9380625862?profile=RESIZE_710xAnthony Barber envisions the 1919 Oscar Magnuson house as only the indoor seating part of his proposed restaurant. He could buy the property, lease it, or the city could consider other ideas for the vacant building. Coastal Star photo

By Larry Barszewski

The only shipping containers ever seen on Ocean Avenue are usually being transported on freight trains rumbling down the railroad tracks that cross the downtown Boynton Beach street.
But if Anthony Barber has his wish, he’ll use up to a half-dozen shipping containers to turn a languishing historic home on the avenue into a restaurant success.
Boynton Beach city commissioners may let Barber take a stab at trying to make something out of the 1919 Oscar Magnuson house at 211 E. Ocean Ave., just east of the Schoolhouse Children’s Museum and Learning Center.
The historic property sits unused and in disrepair in the heart of the city’s redevelopment area, largely because developers have found converting the century-old house to a commercial use to be cost prohibitive.
Barber would have shipping containers as the restaurant’s kitchen and bathroom spaces, reducing renovation costs, while using the historic house and constructing a new outdoor patio for seating dinner guests. The containers are typically corrugated steel, 8-by-8.5 feet and 20 or 40 feet long.
Barber, who previously served on the CRA’s advisory board, would place the shipping containers to the rear of the house and dress them up to blend in with the overall look of the property.
Commissioners, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency’s governing board, agreed to accept a letter of interest from Barber for developing the CRA-owned property at the CRA’s July 13 meeting. That acceptance allows anyone else interested in using the property to submit proposals by the time of the board’s September meeting.
Commissioners will then decide whether to let Barber’s plan move forward, select a different proposal, or decide to reject all proposals and leave the property alone for now.
Barber currently owns Troy’s Barbeque on South Federal Highway in the city. His stepfather, Troy Davis, initially began the business 25 years ago from a roadside stand. Barber is getting set to open a second restaurant on Georgia Avenue in West Palm Beach after a failed 2019 venture in Boca Raton, where Barber said his restaurant at Glades Road and Dixie Highway just wasn’t in a good location to generate business.
Boynton Mayor Steven Grant said he would rather see a mixed-use development — which would bring in more tax revenue to the city — and not shipping containers on the avenue. A mixed-use project would also involve combining several adjacent properties and would be more in character with other planned redevelopment downtown, he said.
“We’re talking about all of these other high-end developments that are coming. I don’t think that the shipping containers on Ocean Avenue is necessarily the best fit,” Grant said. But Commissioner Justin Katz said nothing else has worked so far to get the property redeveloped.
The CRA purchased the Magnuson house in 2007 for $850,000, initially expecting to turn the building into the CRA’s offices. The CRA moved to a different location on Federal Highway instead and has since been unable to get the Ocean Avenue property developed.
The CRA sold the property for $255,000 in 2016 to a restaurant developer, but took back the property two years later after the restaurant project fell through.
“I’m open to exploring this idea, if only because previous attempts to consolidate those lots didn’t bear any fruit,” Katz said. “We’ve had this property forever. It has been worthless.”
Although Barber is interested in buying the property, CRA Executive Director Michael Simon said the site could be leased to Barber with the idea of working his restaurant into any future redevelopment project. Simon is leaving the CRA, having submitted his letter of resignation in June. He plans to leave Aug. 12 following the CRA’s August meeting.
Commissioner Christina Romelus would like to see Barber’s restaurant, which he said would not be a barbecue establishment, be a permanent fixture downtown.
“You have been a local success story that I think is exemplary of what a Boynton Beach business has the capability of doing,” Romelus said. “I want something funky and unique and different, because that’s what Ocean Avenue has to be in order for it to become the vibrant downtown we want it to be. We can’t just create a lot of mixed-use properties all up and down Ocean Avenue and think that’s what’s going to make us viable.”
An adjacent property owner who would like to do his own redevelopment of the property spoke against Barber’s plan.
Brian Fitzpatrick said he has been trying for 35 years to put a development together that would include the property — only to have the Magnuson house be a sticking point for any prospective developer. He said the house should be moved.
“You are not going to find a more willing, flexible individual to do business with. I envision a public-private partnership where the city retains equity,” Fitzpatrick told commissioners. “What I’m offering you is the possibility of creating something great.”
Grant told Fitzpatrick he could submit his own offer if he desired, but he’d probably have to come up with something more substantial if he wants to convince commissioners.
“We’re not going to be sold on possibilities. We want to be sold on realities,” the mayor said.
“We need to have the reality if you want to get a mixed-use project.”

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