Downtown West Palm Beach’s growth has caught the eye of developers and real estate investors, but one district has been left out of the activity.
Now, this is poised to change. The city, working with NDT Development and Place Projects, wants to implement a set of building regulations aimed at breathing life into the area anointed the Nora District.
Stretching between Quadrille and Palm Beach Lakes boulevards and from Dixie Highway to the FEC Railroad tracks, the area is poised to be redeveloped in a manner reminiscent of Miami’s Wynwood Arts District.
Commissioners took the first step by voting unanimously on Monday to change the comprehensive plan, a blueprint for growth and development, for the Nora District.
Next, the state plans to review the tweaks, and if it approves them, the commission is expected to take a final vote on Feb. 7, 2022. In the meantime, the city also is working on zoning and land development rules for the Nora District.
NDT and Place Projects, which together own 13 acres in Nora, approached the city in 2019 to discuss how to breathe new life into the district, said Joe Furst, founder and managing principal of Place Projects.
“The city had tried before to encourage other development in the area that had not come to fruition,” he said, referring to regulations implemented over a decade ago.
Despite that effort, 39 percent of properties remain vacant, even as roughly 211 residential units and 50,000 square feet of commercial space have been built annually over the past 15 years in the rest of downtown, according to the city.
The vision for Nora is to create a multi-section neighborhood, where towers would rise in some places, and existing buildings would be preserved or renovated in others.
The northern section, with mostly vacant lots, is expected to see buildings of up to 20-stories at the corner of Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and the train tracks, scaling down to 15 stories on lots to the east along the boulevard, according to the city. The height that is currently allowed is two stories along Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and five stories along Dixie Highway.
NDT and Place Projects, which own most of the vacant lots in the northern Nora area, envision a multifamily project and potentially offices, Furst said.
The maximum proposed heights would be allowed through the transfer of development rights, including from historic buildings elsewhere in downtown. Transferring development rights means developers also would have to include affordable and workforce housing, Furst said.
But the big projects won’t be the first step by NDT and Place Projects. Instead, they would start with infrastructure improvements and repurposing the mostly vacant buildings they own along Railroad Avenue, the future main street in Nora.
The mid-section of Nora, roughly between Eighth and 10th streets and home to single-family houses and duplexes, will be preserved.
The southern section along Quadrille Boulevard could see buildings up to 10 stories, double the currently allowed height, according to the city.
NDT and Place Projects have put roughly $40 million into property acquisitions and other costs associated with drawing the Nora vision, according to Furst.
Ultimately, the Nora District could bring in other developers as well, he said.
Based in West Palm Beach, NDT’s other recent ventures include buying a West Palm Beach office tower in July with three other partners for $60.7 million. The firm is led by Ned and Sam Grace, as well as Damien Barr.
Miami-based Place Projects has ventures in Brickell, Wynwood and St. Petersburg, according to its website. It was a development partner in the 545 Wyn office building in Wynwood.
In another part of downtown West Palm Beach, Stephen Ross’ Related Companies has amassed the majority of the office towers in a bet on financial firm influx to the area. Its latest downtown project is the One Flagler office building, dubbed in real estate circles the “hedge fund tower.”