By Mary Hladky
Nearly four years after the City Council effectively killed Crocker Partners’ ambitious plan to create a Midtown office, retail and residential development, the company has a new, equally ambitious plan to revitalize the former IBM campus.
The council’s action in January 2018 prompted the company, now rebranded as CP Group, to file three ultimately unsuccessful lawsuits against the city. The acrimony on both sides has not abated.
Yet CP Group is before the city once again. The conduit between the company and the city unexpectedly is Deputy Mayor Andrea O’Rourke, the most vehement opponent of Midtown.
Signs of some rapprochement have been visible for a while. CP Group, which bought the IBM campus in 2018 for about $179 million, has incorporated public art into its extensive property renovations. O’Rourke, a strong proponent of art in public places, has been on hand for at least some of the art unveilings.
O’Rourke told other council members on Sept. 13 that CP Group Managing Partner Angelo Bianco had approached her asking that the company be allowed to informally present its plans for the 1.7 million-square-foot complex, now known as the Boca Raton Innovation Campus. The plans, still in their early stages, would require a zoning change.
But with distrust still running high, the city asked CP Group to clarify its objectives for a meeting.
In a Sept. 1 letter to City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser, which asks if the City Council has an interest in considering a zoning change, CP Group attorney Bonnie Miskel stated that hearing the presentation would not commit the city to anything and, in legalese, says that CP Group will not sue. The council gave the go-ahead for the meeting.
CP Group has some leverage. It wants to position BRIC as the premier technology and life sciences hub for the southeastern U.S.
At the same time, Mayor Scott Singer and the city’s economic development staff have been working to attract tech companies to the city. Their success will hinge in part on having the type of office space and amenities these companies want.
BRIC is now in the midst of a $100 million renovation primarily inside the building. CP Group has no plans to change the iconic exterior of the building designed by architect Marcel Breuer.
There is an urgent need for BRIC to move quickly to attract tenants who are fleeing other parts of the country and looking to relocate in Florida, Miskel said during CP Group’s Oct. 12 presentation.
“The time is now,” she said. “Technology companies and startups are leaving California and other places and we would like the opportunity to bring them to Boca Raton.”
CP Group wants BRIC to offer amenities that these companies and their employees want. That includes offices that are near housing, public transportation, restaurants, retail and child care.
To that end, the company wants to add about 1,000 residential units, a hotel, grocery store, a cultural center that would not compete with the proposed Boca Raton Center for Arts & Innovation in Mizner Park, dining and food halls, and wellness and conference centers. Retail would be clustered along a “Main Street” that cuts across part of the property.
BRIC is within a Light Industrial Research Park zoning district, which was created for IBM. But that zoning would not allow most of the amenities CP Group wants to add, including residential, retail, grocery store and hotel.
Singer was the only council member to voice a firm objection, saying he would prefer to have a comprehensive plan for the entire area that would include the Park at Broken Sound. O’Rourke also suggested this might be the best approach.
But City Manager Leif Ahnell, citing differences between the two office parks, said it would be possible to review BRIC and the Park at Broken Sound separately.
Other council members said they liked the BRIC concept but wanted to hear more details. Of most concern was whether CP Group was proposing too much residential development — the same issue that created problems for Midtown.
Miskel said that the number of residential units was in flux but would fall well below how much is permitted in other parts of the city.
“I personally like what I see,” said council member Yvette Drucker. “I think we need to think outside the box on this one.”
“I am on board with the concept,” said council member Andy Thomson. “I do not want Boca to miss an opportunity like this.”
“I do see some urgency in this,” said council member Monica Mayotte.
CP Group will return to the council in November to provide more details on its plans.