By Tao Woolfe

Boynton Beach city commissioners sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency’s governing board pulled the plug last month on a creative proposal that would have transformed the historic Magnuson House into a restaurant.

“This is really hard, really difficult to discuss,” said Commissioner Aimee Kelley, one of three commissioners on the dais at the CRA’s Jan. 18 board meeting. “We were really excited and wanted to see it happen.”

She was speaking of the proposal of restaurateur Anthony Barber, who owns Troy’s Barbeque restaurants in Boynton Beach and West Palm Beach.

Barber had hoped to turn the Oscar Magnuson House, 211 E. Ocean Ave., into a 3,000-square-foot, full-service American-style restaurant consisting of the historic home and five shipping containers that would have been moved onto the property.

The project seemed to be going well until November, when Barber told the CRA board that he and his partner, Rodney Mayo, were having trouble securing the necessary funds to make it happen.

The CRA board gave Barber and Mayo a 30-day extension to get the site plan application submitted, but when the board met on Jan. 11, the members said they had not heard from Barber — by phone, email, or in person — since the November meeting.

Commissioners unanimously agreed, 3-0, to place Barber’s proposal “in default.”

The board did give Barber one statutorily provided last chance to get his financing and paperwork together by the CRA’s Feb. 13 meeting or forfeit the deal.

“We had a very detailed discussion in November,” Vice Mayor Thomas Turkin said. “The purchaser had said, ‘Hold my feet to the fire,’ so that’s what we’re doing.”

In June 2023, the CRA granted the partners a six-month extension to submit a site plan application. Barber said at the time he had submitted two site plans to the city, but they were rejected for being incomplete. At the November meeting, Barber told the CRA board that he might have to ask the city to remove the property’s historic designation — and its attendant restrictions — to make the project more acceptable to lenders.

He said costs had been escalating and banks were generally less optimistic about funding new developments.

“The cost is not the cost we originally projected,” Barber said in November. “We have owner financing of $800,000, but the [construction] cost now is looking like $1.2 million.”

Making matters worse, Barber said, the cost of borrowing money has escalated.

Barber wanted to renovate the two-story Magnuson House, built in 1919, for inside dining. The shipping containers would be used for the kitchen area, walk-in food storage, restrooms, an artisan bar, and a rotisserie grilling area.

The CRA bought the property for $850,000 in 2007, intending to use it for CRA office space, but sold it for $255,000 in 2016 to a restaurant developer after its plans changed.

The CRA took back the property two years later when the restaurant project fell through after the developer realized how expensive it would be to bring the house up to code for a commercial operation.

Barber’s plan seemed more economically feasible. Although he would have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore the house, he theoretically would have been able to avoid more costly commercial upgrades by placing the kitchen and other operations in stand-alone shipping containers — a first in Boynton Beach.

Barber offered to pay the city $240,000 for the property, but that was offset by his intent to seek $50,000 in a CRA commercial improvement grant and another $200,000 in tax incentives.

Rather than make the deal more complicated, commissioners suggested just conveying the property to Barber with deed restrictions — including that it always be a restaurant — and a requirement for specific design features requested by the city.

The house was built around 1919, according to the city historic preservation records.

Hurricane Alley lease extended for a year
The CRA board granted a one-year extension on the lease of the building at 529 E. Ocean Ave. to allow the popular Hurricane Alley restaurant to continue doing business.

A new home is planned for Hurricane Alley adjacent to The Pierce, a proposed mixed-use development that has been sidelined by a lawsuit over the CRA’s street abandonments for the project.

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