Riviera mall makeover plan turns routine into debate

RIVIERA BEACH An administrative procedure to move the $280 million makeover of the Ocean Mall another step forward eroded into an intense debate over the merits of the project.

Developers of the controversial project appeared before the community redevelopment agency Wednesday night to have the first phase go to the city's planning and zoning board. The phase consists of razing the 35-year-old mall on Singer Island and replacing it with 60,000 square feet of shops and restaurants.

The CRA commission didn't need to vote on the plan, said interim CRA attorney Michael Haygood. However, there was confusion over whether it had the power to prevent the plan from moving forward.

The way the CRA's redevelopment plan is set up, the first phase will go automatically to the planning and zoning Board and city staff now can review the details of the Ocean Mall project, Haygood said.

Project is 'insult to all of us,' opponents' leader says

But residents and some CRA board members said moving the first phase forward would be premature, given that OMRD, the project's developer, has scheduled a public meeting on the project for 2 p.m. Friday at the Hilton Hotel on Singer Island.

In addition, the developer is battling the city and the Public Beach Coalition in court over two city charter amendments that were passed in March. Those amendments keep the lease on the Ocean Mall site to 50 years and limit building height to five stories.

OMRD would have liked to have a 99-year lease.

"I don't know why we're here discussing this at all," said Dawn Pardo, chairwoman of the Public Beach Coalition, the grass-roots group that opposed the deal. "It's an insult to all of us."

OMRD had plans to build a 28-story condo/hotel on the city's 11-acre oceanfront site prior to the referendum.

Some CRA commissioners took offense at comments of Joey Eichner, vice president with Catalfumo Construction and Development.

Eichner told the commission Wednesday that OMRD was appearing before the board as a courtesy because the developer had presented its plans to a previous council

"As you can see, it's a volatile issue," said CRA Chairman Shelby Lowe.

CRA Commissioner Cedrick Thomas also wanted Eichner to renegotiate a portion of the deal after learning the city was getting a net percentage instead of a gross earning. But Eichner was emphatic about not opening up the deal for renegotiations.

The developers have not said whether they will pursue revising their plans to build a five-story hotel.