Developer buys lease of Riviera's Ocean Mall

RIVIERA BEACH With little fanfare, Andrew Brock has sold his family's 50-year lease to the Ocean Mall for $9.5 million to Catalfumo Construction and Development, moving the builder closer to a deal to redevelop the city's public beach.

Brock, whose family has held the lease since 1972, receives $6 million up front and another $3.5 million when the city approves the site plan, said Joey Eichner, a senior vice president with Catalfumo. Catalfumo leads Ocean Mall Redevelopment, the group negotiating with the city and the community redevelopment agency to build a 28-story Marriott condo-hotel and 60,000 square feet of shops and restaurants at the 11-acre municipal beach on Singer Island.

"This is to show our commitment to move the project forward," Eichner said.

A 1975 lease amendment allows Brock to sell or transfer it without getting the city's approval, city records show. The deal between Brock and Catalfumo was not discussed last week at a special city council meeting.

At that meeting, the council, which also sits as the CRA board, approved a preliminary agreement with Ocean Mall Redevelopment that, among other things, calls for increasing the lease to 99 years. Under the deal, the developer would lease the land for 50 years with an automatic 49-year renewal, said Eichner, who argues the 99 years are necessary to finance the $280 million project.

Riviera Beach City Manager Bill Wilkins said that Catalfumo's control of the lease should "simplify negotiations."

The preliminary deal also allows the city to buy back the portion of the lease governing the 60,000 square feet of retail space in 30 years, Wilkins said. He believes that option should ease any fears that the city is "giving away" its public beach.

Yet Singer Island residents made such criticisms at Wednesday night's special meetings of the council and CRA board. The length of the lease, along with the height of the hotel, angered island residents, who vowed to fight the project at the ballot box and in the courtroom.

Bill Contole, president of the Citizens for Responsible Growth for Riviera Beach, said the city charter limits leases to 50 years and that any changes must go before voters. But some on the council believe, based on a past ruling by a former CRA attorney, that the board can unilaterally change the charter.

"We obviously see that the city is going to proceed with this," Contole said. "It boils down to whether the city really wants to give away its public beach to a private developer."

Contole said residents can file a lawsuit to stop the project. His group did so in 2002 and was able to get the developer to scale it back.

"The people will decide which way their voices will best be hard," he said.

Mayor Michael Brown said the lease buyout will silence critics of the redevelopment plan.

"It should erase any doubt for anyone who felt we weren't going to move forward on the Ocean Mall," he said.

For Brock, the Ocean Mall has a personal meaning. It was the first project his father, Herbert, undertook after moving here from upstate New York. Since then, the family has prospered through developing strip malls, offices and townhouses.

"The Ocean Mall has been part of our family for a long time," Brock said. "This really was the platform that enabled our family to go on and be successful developers in Palm Beach County."