September 2009

  • Sep

Jewish Community Center Follows Exodus To The Suburbs

September 15, 2009

By Charles Passy, via Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Following studies that have shown Palm Beach County’s Jewish population is shifting from West Palm Beach to points north, south and west, the Jewish Community Center of the Greater Palm Beaches is undergoing the most significant transformation in its 35-year history.

Gone is the idea of a central-location model — and largely gone is the center’s West Palm Beach campus, which ceased most of its cultural and family activities this year.

Instead, the “J,” as the institution is commonly called, is opening a Palm Beach Gardens campus this month, expanding programming and facilities at a suburban Boynton Beach campus and continuing to offer events and activities in various locations in Wellington.

“We’re trying to meet our mission of offering programs close to where people live,” said Mindy Hanken, a center executive who will direct the new 5,400-square-foot Palm Beach Gardens campus, dubbed “JCC North,” situated in the Midtown shopping and dining complex.

Meanwhile, at the Boynton-area JCC campus, which has been renamed the Lore and Eric F. Ross JCC in honor of a recent $2 million gift from the Jewish philanthropists’ estate, the focus is on taking a bustling 50,000-square-foot center and finding room to fit in more, including a new lifelong-learning program for seniors.

And though the Wellington campus has been without a home since the recent expiration of a three-year lease on a storefront space, JCC officials have worked out a deal to partner with three synagogues to offer many programs.

The Kaplan JCC near West Palm Beach is still being used for a preschool program but hardly anything else. JCC officials say they had little choice but to close the gym and meeting facilities as membership dropped from as many as 3,500 households in the 1990s to fewer than 1,000 in the past year.

Such stats fall in line with population patterns. In the ’70s, when Jewish retirees first flocked in significant numbers to Palm Beach County, they chose to live in West Palm Beach’s booming senior communities such as Century Village.

But in the past decade, retirees have looked instead to Boynton Beach, where several newer communities with contemporary amenities have opened. Wellington and Palm Beach Gardens have become home to large numbers of Jewish families, many the offspring of those retirees. Just a few years ago, Palm Beach Gardens supported a single synagogue. Now it has three, plus a kosher delicatessen.

The county’s Jewish community of about 250,000, the fourth-largest in the country, has no true center, but instead several hubs. So the JCC, which operates on a $9 million annual budget, has gone where the community has gone, adopting a multi-campus approach that has worked in other U.S. Jewish communities.

“Chicago is based on the same model. And so is Atlanta,” said Craig Frustaci, the county JCC’s assistant executive director. Still, the Palm Beach County JCC isn’t saying its multi-campus strategy is a sure bet. For that reason, JCC officials decided to open a much smaller space in Palm Beach Gardens, finding a willing partner in Midtown. (The development was built during the boom years of the past decade, but has recently looked for ways to drive traffic to its shops and restaurants.)

Instead of the full-scale gym found at the suburban Boynton campus, JCC North has what amounts to a small, private one for use by clients who exercise with personal trainers. And for some of its after-school programs and cultural events, JCC North will use spaces at nearby Mirasol Park and the Borland Center, a church and performance space.

JCC Executive Director Michelle Wasch Lobovits considers JCC North an “interim step,” leaving open the possibility that if the new campus proves popular, it could lead to a larger facility.

“We have the opportunity to create the groundswell before there’s actually a building,” she said.

But even if that new building does come about, it may not rival what the Kaplan JCC was in its heyday. The local Jewish community has matured to the point that it’s simply too spread out for one center to dominate.

“We’re a JCC without walls,” Lobovits said.

The JCC campuses:
Suburban Boynton Beach (Lore and Eric F. Ross JCC)
Opened: 1998.
Membership: 2,500 households.
Facilities: A 50,000-square-foot space with gym and preschool, plus room for educational, cultural and other programs for older children, families and seniors.
Info: 8500 Jog Road, (561) 740-9000

Opened: 2006.
Membership: There is no full-scale membership program — individual events and activities are priced accordingly.
Facilities: No central facility — it partners with three synagogues.
Info: (561) 253-6030

Palm Beach Gardens (JCC North)
Opens: This month.
Membership: There is no full-scale membership program, but a ‘Friend of the J’ program offers discounts on classes and other activities, plus savings at local shops and restaurants.
Facilities: A 5,400-square-foot space with a small, private gym and room for classes and other programs. JCC North also will use spaces at a local park and church/cultural center.
Info: 4803 PGA Blvd. (in Midtown), (561) 689-7700

  • Sep

The Residences at Midtown sells more than 90 homes in five months

September 4, 2009

Real Estate News & Notes – The Palm Beach Post
The Residences at Midtown sells more than 90 homes in five months Smashing the notion that summer is the slow season, The Residences at Midtown community continues to book record sales for its condominiums. The Palm Beach Gardens community has sold more than 90 homes since launching its sales program on March 30. More than 15 contracts were written in August alone. There are no foreclosures or short sales in The Residences at Midtown, where 85 percent of the purchases are in cash. Early buyers are reaping the benefits as home prices have started to rise. Several one-, two-and three-bedroom units are still available, with prices starting at $115,900 for a one-bedroom and $149,900 for a two-bedroom residence. The Residences at Midtown, a new mixed-use community by Ram Realty Services, is on the northwest side of PGA Boulevard and Military Trail. The community is within walking distance of restaurants, shops and a theater. The sales center, in the community clubhouse at 4901 Midtown Lane, is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For information, visit the Web site or call (561) 630-6717.

