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By Larry Barszewski

Developers interested in a high-profile downtown Boynton Beach site have plenty of ideas for what to put there.

They say a supermarket or hotel could be built on the city-owned property, or maybe apartment buildings up to 10 stories tall — including ground-level shops or a rooftop community garden — and amenities such as a parking garage, train station and outdoor gathering spots.

Boynton Beach commissioners aren’t sure what to do with the 2.6-acre property at 115 N. Federal Highway, which the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency purchased two years ago for $3 million. But they’re thrilled to see the interest the site is generating. Six unsolicited proposals had been submitted by the commission’s Dec. 8 CRA board meeting.

“What a good problem to have, right? A typical concern is that not enough people are interested,” Vice Mayor Ty Penserga said. “I could not be happier with the amount of interest that’s coming out.”

The property, between Federal Highway and Northeast Fourth Street, is north of Ocean Avenue and the Hurricane Alley Raw Bar and Restaurant. It currently is used as surface level parking and had included the now-demolished Congregational United Church of Christ building that recently served as the city’s temporary library.

“This is kind of like our Main and Main, as the saying goes. This is a strategic intersection,” Penserga said of Ocean Avenue at Federal Highway. “It is a prime real estate key for downtown. And having realized that, this is not something I want to get wrong.”

Rather than rush into a decision, commissioners voted to reject all the proposals. They want the CRA to establish its own priorities first for development there. They requested that staff meet with city and Palm Beach County officials — and with neighboring businesses and residents — to come up with suggested priorities for the board to consider in February. The commission then plans to issue a formal request for proposals, which would invite anyone interested to submit a proposal based on the CRA’s priorities.

Mayor Steven Grant thanked the firms that submitted letters of interest on their own regarding the site.

“We really appreciate the time and effort that you put in this and we’re looking to get the best project possible — and to work with our community for the sustainability and resiliency of our city,” Grant said. “We will be speaking with you in the future.”

The CRA received the first letter of interest in August from a group led by William Morris of Southcoast Partners and Harold and Max Van Arnem of Van Arnem Properties.

Commissioners at the time said they planned to wait 90 days before considering the proposal in case anyone else was interested. Five additional proposals were received within a span of weeks following the CRA board’s November meeting.

The proposals, rejected by commissioners without review, could come back in some form during the RFP process. The following is a synopsis of those proposals.
• Ocean Avenue Residences and Shoppes, LLC: The Morris and Van Arnem proposal offered to build 229 apartments, 18,000 square feet of commercial space and a privately financed 544-space garage, including 120 public spaces. Its tallest building would be eight stories. It proposed incorporating the city’s Dewey Park into its overall design, an idea that has been picked up by other proposers.
• Banyan Oasis: E2L Real Estate Solutions LLC, under its president, Mark Hefferin, proposed building a hotel and two apartment buildings — all with ground-level commercial and restaurant space. The company is also the lead developer on the Boynton Beach Town Square project. Its plan called for 220 apartments, 34,000 square feet of retail space, a 130-room hotel and a 686-space publicly financed parking garage, including 150 public parking spaces. Its tallest building would be eight stories.
• Green115: The Blackonyx Capital LLC plan is focused on an environmentally friendly mixed-use development, including 21,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. It also proposed having a rooftop community garden, and 2,300 square feet of “co-work” office space for people who can’t work from home and can’t get to a main office. Its design included two 10-story buildings with a total of 243 residential units, with one building having a 408-space, six-level parking garage. There would be another 119 surface parking spaces on the site.
• Supermarket: B&H Fine Foods II Inc., which operates Howard’s Market on Southwest 18th Street in Boca Raton, proposed a 20,000-square-foot grocery store on the site with 120 parking spaces. The supermarket would include an “urban greenhouse” selling farm-to-table produce grown on site and in the region. B&H Director Barry Adkin said the site could also have a commercial kitchen to give local entrepreneurs a place to produce and sell their products.
• Residential/commercial use: Affiliated Development founder Jeff Burns said his company is interested in building 220 luxury rental housing units with ground-level commercial space, while revitalizing Dewey Park and making other improvements that create pedestrian connectivity to a future Brightline passenger train station.
• Adjacent property owner proposal: Davis Camalier, owner of the adjacent Federal Highway property rented out to Boardwalk Italian Ice & Creamery, said he would like to form a public-private partnership with the CRA to develop the combined properties. His letter had few specifics, other than saying he wanted to create “a development that would maximize the improvement of the site and its impact to the City and its residents”— or for him to purchase the CRA property outright.

Commissioners have said they would like to see additional parcels included in the final product to create a more cohesive development on Federal between Ocean Avenue and Boynton Beach Boulevard.

The commission also views the property as a critical link in the city’s overall redevelopment, forming connections from the Town Square project on Seacrest Boulevard to the Boynton Beach Marina District on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Susan Oyer, whose family owns the property where Hurricane Alley is situated and two other adjacent parcels, said the submitted proposals are a good starting point for future discussions.

“I would tend to think that maybe you want to look at elements of combining them,” Oyer said.

“We do have a food desert, so maybe that grocery store idea is worth incorporating in some way. E2L has a wonderful pathway kind of system that is really impressive, very reminiscent of something you would see in Europe,” Oyer said. “I actually was just blown away by Blackonyx and their level of sustainability and their level of moving forward and the attraction that would bring to our city. I think in a perfect world, I would mash them all together and create perfection.”

Hurricane Alley owner Kim Kelly, who had objected to the original proposal submitted in August, said the commission is moving in the right direction. Her newly formed group, the Downtown Business Coalition for a Brighter and Better Boynton Beach, expects to play a role in the priorities the CRA puts together.

“I really like where this is going. I think this is a great decision,” Kelly told commissioners. “It’s going to be worth the wait. It’s going to make it better.”

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