Just as the Houston Astros are finishing up work on their new spring training home south of 45th Street, the team is about to embark on another bold project: Converting an empty office tower on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard into a baseball-themed hotel.
The 197-room hotel, at Forum office complex on the northeast corner of the boulevard and Congress Avenue, will be used by the Astros to house players, coaches and support staff during spring training every January, February and March.
But when the team leaves for Houston each April to start the regular season, the hotel will be available to the general public for the rest of the year.
“Forget about baseball; we are excited about it for a tourism standpoint,’’ Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe told The Palm Beach Post. “We want to start working on it as soon as possible.”
The Astros plan to invest at least $25 million into the project, which includes a $6.5 million purchase of the building, a 10-story office tower, from CP Forum LLC on Feb. 1.
The Astros’ new building is the westernmost of three towers that were built on the corner from 1973 to 1977. The buildings are directly across the street from the former site of old West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium, the spring training home of the Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos from 1963 to 1997.
Kibbe said the team is in negotiations with potential hotel brands. The operator will be Westmont Hospitality.
“It’s really exciting. It’s just another indication that baseball is making a pretty good footprint in Palm Beach County,” said Jeff Hardin, owner of Straticon Construction, which will covert the building into a hotel.
Straticon built the Astros clubhouse at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the $150 million spring training complex the team will share with the Washington Nationals starting later this month.
Hardin said the company’s main business is hotels. Its resumé includes work at The Floridian, the golf resort owned by Astros owner Jim Crane that straddles the border of Martin and St. Lucie counties.
For this year, Kibbe said, the Astros have reserved more than 17,000 hotel rooms nights from Palm Beach Gardens to West Palm Beach for their players and staff. That alone represents an investment of $2.75 million, he said.
They would like to open their hotel by 2018, which will be challenging because of the extensive renovations.
“The real trick of converting an office building to a hotel is plumbing because each room has a bathroom,” Hardin told The Post. “Right now all the bathrooms are in the center core of the building. So we have to cut holes in all the floors and run piping vertically through the building to accommodate the bathrooms.”
He said the existing rooms are 11½-feet high from ceiling to floor, which will work well for a hotel.
The Astros also will have to build a new lobby, a swimming pool and loading dock as well as replacing all the windows and upgrading the facade.
“We will have to fit it out to be a hotel, but structurally it’s an outstanding building,’’ Hardin said.
During spring training, some of the rooms could be rented out to the general public, depending on the number needed by the team. If that happens, don’t expect to stalk the lobby to get autographs from the team’s biggest stars.
“It’s my understanding that the stars will rent houses in the area,” Hardin said.
This will probably be more for minor leaguers and coaches and up-and-coming players with more modest salaries.
Hardin and Kibbe said they believe the hotel will be the first of its kind — a hotel owned by a team and used mainly by the team but also available to the general public.
Dodgertown in Vero Beach had dorms for players on the spring training site but those rooms were restricted to the team.
“A new theme in spring training facilities is to have a player development academy where they have housing on site,’’ Hardin said. “The (New York) Mets are going to do that up in Port St. Lucie. They’re going to build a hotel for their players but it won’t be available to the public.’’
For now, the Astros and Nationals are scrambling to finish The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, a 160-acre complex about five miles from the hotel site that was built under a tight time frame starting in November 2015.
Once the first game is played on Feb. 28, the Astros will focus on their West Palm Beach hotel.
“We’ve got to move really fast,” Kibbe said. “We’ve got to catch some breaks and get this thing open for 2018.”
Staff writers Jeff Ostrowski and Alexandra Clough contributed to this story.