By Dan Moffett
After months of telling South Palm Beach residents he was committed to building an architectural jewel where the dilapidated Oceanfront Inn now stands, developer Gary Cohen has quietly put the site up for sale. Cohen purchased the property in October 2012.
The chief executive officer of Paragon Acquisition Group has listed the beleaguered property with HFF commercial real estate brokers in Miami. An ad calls it the “last remaining ocean development opportunity on the island” and says the town has signed off on a building plan.
At times, though, the ad gets a little vague about the town and where the property is located. “Nestled on the cusp at which Palm Beach and the uber-exclusive enclave of Manalapan meet, the Site lies at the epicenter of wealth in South Florida,” the ad says.
New Town Manager Jim Pascale thinks the developer’s reversal offers an opportunity. What if South Palm Beach bought the property from Cohen and turned it into a park?
“If we want to view the town as more than a wintertime retreat,” Pascale says, “then the governing body should look at investing in amenities that make it a year-round community.”
Amenities like a park. He says the Town Council should consider getting financing claiming the town’s last piece of open space.
After 90 days on the job, Pascale has other ideas he wants to run by residents, mostly in the form of questions.
“Should South Palm Beach consider regulating property rentals?”
“Do we need a full-time police department?” Would residents be better off if the town contracted for police services with outside agencies?
And perhaps most intriguing, as the town prepares to mark its 60th anniversary later this year, should it consider calling itself quits?
“Is the continued existence of South Palm Beach in the best interests of its property owners?”
That’s right, should there even be a South Palm Beach?
Would residents be better off if they were annexed into another town or left unincorporated?
“I know this is kind of a neutron bomb item,” Pascale said. “I’m very aware of the reaction, but this is about doing what’s best for the residents and improving the community.”
Not surprisingly, Pascale has caused a relatively significant stir among the condo dwellers in a relatively short period of time.
“I realize this could be controversial, and the reaction has run the gamut,” he says. “I’d say it’s been mixed at best. Some have loved an idea. Some have hated it.”
A special workshop meeting scheduled for June 4 to give Pascale a chance to air his ideas in detail was canceled at the last minute. The town says the meeting will be rescheduled for an undetermined date. Public comment will be invited, and plenty of it is expected.
Before taking the South Palm Beach job in January, Pascale worked 30 years in municipal government in Princeton, N.J., where an Ivy League community relished public debate about most anything. How that Princeton approach will work on A1A is another open question.
“Some of the things might be a little out-of-the-box controversial and get people upset,” said Vice Mayor Joseph Flagello. “Some people will say some of these ideas are ridiculous. He’s getting some are-you-kidding-me responses but he’s looking at things with fresh eyes, and we need to consider what he’s saying.”
Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan put it this way: “It’s important that everyone comes to the workshop, and that they come with open minds and open thoughts.”
Pascale wouldn’t mind if Gary Cohen showed up, too.
By Dan Moffett