  • Sep

Collaborative Mecca

September 1, 2009

By Ellison Clary, via Greater Charlotte Biz

The Design Center of the Carolinas (DCC) has had a significant past. Once a prominent knitting mill in Charlotte’s textile heyday, it was rehabbed in the late ’90s, knitting itself into Charlotte’s urban core as an adaptive reuse of historic buildings offering unique spaces with architectural amenities that appeal to the design community.

The DCC dates to 1929 when third-generation hosiery knitter William Nebel built the Nebel Knitting Mill at Camden Road and West Worthington Avenue, in what is now called South End. By the 1950s, it was among the largest and most productive hosiery mills in the southeast.

But textiles fell on hard times and eventually native Charlottean Tony Pressley of MECA Properties redeveloped the warehouse-style complex into three office buildings and a courtyard. His late 1990s dream was to transform DCC into a destination. He hoped it would someday cause his hometown to be mentioned with the world’s best-known design cities such as Milan, New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

The DCC was part of a groundswell of developer activity to attract the Charlotte design community to South End by its location and by the adaptive reuse of historic buildings offering spacious loft areas and unique character. Building on the synergy of drawing creative types together, compatible and competitive businesses both benefit as well as their customers.

The area is also easily accessible—to uptown, SouthPark and the interstates. And with the completion of the Lynx light rail, the access to the area has expanded even further, increasing foot traffic and making it a convenient and quick stop.

Raising Its Profile
Having been purchased more recently by Ram Development Company in 2007, the DCC Charlotte landmark is ready to raise its profile—literally.

Refueling a new ascent for the DCC is South Florida commercial and residential real estate services firm Ram Reality Services of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Ram investments and developments are mainly in the Southeast. In Florida, it concentrates on Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville. In Georgia, it’s active in Atlanta. In North Carolina, Ram has a presence in the Raleigh area as well as here in Charlotte.

Ram has plans to take the historic DCC to new prominence in a city that the firm’s principals have targeted as a valuable investment and growth opportunity. It fits the Ram mantra of making places that are socially responsible, economically vibrant, and environmentally sustainable.

“Unfortunately, it’s taken a while to put our stamp on the Design Center because of the economy,” explains Ivy Greaner, Ram’s chief operating officer, citing the obvious downturn.

First on Greaner’s agenda is getting the three structures fully leased. Right now, they’re probably 85 percent occupied. True to the creative concept, she wants to keep occupancy concentrated among design professionals. “We believe that architects, engineers, creative people and the like are our best fit,” she says. “The DCC offers unique architectural spaces that naturally attract creative people and businesses, and they in turn benefit from the synergy of being located alongside other design businesses.”

Concentric Marketing’s Bob Shaw is spearheading a major campaign this fall for Ram to showcase the historic South End as an area of creativity and innovation within Charlotte and the DCC as the bustling hub of it all. The overall theme is “Get Inspired,” inviting forward-thinking businesses and entrepreneurs into a unique environment centered on innovation and inspiration.

Beyond promoting this theme through traditional venues such as enhanced signage, a new Web site, a new logo, and media placement, Ram is also working aggressively to further position the DCC as a dynamic creative venue, where there is always something exciting taking place.

To achieve this, the building will be home to speaker series, awards shows, conferences, and monthly meetings from a variety of industries. Ram is also inspiring its tenant base to share ideas by setting up quarterly meetings around topics of interest for creative-thinking businesses, hosting lunches to spur conversation, and utilizing social media (Twitter) to further encourage connection. To involve the community, they are organizing with local schools to provide art for the water tower. The rebranding is set to launch officially with the unveiling of the new water tower this month.

Next for Greaner to contemplate is new development on DCC land used now for a parking lot, and possibly acquisition of an adjacent parcel. The development could include a residential high-rise or hotel, complete with retail on sidewalk level. That building has been envisioned for five to 12 floors but it could rise much higher, Greaner says. It would also include a built-in parking deck.

“Tony originally had a vision for something like that,” Greaner says of the high-rise. “We believe he was on the right track.” She adds that any DCC expansion would be based on solid growth projections.

She has concerns about ground contamination from chlorinated solvents, but adds that Ram sought and received state permission earlier this year to deal with the issue as it redevelops the brownfield. She points out that the DCC itself was cleaned up as a result of a 1996 decontamination project, and that dealing with the brownfield aspect of the adjacent property is “making places that are socially responsible, economically vibrant, and environmentally sustainable,” their goal.

