Related Story: Downtown dilemma: Start building new park or give up on idea for now
By Larry Barszewski
Two large undeveloped Federal Highway properties sitting across from each other in downtown Boynton Beach have some city commissioners suggesting that the two owners team up on their building plans.
Not all commissioners welcomed the idea, though, given that the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency owns the 2.6-acre site at 115 N. Federal Highway on the west side of the street and private developer Davis Camalier owns the 3.5-acre Ocean One parcel at 114 N. Federal Highway on the east side.
The CRA purchased its 2.6-acre property to the north of Hurricane Alley Raw Bar and Restaurant three years ago for $3 million. Camalier’s Ocean One property received site plan approval in 2017, but nothing has been built on it so far.
“I’m open-minded to things, but I’m just cautioning and going on the record that a stalled-out, financially unfunded project across the street does not sound like the type of thing I want to tether to our 115 project that we own,” said Commissioner Justin Katz, referring to the CRA site by its street address.
“I just want to make sure we don’t start to create the narrative that these two projects are symbiotic,” Katz went on. “I don’t want to tether them together, because now in order to make 115 work, we have to make the project across the street work, and that has been a difficult lift.”
Commissioners, acting as the city’s CRA board, plan to seek development proposals for the CRA site, but they also told staff at the CRA’s April 13 meeting to meet with Camalier to discuss what a working relationship might look like.
Commissioner Christina Romelus said having Camalier as a partner would not take away any of the CRA’s rights, but working together could help prevent “piecemeal” projects. A partnership could create “a general master plan for that Federal Highway area,” she said.
“I think the first step is just knowing that we have an equal partner that is willing to work with us here on this and is not going to be an adversary or is not going to railroad us in the process,” Romelus said. “We’re not going to give away anything. We’re not going to sell anything. Our property is still our property. His property is still his property. And if anything isn’t working out the way that we’re seeing it work out, we squash that and we move on with our original proposal.”
Camalier, who made a rare appearance at the CRA meeting “to really try and put our minds together” and “approach how we develop” the two sites, grew frustrated as the night wore on over concerns raised about his inclusion in the CRA’s efforts.
“I came here tonight to simply say I’d like to try to work together. So, you all can work with me or you can go take your marbles and go work on your own,” Camalier told commissioners. “It’s up to you all. I’m an investor. I want to maximize my value, my asset. I think working together, creating an important place, is the focus of this message.”
Camalier’s representatives have said Ocean One’s original plans for a mixed-use development, including an eight-story, 231-unit residential complex, are no longer economically feasible and other alternatives are being considered. The project was supposed to receive about $4.1 million in taxpayer money to help with costs, but that potential has now expired.
Still, commissioners want to see Camalier succeed because the Ocean One property is seen as a critical part of the downtown’s overall redevelopment.
Camalier is also an important player because he owns the Boardwalk Italian Ice & Creamery site adjacent to the CRA’s 115 N. Federal Highway property. Commissioners are hoping to add adjacent parcels to the CRA site to make it more attractive for potential development. The Boardwalk site is particularly significant because of its prime Federal Highway frontage.
The CRA site is already set to expand. Commissioners at the April CRA meeting agreed to purchase an adjacent parcel to the north of the CRA property, which will give the site access from Boynton Beach Boulevard. The closing for the .29-acre property at 508 E. Boynton Beach Blvd. won’t take place until November.
Commissioners agreed to a $915,000 purchase price. The CRA is putting down a $100,000 deposit and will pay the balance with money budgeted in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
The property is the Boynton office for Urban Design Studio. It was formerly the home of Miller Land Planning Consultants, headed by Bradley Miller. Miller joined Urban Design Studio a year ago and is on the development team of one of the groups seeking approval to build on the CRA site. Six groups submitted letters of interest last year in the CRA site, with most suggesting mixed-use projects with office and commercial space and several hundred apartments or condos.
Commissioners decided in December to put together their own suggestions for what they’d like to see built on the property. They received public input through an online survey in February.
They’re now considering a two-pronged approach that would solicit proposals for the site and look at each developer’s qualifications to get a better idea of who is likely to be able to bring a project to fruition.
The ideas commissioners supported include:
• Mixed use, with retail, office, grocery and residential units.
• Incorporation of open space, plazas and enhanced green spaces, including expansion of Dewey Park on Ocean Avenue.
• Public parking in excess of development requirements.
• Transportation amenities, including those for buses, trains, bikes and ride-sharing.
• The inclusion of more adjacent properties into the site.
Because of the problems in getting Ocean One built, commissioners want additional protection included in any agreement. Ocean One received a half-acre sliver of CRA-owned land — at the time valued at $480,000 — for a nominal $10 price. Commissioners said any agreement for the current property should include a reverter clause that gives the property back to the CRA if construction does not start by a certain time.
The CRA also lists the average value of CRA-owned properties at $64 a square foot, placing the site’s value at $4.4 million.