11009451655?profile=RESIZE_710xThe Hampton Social (far left) and Le Colonial (far right) restaurants are open at Atlantic Crossing, which sits at the northeast corner of Atlantic Avenue and Northeast Sixth Avenue (North Federal Highway) in downtown Delray Beach. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By John Pacenti

Jay Gutierrez peeked inside the window the day before the grand opening of The Hampton Social at Atlantic Crossing, the long-awaited mixed-use development near the heart of downtown Delray Beach.
The nautical-themed restaurant joins the Vietnamese fusion restaurant Le Colonial as establishments now serving.
“This whole anchor for the east side of town, I think it’s taken forever, but ultimately, it looks like they’re doing a real quality job,” said Gutierrez, who lives in Delray Beach.
Joining the two restaurants is the clothing store Chico’s, a holdover from Atlantic Plaza, the remnants of which sit to the east like some wasteland set from The Last of Us.
Employees of anchor tenant Merrill Lynch have moved into its office suites and about 70% of the luxury apartments available have been rented. The apartment complex dubbed Brez at Atlantic Crossing has 85 units and eventually will have 261.
Laura Simon, executive director of the Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority, said the first phase of Atlantic Crossing is already proving beneficial.
“That part of our district has been closed for so long and needing attention,” she said. “The businesses have opened in a strong way. It makes the connection for people who traverse west to east through downtown, making it walkable, making it a connector. It’s good to see.”
A year ago, the developer — the Ohio-based Edwards Cos. — said shops and restaurants were on the cusp of grand openings. It didn’t happen — just another delay in a long list of delays.
Now, 12 years after Delray Beach’s largest downtown development was proposed and five years since the groundbreaking, the project is coming to life east of Federal Highway, adjacent to Veterans Park west of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Pandemic and other issues
So why the delay? Cyril DeFazio, property manager for Brez, sighs.
“Everything,” he said. “Between COVID and then the construction team getting COVID and the products being delayed.”
Don DeVere, vice president of the Edwards Cos., added, “As it relates to the apartments, there were definitely some supply chain issues around appliances and various equipment.
“I can tell you the cost has increased significantly. So, early on, we were quoted as doing a $200 million project, and it’s well north of $300 million.”
The size and scope of the project drew initial opposition.
Six residents filed suit in 2013 claiming the city exceeded the height and density limits of the downtown master plan before dropping the litigation, saying they could not afford the legal fees.
Four architectural companies redesigned the development to allay opponents’ concerns that it would destroy the aesthetic of the city known as the Village by the Sea.
In 2017, the Edwards Cos. settled a $40 million suit filed against the city that claimed it deliberately stalled the development and disputed who owned the alleyways.
The Beach Property Owners Association had concerns about noise, but one potential source — the Bounce Sporting Club, which wanted to stay open until 2 a.m. — now plans to open instead at the Delray Beach Market.

11009451889?profile=RESIZE_710xAn apartment building under construction along Federal. John Pacenti/The Coastal Star

Demand is peaking
Despite the delays, the timing may be perfect for Atlantic Crossing to come online.
The pandemic brought an influx of high-income individuals fleeing south, pushing the demand for luxury apartments, high-end restaurants and upscale office space. The Square in West Palm Beach — formerly called City Place — is transforming with the same type of offerings.
But Atlantic Crossing remains very much a work in progress.
Right now, just the first two of six buildings are open. Another apartment building is under construction to the north, while construction to replace the skeletal remains of Atlantic Plaza to the east will include 52 luxury park-side condominiums.
The number has dropped from 82 condominiums to address the market’s desire for bigger units, DeFazio said.
Plans call for 1,000 underground parking spaces.
Atlantic Crossing is not like Mizner Park in Boca Raton or The Square in West Palm Beach.
When complete, DeVere noted, all the buildings at Atlantic Crossing are designed to look like they were independently conceived with different architectural styles. They will have varying heights of three to five stories.
Between The Hampton Social and Le Colonial is a walkable courtyard that extends from Northeast Sixth Avenue to Northeast Seventh Avenue, replete with art installations and a “living wall” made up of plants.
“This development is conceived to be better integrated into the fabric of the city itself,” DeVere said. “It’s not a separate, self-contained, monolithic project.”
Delray Beach’s downtown has a panoply of offerings for the high-end eater and it is easy for new offerings to get lost in the noise — just see the Delray Beach Market, a food hall that closed at the height of the tourist season to retool.
But tables at Le Colonial are reserved for weeks in advance and there was no shortage of interest in The Hampton Social, as Gutierrez said.
“We were just saying the bar area looks huge — lots of high tops,” he said. “We were at Le Colonial the other night. It reeks of quality.”

