn-Florida markets the project, the company essentially is marketing Boca Raton. It’s a measure of how far the city has come.

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Hudson Holdings tries again

Hudson Holdings makes another appeal tonight before the Delray Beach City Commission for the project formerly known as Swinton Commons.

The project seeks to transform the historic corridor roughly one block north and south along Swinton and Atlantic avenues. It includes the iconic Sundy House. It calls for adding retail, office and residential while demolishing some buildings and moving others.

Perhaps to improve the project’s image, Hudson Holdings rebranded it as Midtown. Last month, however, the historic preservation board recommended denial of the new site plan, the landscape plan, the architectural elevations and the movement and demolition of buildings. Indeed, Hudson Holdings lost all 12 votes, though some were 4-3. The site plan lost unanimously.

So the developer is appealing to the commission, as city rules allow. After a previous denial, the developer didn’t seek an appeal in time, drawing derision from the commission. City Attorney Max Lohman said it wasn’t his job to assist a developer with an appeal.

I can’t see the commission granting enough—if any—of the appeals to keep this version of the project alive. Complicating matters is that Hudson Holdings faces a lawsuit from its partner in the planned redevelopment of the Gulfstream Hotel in Lake Worth.

Yet even critics of Midtown acknowledge that the historic Swinton corridor needs redevelopment. The commission could decide that the historic preservation board went too far. Two commissioners are running for mayor and another is running for reelection.

Price Patton, who sits on the historic preservation board and voted against every application for Midtown, gave Seat 3 incumbent Mitch Katz $1,000. So did Patton’s wife, Carolyn. Katz faces Ryan Boylston.

Match point for the tennis center

Before tonight’s regular meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission will meet in a closed session to discuss the city’s lawsuit against Match Point, the promoter of the annual pro tournament at the tennis center.

Delray Beach filed the lawsuit nearly two years ago after receiving a memo from its law firm that a previous commission wrongly awarded the 25-year contract in 2005 without seeking bids and thus the current commission could void the contract. Delray Beach used a similar argument to end a trash-hauling contract.

The city spends nearly $1.5 million annually on the event in direct expenditures and services. This year, $1 million will come from the community redevelopment agency. The commission had urged the CRA to provide more of the financing.

Under a bill before the Legislature, however, the CRA could not make such a payment. So the lawsuit could loom especially large if the bill passes and the city can’t end the contract with Match Point.

Chard vs. Petrolia

Jim Chard and Shelly Petrolia are those commissioners running to become Delray Beach’s mayor, and Petrolia continues to hold a large fundraising lead.

In December, Petrolia raised about $8,000, bringing her total to $92,000. That includes a loan of $36,000. Chard raised $14,500 in December and has $38,000.

Chard would note that Petrolia has been raising money since August, since she got into the race before Cary Glickstein announced that he would not seek another term. Chard’s first report was for November. He got in after Glickstein’s announcement.

Chard’s recent contributions include $2,000 from iPic, which is building Fourth and Fifth Delray, and $1,000 from CDS Holdings, which in 2016 sold its interest in Atlantic Crossing to Edwards Companies. Chard also got $500 from CRA board member Cathy Balistriere and $100 from Old School Square Executive Director Rob Steele.

Delray generators

Also on tonight’s agenda is formal approval of Delray Beach’s $2.2 million purchase of 23 generators after Hurricane Irma.

You may recall that the city faced a potential sewer crisis because so many lift stations lacked power. Lift stations push sewage through the system to the treatment plant. Like Boca Raton, Delray Beach moves generators from lift station to lift station. Following Irma, though, there weren’t enough generators.

Without those purchases, sewage could have backed up into toilets and into streets from under manhole covers. Though Delray Beach had to ask residents to minimize flushes for more than a week, the worst didn’t happen.

One of new City Manager Mark Lauzier’s priorities is upgrading Delray Beach’s emergency management system and storm preparedness. The city will seek reimbursement for the generators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Nix on Hidden Valley housing

As expected, the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board recommended against approval of a residential project on the former Hidden Valley golf course. At that Jan. 4 meeting, however, the board expressed support for the property becoming a park.

I had raised that idea before the meeting. The roughly 55 acres have been vacant since the course closed. Like the former Mizner Trail Golf Course Boca Del Mar, the site has become overgrown. Compson won approval from the county commission to develop Mizner Trail, but the company instead has tried to flip the project.

Like the neighbors of Mizner Trail, those who live on or near Hidden Valley would rather see poorly maintained open space than well-maintained homes. They also cited concerns about traffic on Northwest Second Avenue and fears that new students would cause boundary changes at schools their children attend.

The Boca Royale project will go to the city council, which is unlikely to overrule the board and approve the many plan changes the homes would require. Perhaps the council will discuss the idea of buying some or all of the site for what neighbors say is a needed regional park.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
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.

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