Despite Ghostly CityPlace South Tower, County Still Wants New West Palm Hotel

Here's a riddle of government wisdom: Palm Beach County commissioners have been itching for a hotel to prop up the convention center in downtown West Palm Beach for years. Industry experts warn that the center will never drum up enough business without some beds nearby.

Yet right next door on Okeechobee Boulevard sits a beautiful condo building, CityPlace South Tower, whose 420 units are mostly empty. And county leaders are pretending it doesn't exist.

"I don't understand it," says local real estate broker Christina Morrison Pearce, who last year proposed that the Tower be converted to a hotel. "The county administrator just completely threw that idea out the window."

Tomorrow, a panel of county leaders will listen to pitches from four developers

vying to build a hotel next to the center. They, of course, all want to build something new, not convert CityPlace South Tower.

Yet the Tower is a perfect candidate for reinvention. Property records show that only 66 units have sold, and the building is in "friendly foreclosure" -- developer the Related Group still manages it, but it's owned by a consortium of lenders.

Sounds like a building begging for a new life as a hotel, doesn't it? But last year, when Pearce proposed the idea, county administrators worried that the conversion would cost far more than building a hotel from scratch.

"I think they're trying to encourage more construction," Pearce says.

We'll see how the argument holds up after the hotel developers make their pitches tomorrow.

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