Well, that was disappointing.
I’m talking about billionaire West Palm Beach developer Jeff Greene’s seemingly abrupt decision to scrap his much-anticipated plans to build a 12-story, 348-unit micro-apartment project called Banyan Place.
Yep. Greene — handing ammunition to critics who say he doesn’t follow through on big project ideas — is telling all those West Palm Beach Millennials who were looking to him for some relief from Palm Beach County’s workforce housing crisis to look elsewhere. At least for now.
“I jumped the gun,” he told the Post’s Tony Doris. “I should have done a lot more research before I went through the entire entitlement process and spent a lot of people’s time on it.”
No kidding. Greene announced this project back in February, and has jumped through all the necessary zoning hoops to get final city commission approval in June.
Not that it means that much to South Florida Baby Boomers, who tend to like their space. But their kids and grandkids — read Millennials — are not thought to be as picky in that regard.
Greene says the projected rents — about $995 to $1,200 a month for 340 to 560 square feet — are just too low to make sense; especially when you add in upscale kitchens, bathrooms, and washers and dryers.
But is it possible that when it comes to space, the county’s Millennials don’t fall too far from the family tree when it comes to elbow room? Especially if you’re asking for $1,000 for what is essentially their bedroom in their parents’ home (sans mom’s home-cooking to boot)?
But “at end of the day,” Greene told Doris, “I ran numbers. If you have a choice of a small room with no view, or a 30-story building with views of everything, (it) can’t compete” with other nearby projects about to be completed near the downtown West Palm Beach Brightline station.
“I’m stepping back now to see how they all do.”
Greene’s right about competition. The city, behind Mayor Jeri Muoio, is experiencing something of a renaissance as it seeks to make itself more attractive to Millennials. Take 312 Northwood, the new apartment complex that just opened at the corner of Dixie Highway and 23rd Street. A few weeks after the doors opened this summer, the building was already 25 percent full, with residents paying between $1,400 to $1,850 for one and two-bedroom apartments, and some apartments as high as $2,300 a month.
Developer Neil Kozokoff expects the property’s 100 units — 75 of which have views of the Intracoastal Waterway — to be fully leased by the end of the year . At that point, he’ll consider building 102 apartments on land he owns nearby.
Those aren’t “micro-apartments.” But TBCG Capital Group’s five-building project on the west side of Northwood Village is planning some. The 3.5-acre tract dubbed the “anchor site” will also include offices, retail space, townhouses and apartments — including workforce housing.
Whether Greene’s decision to cut bait is just a Jeff Greene thing or a competition thing, there’s no denying that the city’s and county’s issues with affordable housing for a burgeoning young white-collar workforce is at crisis levels.
Not only can 75 percent of the county’s households not afford the median price of a single-family home, but rents north of $1,800 per month for a typical 1,100-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment have kept many young professionals from moving out of their parents’ homes.
That’s why Greene’s decision, though understandable, is disappointing.
Aggressive ideas like micro-apartments are needed if West Palm Beach and other local municipalities are going to make a dent in this burgeoning crisis. In fact, West Palm Beach has staked the future of its downtown on shelved projects like Greene’s, which had the added bonus of a pedestrian passageway on its east side, connecting Banyan to Clematis Street through the courtyard of popular Subculture Coffee. That 20-foot-wide strip of land currently dead-ends, preventing any connection between the boulevard and the popular entertainment street.
Whether micro-apartments are the way to go remains to be seen. The concept seems much more of a Northern, big city phenomenon, but might work in tandem with high-speed rail, as leaders in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami believe.
Developers need to continue to step forward with fresh concepts, and cities need to continue to offer incentives for them to do so.
Here’s a suggestion: Talk to Millennials, many of whom are now well into their late 20s and 30s, and find out what they really want.