New Pompano Beach City Manager Has to Make Condo Bust Go Boom

"What is today -- Friday?" asks Pompano Beach City Manager Dennis Beach. "This is my fifth day on the job." Indeed, an eternity. Which is why Juice called to ask whether he had finally gotten 'round to addressing the massive condo vacancy on the beach.

The emptiest one of all: the Plaza at Oceanside -- a 17-story luxury condo that was engulfed by the housing market's crash. The developer, WCI, reported that buyers defaulted on deals for 100 units. In total there are 186.

In August 2008, Bonita Springs-based WCI filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and early this month it was plucked out of that bargain bin by Ari Pearl, a Hollywood developer who partnered with the Chetrit Group to buy the Plaza for just $38.5 million.

A deal that should allow the new owners to offer some good deals on the 138 units they'll be trying to sell. Beach's mission from the commission that hired him: Do whatever it takes to help the developer's cause.

Back in April 2006, when the proposal for the Plaza at Oceanside was still being shepherded through the city's approval process, the city's planning director, J. Mark Leaf, called it "the most significant redevelopment in the beach area in over 30 years."

It would replace the dilapidated Oceanside Shopping Center, powering a flurry of high-end retail development in the blocks on either side.

But the project met resistance by existing beach residents, who feared a condo cavern, wanted more affordable units, and were concerned about the newcomers crowding streets and schools. When Pompano Beach made its presentation to the Broward County Commission, city representatives were scolded for being unprepared and incomplete.

That led to fighting by city commissioners. All the while, the clock was ticking on the South Florida housing bubble. By the time Oceanside opened its doors this past February, the housing market was in free fall. The condo virtual golf room, its movie theater and enormous gym are all quiet. At night, it's hard to spot a single lighted window in the tower.

Beach, who was the Fort Pierce city manager for 13 years, sees hope in the purchase price. The $38.5 million was less than the $42 million that WCI paid for the land alone. "The new owners are going to be able to put together a development scheme that will make it a productive property," says Beach. "It's in their financial best interest."

Just as its in his city's interest to provide an assist. Beach says there's a good sum of money available to fix the infrastructure and make other improvements. "The city is engaged in redeveloping public property in that vicinity," he said. "We'll upgrade the streets and parks."

Beach says he'll be contacting Pearl and the development partners soon "to get a feel for their direction and what we can do to help their efforts." (We reached Pearl this afternoon, but though he expressed excitement about the project's future, he declined to give an interview.)

The $38.5 million deal included a piece of land across A1A from the condo, on the northeast corner of Atlantic Boulevard, where WCI had originally planned to build a tower that would house 303 hotel rooms and 77 condo units. You can bet it'll be a long wait before the developers decide to make good on that potential.

Rather, first priority will be to fill the units at Oceanside. Undoubtedly, those will be sold for far less than the $700,00 to $2 million range that was the initial price per unit. Recent sales suggest the new price is 50 percent less.

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