Ocean Mall lease extension approved  
By Sarah Stover
Staff writer
Posted: 2006 Sep 29 - 01:14

SINGER ISLAND - Despite pleas from residents to refuse it, a majority vote from city councilors favored a lease extension for the Ocean Mall property.

The 99-year lease was approved in a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Jim Jackson opposing it.

Representatives from Palm Beach Gardens-based Catalfumo Construction and Development, the company leading the project, told Riviera Beach City Council members the builder needed a 99-year lease to get financing for the project.

"It's standard around the industry now," said Josie Hernandez, director of communications for the developer.

City manager Bill Wilkins submitted two letters from financial institutions working with the builder that supported the statement.

Catalfumo currently has a 16-year lease on the property. The developer bought original owner Andrew Brock's lease, which had 16 years left on it, to make it easier to manage the project, said Ms. Hernandez.

The proposed lease would increase Catalfumo's lease to 50 years with an automatic renewal of 49 years. The argument has been that it will take approximately 50 years to see a return on their investment.

"Fifty years is too long a payback period to be considered a good investment. We ask (the Council) to stop this train," said Singer Island residents Diana DiMeo and Gordon Rowse in a letter read by chairwoman Ann Iles.

Resident Judy Davis was not opposed to the lease, but wanted stipulations built into it.

"We need to make sure that Mr. Catalfumo knows there will be no road closures or walls (during this project). We need to make clear the intent is for residents to have open access to the beach," said Ms. Davis.

Councilwoman Liz Wade countered Ms. Davis' statement.

"Let me tell (residents) the difference between the hotel and the beach. All that waterfront is public land. The public beach here is not going to be impeded. People own the land in front of it," said Ms. Wade.

Other residents did not have a problem with the length of the lease per se. The problem is allowing the lease change - the Council also changed the city's charter. The charter states that leases cannot exceed 50 years. Some residents argued against the change and that the Council was imposing it without allowing the people to vote on it.

"Amending a charter is not something that should be taken lightly. It would be quite prudent for the Council to put this to the people," said Singer Island resident Dawn Pardo.

Councilman Jackson, who represents Singer Island, agreed.

"This charter's our constitution. It was decided by the people and should only be changed by the people," said Mr. Jackson.

He warned the Council about the effects of agreeing to the lease without allowing the people to vote on the change.

"If this gets passed, there are going to be multiple lawsuits and repercussions," said Mr. Jackson.

City manager Wilkins said the charter change does not have to occur through referendum. "(The residents) have the option to take it to ballot by petition," said Ms. Wade.

Five voters must file as a petitioner's committee, and a petition must be signed by 15 percent of the qualified voters in the area to be considered, the charter says.

Council members were not opposed to residents doing that.

"If we lose that battle at the ballot box, then we lose it, and we'll move on," said Ms. Iles.

Although they were not concerned about the length of the lease, Council members expressed their desire for the city to benefit from it.

"I think what we need to concentrate on is the community partnership and the lease, so we won't be in the bind we were in before. Concern should be on what's going to be an advantage to our citizens," said Councilwoman Norma Duncombe.

Bernard Kinsey, who was hired to negotiate issues regarding the city's redevelopment, has been working on a deal with the developer that would share profits with the city. Mr. Kinsey is also working on negotiations that would allow the city the option of buying back the property at market value after 30 years, said Ms. Hernandez.

Still, another concern about misinformation being presented to residents was raised.

Buddy Andre, who owns a restaurant near the Ocean Mall property, was concerned about parking.

"Today I found out that our parking lot on Beach Court is going to be gone. We're going to have a sidewalk. (Is the Council) going to allow Catalfumo to take our parking?" he asked.

Ms. Wade told him that was not a possibility.

"We need to be sure people are not being terrified by misinformation. It's terrible to be terrifying people about their property," Ms. Iles said.

Catalfumo representatives are willing to speak with residents about any concerns or questions they have, said Ms. Hernandez.