Related will propose shorter office tower for WPB church land


The 25-story tower has been cut in size but still exceeds the five-story height limit

One person’s water view is another person’s blocked view.

So goes the conflict between West Palm Beach’s biggest commercial real estate developer and property owners near the waterfront along Flagler Drive.

The Related Cos., which built CityPlace, CityPlace Tower office building and the Hilton Convention Center Hotel, is once again trying to drum up support for what it hopes will be its next venture: A 25-story tall tower on land owned by the First Church of Christ, Scientist, at Flagler Drive and Lake­view Avenue.

The tower’s size has been trimmed from its original 30-story height, a proposal that was shot down by a city committee and the mayor last year following complaints by residents who don’t want tall buildings choking views of the waterfront.

Undeterred, Ken Himmel, president of Related Urban, the mixed-use unit of New York-based Related Cos., will present this new plan before an Economic Forum of Palm Beach County luncheon on Wednesday.

Himmel will be joined by the tower’s architect, David Childs , who designed the Freedom Tower at One World Trade Center in Manhattan.

In addition to being five stories shorter than the earlier proposal, Related’s Class A luxury office tower now would consist of 270,000 square feet, down from 300,000 square feet. The tower would rise about 300 feet, down from more than 400 feet.

Himmel is expected to talk about the tower’s importance to the city’s bid to attract new financial firms from the Northeast. The city recently rebranded a portion of the city the Flagler Financial District.

Unfortunately for the branding effort, the Class A Phillips Point and Esperante Corporate Center office buildings are mostly full. And the other office buildings along Flagler are old.

That’s why Related is fighting so hard to win support for this prime church project. If built, the tower would offer office tenants unparalleled views of the Intracoastal, Palm Beach and the Atlantic Ocean.

But the tower still would still exceed a five-story height allowance on property east of Olive Avenue. And that makes it a non-starter to some neighbors.

“We are vigorously opposed to any tower of any size in the Christian Science parking lot,” said Margaret LaManna, a resident of a residential condominium atop the Esperante Corporate Center office tower next to the church property.

Esperante just changed hands for $127.75 million, and new owner Redsky Capital also is not happy about the proposed Related tower, which would block some views. A Redsky lawyer declined to comment.

LaManna, who is in close contact with residents at One City Plaza and Two City Plaza condominiums, said Related’s proposed tower violates the city’s height restrictions, upon which residents relied when they bought their condos.

LaManna said the tower also would create extra traffic. “Lakeview and Okeechobee are evacuation routes, and they’re already dangerously congested,” she said. “This is a life safety issue.”

“I have no beef with their building, but it’s in the wrong place,” added Nancy Pullum, president of Citizens for Thoughtful Growth, a watchdog group. “It breaks the five-story height limit, which is what everybody is concerned about.”

Business leaders support new office space downtown. The board of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches on Tuesday unanimously voted to support the project, said Dennis Grady, chamber president.

The president of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County also supports new office space in downtown West Palm Beach.

But Kelly Smallridge said companies thinking of relocating to the city aren’t interested in 100,000-square-foot chunks of space. Instead, they prefer smaller spaces in excellent locations. Many of the board’s prospects are hedge funds, private equity firms and family offices, the types of tenants the city would like for the Flagler Financial District.

“They’re looking for 5,000 to 10,000 square feet with water views,” Smallridge said. “I need fresh, new cool stuff. I need product that can wow these people.”

That’s the thinking behind this proposed tower by Related.

The tower, described as “iconic,” would be slim to minimize obstructing other buildings’ views. It also would be tiered, with three different floor plates.

The smallest, top floors would be about 6,000 to 7,000 square feet, and the largest floors near the ground be roughly 13,000 square feet.

The project’s architect also adds cachet.

Childs is renowned not only for his designs but for his skill in building next to important properties. He previously led the National Capital Planning Commission, which reviews projects that affect the nation’s capital and its many historic and cultural assets.

“It all comes down to whether our citizens want these kinds of jobs and investment in this community, and want a building and grounds designed by one of the greatest American architects that maximizes green space with its small footprint while minimizing traffic impact,” said Gopal Rajegowda, senior vice president of Related Urban.

The church itself is not part of the sale and would not be touched. But the money would help keep the church alive. The sale of a church building and parking lot would finance the preservation of the church, built in 1928 in the Classical Revival style of architecture.

Church officials have been wanting to sell land for a long time because church membership is dwindling, down to less than 70, and they need the money.

Related has argued this deal is a way to build a new office building — and save a historic property for the ages.

Pullum is not convinced. “You don’t have to desecrate the whole waterfront to save this structure,” she said. “They’re preying on people’s sympathies.”

Rival developers already have voiced opposition to granting Related or any other developer rights to build on land zoned for low-rise buildings.

Most real estate experts agree the city only needs one large tower every decade, so whoever gets out of the ground first wins tenants relocating to the area, as well as existing tenants looking to move to new space.

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

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