Retail palace, not office tower, could grace entrance to WPB

Prime property at the entrance to West Palm Beach won’t be a signature office tower, as once planned. Instead, the land’s owner has a new idea: A home furnishings store by Restoration Hardware.

The deal would involve moving an existing Restoration Hardware shop at the CityPlace shopping and dining complex to the Okeechobee Boulevard property, known as the “triangle,” real estate sources said. The site would become a furniture design gallery so grand, and massive, it has been dubbed a “retail palace.”

The property is in the median, between CityPlace on the north side of the road and the Palm Beach County Convention Center on the south side.

Once the land was planned as the 200,000-square-foot Gateway Tower at CityPlace by owner, Related Cos. of New York. But after a failed bid to lure pre-construction tenants, Related ditched the office tower idea and now is working to turn the odd-shaped property into retail space.

The free-standing Restoration Hardware store would be between 60,000 to 80,000 square feet and become a showpiece gallery for Restoration Hardware’s upscale home furnishings.

Elliot Cohen, a spokesman for the city of West Palm Beach, confirmed Related’s interest in putting a Restoration Hardware on the triangle site, but said formal plans have not been submitted yet.

While some commercial real estate brokers questioned the notion of a furniture store serving as the gateway to the downtown, others shrugged. “Something is better than nothing,” a broker said.

But Neil Merin, chairman of NAI/Merin Hunter Codman in West Palm Beach, said concerns about the property’s importance are overstated. “One building doesn’t make a gateway. An area does,” Merin said.

One retail expert praised the move.

“Restoration Hardware is a draw and an anchor. It’s really a positive,” said Al Ferris, leasing manager at The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens. Restoration Hardware has a store at The Gardens, and Ferris is familiar with the retailer’s transition to galleries.

Ferris said it’s even possible Related could fill the Restoration Hardware space at CityPlace with other home furnishings stores attracted to the center by the RH gallery.

Restoration Hardware, based in Corte Madera, Calif., started as a store for historical knobs and fixtures, then broadened into furniture. Now, under the direction of chief executive Gary Friedman, Restoration Hardware has transformed into a “curator” of luxury home furnishings, according to the company’s website. Restoration Hardware sells furniture, lighting, textiles, bathware, décor, outdoor and garden, as well as baby and child products.

As part of the emphasis on high-end goods, the company is building grand, stand-alone furniture galleries, eschewing traditional mall stores.

So far, Restoration Hardware has opened magnificent RH galleries in Atlanta and West Hollywood. Galleries also have been built in historic properties: The Museum of Natural History in Boston and the Historic Post Office in Greenwich, Ct.

The company’s website features dreamy videos of the stores’ interiors. Upholstered sofas, warm wood tables and natural light throughout create an inviting feel to the galleries’ furniture arrangements.

Neither Related nor Restoration Hardware responded to requests for comment.

In other CityPlace news, the former Brewzzi restaurant space soon could be occupied.

Word is Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, the casual dining American restaurant chain, is close to a deal to take the vacant space formerly occupied by Brewzzi, evicted last year following a rent dispute.

Related and Brewzzi have been locked in litigation since the eviction, but sources said Related is working to lease the space to Margaritaville anyway. The casual dining American restaurant chain, inspired by singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, is expected to be a huge draw for CityPlace. The Margaritaville brand also is a retailer and hotel operator, too. A Margaritaville Beach Resort is opening this summer in Hollywood, Fla.

The move muddies the future of Cabo Flats, which had been a contender to take the Brewzzi space. Now it will need to look elsewhere at CityPlace for a location.

Other CityPlace space that remains unopened is the former B.B. King’s Blues Club. The prime, second floor space is being transformed into Lafayette’s Music Room. Lafayette’s website describes the place as a restaurant and live music venue showcasing local and touring acts “playing rock ‘n’ roll to jazz to blues and everything in between.”

Lafayette’s was supposed to have opened last year. Now word is the music room will open its doors by the end of March or in April.

Gardens office boom?

While the West Palm Beach office market lacks new office space, a prime piece of land in Palm Beach Gardens zoned for office space just changed hands. Construction could follow.

Legendary homebuilder Otto “Buz” DiVosta” recently paid $8.5 million for property adjacent to the Downtown at the Gardens mall. The 6.6-acre land, at the intersection of Alternate A1A and Kyoto Gardens Drive, is zoned for two, 112,000-square-foot buildings.

Neil Merin represented the seller in the transaction, IMI Kyoto Gardens I LLC, an entity of Illinois-based Miller Capital Advisory, a former owner of Downtown at the Gardens. Merin said DiVosta has indicated an interest in building office buildings on the site, but it’s not yet clear how fast he’ll move.

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

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