25-story One Flagler office tower approved for West Palm waterfront

25-story One Flagler office tower approved for West Palm waterfront

WEST PALM BEACH — The Related Cos. on Wednesday won approval for its One Flagler luxury office tower, overcoming two years of opposition to the 25-story project, 400 feet from the waterfront, on a site previously restricted by public referendum to five stories.

West Palm Beach’s Downtown Action Committee voted unanimously to approve the tower. Board members and many members of the public lauded its design, integration with the surrounding neighborhood and the endowment the developer pledged to maintain the historic African-American-designed house of worship on the site at 154 Lakeview Ave., beside Flagler Drive and Okeechobee Boulevard.

Opponents reasserted concerns that the 270,000-square-foot tower, near the foot of the Royal Palm Bridge, would aggravate traffic downtown and to Palm Beach island as well as block views and air circulation. They noted that both the county and Town of Palm Beach opposed it, and they questioned whether it would attract business to the city or merely pull tenants from existing towers.

But member Michael Cuevas noted that the committee’s charge was not to evaluate leasing concerns but to determine whether the proposed building met criteria required for approval, such as its compatibility with its surroundings, which it did, in his view.

“This is a very important project,” Cuevas said. “We can’t ask for a higher quality design.”

Despite two voter referendums that limited the site to a five-story structure, the city commission in 2018 created a new Okeechobee Business District that overrode that restriction.

Dismissing concerns the zoning measure would result in clogged roads and blocked water views from existing condos and offices, the commissioners cited the district’s potential to spur construction, spawn high-paying jobs and stimulate economic opportunity to attract millennials and keep the city’s sons and daughters from moving elsewhere to pursue careers.

City officials said the tower would be no larger than what was allowed under the previous zoning rules — it would just arrange the building’s volume vertically rather than have a wide, short structure.

Mayor Keith James praised Wednesday’s vote.

“I’m pleased with the decision of the Downtown Action Committee,” he said.

“The decision is consistent with the Okeechobee Business District, which I supported. One Flagler, along with other key projects currently under construction, will help make our downtown even more attractive to corporations and families looking to relocate. This is a win-win.”

Related Senior Vice President Gopal Rajegowda said the company looks forward to moving the project along. “We are very pleased with the vote from this morning’s DAC meeting, and are excited to continue to work alongside the community and the City of West Palm Beach on the thoughtful development of One Flagler,” he said in an email.

Related’s West Palm Beach land use attorney, Harvey Oyer III, outlined the project’s features for the board.

The tower’s greenery-covered garage would provide a backdrop for the preserved First Church of Christ, Scientist, he said.

The three-tiered structure, designed by prominent architect David M. Childs, would feature a rectangular reflecting pool leading from its entry toward the waterfront.

About 1.25 acres of green space at the foot of the building would remain open to the public, and the developer would be required to program events there to encourage its use.

The project’s legal opposition continues to fight, however. After passage of the Okeechobee Business District, the owners of the adjacent Esperante office tower sued, alleging that the district violated laws against zoning changes designed to favor a specific property owner.

“We believe it was spot-zoned and we continue to press those rights through any avenues that are available to us,” the owners’ attorney, Nat Nason, said in September.

West Palm Beach officials say the city has a shortage of top-flight office space, impeding efforts to attract companies like hedge funds whose billionaire owners live part-time in Palm Beach.

An article in The Palm Beach Post this week quoted commercial real estate agents, saying there’s more space available in existing buildings than it might appear, space that existing tenants are trying to sublease.

In addition, two new luxury office towers are coming out of the ground: One West Flagler, by developer Jeff Greene at 550 Quadrille Blvd., and 360 Rosemary, a Related Cos. project on Rosemary Avenue.

Oyer said those towers, however, will not provide competition for One Flagler, which he likened to the nearly complete, mostly sold-out Bristol project, an ultra-luxurious condominium at 1100 S. Flagler Drive, whose units, many purchased by Palm Beach millionaires, brought record prices.

“This building is the office equivalent of the Bristol,” Oyer said. With its small floors, generous amenities and top architecture, it is designed to attract the 30 Forbes List billionaires from Palm Beach and their companies and add to the city’s tax base, he said.


Follow Tony Doris on Twitter @TonyDorisPBP

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