Catalfumo leans too hard

Palm Beach Post Editorial
Monday, February 12, 2007

It's one thing for developer Dan Catalfumo to contribute money to defeat referendums that would halt his proposed $280 million Ocean Mall redevelopment. Hiring private investigators to spy on opponents of his Riviera Beach project is the wrong thing.

Fittingly, a judge on Monday put the Singer Island mall makeover in voters' hands. If passed, the March 13 ballot measures would limit building height to five stories, limit leases to a maximum 50 years, and limit the purposes to tourism and recreation on the city owned, beachside land. On Thursday, the city's appeal temporarily placed the matter on hold. But on Friday, the judged lifted the stay.

From the start, the 28-story tower plus retail shops and restaurants that Mr. Catalfumo proposes for the 11-acre site was better than a previous plan's three towers. But that still exceeded the original concept of a five-story boutique hotel and conference center with restaurants and retail. Moreover, the residences implicit in his hotel-condo concept are anathema to the concept of a public beach, particularly with his two 27-story condo towers taking shape next door.

Yet until the court ruling, Mr. Catalfumo appeared to have scored a coup after others had failed for years. He had resolved the mall's outstanding lease. But he also insisted that his project couldn't work financially without a 99-year lease, which required a city charter change. To counter the petition drive, he and city officials agreed in December to a 50-year lease that would revert to 99 years if the drive failed. Soon, petition signature gatherers were complaining that Mr. Catalfumo was having them videotaped. That and his hiring a private snoop who used a fictitious name and signed multiple petitions amounts to intimidation.

In November, Stuart voters amended their charter to require public approval before any city waterfront land could be sold or leased for 10 years or more. That came after the city commission agreed to hear a Catalfumo plan to tear down city hall and a next-door restaurant to build a condo-hotel on city land that he would lease for 99 years.

In Stuart, Mr. Catalfumo inspired public suspicion. In West Palm Beach, the cost of the City Center project went up after he took over. He now has succeeded in convincing more Riviera Beach voters not to trust his Ocean Mall plan.