The Magnuson House’s historic designation might present a hurdle to the entrepreneur who wants to turn it into a restaurant. Staff photo
By Larry Barszewski
A decade after adding the home of Boynton Beach pioneer Oscar Magnuson to the city’s list of historic resources, the City Commission may strip the home of its protected status.
Commissioners are concerned the home’s historic designation could impede plans by restaurateur Anthony Barber to turn the Ocean Avenue property — currently owned by the Community Redevelopment Agency — into a vibrant downtown eating spot. They worry the designation may require history-related renovations that could prove too costly and dash the redevelopment plans.
At the Jan. 10 CRA meeting, commissioners sitting as the CRA’s governing board voted 4-1 to recommend doing away with the designation. Any formal change would have to be voted on by commissioners at a City Commission meeting.
Only Mayor Steven Grant objected to the recommendation. The CRA plans to sell or transfer the house and property at 211 E. Ocean Ave. to a corporation being formed by Barber.
“If we remove the historical designation, and we sell the property to someone else, that means that they can change their mind and tear it down. Is that a possibility?” Grant asked.
The city’s Historic Resources Preservation Board could still make a recommendation against the house’s demolition even if the designation is gone, but the city would have “even fewer teeth in the process to preserve it,” said Michael Rumpf, who serves as the city’s staff liaison to the preservation board.
Commissioner Justin Katz, who made the motion to recommend removal of the historic designation, does not think the century-old house merits special attention.
“I’ve always been of the belief that while it is an old house, that it is not in my opinion historic,” Katz said.
In an email to The Coastal Star following the meeting, Katz added: “The designation was explicitly put on to qualify the property for potential grants. It was a play at free funding that ultimately never paid off. The building is not historic.”
But Janet DeVries Naughton, past president of the Boynton Beach Historical Society, says the home does have historic value and is probably older than its estimated construction date of 1919.
She said she has found documents indicating the home was built in 1913, which she said would make it the second- or third-oldest in city history.
“I not only would like to see the historic designation retained, but I’d also add that the Boynton Beach CRA has the moral responsibility to keep the few historically designated homes in the downtown area,” DeVries said.
Magnuson himself is a historic figure whose home warrants the designation, she said: He founded the 1916 Boynton Growers and Shippers Association; he started the Bank of Boynton; he was one of the town’s original five firemen; and he had significant real estate holdings and public office positions.
At the CRA meeting, Katz said the designation “would dramatically change the landscape of [the restaurant developers’] expectations and proposals if they had to maintain the historic guidelines in their renovation.”
According to Barber’s proposal presented last year, he plans to keep renovation costs down by bringing several large corrugated steel shipping containers on site and converting them into kitchen, storage and restroom space — rather than try to incorporate those uses into the existing building. Dinner seating would include a new, expansive, outdoor patio deck in addition to any indoor seating.
The real cost of the house restoration would most likely be tied to meeting the building code requirements in changing it from a residential to commercial use, CRA Executive Director Thuy Shutt said when contacted following the meeting.
“Removing the designation doesn’t help him lessen his costs in still converting the building into commercial use,” Shutt said. “It may help him in his flexibility of how he may use the site.”
If the designation is removed, the CRA could still put language in the purchase and development agreement to include protections for the house if those are desired, Shutt said.
Barber, who owns Troy’s Barbeque on South Federal Highway, is teaming up with Rodney Mayo of the Subculture Group — which runs restaurants from Jupiter to South Beach — to turn the Magnuson House into a dining spot. Mayo has said he plans to invest $1 million into the effort, including $450,000 to renovate the house, $240,000 to add the shipping containers, and $310,000 for site work and other costs.
In the purchase agreement, the CRA has proposed including a deed restriction limiting the property to a restaurant use for at least 20 years. Another proposed term would give the CRA the right of first refusal should the new owners decide to sell the property within five years of completing the renovation work. Also, the CRA would not transfer title to the property until the work is completed.
The CRA still needs additional information from Barber and Mayo before an agreement can be finalized.