New restaurants abuzz
Joe King was bleeding.
The co-owner of Le Colonial Delray Beach was helping workers move equipment when he slipped and gashed his knee.
“This owner works,” he joked.
Le Colonial has locations in Chicago and Lake Forest in Illinois, and in Houston and Atlanta.
“Delray Beach is on fire. This is the perfect location for us on the strip because it’s kind of past the real heavy action,” King said. “We did the research on Delray Beach.”
King is eager to show off his restaurant with its original artwork, imported woodwork, water features, patio and a bar that is made to look like it is straight out of 1920 Saigon.
“French-Vietnamese doesn’t really exist anywhere in the country at the sort of the level that we do,” King explained.
“There’s a lot of emphasis in the franchise on the aesthetic of the room, the presentation of the plate.”
The Hampton Social offers an upscale take on coastal cuisine with a blue-and-white theme. It has sister restaurants in Naples, Orlando, Miami, Nashville and five locations in Illinois.
It welcomed more than 2,000 guests the opening weekend and is fully booked with reservations, but is still able to accommodate walk-ins at the bar — as does the bar lounge at Le Colonial.
Melissa Cortese, regional beverage manager for Parker Hospitality, the company that owns The Hampton Social, was cutting limes for the grand opening and says the goal is for customers to leave the eatery feeling impressed.
“It’s a beautiful space and definitely different from our other locations,” she said. “I think it’s a lot more intimate this location with just the layout and the lower ceiling. It makes it feel a lot more tied together.”

Walker-friendly apartments
The apartments with their black charcoal accents offer different layouts. The idea is to attract the young professional as well as the empty nester looking to downsize.
The people living here are not looking for the strip mall life that has dominated much of suburban South Florida’s existence for decades.
“Folks who are moving from the big cities want the walkability,” DeFazio said. “They want to go downstairs and be able to walk to the store.”
The project, the downtown’s future, is situated near markers of its past.
Across the street on its west is the iconic Just Hearts boutique and the Old Florida stylings of the Colony Hotel & Cabana Club. The Blue Anchor Pub with its British decor and historic imported façade sits across Atlantic Avenue to the south.
Much work remains to be done at Atlantic Crossing. The pool is expected to be operational in August and the razing of the plaza is slated for May. Some art installations and green spaces are installed but others are coming.
A Lilly Pulitzer clothing store is preparing to move into a retail place and an insurance company — its name has yet to be revealed — has signed a lease to join Merrill Lynch in the office space.
DeVere said he hopes residents who may be skeptical of the development give it a visit and walk the new courtyard with its living wall and sculpture.
“I hope everyone will come to experience Atlantic Crossing with an open mind. I think folks will be pleasantly delighted,” DeVere said. “If there is anything I want to get across, is come experience the outdoor pedestrian orientation on the project.”
DeFazio said Delray Beach is still very much a “seashore town.”
“But it’s got that urban feel here,” he said. “And we think Atlantic Crossing marries the two ends: the beach with the downtown. There was a void in this area for a long time.”

At the Crossing ...
Delray Beach’s largest downtown development ever will cover 9 acres when it’s done and have:
• 261 apartments
• 52 condominiums (pending approval)
• 83,462 sq. feet of Class A office space
• 39,434 square feet of restaurants
• 36,667 square feet of retail space
• 1,000 underground parking spaces

 

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