February 2022 is the month that the ugliest building in Palm Beach Gardens got torn down.
The old driver’s license building on PGA Boulevard, erected in 1978 and long outlived in shape and size, has been made to disappear in a weeklong demolition flurry.
It took four years and a lawsuit to get to that point and it’s still unclear how much it’s going to cost taxpayers to build its sleek, high-ceilinged, glass-encased replacement.
While the permit put the cost of demolition at $15,000, no construction permits have been pulled yet and a request to the office of Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon for documents clarifying the updated costs is pending.
While many cringed as they drove past, some aren’t convinced it was the ugliest building in Palm Beach Gardens. With its sharp edges and overhanging roof, it had elements of 1970s chic.
But it was low and squat and it aged poorly. It had been unused for four years and it hadn’t been big enough to do the job for years before that. People waiting for driver’s licenses snaked out the front door and wrapped around the building without cover from withering heat and rain.
What may have seemed swank in the rough patchwork of the 1970s felt blighted in the elegance of the 2020s directly across the street from the Gardens Mall, which it predated.
Now, the construction site is cloaked with cheery construction fencing featuring a green plant pattern.
With its useful life over, Gannon set out to replace the structure in February 2018. She set aside $11 million for a new building, which would be 10 times the size of the old, and offer space for vehicle registrations, property tax and business tax services as well as driver’s license renewals.
But she encountered hurdles as she underwent city planning review, resulting in delays and prompting her to sue the city.
Even after hiring veteran land-use attorney Marty Perry, it took Gannon’s consultants led by Song & Associates about 15 months to respond to the city’s many critiques and reach the point of city council approval.
Connections to neighboring properties proved particularly vexing.
The city wanted a roadway connection east to link the backside of the tax collector property to the larger county property next door, which offers not just the north county courthouse but the north county library as well. Song’s planners had no problem with the suggestion but the city requested technical fixes in a series of exchanges over months, documents submitted in the lawsuit show.
But the bigger hangup came over the city’s desire to allow a north-south road, which partially exists as an entry road beside the PGA Tour Superstore, to continue south into county-owned land and link PGA Boulevard to Fairchild Avenue.
After months of negotiations, a settlement over one issue concerning the road resulted in a disagreement over another and Gannon sued. About two years after the city council’s May 2019 decision to approve the building, the issues concerning the road were cleared, allowing construction to proceed.
In April 2021, the tax collector submitted revised documents to the city that would soon get the green light.
At the time she said construction could begin as early as July. Gannon was not available for comment Friday.
In September 2021, she signed a contract with the Morganti Group, revising a June 2019 bid, to be construction manager. It is working with architects and contractors to deliver the new building.
Regardless of the price tag, it’s makeover was long overdue, north county commercial real estate broker Rebel Cook told OnGardens in May.
“Yes, that building is an eyesore,” she said. “It’s a leftover building from a time long ago … literally an embarrassment on that street.”
© 2022 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.