On a top floor of West Palm Beach’s Phillips Point office tower, the offices are plush and the water views divine.
But down on the street below, cones now block off the eastern lanes of Flagler Drive, baffling Dennis Hammond, chief executive of SandPointe Asset Management, which leases the penthouse office.
On Oct. 7, the city blocked off the eastern lanes going north on Flagler Drive, from Banyan Boulevard on the north to Lakeview Avenue on the south, for a project known as Flagler Shore. The street blockage ends March 1, when the Palm Beach International Boat Show takes over the waterfront.
City leaders say Flagler Shore is an experiment to attract more people to the waterfront, where they can bicycle, walk or just linger in a space free of cars. But some businesses leaders aren’t on board with the idea.
“As a business owner and employer in West Palm Beach, this decision could not be more inconvenient or frustrating,” Hammond recently wrote in a letter to city officials.
“There is plenty of green space along that stretch of roadway at present, including the park to the west of the roadway,” he wrote. “Why ‘reclaim’ more by robbing motorists of half of their traffic lanes?”
In an interview, Hammond said while the city may wish to turn Flagler Drive into a destination, the street is, in fact, a thoroughfare. It links the east side of the city between the Flagler Memorial Bridge and Royal Park Bridge, which in turn link the mainland to Palm Beach.
Having just suffered through months of traffic tie-ups over the Flagler Bridge redo, to now eliminate the eastern lanes of Flagler Drive is “goofy” as well as anti-business, Hammond said.
Hammond said his firm relies on Flagler Drive and other roads to allow staff and clients to travel to its offices. SandPointe employs 22 people at its 15,000-square-foot headquarters on the 18th floor of the west tower of Phillips Point.
Christopher Roog, West Palm Beach’s economic development director, said the experiment is far from unfriendly to business. “I would counter that these same folks also value the great public space and the recreational aspects that we provide,” Roog said. “The waterfront is a very important place for (our residents), so what can we do to make it better for everyone?”
But Hammond is not persuaded, especially since the city has branded this portion of the city the Flagler Financial District in a bid to attract more financial firms to the area.
On Oct. 5, Hammond did his part to boost the effort.
His firm hosted a seasonal kickoff event for the Palm Beach Hedge Fund Association , a growing group of hedge funds and private equity firms opening offices in the area. More than 100 people attended the event, despite the evening’s inclement weather.
West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County’s Business Development Board specifically have targeted hedge funds and private equity firms for recruitment.
Mayor Jeri Muoio even backed a failed bid by the Related Cos. of New York to win city commission approval for a new office building, One Flagler. The 25-story waterview building, proposed for church-owned land at Okeechobee Boulevard and Flagler Drive, would have catered to hedge funds and private equity firms by offering luxury finishes, concierge building services and soaring water views, like those found at SandPointe’s offices.
Hammond said when the Palm Beach hedge fund event ended Oct. 5, departing guests were confronted with street cones, including cones blocking a left turn going north onto Flagler Drive from behind Phillips Point. Hammond added that if the city wants to encourage people to have “pavement lunches on Flagler,” this effort should be tried during weekends, when fewer people work.
“West Palm Beach is not a retirement center,” Hammond said. “A lot of us try to carry on normal business.”
But Roog said setting up and taking down the cones every week would be too costly.
Of course, all bets are off when President Donald Trump starts his expected regular weekend trips to Palm Beach, where he has a part-time home and private club. Mar-a-Lago is near the Southern Boulevard Bridge, the most southern bridge to the island, but traffic often is rerouted to the middle Royal Park bridge when Trump is in town.
Roog is optimistic that Flagler Shore will work out, especially now that the Flagler Bridge is open: “If I had to guess, I’d say the traffic will be able to handle it just fine,” Roog said.