Exclusive: Developer plans slim condo on former 1515 tower land

Slim is in for a developer seeking to build a condo on West Palm Beach land once slated for a massive, thick project called The Modern.

Great Gulf of Canada is partnering with the owner of 1515 S. Flagler Drive, a property that once was home to the 1515 Tower condominium, according to plans just submitted to the city.

The 1515 tower was knocked down to make way for the never-built Modern condo, slated to be 84 units ranging from 4,000 to 5,000 square feet — each.

Watch waterfront condo come tumbling down

Now plans are to build a tower much thinner than the Modern. “It’s a sliver compared to what it once was,” said Great Gulf president Christopher Wein.

Wein said instead of building to the extra-generous zoning granted by the city, “We said, ‘What is the perfect building for this piece of dirt, instead of what is the biggest?”

In this case, bigger was not better.

“It’s a gorgeous site, but by not overbuilding on it, it gives the property room to breathe,” Wein said. Wein cited the need for unit views, respect for nearby residents and the property’s context in the community.

Great Gulf and property owner Terrace Mountain Investors LLC still plan to build 84 units in a 27-story tower rising 299 feet.

But the project will be 256,753 square feet, compared to the Modern’s planned 456,217 square feet. And the condo units will be roughly 2,000 square feet, about half the average size of the Modern’s planned units.

Lush landscaping and plenty of setbacks are integral to the design, Wein said.

If built, this would be Great Gulf’s first project in Palm Beach County and its first high-rise in Florida. The company has built homes across the U.S. through its award-winning Ashton Woods subsidiary, including homes in Orlando and Florida’s west coast.

But Great Gulf wanted to be in Palm Beach County, too. Wein said Great Gulf had been looking for land, and one day Wein stumbled on to the 2.66-acre site. One thing led to another, and Great Gulf wound up partnering with Terrace Mountain on the project.

Wein said Great Gulf approached the condo from the inside out, first taking into considering the strong demand for units in the 2,000 square-foot range, much smaller than the ultra-luxury Bristol condo being built at 1100 S. Flagler Drive. There, the units average 4,500 square feet in size and cost $10 million.

“I think (The Bristol) is beautiful and we wish them all the best, but we see our target market as very different,” Wein said.

Wein said he believes 2,000 square feet casts a wide net for residents, snowbirds and families.

Burt Minkoff, a real estate agent with the Corcoran Group on Palm Beach, agreed: “There’s no new product, and that 2,000- to 3,000-square foot size is tough to find.”

The price tag for this as-yet unnamed condo will be roughly $1 million to $3 million per unit, but all the units will have ocean views “because that’s why people come to West Palm Beach,” said Wein, who then remarked on those long, cold winters in Canada.

The companies recently submitted plans to the city of West Palm Beach for their still-unnamed tower.

If the plans pass muster with the city, it’s likely the project will move quickly, with construction starting perhaps as soon as next summer, said Aaron Knight, Great Gulf’s development manager. If sales proceed smoothly, the condo could be ready by 2019.

The 1515 S. Flagler Drive land is a unique property with a unique history, too.

Built in the 1970s, the 1515 Tower condo was badly damaged in the 2004 hurricanes. An investor group called Trinity Development bought the property, with plans to build The Modern.

The Modern had fewer stories than the 30-story 1515 building, but the mass was three times greater. Neighbors who opposed the scale and the mass were apoplectic, but Trinity prevailed with city officials and obtained various waivers for setbacks.

The time came for Trinity to tear down the 1515 condo. This became a social event, and on February 14, 2010, in an intricately planned implosion, the high-rise was reduced to a pile of rubble in less than 10 seconds.

After demolition of the 1515 tower, Trinity’s luck imploded, too. The property slipped into foreclosure, when First Commonwealth Bank of Pennsylvania sued Trinity 1515 for allegedly failing to repay a $36 million loan. In December 2011, the property quietly was sold for $5.5 million to Terrace Mountain of Austin, Texas.

After, Terrace Mountain’s Frank Trabold considered building apartments on the site, but the city nixed the plan because he wanted to build 187, and the code allowed for only 84 residences.

Then Terrace put the property up for sale, and the land got a nibble: Boca Raton builder Ken Endelson offered $30 million for it. But Endelson got cold feet and backed out, and the property went up for sale again.

Great Gulf, established in 1975, is a private builder based in Toronto that builds in Canada and the U.S. In fact, in 2014, Great Gulf won the prestigious award for best international high-rise residential development for its One Bloor condo in Toronto.

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

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