To revive a dormant retail hub, a 396-unit apartment building and an eight-story office structure won the enthusiastic approval Thursday from the Palm Beach Gardens City Council.
Developer Dan Catalfumo’s PGA Station would transform the former Design Center south of PGA Boulevard between Alternate A1A and Interstate 95 into a hub aimed at taking advantage of commuter rail opportunities on the adjoining Florida East Coast Railway tracks.
The city is actively seeking higher density in the area in anticipation of landing commuter train service, such as Tri-Rail, a proposal that depends on raising hundreds of millions of dollars for stations and operations countywide.
“This is really central to everything that we got going on,” Councilmember Carl Woods said at the meeting late Thursday. “We need to get Tri-Rail up here. And this is the first building and everything that’s going to surround it.”
Councilmember Mark Marciano acknowledged the challenges of retooling a city built on a suburban model but said the move toward higher density and fewer car trips in the city’s core is worth it.
“This is part of the future of the city. It will include some challenges obviously with traffic and growth,” he said. “That’s what happens when you’re a forward-seeking city.”
The city in August approved a 280-unit apartment building and a hotel to revive the retail-oriented Downtown Palm Beach Gardens next to the Gardens Mall. The city’s vision includes trolleys ferrying workers and visitors between the properties and the train station.
$275,000 toward road work, bike paths
Catalfumo’s approval is conditioned on paying $275,000 toward several planned road, bike and pedestrian improvements, as part of the city’s mobility fee program, which is now facing a court challenge from Palm Beach County.
- $66,430 for a roundabout at RCA Boulevard and Northcorp Parkway on the project’s southwest corner next to the existing Hampton Inn.
- $120,340 toward a new southbound right-turn lane at Alternate A1A and RCA Boulevard.
- $64,947 to add bicycle lanes on RCA Boulevard west of the project area from Design Center Drive to the new roundabout.
- $23,205 for a mid-block pedestrian crossing of RCA Boulevard at Design Center Drive.
In 2017, the county gave a previous developer a $70,000 credit toward county impact fees for helping to pay for a right-turn lane from PGA Boulevard to RCA Boulevard on the project’s northwest corner.
Catalfumo also will be required to provide at least one trolley shelter or pay the equivalent amount toward the operation of a trolley.
Catalfumo, a prolific campaign contributor who already has given $2,500 to Woods’ reelection effort, praised city planning staff, who he said “pushed us to a different level.”
“They brought things to light that we did not see because we were so close to this project,” he said.
Workforce housing statement?
In their comments, council members praised Catalfumo’s partnership with The Richman Group, which bills itself as the owner of America’s seventh-largest rental apartment portfolio.
The proposal calls for an eight-story apartment building on the site of the former Robb & Stucky furniture store connected to a 606-space parking garage. The plan is for 21 studio, 177 one-bedroom, 173 two-bedroom and 25 three-bedroom units.
Mayor Rachelle Litt thanked Catalfumo for setting aside 10 percent of the apartment units, or 40 apartments, for workforce housing.
“It definitely makes a statement that others will be anxious to follow,” she said.
Setting aside workforce housing units could have qualified the project for the right to build more apartments than the 396 the council approved.
Under city rules cited in Catalfumo’s December 2020 application, the workforce housing set-aside would have made the project eligible for an extra six units per acre.
Since the site is 30 acres, Catalfumo’s application stated, the workforce housing pledge would have enabled the construction of an additional 180 units. By following an environmentally friendly design, doubling the project’s commitment to art in public places and adding stores that provide local services, Catalfumo spelled out a path to an additional 354 units over the 396 the council approved.
However, during the city’s review, “the applicant modified their request to be for only 396 residential dwelling units for a total of 13.19 residential dwelling units per acre,” which is consistent with existing permitted density, city staff said in response to an emailed question.
‘Spectacular departure’ from office buildings of the past
The office building, which Catalfumo referred to as his legacy project, would not get started until the residential building is well underway. It would have a 998-space, 5.5-story parking garage, with parking spaces set aside for the train station and the ability to add a deck if needed.
The Spina O’Rourke-designed structure would offer 200,000 square feet of space, with 50,000 square feet dedicated to medical uses. Along the facade of the parking garage, the developers would be allowed 7,000 square feet for storefronts, including at least 2,500 square feet for a restaurant.
“Spina O’Rourke Architects have designed a unique building that is a spectacular departure from the institutional-style structures of the past,” Catalfumo’s application said. “This truly unique building will be highly visible and therefore it is vital that it make a statement from every angle.”
The application called the style contemporary modern, “straightforward in its layout” with “clean and crisp forms derived from the simple massing.”
‘Wayfinding landmark’ public art
To meet the city’s art in public places requirements, artist Mark Fuller has designed tree-like art pieces dubbed “Iconic Bloom” that use aluminum tubes, vinyl fabric and LED lighting to deliver “an upbeat, positive first impression” and become a “wayfinding landmark” to the train station and office building, the developer’s application states.
A canopy featuring “an artistic interpretation of a vine pattern” over a crosswalk would be counted as artwork as would storefront pedestrian walkway canopies.
Those proposals have not yet gone before the city’s Art in Public Places Advisory Board for approval.
Catalfumo’s long history at the site
Catalfumo and partner Bob Rawe paid $17 million to buy the properties in April 2019, a return to a property he started developing in 2004, one of four major sites in the city’s core that he bought from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1999.
While he sold to builders the sites that become Downtown Palm Beach Gardens and Legacy Place, he lost the then-Design Center property to lenders after the real estate crash of 2008.
In 2011, the longtime builder and developer left the business only to return with the repurchase of the Design Center properties — bought from the same lender who took it from him in 2011.
The center originally aimed to be a furniture-store hub as homeowners flocked to the Gardens and north county during the real estate boom. But Robb & Stucky closed in 2011 and one of the last original tenants, La-Z-Boy, just announced that it is closing its store.
What about Panama Hattie’s? Or Loehmann’s?
Council members praised Catalfumo for sticking with the vision despite lengthy city scrutiny of his proposal, which he submitted in December 2020.
Relations were so warm Councilmember Marcie Tinsley suggested “since we have such a great relationship now, I just encourage you to bring the rest of your property right into the city of Palm Beach Gardens,” a reference to Catalfumo’s takeover of the former Panama Hattie’s restaurant site off of PGA Boulevard.
Catalfumo nodded in the affirmative.
But he’s pursuing county approval, not the city OK, for the right to add 2 acres and 26 condos to the former restaurant site on the Intracoastal Waterway, bringing the total number of condominiums to 96, because the previous developer refused to annex it into the city.
Catalfumo applied to the county on Oct. 4 but he didn’t buy the property until Oct. 29. Property records show he paid $33 million to buy 9 acres from a company headed by Nicholas Mastroianni II, developer of Jupiter’s Harbourside Place.
Mastroianni paid $16.8 million to assemble the property in 2013 and 2014. The purchase of the additional 2 acres, first reported in OnGardens.org in October, have not yet closed.
After Tinsley’s question, Councilmember Carl Woods interjected: “Have you considered buying Loehmann’s?” a long-stalled redevelopment property just west of PGA Station that is owned by Drury Hotels.
Catalfumo, in the audience, said “We have,” but didn’t elaborate.
© 2021 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.