Cohen Brothers Realty Corp. has revealed its plan for renovating the old Carefree Theatre site at 2000 – 2100 South Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach, drawing a mixed reaction from local real estate pros and some area residents.
The mixed-use project includes two buildings. One would have seven floors containing six auditoriums (750 seats in total) for classic, independent and foreign films. The ground floor would have two restaurants and the top three floors would house 58 high-end apartments.
The second building would have five floors, encompassing three or four upscale furniture showrooms on the ground floor and 39 high-end apartments on the top four floors. The properties together would total 191,410 square feet.
Cohen Bros. plans 500 underground parking spaces for the development. It also intends to beautify the two-block area, with paving, lighting, benches and landscaping.
“This will be the southern anchor for the South Dixie arts and design district,” Charles Cohen, CEO of Cohen Brothers Realty Corp., told The Real Deal. “It is connected to the community just as the Kravis Center [for the Performing Arts], the Norton Museum and Palm Beach Dramaworks are.”
Others agree. “This adds a huge cultural dimension to downtown West Palm Beach and the neighborhood,” said West Palm Beach developer Neil Kozokoff, who has plans for a townhome project several blocks away. “It’s great to see something that ambitious get executed. He’s a very sophisticated developer who will apply resources that you need to work through the process and get it done.”
As for residents’ complaints, they have focused on the project’s size, its many uses and traffic. On the size issue, Cohen counters that the project is within the parameters of what’s been approved for the height of the Norton Museum’s renovation. And the greatest height will be on the South Dixie Highway side, sloping down on the eastern side, which faces houses.
“People have to understand the size of the sites,” Cohen said. “You need site lines for movies — 30-foot high ceilings.” The multiple uses are what will make it a destination, he said. And they’re needed to make it work financially too. “The apartments subsidize the art house theaters,” he said. “If the town doesn’t want a cultural and art house magnet, then do something else. … Now you have two derelict sites and overgrown weeds.”
When it comes to traffic, Dixie Highway is wide enough to handle the increase, and movie showtimes will be staggered to ease the burden, he said.
Rebel Cook, president of Rebel Cook Real Estate, is enthusiastic about the project and sees public transit as the ultimate traffic solution. “The reality is that West Palm Beach is becoming an urbanized area, which brings traffic considerations,” she told TRD. “I think this area has to address the need for some kind of mass transit, whether trolleys or bike paths.”
Cohen hopes to break ground on the project next spring and to finish about two years afterward. As long as he embraces the neighborhood’s concerns, he’ll get the project done, Kozokoff said. “You have an affluent neighborhood with a lot of smart people who take where they live seriously,” he said. “They will speak up, and the city will listen.”