Plans for Don King’s jai alai site near West Palm up in the air

Boxing promoter Don King
Boxing promoter Don King

Development plans have abounded for a jai alai fronton site just north of West Palm Beach since boxing promoter Don King gained control of it for $6.25 million in 1999. But implementation of an actual plan for the site continues to prove elusive.

Developer Michael McCloskey, CEO of FRI Investors in West Palm Beach, has been negotiating with Mangonia Park town officials to build a distribution center on the 53-acre property on 45th Street.

But King appeared to put the kibosh on that idea last week, telling the Palm Beach Post he won’t sell the property for that usage. Nine years ago, King signed a contract with McCloskey’s firm to develop the property, but that collapsed.

Last Thursday, King told the Mangonia Park Council that he’s poised to sign a contract for the site. Unknown investor Victor Palacios, chairman of Palacios International Enterprise Group in Palm Beach, said he intends to pay $100 million for the land to build “the first phase” of a “state of the art technical facility” that would create 1,500 jobs, the Post reported. Palacios’ partner, Owen Larkin, CEO of the Larkin Group, a project management firm in West Palm Beach, said a “technical school campus” would be the site’s “cornerstone.”

The property sits next to the Tri-Rail’s northern terminal and less than a mile from the new baseball complex being built for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.

Neil Merin, chairman of NAI Merin Hunter Codman said the property has value, but a technology-oriented project may not be a good fit. “You usually see that in urban areas where there are services for employees, or in reasonably nice suburban locations like Boca Raton or Plantation, where there’s good housing stock,” Merin told The Real Deal.

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As for spinoffs from a school, he noted that Florida Atlantic University is having trouble filling its research space.

Merin and Peter Applefield, founding principal of Aurum Property Partners in West Palm Beach, said a mixed-use project would be more effective. “A school is not a bad idea,” Applefield told TRD. “A mixed use, commercial-residential project would be good – a little more upscale on retail and good housing.”

Merin said that developing spec office space would be “difficult, if not impossible.

“In the market we’re in now, the highest value is not what McCloskey was planning,” he said. “What there’s a need for in that market is moderately priced workforce housing, probably rental apartments. You could do a relatively large housing development.”

King has gone through a number of proposals for the site, including an entertainment center. “If Don King is exercising this kind of control, it could be become ‘Don King Village,'” Merin said. “That would make his name immortal, just like Donald Trump.”