By Thomas R. Collins

At the height of the real estate boom, news that a new developer was stepping in to complete a 30-townhouse, 40-condo project might have been greeted with a long stretch and a yawn.
But it’s not 2005 anymore.
So city officials here are pretty pumped about the Peninsula.
The project, which was in foreclosure and sits on the east side of Federal Highway at the north edge of town, has been bought by Boca Raton-based Altman Companies, a developer with townhome and condominium projects in at least five states, most of them in Florida. Altman plans to complete the project according to the original plans.
A year ago, the project was just another question mark along the city’s main north-south strip. Today, it is a sign that things might be turning around.
But nothing has changed the landscape yet. There are just as many vacant lots surrounded by chain-link fencing and green screens as there were 12 months ago. But behind the scenes, there is activity.
“Given the general condition of things, it could be worse,” said city Planning Director Mike Rumpf. “And some things are happening, so that’s encouraging.”
Among the other goings-on:
• Wal-Mart is nearing the end of its permit phase and is expected to start demolition of existing buildings at Gulfstream Boulevard and Federal Highway early next year.
• Las Ventanas — perhaps the city’s most visible project, with its burnt-umber façade at Woolbright and Federal — is at an 80 percent occupancy rate, managers there say.
• Marina Village continues to generate activity near the Federal Highway corridor.
• A remodeled Publix is planned to replace the existing Publix in Sunshine Square, across from Las Ventanas.
• A 12-acre parcel along Federal at the south end of town has been assembled and the land cleared, with the way paved for another residential project, according to the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
• The Bank of America building at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Federal is destined for redevelopment once the facility moves into a new branch building in Sunshine Square. The CRA is interested in recruiting a corporate office of some kind, “I would like to make a play for a company that can bring jobs paying more than the average wage currently available in the city,” said Vivian Brooks, the city’s interim CRA director.
Brooks feels the price is right on more and more lots in the city, generating more activity, whereas “they didn’t have to be financially feasible before.”
Altman bought the Peninsula project “because there are some deals.”
“You’ll start to see more of that, I think,” Brooks said. “We’re starting to see some folks who were waiting for the numbers to be where they should be.”
The biggest turnabout is expected to come at the old Gulfstream Mall property, where a Walmart is expected to be built. A strip club has been closed at the property, but, for now, it is still a dismal scene of a shuttered shopping center with letters missing from the signs, an old tractor trailer sitting in the parking lot ringed by a pile of tires, and a chain-link fence surrounding it all.
“Wal-Mart is very soon going to clean up that entire corner,” Rumpf said.
At Las Ventanas, 394 units are occupied, said Suzanne Moore, property supervisor with Epoch Management, which handles leasing for the project.
The company has, at various times, dangled deals of two, three or four months free, but they are happy with the project’s progress, she said.
“We’ve had a really good spring and summer,” she said. “I think we’re doing very, very well, considering other properties.”
Just three of the 30 retail spaces in Las Ventanas are full —Butterfly Chinese restaurant, Tsunami Subs & Wraps, and Boynton Beach Realty. But other spaces are now being outfitted, with a bar and grill and a Japanese chop house with outdoor seating expected to open soon, Moore said.
Elsewhere, the news is not so good.
The dark windows at night don’t bode well for the 14-story Promenade project at the corner of Boynton Beach Boulevard and Federal. Brooks hasn’t spoken to anyone with the project for a few months, but says, “they’re trying to sell units [318] and they’ve got some of the commercial space leased up.”
Promenade officials didn’t return calls from The Coastal Star.
“They don’t want to tell you the bad news, if there is bad news,’’ Brooks said. “The issue is getting financing for people right now.’’
And just to the south at Ocean Avenue, the property formerly known as the Arches is still just an abandoned retail and condo project.
But even that might be a good thing in the long run, Brooks said. The project that had been approved included a garage in an awkward spot.
“Whoever comes in will have to go through that process again,” Brooks said. “Maybe we’ll get something better.”
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