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West Palm Beach, Florida Officials Under Pressure to to Lift Hotel Height
Limit for Proposed Old City Hall Site

By Andrew Abramson, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 30, 2012--WEST PALM BEACH -- Business leaders have a message for the city commission: allow at least 10 stories for the hotel proposed for the old city hall site downtown, despite the five-story limit voters set for buildings there.

"The wrong thing to do would be to build a five-story hotel," said Roy Assad, chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, at Monday's meeting to discuss the hotel proposals. "We need to be bold enough to say this, so the commission can hear that from us. Otherwise, they'll hesitate."

Last week, West Palm Beach announced four finalists to build a hotel on the city-owned site, a Banyan Boulevard property with Intracoastal Waterway views. The city-owned parcel next to it, where the Helen Wilkes hotel once stood, would be included in the deal.

On Monday, city officials said they had narrowed the finalists to three, eliminating the proposal by Hisham Ashkouri Architects/Developers of Newton, Mass., to build a 15-story building and two smaller buildings with hotel and gallery space. Hisham offered the city $10 million for the land.

Of the remaining finalists, only Navarro Lowery Properties of West Palm Beach, together with Hyatt Hotels and Concord Hospitality, proposes a five-story building that would be legal under current law. Developer Frank Navarro is offering the city $3.1 million to build a five-story, 205-room Hyatt.

The city's ranking committee favors condo developer Kolter Group's $12 million offer, for a 15-story building with at least 120 hotel rooms, 260 residential units and ground-floor retail. A committee of local business leaders, who will report their findings to the city commission, liked both Kolter's proposal and also a proposal from architect Song + Associates, with developer Crocker Group, for a 12-story building with 200 rooms and lobby retail space, for $5 million.

West Palm Beach city finance director Jeff Green said the city is "very comfortable" with Navarro's plan, believing he is most likely to deliver the hotel without a political fight.

But committee members said that proposal wouldn't allow condos, apartment rentals or retail to be included with a hotel. And Green said Navarro's $3.1 million included uncovered parking. If a parking garage were added, Navarro's offer would drop to $2 million, which committee member Sal Faso called an "insult" for prime land.

West Palm Beach voters passed the five-story height limit in 1996 for the area east of Olive Avenue between Okeechobee Avenue and Seventh Street. In 2010 residents voted against giving the old city hall site an exemption. Former Mayor Lois Frankel wanted voters to give the exemption for a hotel even though the city did not have a specific proposal before it then.

Mayor Jeri Muoio told committee members Monday that the commission could vote to give the property a height exemption without going back to the voters. Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell said her initial instinct is to bring it back to the voters.

"It's the cleanest, most transparent way," Mitchell said.

Whichever proposal is chosen will expose the city to little risk, Green said.

"The only issue I could see is, if we sell them the land, they don't build," Green said. "We wouldn't want to give them title to the land until we get paid."


(c)2012 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

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