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.

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.

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Slicing the Cheesecake: Council embraces Downtown plan calling for Cheesecake Factory to go

ShopCore Properties wins city approval for massive changes at Downtown Palm Beach Gardens.

The biggest step in the transformation of Downtown Palm Beach Gardens won city council approval Thursday without a single word about the popular restaurant about to be served by a wrecking ball. 

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No more Cheesecake? Gardens council to vote Thursday

Shopcore Properties proposes tearing down Cheesecake Factory, adding hotel, apartment building at Downtown Palm Beach Gardens.

Plans to remake Downtown Palm Beach Gardens, including the demolition of The Cheesecake Factory restaurant to make way for a 280-unit apartment building, go before the city council Thursday.

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City road shutting down for two weeks to add roundabout

After shutdown, Campus Drive construction will continue for six months as part of $1.3 million project.

A roundabout designed to calm traffic outside Palm Beach State College’s Palm Beach Gardens Campus will force the closure of Campus Drive starting Friday July 23, and continuing until Aug. 6. 

Work on the half-mile length of road, which links PGA Boulevard to RCA Boulevard, will continue for six months after the closure.

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EXCLUSIVE: ‘Blessed’ ground of Trump Corner to undergo conversion

Will construction break up Gardens’ hotspot for Trump rallies?

It’s “blessed” ground.

Trump Corner, the space outside the Publix shopping center in Palm Beach Gardens where local resident Willy Guardiola draws hundreds of Trump supporters for weekly rallies, has been sprinkled with holy water and suffused in prayer. 

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.”

Trump Corner
A quiet Thursday in June at Trump Corner at PGA Boulevard and Military Trail in Palm Beach Gardens. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

‘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. 

Willy Guardiola
Willy Guardiola, right, with fellow Trump backer Lou Marin of Orlando, at a Trump birthday bash they organized at Southern Boulevard and Interstate 95 on June 14, 2021. (Provided by Willy Guardiola)

“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

Trump Corner
A right-turn lane is planned for this strip along Military Trail at Trump Corner in Palm Beach Gardens. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

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. 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: What’s that mammoth building rising at PGA and I-95?

FIXING I-95: State has a plan to ease PGA Boulevard backups

Work will include new curb, gutter and sidewalk, a retaining wall and relocation of overhead electric lines, underground pipes and traffic signal mast arms.

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.”

© 2021 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.

APARTMENTS AND OFFICES: What does developer Dan Catalfumo have in mind for PGA Station

County stops stopping Gardens’ stoplight

Lawsuit could be averted as Palm Beach County agrees to accept Bay Hill Estates stoplight, with conditions.

Palm Beach County relented Wednesday in its opposition to a stoplight on Northlake Boulevard outside Bay Hill Estates.

A week after Palm Beach Gardens threatened to sue, the county said it still didn’t believe the light is warranted but it acknowledged a 2016 agreement “inadvertently” gave Gardens the power to decide, as Gardens City Attorney Max Lohman had insisted.

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‘Abuse of power:’ Gardens ready to sue county over Bay Hill stoplight

Residents says they take their lives in their hands at Northlake Boulevard west of Ibis but Palm Beach County says intersection is not dangerous enough for a stoplight.

The hostility building in recent months between Palm Beach Gardens and Palm Beach County officials has reached a boiling point.

The two governments have feuded in the past, from the spat over a regional park to the ongoing showdown over the city’s mobility fee

But a long-simmering dispute over a stoplight on Northlake Boulevard seven miles west of Interstate 95 may blow the lid off the kettle.

On Thursday, the Palm Beach Gardens City Council gave their attorney the authority to take the county to court — not over the county’s refusal to allow the stoplight, although that remains likely, but over the county’s failure to promptly fulfill a city public records request.

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Railroad quiet zones two years away in north county

Faster Brightline trains raise specter of more deaths even as quiet zones two years away.

Railroad quiet zones are coming to Palm Beach Gardens and north county. 

But not until 2023, at the earliest. And not without some risk.

The sounds of silence won’t break out over north county any earlier than 2023, officials say, even though the $2.2 million needed to pay for more gates and other safety features at 26 crossings is in hand. 

That’s because the final testing of safety measures can’t start until the Brightline passenger service completes construction on a second set of tracks, not just in Palm Beach County but all the way to Orlando. That $2.7 billion job is not scheduled to be done until the final months of 2022. 

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Wringing every last drop out of the old, before ringing in the new

Seacoast Utility Authority replaces aging headquarters with $21 million campus.

When you turn on your faucet, you expect water to come gushing out. When you flush your toilet, you expect the water to go swirling away.

In Palm Beach Gardens, Lake Park, North Palm Beach and Juno Beach, that has meant relying on the Seacoast Utility Authority, housed for decades in its low-slung, aging headquarters next to the water plant on Hood Road. 

Seacoast remains, but after 40 years its headquarters are gone.  

In April, the utility started in 1955 by Lake Park and Palm Beach Gardens founder John D. MacArthur completes its move into a stylish series of blue buildings accented by brown stone that nearly doubles its space, protects against hurricanes and modernizes meeting rooms, warehouse space and labs. 

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Does one cent make sense? Transportation planners eye sales tax to help residents get ‘from point A to point B to point C’ without a car

It’ll be up to voters to extend an existing sales tax charge in Palm Beach County for transportation but the conversation broke out in public for the first time Thursday.

A powerful countywide planning body gave notice Thursday that it may push for a voter referendum to extend a 1-cent sales tax for transportation projects.

County voters approved the extra sales tax on top of the county’s 6-cent per $1 charge in November 2016 to pay for construction projects at schools and municipalities. It is on pace to sunset in 2025 or 2026 at the latest.

Keeping that penny in place could provide $270 million or more a year for transportation projects, enough to pay for a broad wish-list topped by adding a coastal commuter rail line. The money also could help pay for road projects hit by dwindling gas tax revenues.

Weinroth

County Commissioner Robert Weinroth raised the prospect Thursday during a discussion of creating bus lanes on major roads at the monthly meeting of the Palm Beach County Transportation Planning Agency board, which is made up of 21 elected officials, including five county commissioners. 

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