After heated debate, $100 million hotel deal set to boost Lake Worth Beach
EDITOR'S NOTE: We've added more context surrounding the reasons why three commissioners questioned the financing of the Gulfstream Hotel.
Residents at a Palm Beach County city are celebrating after landing a $104 million project that could generate hundreds of full-time jobs and pump millions into its struggling economy.
The Gulfstream Hotel in Lake Worth Beach opened in 1925 but has been vacant for nearly two decades. After a series of emotional meetings, debates, and COVID-19 related setbacks on development, city commissioners last week unanimously approved a deal to restore the historic hotel.
At the decisive meeting, members of the public - be it local business owners and working class residents of the city - spoke out passionately in favor of the project. Mayor Betty Resch had to tell the crowd to calm down and respect decorum in the dais - multiple times.
Now, developers, with an incentive package from the city, will spend $104 million dollars to restore the building.
Mayor Resch and Commissioner Sarah Malega were behind the project, but Commissioners Christopher McVoy, Kim Stokes and Reinaldo Diaz raised concerns about giving millions of dollars of public funds as financial incentives to the developer.
Residents backing the deal did not hold back during public comment at a ballroom at the Lake Worth Beach Casino Building.
"Three people are not going to hijack our city," said Bo Allen, whose wife was a cocktail waitress at the Gulfstream Hotel. He said commissioners have been "obstructionists to their constituents."
Allen is a local realtor and former Lake Worth Commissioner. He spoke during public comment and said surrounding businesses desperately need the financial boost from the jobs that the project is supposed to create.
"We all know we want a place to enjoy and be part of our community, where friends can come visit and stay," Allen said. "We don’t want the blight anymore."
The commissioners, with McVoy expressing most of the pushback toward the deal, eventually approved the deal and cited the support of the majority of residents who spoke for the project.
According to the US Census, 25% of residents in Lake Worth Beach live near the poverty line compared to 12% countywide. And as the housing crisis continues, residents, whose household income of just over $41,000 is well below the county's $65,000, recently urged Lake Worth Beach officials to declare a housing state of emergency and pass a new tenants' bill of right.
Commissioners Stokes, Diaz, and McVoy were criticized and attacked online for being perceived as against the project altogether. But during an in-depth discussion about the issue on the South Florida Roundup show, Palm Beach Post Reporter Jorge Milian says those commissioners were making sure that money, financial incentives up to $12 million dollars, wasn’t being “thrown around.”
“There's no shortage of need in Lake Worth Beach and I think that’s basically what these commissioners were concerned about,” Milian said. “Are we giving money to well-heeled developers? I believe that was the core of their hesitancy. Is this money being spent correctly?”
Restoration St. Louis, owned by husband-wife duo Amrit and Amy Gill, have agreed to renovate the hotel building and to include an adjacent structure with luxury rental units, parking garage and rooftop bar. The developers have a track record for revitalizing historical properties.
Residents are betting on the foot traffic from the hotel, which could bring in millions of dollars of revenue from entertainment and other forms of attraction, filling an economic void in the city's downtown area.
A lot of that revenue could go to the city's general fund and the hotel's property taxes could help pay for county and city services, such as schools and water management.
A development impact analysis found the full-service Gulfstream Hotel, located on Lake Avenue near the downtown area, could generate "$7.4 million annually on dining, shopping, and entertainment, creating a strong opportunity for nearby businesses to capture this additional local spending capacity." It projected that the project, over 27.5 years, could see "Return on Investment (ROI) of 688%"
Construction could begin soon, with an expected completion date in 2024.
Residents at the commission meeting were demanding a long-term plan for sustainable economic success in the city and said they were also fighting against what they perceive as leadership issues and inconsistent messaging from the commission, which they say are just as concerning as the city's economic woes.
Carla Blockson is Vice Chair of the Lake Worth Beach Community Redevelopment Agency.
"Once you make a commitment, honor it," Blockson said. "Once you said you were for this project, a number of you went behind the public eye and did everything in your power to make it go away. That’s not the way we want our city ran."