By Steve Plunkett
The Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency will give away land under the Little House Restaurant and the Oscar Magnuson house — the city’s oldest structure — to lure a Delray Beach law firm and jumpstart development downtown.
Vivian Brooks, executive director of the CRA, told board members July 9 that just that afternoon she had reached a tentative agreement with law firm Kanner and Pintaluga PA and developer One Boynton LLC, which owns most of the land fronting Federal Highway between Ocean Avenue and Boynton Beach Boulevard save a sliver of CRA-owned land at the northwest corner.
“I think it’s a win-win in my opinion at first blush,” Brooks said. “To have these [law firm] jobs right there in a brand-new office building that’s highly visible at a very critical, main intersection I think will kick off more interest in downtown Boynton.”
Plus, said Brooks, the Magnuson and Little House properties would go on the tax rolls if owned by a private entity instead of the city.
“I like what I’m hearing here,” Mayor Jerry Taylor, who chairs the CRA, said. “And the magic words I heard from you were, ‘We’ll move it along quicker.’ Those are magic words to me.”
In April the personal-injury law firm said it would build a nine-story, 50,000-square-foot office building with 300 parking spaces. One Boynton presented drawings of a 14-story, high-density residential tower, a 13-story residential tower and a 12-story, 120-room hotel.
One Boynton representatives said the 10-attorney law firm would bring about 200 employees to the downtown when it moved in in 2015 and would have room to add more.
“I would envision in five years it could be 300 to 400,” firm co-founder Howard Kanner told The Coastal Star.
Jim Knight, principal of the Knight Group in Delray Beach, represents the law firm in the negotiations. Three years ago he was instrumental in bringing Walmart to the Federal Highway corridor.
The CRA said it would give its half-acre at Boynton Beach Boulevard to make the deal work, but Brooks said negotiations afterward slowed to a “snail’s pace.”
Then F. Davis Camalier, principal of One Boynton, suggested the law firm build on the CRA land plus some of his. The CRA would give him the Magnuson and Little House parcels in return.
“He actually wanted a land swap. He presented that,” Brooks said.
City Commissioner Michael Fitzpatrick, also a CRA board member, said he met with Camalier less than four hours before the meeting and the Manalapan resident offered barely a hint of the proposed deal.
“I’m still interested in having a three-story parking garage as the plaza base,” Fitzpatrick said.
The CRA bought the corner parcel for $900,000 in 2002 for the extension of Boynton Beach Boulevard and access to Marina Village. The Palm Beach County property appraiser values the land at $425,000.
The agency bought the Magnuson property for $850,000 in 2007 from broker Thomas Walsh, whose family owns the Marriott Hotel in Delray Beach. The county’s appraised value of that parcel, at 211 E. Ocean Ave., is now $70,294. The two-story, 1,500-square-foot Magnuson house was built in 1910.
“It is designated historic. It’s only locally historic, so it doesn’t protect it from being torn down,” Brooks said. “If you want some protection, maybe you could say it would have to be moved.”
Brooks said the CRA could find a new site for the structure.
“That would not be a huge issue. It’s an easy-to-move piece of property because it’s wood,” she said.
Under the tentative deal the Little House Restaurant would stay at 480 E. Ocean Ave., at least until its lease runs out in 2017. The property appraiser lists its market value at $101,492.
The restaurant is in the historic Ruth Jones Cottage, which was built in 1934 at 201 NE First Ave. The CRA paid Jones $265,000 for the cottage in 2007 and four years later spent $350,000 to move it and save it from demolition.
The house still has its original hardwood floors, front door and coral rock fireplace. The ceiling was created using Dade County pine from the original bedroom walls. The CRA next meets Aug. 13.