Dane Suchoza, owner of DAS Architecture, says, “The environmental situation is one that can be handled. It’s just an expense. It’s a matter of how you deal with haul off and disposal.” Suchoza’s firm is in its second year in the DCC and is contracted to draw up any expansion plans.

Furthering by Design
“We were one of the first Design Center tenants,” says Tom Wright, principal architect for Narmour Wright Architects, proudly. “We were the designers of the Design Center.” Wright says he likes Ram’s efforts to enhance the concept that the complex is, indeed, a center for design. “That was Tony’s original idea,” he says.

Greaner agrees. “Tony Pressley really invested into taking those buildings and creating a statement and an identity for South End,” she says. “He did a phenomenal job. And he was at a point where he needed someone to help grow it and continue to establish it.”

Ram found out about the potential availability of the complex and made inquiries to Pressley. Ram had already established a presence in the Raleigh area, having been attracted to North Carolina by its climate and its growing magnetism for people from across the country.

The firm paid about $28 million in 2007 for DCC’s 188,146 square feet. “We really believe in this area,” says Wright. “We’re glad Ram is here and has the wherewithal to keep developing the Design Center into the community it can be. “If we had a hotel on the property in the not-too-distant future, that would be great,” Wright continues. “It’s wonderful to see the new uses coming up, to really make this South End into an independent community.”

David Creech split off from the Narmour Wright firm at the start of this year and houses his new company, Creech & Associates, in nearby DCC space. “We like the fact that it’s an adaptive reuse of an older building,” Creech says. He praises the patinas that include aged wooden floors and exposed brick walls. “All those things are very conducive to what people expect when they come into an office that deals with creativity,” he adds.

He also likes the expansion plans. “I’m a proponent of density,” he smiles. “We’re on the light rail line. We need to promote continued density along the rails and I think the Design Center should be a leader in that regard.”

Doug Grenade operates an office of Cline Design Associates in DCC space he leased in May 2008, after the Ram acquisition. The Raleigh-based firm chose the South End neighborhood for its Charlotte location. “We like being around other design types,” Grenade says. “Not just other architects, but engineers and graphic designers.” He too has bought into the Ram expansion plans.

Becoming Native to North Carolina
Ram views the Carolinas—and North Carolina specifically—as a commercial and residential market that holds great opportunity, a place where they will be maintaining focus in the future. Ram has already developed 140 West Franklin, a unique mixed-use investment located in the heart of Chapel Hill. This development offers an idyllic location alongside truly striking residential and commercial space. Ram has been working alongside the city and UNC to ensure that 140 West Franklin, in design and purpose, is a true complement to Chapel Hill.

“Charlotte, in particular, attracted us because it’s a young, vibrant community,” Greaner continues. “It has the arts and entertainment, it has a great lifestyle. So it has all the fundamentals that attract families, entrepreneurs and talent for the workplace.” Although not yet a resident of Charlotte, Greaner visits often. She says her biggest surprise about the city is that it is even more than she expected.

“The charm of Charlotte is that it has a great sense of place,” she says. “It’s got nice neighborhoods, it has people who care, who are involved, and it’s had pretty good vision. The light rail, I think, was great. It really is a nice place to be.” Greaner is quick to add that her company sees a definite up-tick in the Charlotte economy, and it is ready for action here. “We have found that, although there are a lot of new potential tenants looking to relocate, it’s not just moving around. It’s also people still coming to Charlotte,” she says.

The DCC can attract its share of these moves, Greaner believes, because of its history and its opportunity to grow with the South End.

Though Ram has looked at other properties in Charlotte, both shopping centers and residential, new and existing, Greaner says emphatically, “The Design Center needs to be the star of the show.”

Greaner is quite complimentary of Concentric Marketing. “They live and breathe the Design Center,” Greaner says, “and have been instrumental in our rebranding efforts.”

She also coordinates efforts with Charlotte Center City Partners and the South End Historic District. She is particularly proud of the contemplated promotional effort involving the DCC’s historic old-style water tower figure. “What we are going to do on an annual basis is have a contest with local schools to put their art work on the water tower,” Greaner says.

“Five years from now,” Greaner says, “I think the Design Center will be the central place within South End. We host weddings in the Design Center as well as other business functions, and even have caterer tenants with space to host events. We don’t want it to be just a place where you come to work 9-to-5 every day, but a place where you enjoy being inspired and a place that has creative energy.”

Greaner sums up, “There’s no denying that commercial real estate has become a more competitive business as of late. However, Ram’s mission is to develop properties that hold greater significance to the community, stand apart in genuine uniqueness, and generally hold more meaning than basic square footage. With the DCC, I think we are well on the way to achieving this vision.”

Ellison Clary is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.