Billionaire Charles Cohen’s proposed West Palm Point office development plan stalls over garage design

Commissioners objected to the redesign of a 10-story parking garage for the 23-story office building, leading Cohen’s attorney to hint at litigation

Charles Cohen, billionaire real estate developer and film producer, in front of a rendering of his planned West Palm Point office (Getty Images, Cohen Brothers)
Charles Cohen, billionaire real estate developer and film producer, in front of a rendering of his planned West Palm Point office (Getty Images, Cohen Brothers)

Billionaire developer Charles Cohen is struggling to win city approval for the design of West Palm Point, his proposed 23-story office development in downtown West Palm Beach.

At an at times testy meeting Monday night, West Palm Beach commissioners decided for the third time to delay their vote on a site plan that Cohen proposed for his $100 million-plus, West Palm Point development. It is planned to have 430,374 square feet of office space, 16,630 square feet of ground-floor retail space, and a 480-square-foot rooftop café.

In response to complaints by city commissioners about the redesign of a 10-story parking garage for the office project, an exasperated attorney for Cohen said the project’s architectural team would try to rework the design by Dec 13.

“We’ll work as best we can to try to make something happen, so we don’t have to end up in a lawsuit, because that’s the only other option,” Gunster attorney Brian Seymour told commissioners. “We don’t want to go there. But I don’t know how to answer the question of what it should look like, and I’m worried we’re not going to be able to truly do that.”

“As an attorney to an attorney, I know you’re frustrated,” City Commission President Joseph A. Peduzzi told Seymour. “But mentioning the prospect of litigation when you’re also saying, at the same time, that you want to work with us, is certainly not going to move this project forward in the spirit of compromise.”

Cohen, chairman and CEO of Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation, is a real estate investor and film aficionado, whose firm owns office buildings in New York and design centers in several cities, including the Design Center of the Americas in Dania Beach and the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood, California. In 2019, he opened the hotel Le Méridien Dania Beach, and in 2018, he bought Landmark Theatres from Mark Cuban. Forbes pegs his net worth at $3.6 billion.

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Commissioners delayed their vote on Cohen’s proposed site plan for West Palm Point at their meetings on Sept. 20 and Oct. 28. Monday night’s unanimous decision delays the vote until their meeting on Dec. 13.

Prior to that decision, commissioners met Monday afternoon in their role as the board of the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency, the owner of the West Palm Point development site. They rejected a revised conceptual site plan for the project, largely because it left too much of the parking garage exposed to public view.

New York-based Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation began leasing the 2.36-acre development site at 801 South Dixie Highway in April 2020 from the CRA for a base rent of $1.028 million a year. The company signed a 49-year lease with options for two 25-year extensions to build on the site at the southwest corner of South Dixie Highway and Okeechobee Boulevard. It is known locally as the “Tent Site.”

Among other terms of the lease agreement, it requires the designation of the acclaimed firm of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects as the development’s architectural team. Pelli Clarke Pelli revised its design of the 1,195-space parking garage for West Palm Point by incorporating a “green wall” of organic foliage to hide the structure from public view, in response to criticism from city commissioners during their Sept. 28 meeting.

Cohen’s team had hoped the redesigned parking garage would build support for six waivers from zoning regulations that the developer had proposed and city staff opposed. But on Monday night, city commissioners still weren’t satisfied with the parking garage.

“It still does look like a parking garage,” said commissioner Sholanda Warren.

“We’re looking for a parking garage that doesn’t look like a parking garage,” added commissioner Kelly Shoaf.