Over the next few weeks and months, the City of West Palm Beach City Commission will be faced with a decision of whether or not to allow the building of Related Group’s One Flagler tower on the site of the Church of Christ Scientist reading room.

Over the years Related Group has done a lot for West Palm Beach, and I would agree with their statement that “One Flagler is a big, bold idea for West Palm Beach.” The proposed building will be a spectacular addition to our skyline.

I’ve sat through a few of Related Group’s presentations of One Flagler and have read countless discussions online. There are a lot of points made on both sides of the argument, and you can read the pros and cons on the One Flagler website and the PreserveWPB facebook page.

I want to address a few topics that I see misrepresented on both sides.

  1. Will One Flagler fulfill our need for Class A office space?
  2. What about the traffic?
  3. Is the financial future of West Palm Beach in jeopardy?
  4. Is this the only option for the preservation of the Church?

West Palm Beach & the Need for Class A Office Space

A good place to start is the story of my company, SMArtX Advisory Services (formerly known as HedgeCo/HedgeCoVest). The firm was started with the two founders in a single office in the Darth Vader building. When I came on board the team had grown to seven and had some beautiful space in a double loft unit on the top floor of the 101 Clematis building. This was unique space, with a view of the waterfront and the old City Library.

In 2007 we purchased the 4500 sqft space above Ultima Gym, which was our office for 10 years (and the birthplace of @aGuyonClematis) until the end of last year when we moved back to the Waterfront to a beautiful space on the 7th floor of the Citizen’s Building. We have fantastic views, modern space, and we pay $17 – $20 sqft.

The view from Citizen’s Building

Thanks to our business in the financial industry doing very well, we are looking to expand. One Clearlake at 250 South Australian has four empty floors and is leasing space at $30 – $40 sqft.

 

Northbridge Center (aka Darth Vader Building) has space for least at $30 – $35 per sqft. Now that’s not technically “Class A” but it has the added amenity of being just upstairs from the Butcher Shop, so I’m throwing it in the list of possible targets for our relocation.

CityPlace Tower has 20,000 sq/ft available at $40 – $47 per sqft.

I can’t see any scenario where we would pay the $65 – $75 for space at One Flagler.

But that’s okay. I understand that One Flagler is not really meant for growing West Palm Beach-based companies like ours. This is a world class building and is designed for corporate relocation of companies who are willing to pay Manhattan prices for West Palm Beach office space.

Class A Office Space or Fulfillment of Flagler Financial District?

One of the key points to the argument for One Flagler is the need for “Class A Office Space”. In a presentation for One Flagler the example of Mercedes Benz was given. The company was moving its USA headquarters from New Jersey and viewed West Palm Beach as a possible target for their relocation. According to the pitch, due to the lack of Class A office space, they passed on our city (but then went on to build their own 200,000 sqft building outside of Atlanta).

Understanding the target tenants for One Flagler is key to deciding whether or not One Flagler will actually fulfill our need for Class A office space. When the next “Mercedes Benz” comes to West Palm Beach looking for Class A office space, will they pick One Flagler?

I think the City and Related Group understand that this building is even too “boutique” for companies looking for “Class A” office space. They have started referring to this building as “Class A+” (seriously).

Over the years there have been many discussions as to what it would take to encourage corporate relocation. The Business Development Board founded a Hedge Fund Task Force to identify things the city would need to create to encourage corporate relocation. On this list was Class A office space and better schools.

The Flagler Financial District was launched in 2016 with the stated goal of helping attract these businesses to our downtown area.

Flagler Financial District Website

I’m going to put forward that this building is NOT being built to answer the need for general Class A office space, this building is being built to fulfill the vision of the “Flagler Financial District”. As Mayor Jeri Muoio said at the launch, “We can be the financial capital of South Florida,” and with One Flagler, we will be well on our way to fulfilling her vision.

What About the Traffic?

The people who are against this project make a big deal about the traffic that it will generate. The Related Group has done a good job at explaining that this is not a normal office building and will not have the same impact that a regular office building of its size will have.

The church and reading room currently creates almost NO traffic. So to make an argument for One Flagler, you would have to create a scenario where the historic church was knocked down and a developer built a building “by right”. In this hypothetical scenario, a developer could, by right, build a 5 story office building with 300,000 sqft of space.

