President Donald Trump has put Palm Beach County on the map. And now professionals in the real estate market are starting to see a business opportunity.
In the 10 months since Great Gulf of Canada submitted plans to build a 27-story tower on South Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach, a certain part-time winter resident has continued his seasonal treks to Palm Beach, turning what was once a home and private club into the winter White House.
This has not escaped Great Gulf’s president Christopher Wein, who hopes to sell 84 condos costing from $1 million to $3 million at 1515 S. Flagler Drive.
“The name recognition is helpful. Palm Beach and West Palm Beach were considered lesser-known, sleepy areas, and all of a sudden the President of the United States has a private retreat there and spends a lot of time there. Now it’s a destination known throughout the world,” Wein said.
Toronto-based Great Gulf last year bought the 1515 S. Flagler Drive property, where the former 1515 Tower was famously imploded on Valentine’s Day in 2010 to make way for a different condo project that never was built.
On the now-vacant site, Great Gulf plans to build a 27-story boutique condominium. A marketing campaign is slated to begin in the fall and sales should start in February. The height and size were approved with the prior project.
A fun fact for potential buyers of the planned luxury condo: The property sits across the Intracoastal Waterway from Trump’s home, Mar-a-Lago.
Wein was careful to say that he doesn’t necessarily think the Trump name recognition is negative or positive — only that it creates awareness, much as President George H.W. Bush’s summer home in Maine brought awareness to Kennebunkport or President John F. Kennedy brought awareness to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
But Boca Raton commercial real estate broker Peter Reed thinks the Trump link to Palm Beach is good for business. In fact, Reed has created mailers to potential hedge fund tenants in New York and Connecticut suggesting they lease space in the Northbridge Centre office tower at 515 N. Flagler Dr. so they can have “an office by the winter White House.”
In any event, it’s going to take more than the novelty of Trump across the water to sell luxury condos, but Great Gulf’s Wein is optimistic about sales. He believes there’s strong demand from buyers interested in living in-town, on the water, in new construction.
Wein expects his buyers will come from Canada, the Northeast, and from local communities. Many residents are moving east, downsizing from country club communities to new residential housing along the coast, he said.
“That’s why we think our size is good,” Wein said. The 1515 condo will contain units ranging from 2,000 to 3000 square feet, which is still plenty large for former country club dwellers, he said.
Wein acknowledged, however, that some buyers may wish to combine units to still retain that massive living space, “and I’m totally cool with that.”
Aside from The Bristol, now under construction, Great Gulf’s project might be the only other condominium tower built during this real estate cycle in the West Palm Beach core.
Marina Village, the 1,000-condo and apartment complex, at 4400 N. Flagler Drive isn’t coming out of the ground any time soon as developers seek to lower costs and “value engineer” the project, according to a city official. Meanwhile five 15-story condos planned for 3111 S. Dixie Highway have been shelved. The developer cited neighborhood opposition to the towers’ height.
Unlike those other locations, both The Bristol and the Great Gulf tower would have water views and in-town locations close to restaurants and entertainment. “You can walk everywhere, and you don’t have to drive,” Wein said of the 1515 site. “We think it’s a brilliant location.”
The water vistas at both projects will never change, either: “We don’t have to worry about anybody building in the Intracoastal, so I think our views are very safe,” Wein said.
This is important because residents in some downtown condominium buildings are protesting additional growth in the city. A proposed office tower on Flagler Drive and a planned hotel have come under fire from residents, in part because both properties will block some views.
But Great Gulf’s buyers are not The Bristol buyers, where the average size of a unit is about 4,500 square feet and costs $10 million.
Wein likened the Bristol to a Rolls Royce. “But we’re positioned more like the 7 series BMW, S Class Mercedes or a nice Jaguar,” said Weir, a man who clearly appreciates fine automobiles.
Condo amenities are not yet worked out completely, but Wein said the 1515 project will feature a gym, pool, steam room, game room, lounge, common areas, maybe a wine room and extensive outdoor space.
Also, there will be a pet washing station because “pets are important,” Wein said. “And again, because we want to be desirable to people coming out of single-family homes.”
For those buyers who want the best of the building, Wein said five penthouses are planned. The top floor will be one penthouse, while the two floors beneath that will consist of two units per floor. Extensive terraces are a feature of the penthouse units, he said.
If Great Gulf completes its project, it will mark the next stage in a colorful history for the property. The land formerly was home to the 1515 Tower, but the condo was badly damaged in the 2004 hurricanes. The Trinity Development investor group bought the property with plans to build The Modern, a massive, bulky condo double the density of the proposed Great Gulf tower. Some neighbors hated The Modern plan, but they weren’t successful in stopping city approval for the project.
Trinity tore down the 1515 condo on Feb. 14 2010, and the implosion became a social event. In less than 10 seconds, the high-rise was reduced to a pile of rubble.
But then the property slipped into foreclosure. It was scooped up by Terrace Mountain of Austin, Texas, which wanted to build lots of apartments on the site. That idea was shot down by city hall.
Terrace put the property up for sale, a deal for $30 million fell through, and then last September Great Gulf bought it for $24 million. The condo now is a joint venture between Great Gulf and Terrace Mountain, Wein said.
Great Gulf is no stranger to the world of high-rises: In 2014, the company won the award for best international high-rise residential development from the International Property Awards in London for its One Bloor condo in Toronto.
Alexandra Clough writes about the economy, real estate and the law.