By Dan Moffett
After months of silence, South Palm Beach officials and developer Gary Cohen are talking again about his Oceanfront Inn property.
The Paragon Acquisition Group chief executive officer met with new Town Manager Bob Vitas and Mayor Bonnie Fischer in November. Vitas and Fischer said Cohen promised to complete the demolition of the old Palm Beach Oceanfront Inn in a timely manner, then begin building the 33-unit condominium project the town has approved.
“It’s going to be a long process,” Fischer said. “We’ll see if the building ever gets built. It’s a very small property with a large building going on.”
Vitas said the purpose of the meeting was “to clear the air and make sure that everybody was on the same page. I’m not a referee, but I’m a good mediator.”
Cohen, according to Vitas and Fischer, said the property isn’t for sale. But other town officials aren’t so sure.
“I think he is trying to sell it,” said Councilman Woodrow Gorbach, a real estate agent. “It is on the market — the European market. I don’t really believe him.”
Since the spring, HFF commercial real estate brokers in Miami has run an Internet ad that lists the property and its approved development plan as for sale. Cohen paid $8.25 million for the property in 2013. Vitas said that “if somebody offered him double what he paid for it,” there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t sell.
Among the other discussion points:
• Cohen told Vitas and Fischer he intends to have the sea wall completed by the March 1 permit deadline. Fischer said she expects more inspections of the wall construction from state environmental officials in the weeks ahead.
• Shortly after the wall’s finished, Cohen said, he intends to concentrate on demolition of the hotel and wants it to be done by June.
“Beyond that,” Vitas said, “he plans going forward with the physical construction of the property.”
• The town officials told Cohen to talk to neighboring property owners and keep them informed. Fischer said residents were concerned about the vibration from construction and demolition. She urged him to take steps to minimize that.
“He understands there are many watchful eyes on it,” Vitas said. “I advised him to reach out to the neighbors.”
Fischer said the town had no contact with Paragon or Cohen for most of the year. Not having a town manager on the job since June has hindered communications, council members said.
“We agreed that we’d meet on a regular basis,” Vitas said. “I want to be kept up to date on what’s going on. We’re going to be monitoring it closely.”
In other business from the Nov. 17 town meeting:
• Vitas said he intends to have a “90-day action plan” ready for the council to review in December. “I’m not going to tell you what to do,” he said. “I want you to tell me what you’d like to have done.”
Vitas, the former Key West city manager, succeeds Jim Pascale, who abruptly resigned in June after three months on the job.
“I actually heard people laughing in their offices this week,” said Councilman Robert Gottlieb of Vitas’ welcome arrival.
• Police Chief Carl Webb has promoted Lt. Robert Rizzotto to commander and hired Richard Scott Stevens as a new part-time patrol officer. Rizzotto and Stevens worked together with the New York City Police Department years ago. Ú