WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Get ready for a lot of activity in downtown West Palm Beach starting this summer.
On Thursday morning, city officials hosted a groundbreaking at the old city hall site on Second Avenue for a $145 million project that is expected to be completed in 2019.
Navarro Lowery will redevelop the site into to a new mixed-use urban development that will include the following:
208-room Marriott Autograph Collection hotel
251 live/work apartment units
20,234 square feet of retail space
7,000 square foot waterfront restaurant space with both indoor and outdoor dining
7,000 square feet of office space
A 483-space parking garage
A public park with curated art
An event lawn
An observation deck with views of the marina and Intracoastal waterway
In 2016, the city approved the sale of the 3.5-acre former city hall site at Second Street to Navarro Lowrey for $11.5 million.
“This coveted Waterfront site is an important piece of the overall strategic vision for downtown West Palm Beach,” said Jon Ward, executive director of the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency. “The new development expands our core downtown zone past Clematis Street, provides lots of facilities and amenities for visitors close to Brightline and major waterfront events, and offers more live, work and play spaces for our residents.”
In addition to that groundbreaking on the former city hall site, the West Palm Beach CRA is working on a number of projects that will contribute to growing and revitalizing the downtown area.
The first phase of the Clematis Streetscape project is slated to begin in June and will bring overall infrastructure and beautification improvements to the 300 block of Clematis Street, including wider sidewalks, more shade trees, additional dining and seating areas.
A plan to improve the back alleys between Clematis Street and Datura Street is also in the works. The plan will begin in the 300 block alleyways in the fall and will link leisure and retail environments for pedestrians.
And the 12 for 12 Thouroughfare project is also underway, which will divide the 14,000 square foot space at 314 Clematis into 12 smaller spaces to incubate new or local shops for more retail options downtown.
Long story short, there's a lot to prepare for this summer if you live, work or play in downtown.
"West Palm Beach is booming," said realtor Victoria brewer with Douglas Elliman Real Estate. "I call it the international urban city, with the small town feel."
Brewer said as more and more projects come online, property values and real estate will continue to go up.
"In fact, last year -- we saw an increase of 10 percent," said Brewer. "All of the demand has really given us the rise to have these projects."
Brewer noted several areas in downtown that are growing, including the Dixie Corridor all the way down to antique row.
"With Brightline coming in, people really want to live and work here," she said. "Even if they don't work here, they're choosing to live here. More and more young people have been coming in I've been noticing."
And now, people who are selling their properties have an advantage.
"It really was pretty painless," said former downtown resident, Rick Zullo.
Though he was worried about simultaneously finding a new home in Boynton Beach and trying to sell his condo, he said he had no trouble selling his property at The Prado in April.
"We set the price pretty reasonably but I made a modest profit," he said. "I think there's just a lot of buzz going on in general downtown, a lot of people excited about what's going on."
Zullo's realtor and president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association -- Michael Cuevas of Sun Realty -- showed me an example of what's happening in the market.
"Last year the average sale price was $231,000. That was from 2016 to 2017. This year -- in the last 12 months -- it's gone up to $250,000," he said of units at The Prado. "And the other thing that's interesting about this, is the turnover rate. There's less inventory that's available so that is driving values up."
Cuevas says turnover is lower because people are staying.
"When people see new development, they usually are much more comfortable buying in a place that there is things going in the right direction," he said.
Therefore, sales are slightly down but only because there's less inventory. And less inventory means places are selling quicker.
"You can buy a condo in downtown -- a two bedroom and two bath -- for as low as 250,000 and up from there," said Brewer. "In fact, the luxury condo -- The Bristol, which is an Douglas Elliman project -- is almost 90 percent sold out at this point."
Cuevas said the steps taken toward this revitalization dates back to before the recession.
"It's a long history. A 30 year history from the time CityPlace took shape to all the condos we had built from 2005 to 2010. Then we had the market crash so that really slowed things down for seven or eight years," he said. "Since then, in the last four or five years things are really picking up again."
Crime is another hot topic we asked Cuevas about. He said despite buzz from recent incidents, the numbers are not significant enough to impact property values.
"It's almost not on the radar, compared to other big cities -- we have very low incidents. In certain areas outside of the downtown, that does change. But I don't think that really affects people's decisions when they're looking in this new area of development," he said.
Cuevas, whose Downtown Neighborhood Association hosts updates from West Palm Beach Police, said the numbers show crime dropping significantly in the downtown from years past. Crimes of opportunity is still a problem but violent crime, he said, is low compared to other cities.
"As we have more and more people and buildings filling up empty spaces and more activity, we should see that continue to decrease," he said. "When you have more people in an area, you have more boots on the street so to speak, there's more activity."
With more inventory on the way in these projects across downtown, realtors are preparing to stay busy this year.
"With everything coming online, we're excited to have more product to sell," said Brewer.