Top 200 Taxpayers: Why a vacant lot is worth more than The Breakers

Palm Beach Gardens has 16 of the 200 most valuable properties in Palm Beach County, with Gardens Mall ranked second, behind only the Boca Town Center Mall.

Gardens Mall

In the rarefied air of the 200 largest taxable properties in Palm Beach County sits an empty lot.

Ah, but what an empty lot.

Hedge fund manager Ken Griffin’s vacant 12 oceanfront acres on Palm Beach make up the third-most valuable property in Palm Beach County, valued for tax purposes at $223 million.

That’s a higher taxable value than The Breakers hotel, JFK Medical Center and Florida Power & Light Co.’s Juno Beach headquarters. 

The only individual properties with higher values? The Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens malls.

The 200 most valuable properties in Palm Beach County are worth $14.3 billion, about 6.5 percent of the total taxable value of property in Palm Beach County but representing less than a half-percent of the county’s 640,000 parcels, figures provided by the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office show.

While some types of property, hit by the COVID lockdown, dropped in value, the overall worth of the 200 properties rose by 5 percent in 2020, when those property owners were charged $274 million in taxes. The rise of the Top 200 mimics the countywide gain in taxable property value of 5.6 percent.

Just 27 of the properties, valued at $2.2 billion, are in north county.

With 16, Palm Beach Gardens has the most big taxpayers in north county, ahead of Jupiter, which has four, and Riviera Beach with two. 

The rich sands of Palm Beach drew the most big taxpayers, with 41, followed by Boca Raton with 34 and West Palm Beach with 25. Another 34 of the Top 200 landed outside municipalities, with 25 of those in south county. 

While the Top 200 features the most valuable properties under single ownership, the list doesn’t capture owners of multiple properties. 

Ken Griffin
Ken Griffin (LinkedIn photo)

For instance, Griffin owns four more properties next to his 12-acre empty lot, adding up to more than 20 acres and valued last year at $324 million. But each of the other four is treated separately by the tax appraiser, with one, the 3.5 acres at 60 Blossom Way, ranked 90th most valuable. 

On just Griffin’s vacant 12-acre property, his tax bill totaled $3.3 million last year. His next bill promises to be even higher as the property’s value rose by $20 million in 2021. And it promises to go up even more, since he plans a 50,000-square-foot home and guesthouse on 7.5 acres, the Palm Beach Daily News reported in January.

The lofty value of a single lot in Palm Beach may seem crazy but property appraisals are based on what people are willing to pay, said Tim Wilmath, chief appraiser for the county’s elected property appraiser, Dorothy Jacks.

“Ken Griffin’s vacant 12+ acres is some of the most valuable land in Palm Beach County.  We don’t decide what properties are worth the market does that and we simply report it,” Wilmath said.  “Sometimes the results can seem unusual but once the market has spoken, we simply reflect that in our values.”

Biggest single tax bill: $11 million

It’s impossible to know how much the Top 200 will owe in taxes this year, since the county, the school board and cities don’t set their tax rates until Oct. 1.

But last year, the Top 200 were charged $274 million in taxes. The biggest taxpayer? Boca’s Town Center Mall at $11 million. 

This year the mall could be billed less. Like many retail properties hit by the COVID pandemic, its taxable value dropped, in this case by $30 million. Still, it led the 2021 Top 200 at $570 million.

Next closest, the Gardens Mall at $340 million, down $20 million.

While fully half the list is made up of rental apartment buildings, condo buildings don’t make the list because even the most expensive is broken up into multiple ownerships. 

Sales in The Bristol condo in West Palm Beach, which has 68 units, averaged about $10 million each, The Palm Beach Post’s Alexandra Clough reported in 2019, putting The Bristol’s combined value upwards of $600 million. That likely would have topped the most valuable list. 

But as 68 separate pieces, it couldn’t crack the Top 200. 

Most retail properties lost value

Nearly 20 percent of the Top 200 were single-family homes, or vacant single-family lots like Griffin’s, with all but one in Palm Beach. The outlier is a Manalapan estate valued at $71.8 million but sold in March for $94 million to a buyer identified by The Coastal Star as Netscape founder Jim Clark.

Malls, shopping centers and office buildings made up another 20 percent of the Top 200. 

