Boynton Beach: For Federal Highway, plans frozen in time by economy

By Thomas R. Collins

As you enter Boynton Beach from the north, the alluring Peninsula development greets you — a shiny new collection of townhomes and condos.
It’s just about to open its doors to happy new residents.

Waterbrook Peninsula LLC
30 townhomes, 40 condos
Project status: Abandoned, in foreclosure

Or it was, anyway.
Getting its timing all wrong, the project got whacked by the market and is in foreclosure. It’s 90 percent built, but its prospects are uncertain. It’s “stale and dead,” city Planning Director Mike Rumpf said.
“We hope it gets purchased and resurrected by someone,” he said, a map of the city’s zoning plan on a wall next to him.
With hardly any other choice, he looks on the bright side.
“That’s the only one of its kind that got caught, trapped, so far along,” he said. “In most cases, they didn’t get off the ground to begin with.”
But there are plenty that never got off the ground. Vacant lots sit up and down road — perhaps the very spine of the city.
The economy, as it has throughout the city and elsewhere, has frozen the landscape in time. Land that was cleared, with high hopes of dazzling new condos and shops, just sits there.

Hard-hit highway key to city’s future
The Federal Highway corridor in Boynton Beach might be one of the hardest-hit spots in the county, though. It is central to the city’s redevelopment efforts.
In 2001, the city approved a development plan for the road. It’s a “wedding-cake shape” plan — as Rumpf puts it — with the tallest and most intense development near Boynton Beach Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, and lower tiers of development extending north, south and west from there.
Pieces of that plan have come to pass.

Marina Village
Related Cervera Realty Services
349 condos/rentals
25,000 sq.ft. commercial space
Project status: Completed, residential occupied.

Marina Village, a condo project at Boynton Beach Boulevard and Federal, was finished before the market bust and sold out within a year, said Lorraine Freed, Palm Beach County manager for owner Related Cervera Realty Services.
“It’s still doing great,” Freed said. Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency Director Lisa Bright said Marina Village’s residential units are fully occupied.

Panther Real Estate Partners
22,200 sq. ft. retail/restaurant
318 condos
Hotel units (unspecified)
Project status: Unknown

Next-door, where Boynton Beach Boulevard meets Federal Highway, the towers of the Promenade development are nearing completion. The status of the “top of the wedding cake” project is unknown. According to Bright, developers had commitments for 40 percent of the space when construction started two years ago, but she doesn’t know where it stands now.
“Their biggest thing is: Will their people sign on the dotted line for the contracts,” Bright said. She described the project as “for our downtown, absolutely critical.”

Las Ventanas
Epoch Properties
43,361 sq. ft. of office/retail
20 townhomes & 404 rental apartments
Project status: 70 percent complete, now leasing

At Las Ventanas, which is 70 percent built, leasing started in May. The occupancy rate is up to 15 percent, said Buck Anderson, who oversees Las Ventanas for Epoch Management. That’s on target with what they’d hoped, although they had to bring their price points down 10 percent to 15 percent, putting rental rates at $1,050 to $1,700 per month. “We don’t have any buzzards flying over our heads. So we’re OK for now,” Anderson said.
Still, a drive along the road can be a dismal affair.

Gulfstream Mall
Thirty-six Hundred Holdings
166 residential units
19,000 sq. ft. commercial space
Project status: Residential plans abandoned. Now zoned commercial.

At the south end of town, at Gulfstream Boulevard, Gulfstream Mall sits ringed by opaque fencing, with cracks in the asphalt parking lot, empty windows and crumbling facades. A plan for 166 residences and 1,900 square feet of commercial space is a lost dream.
Owner Thirty-Six-Hundred Holdings asked for a return to a zoning of only commercial space, considering how hopeless new residential development seems these days. In January, city commissioners granted that right to the developer.

500 Ocean/Arches
Southcoast Partners
40, 596 sq. ft. of retail
378 condo units
Project status: Plans abandoned

A little north of that, at the southwest corner of Ocean Avenue and Federal, another gigantic piece of land sits surrounded by construction fencing. The mixed-use project that was planned for the old downtown area is no longer planned.

Looking toward a change in the market
Federal Highway in Boynton Beach is still considered positioned for success once the market turns around.
Bright said there’s already been a jump in requests for more money from the CRA, but the agency’s ability to chip in has been hampered. The budget, which gets its money from new development, has been cut 10 percent and 23 percent the last two years. Other than that, the CRA has been trying to find tenants.
“Like any good sales person, we run down every lead and try to do everything we can,” Bright said. Anderson, of Las Ventanas, offered: “I think this is going to be a big growth area.”
But for now, director Rumpf has to settle for small victories. There’s the application that came in recently for a marina project at the north end of town — but when that would get built is anyone’s guess. There is the apparent success of the Gulfstream Gardens townhouse project north of Gulfstream Boulevard, which is “getting over the edge,” he said.
“Even now, given the economy, we have people coming in asking questions, trying to package things, trying to explore opportunities,” he said. “People have land — and they don’t want to sit on it.”

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