Starchitect in Boca and other matters of note

new_mizner_on_green.jpg

Starchitect

Daniel Libeskind, the architect who designed the new World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, was telling a story Tuesday in Vino Wine Bar near Mizner Park about Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein. Libeskind was using the story to make a point about his design for the New Mizner on the Green project in Boca Raton.

Early in the last century, Picasso painted the novelist and poet whose Paris salon attracted all manner of literary figures, such as Ernest Hemingway. When Picasso showed Stein the portrait, Libeskind said, she told him, “It doesn’t look like me.”

To which Picasso said, “It will.”

Libeskind wants Boca Raton to think that way about the four luxury condo towers—500 units in all—that would be New Mizner on the Green, replacing the Mizner on the Green rental complex on the east side of Mizner Boulevard across from Royal Palm Place. He understands that at the moment many in Boca may be thinking like Gertrude Stein when she saw that portrait. Libeskind’s design—futuristic, dreamy—looks nothing like the Addison Mizner-Mediterranean style of architecture that has given Boca the look that many in the city like.

So Libeskind wants residents—especially city council members—to appreciate that he and the developer, Broward County-based Elad National Properties, believe that they are respecting the city’s tradition despite the somewhat condescending letter Elad sent to the city with the renderings. The design, Libeskind said, is meant to “connect with the spirit of the place, to connect with the past era” and be a “confident expression” with a “certain kind of boldness.”

The boldness doesn’t stop with the design. Elad wants to build four towers that would range from 22 stories to 29 stories and would be on average more than 300 feet high. Development rules for the property call for height limits of 100 feet. At least two of the five council members have told me that they couldn’t support such a project. Another one said he is willing to consider it.

Enter Libeskind as a selling point. With studios in New York City, Milan and Zurich, Libeskind is what the industry calls a “starchitect.” He has designed projects in Singapore, the Philippines, Ireland, Poland, Germany, Brazil, China, Finland, Italy, South Korea—and Columbus, Ohio and Covington, Ky. His projects include the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Garden of Love and Fire in the The Netherlands.

Libeskind, a native of Poland who says he has been to Boca Raton “many times,” was here Tuesday to conduct an Elad-sponsored symposium called “The Language of Architecture” for roughly 300 donors to the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Libeskind says he has spoken to “many people” about New Mizner on the Green but not members of the council. No date has been set for the council’s first look at the project.

When that happens, council members and the public will hear Libeskind and the developer tout what they believe would be the transformational nature of New Mizner on the Green for the city and the public benefits. Where Mizner on the Green fronts directly onto Mizner Boulevard, the new design includes a 240-foot setback—the condo owners would have a sweeping view of the Boca Raton Resort & Club’s golf course and the ocean—and a two-acre public park. Libeskind points out that of the 16 acres at the World Trade Center site, eight are public.

“We want to raise the bar of Boca Raton” with New Mizner on the Green, Libeskind said. “We are not just building something. We want to create a skyline and add to the beauty of Boca Raton,” which he thinks residents would accept because Boca is “not a provincial town.” The project actually started smaller, he said, but he was unable to deliver a “sense of place.” As for the height, “My work is not about the height of a building.”

When I wrote about the project last month, I used the Eiffel Tower as a possible comparison. During construction, people hated it. Now, no one can imagine Paris without it. Libeskind liked the comparison, noting that a group of artists composed a letter of protest, calling the tower “useless and monstrous.” He added that many in Florence doubted that Filippo Brunelleschi’s plan for the Duomo could work. Today, the design is considered an architectural breakthrough.

“You have to be confident to be an architect,” Libeskind said. In working toward an approval, “You have to be a marathon runner.” Of the World Trade Center site, he said, “There is no more complex site in the world,” given all the political, civic and business forces at work, not to mention victims’ groups that consider the property sacred. Yet of the design, “You don’t see compromises.”

It’s been less than two years since the emotional debate over the Archstone project ended with the city council voting to approve it. Expect the debate over New Mizner on the Green to be different, though focused on the same issue: compatibility.

Archstone’s critics, most of who live in the Golden Triangle neighborhood to the north, worried that the project’s size and resulting traffic would overwhelm the area. New Mizner on the Green proposes only residential. If many residents are seasonal, the traffic impact should be moderate, though owners in Townsend Place just to the south may be unhappy with Libeskind’s planned skyline.

With New Mizner on the Green, the council will focus on height, of course, but also on how different the project would look from everything else in Boca. Libeskind will challenge council members to embrace that difference. As for that portrait of Gertrude Stein in which she didn’t see herself at first, she kept it. The painting now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

What’s in a name

Speaking of Archstone, as old buildings come down to make way for the project on East Palmetto Park Road, the new name of the project is an old name.

Archstone is the company that owned the project at the time of approval. That approval, though, was very contentious. So when Equity Residential bought the project from Archstone, Equity changed the name to Palmetto Promenade. The late Greg Talbott had used that name when he first proposed developing the site two decades ago.

Now real estate management giant Greystar owns the project. The company has not asked for a building permit, but the demolition permit is in the name ofPalmetto Promenade LLC. That could change, but most likely the name will stay retro.

Delray city manager shortlist

Today, Delray Beach’s headhunter is supposed to give officials the names of finalists for city manager. Colin Baenziger has culled the applications based on criteria supplied by the city commission.

This week, Baenziger told me that the list has eight names on it, but that the number still could change, depending on what his research turns up. The commission is scheduled to make its choice on Nov. 3.

Tom Chappell

This last item is a little personal.

Tom Chappell died 11 days ago. His son, Brian, was a West Palm Beach police officer. In 1988, Brian Chappell was shot and killed by Norberto Pietri, whom he had stopped for a traffic violation. It was August, and the officer had not worn his bulletproof vest.

For Tom Chappell, frustration compounded the agony. Pietri should not have been out. He had walked away from a low-security prison while serving time on other charges. Tom Chappell was further incensed by the wait for Pietri’s execution after his conviction in 1990. Pietri supposedly lost his last state appeal 10 years ago.

While Chappell, waited, I was working at The Palm Beach Post. The paper opposed capital punishment because of its inconsistent application and unreliability; Florida leads the country in Death Row exonerations.

Pietri’s guilt, though, never was in doubt. Tom Chappell regularly would write letters to the editor criticizing the paper and/or defending the death penalty, but in our back and forth over the years he never was anything but courteous—if very firm.

Depending on your perspective, this case either illustrates all that is wrong with the death penalty or the false hope of closure from an execution. Tom Chappell wanted very much to see Pietri die before he did. I hope this grieving father can rest in peace.

••••••••

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.

Missed the last City Watch?

Visit our City Watch page and also sign up for our City Watch e-newsletter, where you’ll get the latest column delivered directly to your inbox.

Previous articleUnique Halloween Costume Ideas
Next articlePumpkin-Infused Beauty Picks
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.