Boca’s downtown shows new life

Six years ago, developers had big dreams for downtown Boca Raton.

As was the case for many South Florida projects, however, those dreams remained just that.

But now, Boca Raton’s downtown is beginning to show signs of life, with condominium activity heating up and long-vacant retail spaces finding tenants.

“We’re starting to see a resurgence,” said Scot Karp, director of the ultra-luxury condominium division at Premier Estate Properties in Boca Raton.

In March, condo sales in Boca Raton increased by 14 percent, compared to the same month in 2011, according to the South County Association of Realtors.

“The activity has increased tremendously,” said Senada Adzem, a broker associate in the new Douglas Elliman Florida office in Boca Raton. “People are actually committing to transactions. Contracts are being submitted. It’s starting to pick up.”

The newest project to hit Boca Raton is 200 East, which has reportedly sold 24 of 115 units in the past year.

John Poletto, a Realtor with Nestler Poletto Sotheby’s International in Boca Raton who is selling at 200 East, said he projects the building to sell out within two years.

Brokers are hoping that some of the projects that stalled in the mid-2000s, could provide a boost.

One of those projects, the Vinings at Town Center Apartments, which was acquired by national firm Archstone in December, is now the site of a planned 390-unit rental community.

Charles Mueller, CEO of Archstone, declined to comment.

“I think [the Archstone project] will be the catalyst to bring more life to the downtown area,” Karp said.

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It represents a marked shift for Boca’s downtown, however, which has historically been without a large volume of condos.

“There’s quite a lot happening in downtown,” said Assistant City Manager Michael Wolka.

The city has been active in working to redevelop the area in the last several years, highlighted by a project to reform Palmetto Park Road, the spine of downtown, he said. That work included new landscaping, new bricks and new sidewalks.

The city also recently purchased a parcel of land on the Intracoastal that formerly housed the Wildflower restaurant, aimed at connecting downtown to the waterway.

It’s that waterfront area which has typically been the strongest market in Boca Raton.

That market has been strong during the downturn, highlighted most recently by the growth of the One Thousand Ocean project, which was nearly 80 percent sold through the middle of this month.

Part of the reason for the short supply of residential space downtown was that the city wanted to manage and control its growth, he said.

But the growth of downtowns in nearby cities, like Delray Beach, may have changed city officials’ minds.

Wolka said it was not so much about controlling growth as preserving the look and feel of the city.

“I think what [the city] is trying to do is maintain the look of Boca Raton, the Mizner-esque style, with its unique features, and still allow developers to build the kind of buildings that make it economical to do so,” he said.

And with new retailers, like tony eatery Philippe, which took a spot in 200 East, Boca’s development paradigm could be shifting.

“I think they saw Atlantic Avenue [in Delray Beach] grow,” Karp said. “Now they’re revisiting that whole decision process, about how they want their growth. They don’t necessarily want an Atlantic Avenue [in Boca Raton], but in order to get activity, you have to have the restaurants and the housing and the parking — and I think we’re starting to see that.”

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