WPB’s South Dixie dealings: Carefree Theater in play

Real estate continues its hot streak along South Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach: The shuttered Carefree Theater is in play for a possible sale, and a former Hoffman’s Chocolates store just sold for more than $1 million to a respected provider of interior design furniture and products.

JC White Architectural Interior Products bought 2403 S. Dixie Highway, site of the former Hoffman’s Chocolates and more recently, Palm Beach Pet Market. Plans are to turn the 4,782-square-foot building into a showroom and office. “This will be a shot in the arm for the area,” said Corcoran Group Real Estate’s Bill Reis, who handled the deal.

In addition, the Carefree Theater, at 2000 S. Dixie Highway, is in negotiations for a sale, owner Lori Stoll confirmed. She says a deal on the 1 1/2-acre parcel could close within 90 days. Although Stoll has fielded numerous offers over the years, “this is the most confident I’ve felt on a long time,” said Stoll, widow of late concert promoter Jon Stoll.

South Dixie Highway’s growing popularity as a destination for home furnishings and design is also no surprise to Carol Adams, owner of retailer Excentricities, at 1810 South Dixie Highway.

Adams opened the West Palm Beach store in 2012 because she believed the Dixie Highway area would be a popular location for customers seeking unique items for the home. Adams was right, and she said even customers at her three other stores “all come to 1810” to shop.

Excentricities offers home furnishings, custom upholstery services and decorative accessories, including rugs, pillows, wall decor and many other items. In addition to West Palm Beach, Excentricities has stores in North Palm Beach, Jupiter and Delray Beach.

The building also is home to an office of Illustrated Properties, the real estate brokerage founded by Adams’ husband, Francis “Bud” Adams. The property was purchased for use by Illustrated and Excentricities because the couple felt strongly about the resurgence of the area, Carol Adams said.

This once-sleepy part of West Palm Beach along south Dixie Highway, bordered by Okeechobee Boulevard to the north and Belvedere Road to the south, is being transformed into what observers have called the area’s next Greenwich Village.

Investors are hungry for properties where they can open or build restaurants, design studios, professional offices and homes. Little by little, old or underused properties that have been on Dixie for decades are finding new life.

Stoll wouldn’t disclose the name of the Carefree Theater’s suitor, or give details on the deal, except to say it will be a “positive boost to the area.” Word is the buyer wants to do a mixed-use project on the property. The iconic Carefree Theater, once home to art cinema and touring musicians, has been closed for years due to damage from hurricanes.

Another factor driving deals on this stretch of South Dixie Highway is that property in downtown West Palm Beach, just to the north, is becoming too pricey.

“We looked at buying small buildings downtown, but that wasn’t affordable or feasible. But a mile away was a very good option for us,” said Mark Feltingoff, chief executive of JC White, with corporate offices in Miramar.

As it is, JC White paid $1.44 million for its building, with plans to sink another $500,000 into a renovation that will create a collaborative co-working space and showroom.

Feltingoff added that lifestyle choices and business opportunities are behind the purchase. JC White plans to relocate an existing office and showroom in Riviera Beach to the West Palm Beach site, slated to be open by September or October. About nine employees will move into the Dixie Highway space.

“We want to be part of the downtown community. We want our people to live and work downtown. And we though it was a great investment. We see businesses coming into that area,” Feltingoff said.

Although JC White has done big business with government, health care and higher education clients, “for the first time, we’re seeing the boom in business in the downtown market,” Feltingoff said. “It was another reason we decided to come downtown.”

The news is music to the ears of the property’s seller, lawyer Brian Guralnick.

In 2000, he began buying properties, convinced that residential investment in the nearby homes would boost the commercial corridor. He liked that the area was close to downtown, but without the traffic and parking challenges.

Guralnick, who owns his office building at 2419 S. Dixie Highway, is moving forward with plans to build a law office building on a property he owns at 2100 S. Dixie Highway, the former Runway Motors. Guralnick said the Palm Beach Justice Center will be a two-story, 12,000-square-foot building, and his new office headquarters. Then he’ll sell or lease his existing office building across the street.

Other recent deals in the area include the $1.2 million sale last year of the old Reward Lighting building, at 1901 S. Dixie Highway, to an investor group behind the popular Buccan restaurant on Palm Beach. Plans are to transform the former lighting store into Micaela, an Italian-inspired eatery serving lunch and dinner.

Keith Spina, senior partner of Glidden Spina + Partners, a West Palm Beach architectural and interior design firm, said demolition is expected to start soon on the building’s interior, with the goal to open in the fall, in time for the winter season.

Spina, whose firm is designing the JC White, Micaela and Justice Center spaces, said the properties can be shaped to be inviting to visitors of other properties.

For instance, he’s encouraging the principals of JC White to consider opening up the front of the building with a big window or glass walls. That will allow, say, people dining at nearby Table 26, or soon-to-open Micaela, to see into JC White’s office and showroom.

“The people eating at those restaurants are the people running companies in town or bringing companies to town,” Spina said. If JC White’s interiors are visible to passersby, the company could attract new business, Spina said.

Alexandra Clough writes about the economy, real estate and the law.

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