The two options as displayed on the One Flagler website

A bit of searching on Google and I see that an office building expects to generate around 25 trips KSF (per 1000 sqft) of office space. Related Group uses 36 trips KSF to explain that a 300,000 sqft building could generate 11,095 trips per day, whereas One Flagler will only create 8.25 KSF trips to get them to their promised 2266 trips per day.

Because, as explained above, this is not a regular Class A office building, I accept Related Group’s explanation on the traffic impact this will have.

Office Buildings: 25 – 35 trips KSF
One Flagler: 8.25 trips KSF

Let’s extrapolate this a bit further. If there are only 8.25 trips per 1000 sqft, and everyone comes and goes once a day (people could probably walk to Cityplace for lunch), we’re talking about 4.1 people per 1000 sqft. And with 274,000 sqft we have a total of 1,123 people who work at One Flagler.

The bridge issue.

The one item that the Related Group has touted as a possible solution is changing the timing of the bridge during peak hours. Related is proposing to open the bridges every hour instead of twice an hour. In their presentation, they frame this argument as, and I’m paraphrasing, “We open the bridge every half hour to let multi-million yachts go through.”

This is a total misrepresentation of the boat traffic on the Intracostal. Yes, multi-million dollar boats need to have the bridge open to pass through, but the vast majority of the traffic through the Intracoastal that require the bridge to open are boats that probably cost as much or less than many of your cars.

I have many friends in the sailing community and know many people who make the trip from up north each year. The ability to navigate through the Intracoastal waterways via a small sailing vessel with bridges that open on a frequent schedule powers a ton of marine industry in South Florida.

Access through our waterway and the scheduling of the bridges is done in coordination between the Coast Guard and FDOT. Related Group can say what they want, but it is very presumptuous for any developer or even municipality to think that they can change this and hold up Intracoastal boat traffic to favor their plans for building.

Is the Financial Future of West Palm Beach in Jeopardy?

One of the most disturbing arguments for One Flagler was made by Western Community resident, John Mike, in Related’s full page ad in the Sunday paper.

“Our city requires growth if we are to pay for necessary services without raising property taxes, and this world class building proposal by Related Cos. would add millions to our tax base each year.”

For West Palm Beach to remain a healthy city we need to learn how to balance our budget.

Please do not accept the argument that the city is in such poor financial state that the city needs to rely on new development to “pay for necessary services”.

This is not a financial plan; it’s a Ponzi scheme.

Is this the Only Option for the Preservation of the Church?

The preservation of this church is an important part of Related Group’s One Flagler pitch. Unfortunately, it is pitched as a binary option. The two options, as described in the promotional material are: Build One Flagler, or destroy the Church.

This building has huge historical significance, and despite the alarming story Related tells to make their argument for the development of One Flagler, there is no scenario where this building is demolished. I am not just making this up.

With the parishioners of the Church of Christ Scientist quickly dwindling, cities around the country are being faced with what to do with these beautiful buildings. Guess what? They are not being destroyed, instead cities, individuals and foundations are finding creative uses for them.

Wikipedia has a list of 97 former Christian Science churches, and what they have been turned into. Other churches, temples and synagogues, public and private libraries, music halls, professional offices, retirement homes, bed and breakfasts, condos, and theaters.

These beautiful churches have huge intrinsic value, they are not knocked down.

Check out these amazing apartments built inside a Christ Scientist Church. Or the Internet Archive, which preserves an archive of the entire internet inside a preserved Christ Scientist Church. Or, my favorite, “Town Hall Seattle” which is “is used by dozens of organizations for their concerts, lectures, meetings, and performances.”

Please watch this video and be inspired about the possibilities this space has.

I for one would rather see the private or not-for-profit sector preserve and find a new use for this church as opposed to it being preserved in perpetuity as a mausoleum to a church which has no parishioners.

 

Conclusion

If you made it this far, I appreciate it. As with all big decisions like this, there are so many nuances it makes it almost impossible to get the whole picture from one source. I hope this article either helps to answer questions, or gives you questions to ask next time you’re having this discussion.

West Palm Beach has a bright future, and I am not one to say that one specific event or development project will derail the course of the future of this great City. However, the slippery slope of allowing exceptions to our City Master Plan is something that should be a concern to the City leaders as well as the citizenry.

I believe our City leaders need to take a stand regarding the development of this City. Yes, we are a growing city, but we have a master plan and there is plenty of money to be made developing within it. We should focus on the development of our city as a whole by building Class A and “Class A+” office space where it is already zoned.

Thanks for listening.