Betting on West Palm — cautiously

Jeff Greene

Developer Jeff Greene at Sail Club site

Developer Jeff Greene bet big on West Palm Beach real estate but he’s not all-in.

The Palm Beach billionaire said this week he’s making progress conceptualizing or honing several projects, from his Currie Park assemblage to the two-tower One West Palm on Quadrille Boulevard and apartments planned for the old Sail Club site on Clear Lake.

He’s moving quickly to complete renovations to the 2001 S. Dixie Hwy. building where he plans to have pre-K through 2nd grade kids in seats at The Greene School by the day after Labor Day. The roof’s been replaced, electric and plumbing is pretty much done, drywall is going in, interior and exterior glass is on order.

As for the other projects, it’s a tricky real estate market, he said, a crap shoot for One West Palm in particular, the 30-story office/hotel/apartment towers approved for 550 Quadrille.

Despite a dearth of top-class office space downtown, and a healthy amount of publicity about his Arquitectonica-designed project, prospective 100,000-square-foot tenants have not been clawing at the construction trailer, he said.

In fact there isn’t a construction trailer yet. His team is tweaking how much office space and how many hotel rooms the project will have. “We’re going to build it,” he said. But the lack of pre-leasing makes it tough to risk the $250 million he estimates the project will cost. “You have to make these leaps of faith.”

At the former Sail Club site, on Clear Lake beside the Okeechobee Boulevard approach to downtown,  Greene is now considering building high-rise apartments, rather than the three-to-six-story buildings he envisioned when he bought the 11 acres in December.

Boding well for Sail Club is that the low-rise Cameron Estates apartments he built next door are renting well — 330 units in eight months, he said.

That project caters to a relatively affordable market. High rise construction would require higher rents and that’s what he’s considering.

His Sail Club architect has designed two towers, “which I just may build,” he said. “That one I would build pretty soon,” once Cameron Estates fills up, he said.

Greene hired an MIT urban planning expert he met at the Davos, Switzerland economic forum to create what he hopes will be a world-class conceptual plan for the expanse of properties he assembled next to Currie Park, just north of downtown.

He originally retained professor Carlo Ratti to work on The Greene School, then asked him to come up with a plan for the Currie Park project, where Greene has apartments and a major grocery in mind.

The city this week agreed to chip in with Greene to have the consultant re-think the city park itself, to make it more of an attraction than just a neighborhood park. A marina and waterfront restaurant are among the ideas being considered.

Jon Ward, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency executive director, said Greene’s engaging in the neighborhood with the well-regarded consultant offers hope he’s gaining comfort with the idea of putting his chips on the table and developing his land.