South Florida’s branded condo boom arrives in West Palm Beach

A decade after developers aligned with hotels, cars and restaurants, the branded residence boom arrives in West Palm

Renderings of the Ritz-Carlton and Mr. C Residences in Miami (Photo-illustration by Priya Modi/The Real Deal; Related Group, Binyan Studios, Getty Images)
Renderings of the Ritz-Carlton and Mr. C Residences in Miami (Photo-illustration by Priya Modi/The Real Deal; Related Group, Binyan Studios, Getty Images)

Behind the hedges in Palm Beach hide meticulously maintained architectural samples of old-world opulence. Regency, Mediterranean and Georgian-style estates, many of them built for the heirs to America’s early industrial fortunes, blend into palm trees and lush tropical landscaping. They’re understated, but commanding.

The condominiums that sprang from the sand in the second half of the last century complement those mansions. With names like the President, the Royal Saxon and the Stratford, they sold the similar, apartment-sized dream of unshowy status, elegance and affluence to the island’s old-money crowd.

Across the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach, newer projects like South Flagler House, the Robert A.M. Stern-designed Related Companies project, are more reminiscent of Stern’s iconic New York City towers and Palm Beach’s Breakers resort than Miami’s glossy skyline. 

The restraint is in striking contrast to the glass towers cropping up on the rest of South Florida’s coastline. Elsewhere, glittering high-rises win buyers with an overt appeal to appetites for luxury and familiar, expensive brand names on the door: Porsche, Fendi and Auberge.

Branded residences have been largely absent from the Palm Beaches. As recently as last fall, developers and locals scoffed at the far-fetched idea of a branded project in their neck of the woods.

Then David Martin, the dark-haired, bespectacled Miami native, joined the pack of developers building in West Palm Beach. Martin’s Terra Group announced a planned 27-story Mr. C Hotel & Residences West Palm Beach

Mr. C is a hospitality brand led by two Cipriani scions emphasizing “old-world simplicity and European glamour,” according to its website. The family is well-versed in providing la dolce vita – if you have ever enjoyed a Bellini, you have Giuseppe Cipriani to thank. 

The Palm Beach project will have 146 condos and 110 hotel rooms, and the standard luxury amenities kit: spa facilities, fitness center, library, pool. It will also have a Mr. C rooftop bar and lounge, Bellini Lounge members’ club and Bellini Café, all serving Cipriani’s signature cocktail and Italian fare.

Martin’s Mr. C tower won’t stand alone. Jorge Pérez’s Related Group is the other developer trying branded in West Palm Beach.

Related Group is working with Isaac Toledano’s BH Group on a planned 28-story Ritz-Carlton Residences in West Palm Beach. They launched sales this spring, although they can only accept reservations while awaiting city approval for the tower. Related Group also has an Apogee-branded project in the works in West Palm Beach, but is reworking the plans after hitting a roadblock with the city in December.

“Every city has a decade, or a time frame, when there’s some sort of renaissance, or revitalization, or growth. The time for West Palm Beach is now.”
david martin, terra

Though the number of branded units is still small, if their developers pull them off, the business case for branded, even in buttoned-up Palm Beach, will flip the script on the more demure culture that exists there. It could open the door for branded projects appealing to a wider swath of buyers.

So far, they seem quite popular.

Douglas Elliman is leading sales for both Mr. C and the Ritz, with prices starting at $1.4 million and $2.5 million, respectively. And by all accounts, business is booming. 

“We’ve delivered what the market wants on a silver platter,” said Elliman’s Chris Leavitt, sales director for the Ritz. “It’s exciting, it’s fun. We’ve never had this before, and people are eating them up.”

The branding iron

Branded residences are a staple of the Miami development diet. Concentrated in Brickell, the projects promise buyers lavish living, designed in the specific vision of their favorite luxury hospitality, fashion, auto or restaurant brand. 

They usually provide over-the-top amenities related to the brand partner. Aston Martin is giving cars to the top buyers in its planned Miami tower. Seating in the movie theater at Gil Dezer’s planned Bentley Residences is designed to resemble the interior of a Bentley. At 888 Brickell, Michael Stern’s planned Dolce & Gabbana-branded tower, there will be an on-site tailor to make sure those designer frocks fit properly. 