Only two of the 17 retail properties on the list went up in value while nine of the 19 office properties rose. As a group, commercial properties took the biggest hit countywide as well, losing $64 million out of $27 billion in value, property appraiser reports show.

Just three north county shopping venues made the list, all in Palm Beach Gardens: The Gardens Mall at No. 2, Legacy Place at No. 29 and Downtown Palm Beach Gardens at No. 59.

Gardens budget
With the opening of the second tower, the taxable value of the former DiVosta Towers in Palm Beach Gardens rose to $68 million from $32 million. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

The biggest gain among office buildings belonged to Gardens Corporate Center at Alternate A1A and PGA Boulevard. It doubled in value with the opening of a second tower and the property’s $80 million sale to New York investors in September 2020.

It was one of four north county office centers on the list, along with the Juno Beach headquarters of FPL, which ranked 10th at $134 million; the 95th-ranked Financial Center at the Gardens at 3801 PGA Blvd.; and Golden Bear Plaza on U.S. Route 1 north of PGA (136th).

FPL site
While FPL's Juno Beach headquarters is among the most valuable properties in the county, its new office building in Palm Beach Gardens, shown here under construction on Aug. 14, 2021, is sure to join the ranks after it opens. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

Three hotels worth $550 million

The Boca Raton Hotel & Club, The Breakers and Eau de Palm Beach in Manalapan topped the list’s nine hotels. Just those three combined for a value of $550 million, down a whopping $120 million from the year before. 

In north county, three hotels made the list: the Marriott Oceana Palms timeshare in Riviera Beach at $106 million (20th), the PGA National Resort in Gardens at $71.8 million (64th) and the Palm Beach Shores Resort and Vacation Villas at $63.8 million (88th).

The three most valuable hospitals on the list — JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Delray Medical Center and Wellington Regional — dropped $7.2 million in value but still ranked seventh, 18th and 80th, respectively, at a combined value of $328 million. No north county hospitals made the list.

The 102 apartment buildings among the Top 200 had an average value of $64 million each, an average bump up of $4.6 million over last year. 

Five apartment buildings topped $100 million in value: four in Boca Raton and The Quaye at Central Boulevard and Interstate 95 in Palm Beach Gardens. Eight of the 14 north county apartment buildings were in Gardens.

Where does your tax dollar go in Palm Beach Gardens?

How much is Palm Beach Gardens worth?

Top gainer rose $65 million

Dorothy Jacks, Palm Beach County property appraiser.

Property Appraiser Dorothy Jacks determined that 148 of the Top 200 gained value in 2021, 46 went down and six were unchanged. The valuations, though, aren’t final. Property owners have until Sept. 13 to challenge them.

The biggest single gain belonged to homeowner Linda Saville, whose husband, Paul, runs Virginia-based homebuilder and mortgage banker NVR. Their new Palm Beach oceanfront estate at 515 N. County, homesteaded in her name, went up $65 million in value to $100 million. 

It’s one of three lots carved out of the $95 million estate sold in 2008 by Donald Trump to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. The Savilles undoubtedly could afford it. They sold their old home at 1290 S. Ocean Blvd. to Griffin for $85 million in 2017. He tore it down.

On a second Rybolovlev lot, at 535 N. County Road, a newly built home boosted its value by $53 million to $83 million. The appraiser’s office determined that price one month before the mansion sold for a record-breaking $122 million in February.

The buyer, according to the Palm Beach Daily News’ Darrell Hofheinz, was Scott Shleifer, who heads private equity investments at rapidly growing Tiger Global Management

The middle piece of Rybolovlev’s property is still under construction. Rybolovlev sold the empty lot in July 2019 for $37.3 million. At $29.8 million, it’s taxable value fell short of the Top 200 but that’s likely to change once a mansion rises on the site.

© 2021 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.

Author: Joel Engelhardt

Joel Engelhardt is an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor based in Palm Beach Gardens. He spent more than 40 years in the newspaper business, including 28 years at The Palm Beach Post. As a reporter, he covered countywide growth, the 2000 election and the birth of Cityplace in West Palm Beach. As an editor, he oversaw probes into the opioid scourge, private prisons, police-involved shootings and more. For seven years, he worked on the paper’s editorial board. Joel left The Post in December 2020. He and his wife, Donna, have lived together in Palm Beach Gardens since 1992.

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