By Angie Francalancia
The buildings will be taller, the occupants younger and the amenities more cutting-edge than anything downtown Boca Raton has seen. And if the developers’ and city leaders’ predictions come true, the new apartments going up in Boca Raton’s downtown will fill it with people willing to walk to shopping, entertainment, dining and perhaps even employment.
This is not your grandparent’s vacation rental.
Indeed, the apartments — 1,197 of them downtown —will be small by the city’s suburban standards, and will be marketed to young professionals who don’t necessarily see buying a house in their immediate futures.
And because two of the four downtown complexes include some retail space, the projects also have the potential to enliven the lackluster performance of some of the existing retail around Palmetto Park Road.
Think of Boca Raton not as a small city, compared with more traditional urban areas, but as a piece of the overall South Florida metro area, said Jay Curran, vice president of development for Archstone’s Florida division. Archstone plans to build 378 apartments on Palmetto Park Road in nine stories atop about 15,000 square feet of retail at street level and a parking garage. That includes about 25 town homes with garages that will face Boca Raton Boulevard. The existing retail building will be demolished.
“You’ve got the view of the Boca Raton Resort, the Intracoastal and the ocean, and to be in such great proximity to downtown and the beach is a great opportunity,” Curran said. “Not only do you get all these great amenities but great access to jobs.”
That close proximity to downtown, U.S. 1 and I-95 is one reason these are expected to attract young professionals, and why they’re likely to improve Boca Raton’s business prospects, said people involved in downtown planning.
Businesses look for quality rental apartments in deciding where to locate, said land use attorney Charles Siemon, who has done extensive work with downtown Boca Raton, including Archstone and other apartment projects.
“We have employees who work in downtown Boca Raton but who live in Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “We need to make our city more attractive to businesses and young professionals, and that’s not renting a golf villa.”
Kelly Smallridge, executive director of the Economic Development Board, said today’s typical young professional wants an urban lifestyle, and today’s businesses want a young, college-educated workforce. Companies like 3C Interactive, Campus Management and Office Depot ought to benefit by the apartment growth in downtown Boca, she said.
“The scenario that the economic consultants give us was that the 25-year-old today likes to get up, get on a bike, go to Starbucks for coffee, get back on the bike and go to the office; walk outside for lunch, get on a bike again and go to a park,” she said. “Young college graduates today are not necessarily excited about purchasing their first car because of the price of gas.”
While city leaders are excited about the potential for a dense, pedestrian downtown, not all residents share their vision, and many have said there will be too many apartments and too much traffic.
“There will be far fewer residents than needed to fill the approved rental properties,” economics professor Ann Witte told the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations on May 1.
The city’s projected population growth “will provide only slightly more than 400 new renters,” said Witte, who lives in Townsend Place.
All five apartment developments are near U.S. 1, and four are within walking distance to Boca’s Mizner Park entertainment district.
The majority of the units will be one-bedrooms, and some developments are offering studios as well.
Rents among the complexes will range from $1,050 for a studio apartment to $3,500 for a three-bedroom with garage.
“We’re assuming this is going to be mainly single and professional couples that either work in downtown or work in other areas of Palm Beach County and want to live closer to downtown, closer to where the action is,” said Hugo Pacanins, vice president of Ram Residential, which is building 208 units just east of U.S. 1 on Palmetto Park Road. Ram won’t be demolishing the Merrill Lynch office building on the site, and will position the apartments a little east of the corner, leaving the prime corner for a future phase, Pacanins said.
“We see a combination of younger populations, but also some of the older population moving away from the suburban locations who maybe don’t want to use cars for everything.”
While granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and wood cabinets set the standard, the upscale appointments will come in smaller packages with some studio apartments coming in at about 530 square feet at both the Ram and Camden apartments.
“There’s a big supply of large condos and apartments. Our units are going to be a little bit smaller,” said Chad Weaver, Camden’s vice president of real estate investments for the southeast United States. “We’re actually going to have some studios. The apartments will range in size from about 530 square feet up to about 1,250,” he said. He believes demand will come from some people looking for a more comfortable living situation, such as moving out from a parent’s home or living alone after having a roommate.
Via Mizner, adjacent to the Boca Raton Resort, may see tenants who choose to rent rather than buy a seasonal place, said Pete Odorico, vice president of Development for Penn-Florida, which is developing the project at Camino Real and U.S. 1.
“It’s the views next to the club and proximity to the club that makes a difference for us,” he said. He expects phase one of the project to complement the entire project, which still includes a future phase of condos about 44,000 square feet of retail and a 118 room hotel.
The fifth, North Boca Village, about five miles north, and includes 384 apartments in 19 buildings on 20 acres at the former Levitz Plaza.
“This is more of a garden style, not a high-rise,” said Michael Ging, managing director of Broadstone Developers, which already has the first five-story building out of the ground. “We’ll have three-story townhomes with two-car garages, which we expect to appeal to families, and five-story buildings that we believe will appeal to the more mature demographic, mostly because it will look and feel like a condo. And then we’ll have your traditional three-story garden-style buildings.”
“The thing that’s going to set us apart is our clubhouse. It’s the most luxurious clubhouse that I’ve seen,” Ging said. It will be a two-story, 10,000-square-foot building with a cyber cafe, fitness center, yoga studio, demo kitchen, and wine and cigar rooms. The four downtown complexes all sit on space a fraction the size of North Boca Village’s 20 acres. Located between Mizner and Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue, North Boca Village expects to attract young professionals who might work north or south.
Unlike many of the condos that make up downtown Boca’s multifamily housing, developers don’t see the apartments being abandoned in the summer.
“We think it will be very good for the community and add to the year-round population,” Siemon said.