Q&A with Jeff Greene: “I’m all in on West Palm Beach”

Miami /
May.May 29, 2015 03:00 PM

Renowned real estate investor Jeff Greene, who reportedly became a billionaire by betting against sub-prime mortgages in last decade’s real estate crash, is bullish on real estate in West Palm Beach, particularly downtown West Palm Beach.

He has bought land to develop condominiums, office buildings and residential space in several areas downtown and in the Currie Park area north of downtown. The Currie Park properties could turn into a $1 billion project with eight 15-story buildings, Greene told The Real Deal.

His downtown holdings include a site on Dixie Highway between Quadrille Boulevard and 5th Street for which the city has approved two 30-story towers. One is slated for Class A office space and the other for a hotel and luxury condominiums.

At Dixie and Datura Street, Greene bought a property that is zoned for 10 to 12 stories and could be turned into a mixed-use project with residential and retail, he said.

Greene recently took time to chat on the phone with TRD about his activity in West Palm Beach.

What got you interested in the city?

In 1970, my parents moved to South Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach, and my mom has lived in Century Village since 1976. I went there during my vacations in high school and college and worked at the Breakers as a busboy. I saw downtown as a cute southern town, and I saw the Palm Beach Mall soon after it opened [in 1967].

When I came back [years later,] the mall and downtown were falling apart.

And what have you seen since then?

West Palm really should be a case study in urban planning for the Harvard Graduate School of Design. To turn around downtown like this from 15 to 20 years ago is amazing. The mall came back [Palm Beach Outlets opened last year]. The private sector and city created an environment that’s attractive to developers for downtown and the mall. The city government is very easy to work with.

I now see the pieces in place to become a viable and dynamic South Florida city. It’s pedestrian-oriented, the All Aboard train line is coming through. I think the town will really go to the next level soon, with extra sophistication to draw people who will create more jobs and businesses.

Has West Palm been overlooked?

Yes, I think it’s a very unique part of the South Florida experience, and most people don’t know it exists. I’m in California as we speak, and most people here say they’ve been to Miami, and maybe they’ve been to the Breakers for a wedding, but they haven’t experienced what it’s like in downtown West Palm Beach.

The nightlife on Clematis isn’t New York City, but it’s cool for a city of its size. You have CityPlace, the Kravis and an airport that’s just five to 10 minutes away.  The Mayor and city commissioners know what the problems are and are addressing them.

How much do you think your properties will rise in value?

As a businessman, I want to make as much as possible, but I don’t have a specific target. Real estate seems undervalued here compared to other South Florida cities. You get more bang for your buck than in Miami or Fort Lauderdale. And I think it’s better to live here. As people discover you can get what Miami offers without the hassles, I think prices will go up. How much is anyone’s guess.

What will determine that?

A lot of this will be fate. A city does all it can. It’s very helpful to allow us to get towers. Maybe that will attract hedge funds and big financial service firms — companies that may not have come otherwise. Jobs would move real estate prices.

Will you look to buy more in West Palm Beach?

I have my plate pretty full. I sold properties I owned in California, so I was doing tax-free exchanges. I’m not doing that anymore. But I’m all in on West Palm Beach. I have enough to keep busy for 10 years.

 

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