Palm Beach Gardens developer Dan Catalfumo is back.
When last we saw him 10 years ago, the city’s most influential builder since John D. MacArthur had been stripped of his real estate empire under a mountain of debt.
He wants to build up to 750 apartments and an “iconic” eight-story office building on land he initially developed but lost to foreclosure.
He no longer has the 350-employee workforce that made him the county’s biggest builder or the portfolio of developable properties that made him central to Palm Beach Gardens’ future.
But he’s positioned to leave his mark with an ambitious proposal called PGA Station that would refashion an underused center into a major hub on the city’s most prominent commercial artery.
“This,” he said, “should be our legacy for 50 years to come.”
Retirement, said Catalfumo, 65, did not suit him.
“I was bored. I didn’t have anything to do. I don’t play golf. So …”
So, in April 2019, Catalfumo brought $17 million to the table, with construction partner and longtime friend Bob Rawe, to buy three properties from BBX Capital Asset Management, the same lender that won a $44 million foreclosure judgment against Catalfumo just eight years earlier.
The BBX debt and others, once totaling more than $100 million, are long gone, Catalfumo said, a statement reflected in court records.
“You write them a check, they go away,” he said. “Every person was paid 100 cents on the dollar. My mom and dad gave me a clean name when I was born and I have a clean, spotless name still. I owe nobody a penny. I wrote the checks to satisfy everyone. It did not change my lifestyle. Pour the wine, I drink.”
With the land buy, Catalfumo took a commanding role in the revival of a mostly vacant and forgotten 30-acre corner of Palm Beach Gardens known as the PGA Design Center.
Erected in 2004 on former MacArthur Foundation land, the design center just west of Legacy Place and south of PGA Boulevard gave space to the booming furniture industry during a seemingly endless real estate expansion.
While the La-Z-Boy showroom off of RCA Boulevard remains, the huge two-story Robb & Stucky showroom is destined for the wrecking ball. The building, vacant for 10 years, would make way for a 396-unit apartment building, with the potential to go up to 750 units, and a 608-space parking garage.
Catalfumo is partnering with the Richman Group, which has built apartment complexes throughout Florida and has an office in West Palm Beach, to build the residential.
But the centerpiece of Catalfumo’s plan submitted to the city in September is the 200,000-square-foot office building on the vacant 7 acres along the railroad tracks at the foot of Design Center Way. It would include a 1,066-space parking garage with 100 spaces set aside for Tri-Rail if it comes.
He promises a Class A building with interiors undisturbed by columns, allowing for open, 25,000-square-foot floor plans.
He also would retrofit an existing two-story, 20,400-square-foot building, formerly home to Robb & Stucky’s outdoor collection, where he has rehung the Catalfumo nameplate.
Gone will be the Mediterranean-style architecture of the existing buildings. The new buildings, Catalfumo promised, will be “clean and crisp.”
The architect for the office building, SPINAOROURKE + Partners of West Palm Beach, describes it this way in Catalfumo’s application to the city:
“The project’s architectural style is Contemporary modern. The overall project design is straightforward in its layout and the style reflects that with clean crisp forms derived from the simple massing.”
Catalfumo expects to bring the project before the city’s Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board in two months, however the city has not yet scheduled a hearing. City Council review would follow.
He is seeking five waivers, including 48 fewer residential parking spaces, saying shared parking with the office parking garage and existing parking will make up for it. Two waivers would let him erect more signs on his buildings than allowed and two would allow landscape reductions, in one case to accommodate the train station.
The Robb & Stucky demolition would happen first, followed by construction of the apartment building. The office building would come later.
Owned the heart of the Gardens
While Catalfumo has been behind many large and important buildings throughout Palm Beach County — such as Office Depot’s Delray Beach expansion, West Palm Beach City Hall and adjoining library and the Port of Palm Beach cruise terminal — he has had more impact on Palm Beach Gardens then anywhere else.
Twenty years after the death of the city’s founder, insurance magnate John D. MacArthur, Catalfumo took up the mantle to shape all four corners along what is arguably the city’s most important intersection, the crossing of PGA Boulevard at Alternate A1A near the Gardens Mall.
He spent about $50 million to buy large undeveloped sites on all four corners in 1999, when MacArthur’s Chicago-based foundation sold off its 14,808 acres, much of it centered in Palm Beach Gardens and held off the market for years after MacArthur’s 1978 death.
And until the Great Recession of 2008 hit, Catalfumo made money selling or developing the land.
First came the PGA flyover, allowing PGA to flow over the Florida East Coast Railway tracks and Alternate A1A, a $26 million state construction project cleared only after the state agreed to pay the MacArthur Foundation $12 million for 35 acres needed for drainage and right of way.
Catalfumo’s $10 million investment in what would become Downtown at the Gardens and a hotel nearly doubled in value when he sold them in 2002 and 2003 for a combined $19.3 million, deeds show. He spent $15.2 million on PGA Boulevard sites on the east side of the mall, bringing in at least $26 million.
He paid $12.9 million for land that became Legacy Place, selling off one portion for a 382-unit apartment complex for $6.7 million in 2002 and, two years later, the commercial section for $25.3 million, records show.
He paid $4.5 million for the 30-acre Design Center site south of PGA and west of Alternate A1A and began selling parcels in 2007, including one for his corporate headquarters. The northern portion of the site began to take shape with $9 million in sales in 2008, just as the economy began its collapse.
In 2011, a circuit court judge ruled he owed BankAtlantic $44 million for loans against the property. A successor bank, BBX, pursued the case vigorously, saying in court papers that Catalfumo had transferred millions to a Cayman Islands bank account. In a June 2013 press release, BBX said Catalfumo agreed to settle for $25 million upfront, $5 million later and forfeited property valued at $14 million.
“I paid CASH 100% on the dollar,” Catalfumo said.
Lenders also seized the fourth corner, the future FPL site, where Catalfumo confirmed that he had squirreled away a 4.25-acre parcel under the name Spearfisher Partners. The lender sold the rest of the 86-acre site to FPL in 2011. But Catalfumo held on to his piece until March 2018, when FPL paid $4.89 million for it.
In 2019, years after the lender lawsuits were closed out, Catalfumo paid cash when he bought three key Design Center properties back for $17 million. On the day of the closing, BBX extended him and partner Bob Rawe a $4.6 million loan, mortgage records show.
He and Rawe quickly built the second building in the center for TBC Corp., dubbed TBC South, a 60,000-square-foot office building at 4260 Design Center Drive.
That left two parcels, one containing the long-vacant Robb & Stucky buildings, the other a blank slate along the railroad tracks.
Now with five employees including his 26-year-old son, not 350 workers as in the past, Dan Catalfumo is moving forward on what he calls his legacy.
“This is full-time. Fourteen hours a day,” he said. “This is the new wave of the future.”
Thank you for reading. You may also want to check out Joel’s recent posting on the status of plans for a Tri-Rail commuter line in north county. Joel, a longtime Palm Beach Gardens resident, wrote and edited stories at The Palm Beach Post for nearly 30 years before departing in December 2020. This story originally was published on Feb. 9, 2021, on PBGWatch.com.
Copyright © 2021 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.