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Local Business Leaders to Review Four Proposals for Hotel Development
at West Palm Beach, Florida's Old City Hall Site

By Andrew Abramson, Alexandra Clough and Jeff Ostrowski, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 24, 2012--WEST PALM BEACH -- The city is preparing to sell the site of its old city hall, a premier property with Intracoastal views, to bring a long-desired hotel to downtown.

A group of business leaders next week will review four proposals to create a hotel on the site, and on the adjacent parcel also owned by the city that used to house the Helen Wilkes hotel. Four groups have presented proposals for the Banyan Boulevard properties:

--Navarro Lowrey Properties of West Palm Beach, together with Hyatt Hotels and Concord Hospitality, a hotel management company based in North Carolina;

--Kolter Group, a condominium developer;

--Song + Associates, with Crocker Group -- an affiliate of which developed Mizner Park in Boca Raton -- and the Carlton Fields law firm.

--Hisham Ashkouri Architects/Developers of Newton, Mass.

City officials on Tuesday refused to provide the proposals to The Palm Beach Post, saying they had planned to publicly release the information later this week. City spokesman Elliot Cohen acknowledged that the documents were in city hall but said he would not release them promptly because he didn't think The Post would "give the story a fair shake."

Pat Gleason, Special Counsel for Open Government under Gov. Rick Scott, said a city cannot deny records because it's worried how a newspaper will write a story. "Under public records law, the only delay allowed is the time it takes to go get the record, review it and copy it," Gleason said.

After the Post left a message for Muoio relating what Gleason said, she responded with a text message that the documents would be provided Wednesday.

Roy Assad, chairman of the Downtown Development Authority and part of the selection committee, said the group will meet Monday at 10 a.m. to review the proposals.

In June, the city and the Community Redevelopment Agency sent out an "Invitation to Negotiate" to interested developers who would turn the 3.5 acre-parcel into a "prominent hotel use," plus additional uses if they are compatible with the hotel and there is room for something else.

The site is zoned for five stories but if developers can justify going higher up to 15 stories, they can try to obtain approval from the city or a voter referendum, the paperwork said.

In 1996, West Palm Beach voters passed a five-story height limit for buildings 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.

Developer Frank Navarro said his proposal calls for a five-story Hyatt with 205 rooms. Navarro said his proposal offers the lowest price to the city of the four proposals but gives the highest certainty of completion.

"It's a balancing act," Navarro said. "The competitors can pay more than we can, but it's a sure thing."

Because the other proposals are taller than the property's five-story height limit, neighbors are likely to oppose them, Navarro said.

"The others presuppose that you can build this incredibly dense structure there," Navarro said. "We just think that's folly."

Navarro declined to say how much he would offer for the property.

Real estate experts have mixed feelings about the site. Although some believe the water views are a strong draw, others say the location, a block north of Clematis Street, is too small and out of the way.

The city previously tried to develop the site but to no avail. However, last July, Rick Greene, the city's planning manager, said there was "a tremendous amount of interest" in turning the site into a hotel. That interest prompted the city to go ahead and ask for developers' proposals for the properties.


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

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