Plans to turn the old West Palm Beach city hall site into a hotel might go back to square one, the city said Wednesday, because of a new state law, promising new property appraisals and word that the Palm Harbor Marina is moving forward with a hotel proposal for the adjacent waterfront.
The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency is set to debate Monday whether to take off the table two city hall site proposals that came in and start over.
“It absolutely requires a second look,” commissioner Shanon Materio said Wednesday. “It’s a lot to think about but it’s definitely a different set of circumstances.”
The 5-story, former city hall building east of Olive Avenue, between Banyan Boulevard and 2nd Street, has stood empty since its replacement opened at 401 Clematis St. in 2009.
In 2012 the city solicited development bids for the old site, combined with a 1.07-acre triangle just east it, which would be limited to park uses.
Four bids came in last September. The city narrowed the field to two in February.
The team of Navarro Lowery Properties of West Palm Beach, Hyatt Hotels, and Concord Hospitality, offered up to $6 million for a 5-story, 260-room Hyatt hotel, plus shops. The group later raised that to $7 million, but with a proposed six stories.
The team of Crocker Partners, Song + Associates, and the Carlton Fields law firm, offered up to $15 million — which it later reduced to $10 million. It proposed a 12-story building — later negotiated to 10 stories — with up to 200 hotel rooms, to be operated by an undetermined hotelier, plus upscale rental apartments and lobby retail.
Both proposals would violate the current 5-story limit on buildings between Olive Avenue and the Intracoastal Waterway and between Okeechobee Boulevard and 7th Street.
A December 2012 poll showed only 40 percent of respondents favored waiving the downtown height cap. But Crocker offered early this year to bankroll a new referendum.
But three things happened since then, the city said Wednesday:
First, Palm Harbor told the city of its hotel plan. Second, House Bill 537, passed in June, would forbid a referendum on zoning changes.
And finally, a new appraisal done in anticipation of talks with the two developers reported a tentative valuation of $12.2 million, higher than what the developers offered.
“Although an argument can be made that continuing now will put the property on the tax rolls immediately,”
Community Redevelopment Agency Director Kim Briesemeister wrote in a memo for the July 29 meeting, “the estimated tax revenue does not warrant a land deal commitment that will be in existence for over 50 years.”
Navarro president Frank Navarro said that if the city is barred from conducting a referendum and commissioners won’t waive the height limit, he’s prepared to go with a 5-story plan.
“We (t0ld the city,) ‘We will pay you $6 million for a 5-level, and $7 million for a 6-level, and a higher price for an 8-level solution,” Navarro said.
Palm Harbor Marina had been talking to the city about its hotel idea but hadn’t come out with specifics, Briesemeister said Wednesday. But, she said, “we believe there may be movement on that site in the future, so now is the time to decide if they (CRA) want to consider that impact.”
Cheryl Chase, whose family owns the marina, said from Connecticut, “we are just finishing our feasibility study about it, so we’re looking at it seriously. We’re doing all our homework.”
Chase, executive vice president of the family’s Leisure Resorts, said the marina was grandfathered out of the 5-story restriction that voters approved in 1996. The Marina can build as high as 75 feet, though it must allow a view of the water between Banyan Boulevard and 2nd Street.
The company plans a Marriott that will be “a boutique hotel” with a “unique waterfront signature,” Chase said. It would go in a strip that is now a parking lot between Flagler and the water, just south of the Waterview Towers condominium.
Because the marina has been talking about the hotel for a long time, Chase said, she was told by city officials that the two firms bidding on the old city hall site “were aware of us and it just wasn’t something that troubled them.”
Navarro confirmed that. “We’ve known about it from day one,” he said of the marina plan. “It doesn’t scare us off.”
He questioned whether the marina could ever make the hotel work financially, with its smaller size and its design, however.
Officials of Crocker did not return calls Wednesday.
Post Capitol Bureau John Kennedy contributed to this story.
OLD WEST PALM BEACH CITY HALL
The West Palm Beach community redevelopment agency will discuss the future of the old city hall site at a meeting Monday at 5 p.m. at commission chambers, on the first floor of the new city hall, 401 Clematis St.