County to shell out $1.17 million for about a fifth of an acre and to reconfigure Publix parking lot.
The county has agreed to pay more than $1.1 million for the narrow strip of land needed to add a right turn lane on the well-known Trump Corner rally spot at PGA Boulevard and Military Trail, nearly doubling the project cost.
Meanwhile, the Trump rallies that thrust the corner into the spotlight both before and after the 2020 election have been silenced by dirt mounds and barricades, but not for long, organizer Willy Guardiola vowed.
It’s blessed in practical ways as well, with abundant parking, helpful police and a supportive landlord.
“It’s the best location in the entire county,” Guardiola says.
But this fall the corner of Military Trail and PGA Boulevard is going to be ripped up in a $1.3 million county construction project to add a right-turn lane.
And construction is expected to last about 10 months, meaning that 13-foot wide strip along southbound Military Trail will be off limits as the race for Florida governor heats up.
“It’s going to kill us,” Guardiola said when informed of the county’s road construction plan. “That’s where I’m going to hold all my DeSantis rallies.”
‘A captive audience’
Once construction is done, as the 2024 presidential election looms, the corner will have shrunk. It’s not exactly huge now. The lawn pitches sharply upward from the sidewalk leading to a flower bed and shrubs surrounding the brick-bordered sign proclaiming Garden Square Shoppes.
Guardiola, president of Christian on a Mission, loves it because of ample parking nearby but when more than 1,000 flag-waving Trump supporters show up the patch of grass and sidewalk outside the Bank of America branch fills fast.
For political purposes, the long wait drivers endure to turn right is a plus —”a captive audience,” Guardiola calls them.
“It could be positive or it could be negative. If it’s Trump people, it could be great,” he said. When it’s anti-Trumpers, the former college basketball referee urges supporters to ignore catcalls and say nothing.
Rallies open with prayer
He credits the peaceful nature of the corner, which began hosting Trump rallies in June 2016, to police presence and prayer.
At the start of each rally, usually held at 4:30 p.m. on Fridays, a friend from his church blesses the site with holy water. The group recites a prayer.
“We’ve never had an incident,” he said. “It’s the holy water. It’s prayer. … Police and prayer.”
Before the 2016 Trump campaign, the corner often drew local sign-wavers on election day. But Guardiola believes the colorful Trump rallies have usurped that old identity. “We went big. This is national. It isn’t local,” he said. “It sets the tone for the state of Florida.”
That help explains his reaction in September, after Democrats began holding Wednesday rallies on Trump Corner to counter his Friday rallies.
“This isn’t just any intersection. I mean this is Trump corner. It’s got a name. It’s nationally known,” Guardiola told CBS-12. “And for another group to come out here, it’s just a lack of respect. I’ll say it over and over again. I would never do that to anybody.”
Democrats were aghast.
“I can’t believe you think this corner is yours. This is public property,” former Gardens Mayor Eric Jablin, a Democrat who helped organize the rallies, said this week. “They’re getting their just rewards (with the construction) as far as I’m concerned.”
Strip of land costs $386,000
The county engineer in charge of the project said she had never heard of Trump Corner and the corner’s political calling card had nothing to do with the decision to add the turn lane. The need came up in routine traffic reviews, said Kathleen Farrell, the county’s assistant director for roadway production, and the wheels of government began turning.
The county sued the owners of the Garden Square Shoppes, Jan Real Estate, in December to seize a 355-foot long strip that amounts to about a fifth of an acre. In April, a Palm Beach County Circuit judge approved the county’s bottom line offer, $386,370, for the 13-foot wide strip and an adjoining 6 feet. Jan Real Estate can challenge the valuation and go to trial if it believes it is due more money.
Five bids came in on June 1, ranging from $1.26 million to $1.71 million. The winning bidder must be approved by the Palm Beach County Commission, expected in September or October, before construction can begin.
The county originally estimated the job would take 150 days but with material shortages caused by the pandemic it increased the time to 300 days.
That means if work begins in November, it could last until the end of August.
Guardiola said he would show up to contest the plan.
“I will be there to stake my claim. This has been our corner for five years.”