Ocean Mall, square one

Palm Beach Post Editorial
Saturday, July 07, 2007

In recent years, the plans for redeveloping what one Singer Island businessman calls "the largest slum beach in the state," at Riviera Beach's Ocean Mall, have morphed from seaside village, to small hotel and conference center, to restaurants extending onto the beach, to four towers of residential space, then down to two towers, then one.

Then voters spoke with two charter amendments in March limiting the proposed building height of almost 30 stories to no more than five, and limiting leases to 50 years on the city-owned seaside land. That sank the plans of builder Dan Catalfumo, who holds the lease that, because of terms dating to 1972, brings the city only $20,000 a year.

His new mall proposal calls for 60,000 square feet of retail construction at the mall's already demolished north end, to which the restaurants and retailers currently at the south end would move while another 60,000 square feet is built there. The plan also includes improvements to the parking lot and possible beach improvements, such as ground cover and trails, while leaving space for volleyball, a children's play area and activities such as the city's annual jazz festival. Still to come in a separate, phase two application is a five-story hotel.

For now, the city correctly is getting input from affected parties as part of the process of planning and zoning approval prior to a decision by the city's elected officials. Councilwoman Lynn Hubbard raised a valid concern that last week's Friday, 2 p.m., island meeting was not conducive to ensuring sufficient input. So, the developers will conduct another in the evening on the mainland by early August.

Problems continue to include constituent groups that have fluctuated as much as what is preferred or acceptable on the site. The owner of the Sands hotel across the street, for example, is floating the idea for his property of yet another time share/hotel in excess of 20 stories that the island doesn't need. He's backed by some of the same people who adamantly opposed the same next door on the city-owned property.

A practical hurdle at the mall is the developer's insistence that he can't make a profit without the 99-year lease that voters just prohibited. But with a new chance for inclusion and transparent decision-making on a project that should have gotten out of the ground long before now, the developer, residents and city officials all should be saying, "Can't we all just get it done?"