- Alexandra Clough Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Tall, tiered and towering, a new office building proposed by The Related Cos. along Flagler Drive would punctuate the West Palm Beach skyline — and dwarf the First Church of Christ, Scientist that would sit adjacent to it.
The 25-story office tower, proposed for vacant land and a small building owned by the church, would consist of three floor plates incorporated into a design that makes the building looks like steps.
The largest of the floor plates, on the ground floor, would be 17,000 square feet, then the next level would be 12,000 square feet and, finally, a top level at 7,000 square feet.
The tower’s design was unveiled at a meeting Wednesday of the Economic Forum of Palm Beach County. About 180 attendees came to the luncheon to hear the presentation by Ken Himmel, president of Related Urban, the mixed-use unit of New York-based Related Cos., which built CityPlace and the CityPlace Tower office building.
Also joining Himmel for the presentation to business, government and neighborhood attendees: David Childs, the celebrated New York architect who designed the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center and the Time Warner office complex in Manhattan.
In an interview, Himmel said the 270,000-square-foot tower would cost roughly $150 million to $160 million to construct, “making it the most expensive office building ever built in West Palm Beach.” If the project could start soon, the tower could open sometime in the spring of 2020.
But first, Himmel needs to win city approval to build.
Property east of Olive Avenue is zoned for only five stories. Last fall, city staffers and residents shot down an effort to allow the construction of 30-story buildings on the waterfront, including a taller design for this office building.
Now Related is trying to drum up support for a slightly shorter tower that takes up only 17 percent of the land available on the church site. The property is at Flagler Drive and Lakeview Avenue at the gateway to the Royal Park bridge to Palm Beach.
Himmel said the office building would accomplish two goals: Create new space for companies wanting to move to West Palm Beach into luxury waterview offices; and provide the aging church congregation with enough money to preserve their 90-year-old house of worship, built in 1928 in the Classical Revival style of architecture.
An upbeat Himmel said the office tower represents the latest investment in West Palm Beach by Related. The company has poured 20 years and millions of dollars into CityPlace, now battling a foreclosure action, the 18-story CityPlace Tower office next to it, and most recently, the long-awaited Hilton convention center hotel, which just wrapped up a successful first year.
At times, Related’s investments in the city have been a “roller coaster,” Himmel admitted.
But Himmel said he’s not giving up and neither is his partner, Steve Ross, who owns the Miami Dolphins football team.
Now, with the Norton Museum expanding, the convention center pulling in more business and All Aboard Florida’s Brightline train station in the works, Himmel said Related wants to continue its investment in the city.
This office building, on land Himmel said he’s coveted for ten years, will bring the community “to the next level,” Himmel said.
Leasing space in the building will be costly, about $50 to $55 per square foot, plus another $15-$20 per square foot in taxes, insurance and maintenance, Himmel estimated. That’s roughly 10 to 15 percent above the highest existing rents in downtown West Palm Beach.
But for that money, Himmel said his office tenants would get they want: “Water views in a bespoke building,” featuring an Equinox gym (which Related owns), Soulcycle indoor cycling classes, a fine dining restaurant and concierge services.
Childs, who designs projects throughout the world, was captivated by the challenge of creating a thin tower on a tight piece of property next to a historic structure.
“This is a special project,” Childs said. He stressed that he took care to design a building that would stand beside the church and “waltz together.”
The tower’s height, which will be lit at night akin to a lighthouse, “gives meaning and reference to the whole landscape” around it.
Other features of the design are a reflecting pool, vertical “living wall” along the garage, and space for a Christian Science Reading room.
Harvey Oyer, a West Palm Beach attorney who represents Related, said Childs took pains to minimize obstructing the water views from other buildings, although top northeast views of the Esperante Corporate Center next door would be affected.
Nancy Pullum, who leads a citizen watchdog group, was noncommittal about the presentation: “There are a lot of questions to be asked and answered,” she said.
But Kelly Smallridge, president of the Business Development Board, the county’s chief business recruiter, was enthusiastic: “This building does an excellent job of incorporating the modern style with all the assets that make West Palm Beach unique.”
Oyer said a traffic study showed the building, which could employ 1,000, would only add about 300 daily trips. Many tenants are expected to walk from nearby residential properties, ride-share or possibly take All Aboard Florida’s Brightline train.
For those who do plan to drive, Related would require office tenants to stagger their workdays so not everyone comes and goes at the same time, Oyer said.
Related also is developing a mobile app that would allow anyone to view cameras along the Lakeview Avenue and Okeechobee Boulevard corridors to check traffic and determine the best route in and out of downtown.