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West Palm officials OK Old City Hall redevelopment deal

The first major order of business at city hall for 2016: writing a new chapter for the old city hall.

The city commission, in its first meeting of the year, on Monday gave preliminary approval to developer Navarro Lowrey’s purchase of the old city hall site at 200 Second St. for $11.5 million, for redevelopment with a hotel, apartments, retail and garage. The board voted 4-0. Commissioner Paula Ryan did not vote, because her husband is an attorney for the developer.

The deal, scheduled to close by July 2017, calls for the city to grant the developer up to $1.5 million over five years in tax rebates to demolish the 35-year-old former city hall. In addition the Community Redevelopment Agency will pay a $1 million construction incentive upon the project’s completion.

The city commission’s final approval is scheduled for Jan. 19.

Frank Navarro, managing principal of the development firm, said its partner in the project, Concord Hospitality, is moving ahead with plans for a Marriott AC Hotel for the site, a brand meant for “select, urban, hip locations.”

The AC Hotels website describes the brand as having “Spanish and European roots in our soul” but targeting the modern business traveler.

The hotel will face the waterfront while the project’s apartments will face Olive Avenue. The apartments will be rentals, not condos, because the concept was meant to help make downtown lively 12 months a year, and many condo owners are part-time residents, he said.

With terms of the deal in place after nearly a year of negotiations, the developer will have four months to complete its due diligence on the project. At that point, assuming it agrees to move ahead, it will make $25,000-a-month, non-refundable payments to the city until the project is done.

The old city hall, a five-story, 57,400-square-foot structure built on a 2.27 acres in 1980, has sat vacant since 2009. It would be demolished shortly after the sale closes, Navarro said.

A separate deal is to be inked in the next few weeks for another part of the project, on the adjacent site of the former Helen Wilkes Hotel. Navarro Lowrey will lease that site from the city for a nominal amount and craft it into an open park, shops and possibly restaurants. The city wanted to maintain ownership of that site, “to ensure it remains open space to the public,” City Administrator Jeff Green said.

The retail space on that Wilkes site would occupy the southernmost 75 feet of the property and the rest would be park space. The developer will be responsible for landscaping, maintenance and security for the park.

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