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Giant food hall coming to Delray Beach on former condo site

Giants in restaurants and real estate are teaming up to create an enclosed food hall the size of a football field in downtown Delray Beach.

Restaurateur Dennis Max and real estate developer Craig Menin are planning the Delray City Market, a 30,000-square foot food hall at 33 SE Third Ave., half a block south of sizzling Atlantic Avenue.

The food hall will be part of a larger building, a 120,000-square-foot, four-story property. About 200 parking spaces on a three-level garage will be in the building, which also will feature a 3,000-square-foot rooftop community garden.

But the star of the show would be the ground floor food hall, where plans are to feature 30 vendors offering a range of cuisine, as well as live music, cooking classes and guest chefs.

Max said the goal is to create “an arcade” of different food choices to please everyone, from pizza to pasta to gourmet food vendors. Space would be available also for wine and craft beer vendors.

The food hall is part of an overall move to transform dining into entertainment and create new uses for space that typically would be home to either a residential building or retail center in urban centers.

Max said Menin is making the move to capture the business expected to be garnered by the iPic Theater, now under construction a block away.

Both Menin and Max are masters of their crafts.

Menin built the upscale Downtown at the Gardens shopping center in Palm Beach Gardens, then later sold it. Earlier this month, he sold PGA Plaza for a whopping $88 million. He bought the shopping center for $17 million in 2004 then made several improvements, including bringing the Trader Joe’s to the center.

Now Menin has set his sights on Delray Beach, even moving his company, Menin Development, there from Palm Beach.

An affiliate of Menin Development acquired the food hall site in December for $4.6 million. The property previously was slated to be the Metropolitan condominium project, featuring interiors designed by tennis star Venus Williams’ V Starr Interiors. The condo building was never built.

Menin has been buying prime Delray Beach properties for the past several years.

In 2016, Menin paid $8.3 million for 306 E. Atlantic Ave., which houses Urban Outfitters. In 2015, he paid $19.5 million for 326 and 400 East Atlantic Ave. Before that, Menin bought Esplanade in the Grove for $25.6 million. The shopping center is at 241 NE 2nd Ave.

What was once a sleepy Atlantic Avenue punctuated by a few restaurants now is a bustling entertainment center, featuring not only restaurants but also shops and galleries.

A food hall is a natural addition, Max said.

Max knows the area well. He operates Max’s Harvest restaurant at 169 NE 2nd Ave. He co-founded Max’s Grille in Boca Raton, among numerous restaurants developed throughout Palm Beach County.

For a time, Max operated a Max’s Grille restaurant at Downtown at the Gardens, too.

These days, however, customers are looking for a new twist on dining, beyond the standard restaurant space, Max said.

Food halls are the next hot trend. West Palm Beach recently welcomed Grandview Public Market, a 14,000-square-foot space at 1401 Clare Ave., in an industrial section of West Palm Beach. Grandview has 12 vendors, according to its website.

But Max and Menin are swinging for the fences by aiming for the style of larger food halls seen in major U.S. cities. Think New York (Chelsea Market), Los Angeles (Grand Central Market) and Boston (Quincy Market), to name a few.

Max said food halls need to be large enough to accommodate a range of vendors in order to gain traction, Max said.

In the case of the Delray City Market, the now vacant parcel is roughly the size of a “football field,” 300 feet long and 50 feet wide.

“When you walk in, it will be a sea of activity, a circus of things going on” Max said.

The goal is to attract customers who want items “they can’t find anywhere else.” He also wants to lure vendors who maybe up until now operated food trucks but have wanted to have a “brick and mortar” location, too.

Max said it’s not enough to fill the space with vendors, however. The space needs to be visually appealing, he added. Max said Menin is committed to “doing it right … the best of the best, not just a builder looking to make money.”

He and Menin planned trips to food halls in Las Vegas and California to gather ideas.

Plans are to go before the city of Delray Beach in a couple of months. If approved, Delray City Center could be built and ready to open by the summer of 2019, Max said.

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

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