By Larry Barszewski
The Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency plans to purchase the Hurricane Alley site and two buildings west of it for $3.6 million, to be part of a larger downtown redevelopment project.
The Ocean Avenue properties, owned by the Oyer family, would be added to adjacent land already owned by the CRA at 115 N. Federal Highway. It would be used in a project that would extend from Ocean Avenue to Boynton Beach Boulevard between Northeast Fourth Street and Federal Highway.
City commissioners, serving as the CRA’s governing board, agreed to the purchase price at the CRA’s July 13 meeting, with a sale likely before the end of the year.
The Oyer buildings at 511, 515 and 529 E. Ocean Ave. don’t have any historical designation, though they are some of the oldest remaining in the city. Harvey Oyer said his grandfather purchased the buildings some 90 years ago and they have since been passed down through the family.
The family has resisted past offers by the CRA to purchase the properties.
“It’s a tough decision for us. There’s a lot of family history there,” Harvey Oyer said. “Emotionally it may be hard to part with, but looking at where the city is today, our vision and our father’s vision was always for the city to be successful.”
Commissioners see the potential projects in the Federal Highway blocks immediately north of Ocean Avenue as critical to downtown’s success.
“This is the Ocean Avenue frontage that is kind of our signature street in Boynton Beach,” Mayor Steven Grant said. “The project that we have moving forward with 115, this would only enhance it such a great deal because of the value Ocean Avenue has on the property as a whole.”
The Oyer properties were appraised at $3.4 million in October. Commissioners are willing to go to the $3.6 million asking price to secure them, saying their value has likely increased anyway over the past nine months.
One concern for commissioners is making sure Hurricane Alley Restaurant and Raw Bar has a downtown home once redevelopment of the block begins. They’d like to see Hurricane Alley included in the larger redevelopment and are hopeful it can be relocated temporarily during construction.
Commissioners also decided they want to entertain as many offers as possible for the development of the CRA property on the block. The CRA is issuing a request for proposals, known as an RFP, to see what developers are interested in building on the site.
Commissioners turned down an alternative offer from Hyperion Development Group, supported by Davis Camalier, for the CRA to skip the RFP process and work directly with Hyperion to develop properties on both sides of Federal Highway north of Ocean Avenue as one project.
Camalier owns the property in the block on the east side of Federal Highway and is in the process of selling it to Hyperion. He received site plan approval from the city in 2017 for a multiuse project there called Ocean One, but nothing was ever built.
Camalier and Hyperion also have leverage because they control a key parcel that the CRA has yet to acquire on the west side, the property that is home to Boardwalk Italian Ice & Creamery, a parcel Hyperion is also buying.
Bonnie Miskel, an attorney who represents Camalier, said combining the properties on both sides of Federal Highway would make for a true gateway project that commissioners have said they want. It would also be paid for almost exclusively by Hyperion, she said.
“The project is a $350 million project,” Miskel said. “In all of the years that I’ve been doing this, I can’t even think of another CRA project where the private developer spent 90% of the money to get the buildings out of the ground.”
Camalier said commissioners should not discount the ability of Hyperion to do a great project.
“They are capable of raising huge amounts of capital,” Camalier said. “This could be our Rockefeller Center in Boynton Beach.”
Commissioners said Hyperion could submit a proposal just like any other interested group — and it might have an advantage because of the property it already plans to buy. They were reluctant to short-circuit the proposal process given the high level of interest from developers. Last year, six separate development groups submitted letters of interest for developing the CRA property on the west side of Federal Highway.
“People are interested in this property. There is a fight to be had for a champion to rise,” Commissioner Justin Katz said. “If everyone believes that competition is good, if everyone believes that a fight is good and will produce the champion, the best person or outfit to do this, the RFP is the only process.”
Only Grant and Vice Mayor Woodrow Hay favored accepting Hyperion’s letter of interest.
“I feel we are missing out on an opportunity here,” Hay said. “I’ve seen RFPs where the best did not rise to the top. We ended up going into litigation as we’re currently doing with Town Square,” a public-private partnership that’s in a dispute over two planned parking garages that have yet to be constructed.
Grant said the ability to have a combined project on both sides of Federal Highway would allow for uses that may not be included if they are done separately. He fears the new proposals will all include large apartment complexes.
“I would want to see office space. I would want to see condos. I would want to see a hotel. I do not want more residential,” Grant said. “We are missing the boat on Class A office space that is needed. It is the combined aspect of the hotel, the residential, the retail and the commercial. I don’t believe anyone else can offer that.”
Hyperion CEO Rob Vecsler said his company may move forward with plans for just the east side “because maybe we believe that waiting on the RFP adds too much uncertainty in timing. We feel the time to strike is now. The iron is hot now.”
The main portion of the CRA property is 1.58 acres it purchased for $3 million in 2018, which is now being used as surface-level parking while awaiting development. In April, the CRA approved the purchase later this year of an adjacent 0.29-acre property at 508 E. Boynton Beach Blvd. — west of Ace Hardware — for $915,000. The purchase of the three Oyer properties, with their 0.41 acres, will bring the CRA-owned portions of the block to 2.29 acres at a cost of $7.5 million.
Commissioners hope to have the RFP proposals in and reviewed, with a winner selected and negotiations completed so that a final contract can be approved at the CRA’s February 2022 meeting. The mayor and two of the four other commissioners are term-limited, so they would like to see their efforts finished before a new board is seated following the March elections.
The CRA’s purchases may not be ended. Besides the Boardwalk Italian Ice site, other privately owned properties in the eastern block include a convenience store on Ocean Avenue at Federal, a gas station at Boynton Beach Boulevard and Federal, and Ace Hardware on Boynton Beach Boulevard.
“We need to keep going and accept that the adjacent property, particularly the convenience store, likely needs to be acquired now,” Katz said. “The acquisition of the Oyer property necessitates the acquisition of the corner parcel now, because then we have the entire Ocean (Avenue) frontage.”