Riviera Beach OKs redevelopment plan

By WILLIAM COOPER JR.
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 07, 2007

RIVIERA BEACH As the Ocean Mall site plan sat before the city council for a final vote, an effort to delay the proposal was brewing.

This time, however, the city council didn't blink. It voted 4-1 Wednesday to approve the plan, reviving Riviera Beach's stalled redevelopment effort.

Builder Dan Catalfumo now can construct 60,000 square feet of shops and restaurants where the 35-year-old mall sits on Singer Island. All that's left is for the council to rubber-stamp a comprehensive plan amendment that joins three parcels into a single tract.

"We're excited we had so much support from the council and the public," said Joey Eichner, president of Catalfumo Development and Management.

The site plan approval comes after five years of bitter wrangling that sometimes divided the city along political and racial lines. Those concerns forced developers to reduce the scale of the project, and a once-massive set of condo towers has given way to a five-story hotel with shops and restaurants.

The result reflects the efforts of residents who had charged the Palm Beach Gardens builder with attempting to overdevelop their beloved Singer Island. But most naysayers departed once Catalfumo agreed to accept the residents' wishes.

"The public's fingerprints are on the plan," said Dawn Pardo, who had launched the effort to eliminate the 28-story condo-hotel from Catalfumo's plan. "I think this is a plan we can live with."

Pardo led the charge that prompted voters in March to limit buildings on the city's beach to five stories and keep leases to 50 years.

However, in downsizing the hotel, the city lost about $230 million in revenue. But a community benefits plan is still in place that lets the city share in the hotel's profits and ensures that blacks participate in building the project.

Even with those changes, some people wanted to delay approving the project until the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council issues its final report. The planning council was hired in September to reevaluate the city's redevelopment plan.

In October, the planning council made public its preliminary report and used computer animation to show changes in the mall plan.

Councilwoman Lynne Hubbard had been pushing since early November for her colleagues not to vote on the scaled-back project. She wanted to see whether the planners' final report would offer any additional ideas.

Retired Circuit Judge Edward Rodgers echoed Hubbard's concerns that the city council was acting before the planning council finished its work. He threatened to resign as chairman of the steering committee that gathered support for the planning council and its redevelopment plan.

"I just question their integrity in appointing this committee," he said. "I felt used and I still feel used."

By moving the Ocean Mall project forward, city council members seemed to suggest that their minds were already made up, said Rodgers, a former Riviera Beach city councilman.

However, before the planning council began its work, the city reached a settlement with Catalfumo ending a lawsuit over the Ocean Mall. That agreement called for the site plan to move forward through the city's planning process and limited the regional council's ability to make wide-ranging comments on the plan.

Rodgers didn't resign, and did not speak against the project when it came to a vote.

In the end, Councilman Cedrick Thomas summed up the sentiments of his colleagues and residents.

"All I want is to see something built," he said. "I want to see a building come out of the ground."