EXCLUSIVE: Catalfumo takes over Panama Hattie’s site 

Developer seeks permission to add 2 acres, 26 condos to now-vacant site along the Intracoastal Waterway at PGA Boulevard.

Panama Hattie's

The long-stalled plan for condos on the former Panama Hattie’s restaurant site has new life under an expansion proposed by developer Dan Catalfumo.

While ownership still rests with a company headed by Nicholas Mastroianni II, the developer of Harbourside in Jupiter, Catalfumo has taken control. He submitted an application Oct. 4 to add 2 acres and 26 condos, bringing the total number of condominiums to 96.    

Panama Hattie's
The old entry to Panama Hattie’s before its September 2014 closure. (Facebook)

A deal to sell the property to Catalfumo is expected to close at the end of October, an executive with Mastroianni’s company, Allied Capital & Development, told OnGardens.org. 

The county granted Mastroianni permission to build 70 condos in 2015 but Catalfumo is adding four properties immediately south of the vacant site at PGA Boulevard and the Intracoastal Waterway bridge to bring the total size to 11 acres.

The popular restaurant, with its outdoor rum bar, fire pits and beachy vibe, closed in September 2014 and was demolished in March 2015. The site, which is in an unincorporated part of the county — not Palm Beach Gardens — has been fenced off and vacant ever since.

Panama Hattie's
The old dock is falling apart at the long vacant site of Panama Hattie’s as developer Dan Catalfumo looks to build 96 condos and a 23-slip marina there. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

Three condo buildings, a marina and a park

Catalfumo is asking to build three eight-story buildings, including two stories of parking underground. Two buildings would have 36 units and one would have 24. The condos would be three- and four-bedroom units, Catalfumo’s application says. 

The plan, called PGA Waterfront Residential, includes a previously approved 23-slip marina and a “neighborhood park,” which will include a pavilion with restrooms, a kitchen and a fire pit. It is not clear from the proposal whether the park would be open to all neighbors or just condo owners. 

The site would have 202 parking spaces, mostly in garages, with a main entrance off Ellison Wilson Road, just north of the back entrance to The Benjamin School’s Lower/Middle School Campus. 

“The proposed multi-family condominium furthers the compatibility of the adjacent residential properties by acting as a buffer between PGA Boulevard, the associated drawbridge and commercial uses beyond,” the application says.

See Catalfumo’s plans for PGA Station — offices and apartments

Railroad quiet zones years away in north county

Panama Hatties
Developer Dan Catalfumo is proposing to move forward with condos on the former Panama Hattie’s site, shown here with a 2-acre expansion on its south end. (Palm Beach County Zoning Division)

Rather than build three workforce housing units, as required for a development this size, Catalfumo proposes paying $75,000 per unit, or $225,000, to the county, as allowed under county rules. 

While the property is not on Palm Beach Gardens’ future potential annexation map, some city council members say they would welcome its annexation. Such an expansion would add to the city’s continually growing tax base

But until that happens, the decision on what can be built on the site will remain with the Palm Beach County Commission.

City sued over county’s initial approval

Mastroianni paid $16.8 million in 2013 and 2014 to assemble the site and defied community opposition to tear the restaurant down. 

After he won county zoning permission to build, Palm Beach Gardens sued over the approval, citing fire-safety issues and legal mistakes. A circuit court judge rejected the city’s arguments, a ruling upheld on appeal. 

Mastroianni relied on the federal EB-5 program to build Harbourside in Jupiter. The program allowed foreign investors putting up $500,000 or more to get a green card to live in the United States. But investors sued, saying while they got their green cards they had not gotten an acceptable return on their investment. 

While those suits made their way through the courts, the Panama Hattie’s site remained empty. 

Since 2016, Mastroianni’s ownership group, PGA Partners 100, won a succession of one-year reprieves on repaying $13.8 million in debt to Synovus Bank. The latest extension in county records lasted until July 2021.

Who is Dan Catalfumo?

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Catalfumo grew into one of the most active and powerful developers in Palm Beach County. In the massive 1999 selloff of land by the MacArthur Foundation, he took control of all four corners of the most prominent intersection in Palm Beach Gardens. 

Developer Dan Catalfumo. (Provided by Dan Catalfumo)

He sold or developed those properties that became Downtown Palm Beach Gardens just west of the Gardens Mall, Legacy Place on the opposite side of the street and the PGA Design Center, which he is now reworking as PGA Station. After the 2008 economic downturn, he lost the corner where Florida Power & Light is erecting a six-story office building

Catalfumo, who could not be reached for comment, plunged back into the local development scene in 2019 by spending $17 million to buy properties in the former Design Center. He pitched PGA Station, featuring a 200,000-square-foot office building and 396-unit apartment building on the property southwest of PGA Boulevard and Alternate A1A. The plan leaves space for a train station if commuter service ever comes to the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.

City staff this week issued its recommendation for approval of PGA Station, except for one waiver that would have allowed signs on a parking garage, and placed it on the Oct. 12 Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board agenda. The board will make a recommendation to the city council, which will consider PGA Station most likely at its November meeting. 

© 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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