Those are just a sampling of the luxury brands stamping their logos on the South Florida skyline. The list of players in the branded game goes on to include Pininfarina, Mercedes-Benz, Major Food Group, St. Regis and more. The Real Deal recently received an email regarding a promotional website for a fictional Tesla Tower, using AI-generated images of a skyscraper bearing the electric vehicle company’s famous “T” icon to dupe interested parties into sharing their emails (the website has since shuttered). 

But a Tesla Tower is hardly implausible in the current market.

The boom in branded residences is a phenomenon that capitalizes on consumers’ name recognition, trust and understanding of brands associated with opulent, affluent living. It took off in earnest a decade ago, with thousands of completed and planned units stretching from Brickell to Palm Beach Gardens. 

“People have been saying for a while, ‘Why don’t we have anything like that?’” Douglas Elliman agent Samantha Curry said of branded towers. “This is an area with so much wealth, and we just haven’t had anything.”

A little bit louder now

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Martin and Pérez, both Miami developers, are now importing their market’s signature product into West Palm Beach. 

Like the rest of South Florida, the West Palm Beach and Palm Beach market has ballooned in the last four years, fueled by migration and corporate relocations predominantly from the Northeast.

West Palm Beach, the mainland counterpart to the island of Palm Beach, has more than 6,600 residential units planned or under construction, according to an analysis by The Real Deal. And while just 330 of them will be branded, everyone will know which they are.

“People have been saying for a while, ‘Why don’t we have anything like that?’ This is an area with so much wealth,
and we just haven’t had anything.”

Samantha Curry, Douglas Elliman

It’s not just the developers coming from Miami. The northward migration of buyers is also ushering in a vibe shift. Taking cover from traffic, prices and the fast pace of life in the Magic City, more and more clients are Brightline-ing up to shop the Palm Beaches, agents say.

For some, the change is anxiety-inducing. For Martin, it’s exciting.

“Every city has a decade, or a time frame, when there’s some sort of renaissance, or revitalization, or growth,” he said. “The time for West Palm Beach is now.” 

The right one

Choosing the right brand for West Palm Beach buyers is a delicate needle to thread. The “why” for a certain brand is something developers like to be coy about.

The island of Palm Beach has been the tropical winter headquarters for old-money society for more than a century, maintaining a cultural bubble more aligned with the reserved sensibilities of the Northeast than their neighbors to the South. 

This is the crowd that inspired the much-abused term “quiet luxury”; they dislike flash. Logos aren’t necessarily a selling point for them, not because they’re shy about their expensive taste but because it would be gauche to be loud about it. 

Related referenced the prestige, elegance and high-touch service associated with the Ritz brand, saying in a statement that it “perfectly matches the understated luxury that defines the character of West Palm Beach.” 

“We felt that a lifestyle hotel brand was the right fit,” Martin said, emphasizing what an unfilled niche that is currently. “[Mr. C] really felt very close to the DNA of the Palm Beach that I see today, and the Palm Beach I see of the future.” 

Real estate people tend to go starry-eyed when it comes to the future of West Palm Beach. Years in the making, the city’s transformation was supercharged by the pandemic. The pace of change is breathtaking, as is its scope. In addition to the thousands of residential units, millions of square feet of office space are slated for completion in the next few years, largely from Steve Ross’ Related Companies

Crucially, the recent migration means the city has more year-round residents than ever before. 

“West Palm Beach didn’t have the population that could really provide [companies there] a business model that made sense,” Martin said. “You’re going to continue to see more hotels, more companies wanting to be involved in West Palm.”

Some have hesitations about all that change and the possible “Miami-fication” of West Palm Beach. 

There might be hand wringing over this at certain Sant Ambroeus tables, but the appetite for new luxury condos is undeniable. 

How much this is driven by branded options is difficult to pinpoint. Even Martin is hesitant to lend too much power to the Mr. C name.

“I do agree that the name is a good lead generator,” the developer said. “The product is really what’s going to be what’s most compelling.” 

Corcoran agent Dana Koch said it comes down to what the building has to offer.

Amenities — those are the draws,” he said. Really, though, there’s a range of reasons people are drawn to West Palm Beach’s planned condos, he said.

“There’s an ass for every seat.”