|By Alexandra Clough, The Palm Beach Post,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 05, 2011--Last month, a New York Times travel article announced that Delray Beach was on the verge of becoming "a national destination."
It's no news to some savvy entrepreneurs, who quietly have been snapping up property downtown. Plans are afoot for a new hotel and a bed-and-breakfast to meet the festive town's growing profile.
In December, Kolter Group of West Palm Beach paid $3.7 million for a prime block of vacant land just north of the Old School Square Cultural Arts Center. Kolter plans to build a four-story, 134-room hotel, said Scott Webb, president of Kolter Commercial.
Webb said Hyatt Place is a front-runner to serve as the hotel's flag. Kolter and Hyatt Place have a recent history: In 2009 Kolter completed a 165-room Hyatt Place in downtown West Palm Beach, marking the city's first new downtown hotel in nearly 30 years. Courtyard by Marriott or Hilton Garden Inn also are said to be contenders.
The 1.8-acre, two-parcel property is directly north of the city's new parking garage, along Northeast First Street, between Northeast First and Second avenues. It is also adjacent to the lively Pineapple Grove arts and entertainment district.
Bob Vail, a Kolter executive, said the new Delray Beach hotel is expected to cater to a lower price point than the venerable Delray Beach Marriott hotel or the new luxury Seagate Hotel. Vail said the downtown needs a hotel in the $100-$200 per night range.
Meanwhile, a couple from New York bought a historic house near the Intracoastal Waterway with plans to transform the property into a bed-and-breakfast.
The Historic Hartman House Bed and Breakfast is set to open in March, said its co-owner, Benita Goldstein. The property, at 307 N.E. Seventh Ave., was the home of Gustav Hartman, a former assistant postmaster of Delray Beach in the early 1900s.
Goldstein and her husband, Jordan, paid $400,000 for the house last February and have spent an undisclosed sum preparing it for visitors. Expect a 1920s theme and an ambiance "of a slower and gentler time," Goldstein said.
Goldstein said she and Jordan were formerly in the glass business in New York, and they had no intention of starting a new business in Delray. Instead they considered the home for a residence.
But as they wandered the home's hallways, it became clear the house was laid out "like the perfect B&B," Goldstein said. The bustling sense of community downtown also helped seal the deal, she said. "We saw a mission here where we could make a contribution to this town."
Goldstein said the home's three guest rooms and one guest suite should be open to visitors in March. The property has a website, www.delray
The fact that new investment continues to pour into Delray Beach is a sign that the city has developed its own brand, business leaders say.
"Delray Beach has its own identity. It's no longer the little town north of Boca," said Michael Malone, president of the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Malone said the Kolter hotel and the new B&B each will cater to their own segment of the market. That's important as the city grows to serve "a diversity of customers," Malone added.
Indeed, while other parts of Palm Beach County have struggled to withstand the economy's lingering malaise, Delray Beach seems fairly immune. On any night, restaurants are busy and couples, families and retirees stroll the main drag of Atlantic Avenue.
The new Kolter venture will provide a slight boost to the still-struggling construction industry. Kolter said the hotel project will employ between 150 to 200 workers, including employees at its own construction company, Kast, as well as outside subcontractors. Plans are to start construction this summer and be open by the third quarter of 2012.
--Meanwhile, another Kolter project is chugging along. North of Delray, near the town of Gulf Stream, Kolter is collecting $25,000 checks for reservations on units in a new beachfront luxury condo.
The project, known as 4001 North Ocean, consists of just 34 units. Price range from $1.4 million to $3 million per unit.
Kolter only recently began offering units for sale, but already 10 reservations have been collected, which means the property is looking at $22 million worth of sales if all the contracts go forward. And another six reservations are in the works, Vail said.
Vail just hopes the weather stays cold up North, and the breezes stay warm down South. "We had hoped to have 12 to 15 (reservations) by February, so we're right on schedule, or maybe even a little ahead," Vail said.
Alexandra Clough writes about the economy, real estate and the law. Contact her at email@example.com.
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