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New garage to relieve parking headaches

By Dianna Smith
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Monday, December 25, 2006

DELRAY BEACH — The sign says VIP Entrance, Please Knock Loudly.

That's so Christina Price will be sure to hear it while working in her store, packed to the brim with everything from monogrammed bath towels to tablecloths to candles that smell of spring gardens.

"I have to train my clients" on where to park, Price said one morning last week as she stood outside the Linen Closet on Swinton Avenue, watching construction crews attack a pretty yellow building that looks more like a place for homes instead of cars.

It's a parking garage in disguise, with 202 spaces inside that will make shoppers and business owners such as Price very happy, especially now that the season is in full gear.

She stood near four parking spaces that came with the building she moved into two years ago.

She encourages her clients to park there and to knock loudly on the locked back door, just as the signs says, so she can let them in.

Though there's a perfectly fine entrance to her store on Swinton Avenue, the parking situation in front is far from fine.

But that soon could change.

The five-level parking garage on First Avenue south of Atlantic Avenue will be handed to the city once it opens, which is expected by Jan. 15.

Developer Bill Morris made a deal with the city almost five years ago that he would build a public parking garage and give Worthing Park a $100,000 makeover in exchange for maximizing height and density in the construction of Worthing Place, a six-story building for condominiums and retail.

Construction is expected to begin this spring on 3 acres of land between Southeast First and Southeast Second avenues.

The parking garage will be dedicated to Robert "Bob" Federspiel, the only lawyer in the 20-year history of the city's community redevelopment agency, who died last year in a car accident in North Carolina.

Worthing Place, the first large project approved by the city, was expected to be finished by now, but plans were put on hold because another developer filed a lawsuit claiming the project was too large.

The venture was stalled in litigation for more than three years, ending in Morris' favor.

The designs and the controversy jump-started the city's downtown master plan, designed to keep large buildings away from a city that prides itself on a small-town feel.

Though many residents believe the city still offers that charm, the downtown is luring more and more people to the area: residents, shoppers, tourists, all who want to experience Delray Beach, all who make hunting for a parking space as frustrating as risking a shopping trip to a mall on Christmas Eve.

"We didn't know it was going to be this bad," said Sharon Johnsen, who opened 9 South Cafe, a Caribbean-style restaurant, just three weeks ago.

She's already had problems finding a place to park her car. And when trucks arrive to unload shipments, they cause traffic jams and headaches for Johnsen.

"People have complained about parking at night," she said. "I'm struggling here. It's a problem."

The 35-foot-tall garage behind Worthing Park cost Morris $7.6 million to build, more than twice what it would have five years ago, he said.

"It was very frustrating having to sit on the sidelines," said Morris, a Delray Beach resident and president of Southcoast Partners. "The city wanted the residential and the retail, and they very badly needed the parking."

Elsewhere downtown, the city and the CRA have teamed up to build a 500-space parking garage next to Old School Square, which should help alleviate downtown's chronic parking woes.

Back when Morris first wanted to build, people called the downtown sleepy. But now it's packed with buildings where residential units sit atop retail.

For the still-unbuilt Worthing Place, Morris has sold 60 of the 217 condominiums so far and plans to launch an aggressive sales campaign in the new year.

He's confident his condominiums will be sold because, he said, they are in a good location and will offer amenities that many others don't, such as maid service, dog walkers and bathrooms that look like they belong in the Four Seasons.

Condo prices will range from $350,000 to $650,000, and the first floor will total 12,000 square feet of retail space.

"I wish we would've been able to get this finished a long time ago," Morris said. "We're having to work harder at the selling process. A year ago people would've been lined up around the block."

But since his plans were announced, "the city has gotten better," he said.

"We have one of the neatest towns, not just in Florida, but in the country," he said. "We've got a lot of business nearby. We have a lot of substance in the area. You can come home, put your car away and walk safely to so many places to eat and drink. We really have that more than anybody else does."

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