West Palm to seek developer for downtown ‘Tent Site’

Here we go again.

West Palm Beach is soliciting development offers for its Tent Site, the prominent piece of vacant land at the intersection of Okeechobee Boulevard and U.S. 1, a gateway to downtown at the heart of the city’s worsening traffic problems.

Unsolicited offers have been coming in, the most recent one from a major nationwide developer, Charles S. Cohen, who also has been hoping to redevelop the old Carefree Theatre site several blocks to the south. And on Tuesday afternoon, city commissioners instructed the Community Redevelopment Agency to craft a request for qualifications to open the site up to competition.

The commissioners voted 4-1, with Paula Ryan dissenting.

“We are undertaking a mobility study, looking at all the different ways to move traffic and people and other alternative transportation through downtown and I would like to see us complete what we started and come up with a solution that meets our needs,” rather than first asking a developer to come up with self-interested solutions to the city’s congestion problems, Ryan said.

But the rest of the board didn’t want to wait for the study’s summertime completion before seeking development proposals.

“The window of opportunity for private development projects is limited,” Commissioner Keith James said. “We don’t know when it will close. We need to strike while the iron is hot.”

Twice the city entertained unsolicited proposals for the site and twice the result proved an embarrassment.

– In one high-profile debacle, the city gave Digital Domain Media Group approval to build a splashy building on the site to house a film school and digital animation studio and promised $35 million in subsidies. But Port St. Lucie-based Digital Domain filed for bankruptcy court protection in 2012. The city got the land back through the court.

– Two years ago, amid political opposition, the city commission rejected a plan by developer Michael McCloskey to buy the site from the city for $13.5 million and build a medical campus. That plan’s rejection came after two years of development negotiations.

James led the charge against the proposal, saying it might “cannibalize” existing medical businesses in the city.


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