The Related Cos. is working on a deal that could result in a new luxury office tower in West Palm Beach — and the preservation of an iconic downtown church for the ages.
Related, which built the the CityPlace Tower office building and the CityPlace shopping center, wants to buy a building and parking lot owned by the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Related executive Ken Himmel confirmed Wednesday.
The church property is at Flagler Drive and Lakeview Avenue, a prime corner across from the Royal Park Bridge to Palm Beach.
The Christian Science Church, built in 1928 in the Classical Revival style of architecture, will remain untouched and is not part of the proposed sale.
But on church-owned land just to the west, New York-based Related wants to build a 30-story, 300,000-square-foot modern tower. The soaring project is being designed by one of the nation’s leading architects, David Childs, who designed the Freedom Tower at One World Trade Center in Manhattan.
The Class A office building would offer tenants unobstructed views of the Intracoastal, Palm Beach and Atlantic Ocean.
In a statement, Childs grandly described the office building, invoking some of the world’s most iconic structures. He described the building as akin to a lighthouse, linking the ocean to the “continent,” in this case, West Palm Beach. This linkage is accomplished through the creation of a slender illuminating lighthouse-style office tower, “similar to the experience of France’s magnificent Chartres Cathedral’s spire,” Childs said. Childs added that the office tower is tied to the church by a reflecting pool, “recalling the one at the Lincoln Memorial,” in Washington.
The church’s Christian Science Reading Room, now in its own building at 138 Lakeview Ave., would move to new space in the office tower’s ground floor, which also will feature space for retailers.
The deal would accomplish two goals.
First, it would provide the city with badly needed new office space for businesses seeking to move their companies to the city.
“The office market in Palm Beach and West Palm Beach looks promising now for attracting premier financial service firms to this ‘one of a kind’ flagship office building site,” Himmel said in a statement.
The sale also keeps in existence a church building that is not protected as either a city or national historic site — but still is a graceful and familiar presence downtown.
Even the church’s location is welcoming, angled as it is toward the east, facing the bridge, the water and the sunrise.
Himmel said he’s worked for years to craft a way “to sensitively develop this site.”
The church’s membership is aging and declining in numbers, down to fewer than 75. This is endangering the membership’s ability to continue maintaining the church building, sources said.
Because the property is not designated as a historic site, there is nothing to stop the property’s sale or destruction down the line.
However, if the deal with Related is completed, the church would have an endowment to continue as a place of worship now and in the future, Childs said.
Even though the church is not historically protected, Childs said it is an important work, designed by notable architect Horace Trumbauer. “Great measures must be taken to preserve it and its use,” Childs said.
Building a major office property next to such an architecturally special property is no easy feat. But Childs has experience in this area, a fact that Himmel said was important in Related’s selection of Childs for the job. Childs previously led the National Capital Planning Commission, which reviews projects that affect the nation’s capital and its many historic and cultural assets.
The church property now is limited to only five stories, so a 30-story tower would need special approval from the city. Not only would the building exceed existing height limits, it also would tower above the nearest office building, the 17-story Esperante Corporate Center at 222 Lakeview Ave.
It’s not clear whether the city or its residents would favor another tall building near the water, even if it does preserve an aged church and provide the city with new office space.
Many residents fought hard against The Bristol, a 25-story tower being built on the former Chapel by the Lake property at 1112 S. Flagler Drive, overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. The site formerly was owned by First Baptist Church, which sold it to The Bristol’s development group for $21 million in 2014.
The deal between the church and Related still is in its infancy and is by no means a done deal.
As a result, the church isn’t talking right now. “It’s an internal matter,” said Anthony Arsali, a West Palm Beach attorney who represents the church.
This latest contract marks the second time Related has tied up the church land. In 2008, Related had a contract to buy the same property, with plans for a possible condominium. But the economy tanked and the deal died.
Related’s proposed office tower would partially block some views from Esperante, but the views aren’t expected to be affected much. That’s because the Related tower will be sited on the northwest corner of the parcel, and not directly to the Esperante’s east.
The tower also would be across the street from the Phillips Point complex, another of the city’s premier office centers.
Sources say the church wants a large but undisclosed amount of money for its property. So Related would have to build a building with rents high enough to justify the land cost.
That makes it likely the office tower would appeal to only the most monied tenants, such as hedge funds or family offices for rich Palm Beachers. These types of tenants are used to paying big rent in Northeast states, and they generally need smaller offices and floors than standard commercial tenants, such as law or accounting firms, real estate brokers say.
Source: Palm Beach Post
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