Thursday, May 23, 2024

Mizner Plaza Hotel Is Floated and FAU Responds to State

Boca Raton could lose its downtown post office under a proposal from two of the city’s largest landowners.

James and Marta Batmasian, of Investments Limited, want to redevelop two adjoining parcels just south of Mizner Park. On one is the Mizner Plaza strip shopping center. On the other is the post office.

This combined 1.67-acre site would have a 266-room luxury hotel—with rooms up to 1,300 square feet—in two towers. The project, also called Mizner Plaza, would have restaurants and high-end retail, creating what the developers call an “iconic, one-of-a-kind development.”

To make the project work on this relatively small site, the Batmasians want to include an underground garage with mechanical parking. More important, they want to conform with downtown open-space rules by counting space on the second floor as public. The application refers to the wide, first-floor staircase as “public steps” and says the stairs would become “a destination and experience for all.”

Five years ago, an impasse between the Batmasians and the U.S. Postal Service on the lease for the post office became a mini crisis. The city held a community meeting at which many small business owners claimed that they relied on the facility. Some accused the Postal Service of wanting to close it. The agency and the Batmasians worked out the lease.

But there would be no place for a drab post office in the new Mizner Plaza. Or for the small businesses and restaurants that are now tenants in the shopping center. Renderings feature names such as Hermes, Cartier and Restoration Hardware.

According to property records, the Batmasians have owned the Mizner Plaza site since 1990, buying it for $400,000. They bought the post office site in 2013 for $4.2 million. The seller was a limited liability corporation, suggesting that redevelopment has been a possibility for some time.

Mizner Plaza would abut the Tower 155 condo to the south and be very near Aletto at Sanborn Square, the office project that the city council just approved. There is other redevelopment activity in that part of downtown Boca Raton.

Four years ago, the Batmasians proposed a hotel for Royal Palm Plaza, which they own. Nothing has happened.

Because the Batmasians just submitted the application, Mizner Plaza is in the earliest stages of staff review. I’ll have more when the first comments come in.

Whole Foods Goes Uptown

Uptown Boca announced this week that Whole Foods would become part of the mixed-use project on Glades Road just east of State Road 7. It will join the Whole Foods at University Commons near Florida Atlantic University and the one in Delray Beach at Federal Highway and Linton Boulevard.

Brian Schmier is CEO of Schmier Property Group, one of the principals in Uptown Boca. It includes 456 apartments and nearly 200,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. We spoke Tuesday about Uptown and what might be coming.

Whole Foods, Schmier said, “is one of the most attractive retailers” for developers in the country. He should know. Schmier was part of the team that developed University Commons, and he brought a Whole Foods to Wellington.

Though Uptown Boca features nearly 30 stores and restaurants, Schmier said he long had wanted a grocery store. Since closing on the 38 acres five years ago, Schmier said, the developers have sought a tenant mix that is “upscale, but the sort of places you go every day.”

Having the only REI outfitters store in Florida south of Winter Park means that Uptown Boca wants to draw from a wide area. But one lure for apartment tenants is the idea of a nearly self-contained neighborhood. Schmier said he heard from several renters who are happy about the Whole Foods arrival. There is no date for an opening.

Uptown Boca’s original version called for a Silverspot Cinema as an anchor tenant. The pandemic killed that idea and left a hole in the project. Schmier said the developers plan to subdivide that 65,000-square foot building into two floors. He hopes to announce a first-floor tenant next month.

With Uptown Boca, Schmier said, he and his partners have tried to learn from their previous projects, most recently Park Place in northwest Boca Raton. “I’m very happy,” he said, about where Uptown Boca stands. What’s next? “I’m not sure.”

FAU fires back

On Monday, Florida Atlantic University’s board chairman responded in detail to criticism of FAU’s presidential search.

Ray Rodrigues, chairman of the State University System, told Brad Levine on Friday that his office had two issues. One was a “straw poll” that members of the search committee had conducted before narrowing the field to three finalists. The other was a questionnaire from the headhunting firm that asked applicants about their “sexual orientation.”

The poll, Levine said in his letter to Rodrigues, conformed with state law. Committee members used it to find quick consensus on the “top tier” of candidates. Levine said the search committee member from the Board of Governors, which supervises the system and to which Rodrigues reports, “enthusiastically agreed.”

As for the questionnaire, Levine said the search firm had not shared any responses with the committee. The firm uses the anonymous responses “for its own purposes.” The question about sexual orientation, Levine said, was “part of an authorization from the candidate” for the firm to “access public records” under Board of Governors rules.

“We respectfully ask,” Levine said, “that you authorize us to resume our process as soon as possible.”

Though FAU’s trustees will make its choice for president, the Board of Governors must approve it. The concern is that Rodrigues stopped the search because the three finalists did not include State Rep. Randy Fine, an ally of Gov. DeSantis whom the governor had touted for the position.

Despite Levine’s detailed rebuttal, Rodrigues seems intent on continuing his investigation of the search. In raw political terms, DeSantis likely could order FAU to restart its search if the board lets him. He has appointed 13 of the 17 Board of Governors members, including Chancellor Manny Diaz. Then-Gov. Rick Scott did not involve himself nine years ago when the trustees chose John Kelly.

I’ll update as soon as there are developments.                                           

Gretsas lawsuit at impasse

The Delray Beach City Commission held a closed meeting on June 30 to discuss the lawsuit by former City Manager George Gretsas. The commission took the first step toward firing him in June 2020 after just five months on the job.

Commissioners claimed that they fired Gretsas for cause. Gretsas counters that he was fired for investigating problems with the city’s water system and thus was not fired for cause, thus enabling him to receive 20 weeks’ severance.

After mediation, the case remained at impasse. The two sides this month asked for more time to resolve the case.

More love for Boca Regional                                            

Speaking of the Batmasians, they are the latest seven-figure donors to Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s Keeping the Promise capital campaign. The hospital announced their $1 million gift this week. Boca Regional has reached its $250 million goal. The campaign is financing a makeover of the hospital, including a new patient building.

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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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