by Kimberly Miller for Palm Beach Post USA TODAY NETWORK
September 8, 2022
A luxury apartment complex with a glistening skybridge dubbed the Golden Gate of West Palm Beach broke ground with little hype over the blistering summer months and under a newcomer to multi-family developments in South Florida.
The complex, named Tortoise One, is expected to open in the spring of 2024 with 264 studio, one- and two-bedroom residences between 6th Street and 8th Street where downtown West Palm Beach is oozing north.
Jake Geleerd, president and co-founder of Tortoise Properties, bought the 2.5 acres of land at 740 and 840 N. Dixie Highway in December for $18.8 million with the approvals already in place for two eight-story buildings that will straddle Eucalyptus Street.
The previous owner was Nader Salour, principal of Jupiter-based Cypress Realty, which built and opened Loftin Place apartments in 2015 on North Olive
Avenue between 6th Street and Eucalyptus Street. Salour had planned on building apartments named Cielo, Spanish for sky, on the land but flipped it to Geleerd instead.
“Obviously they offered us terms and conditions we found acceptable,” Salour said about selling the prime downtown real estate between the Intracoastal Waterway and the planned Nora arts and entertainment district. “At the same time, we got involved in a much larger project, so the timing worked out well.”
Geleerd said he’s bullish on West Palm Beach because it’s growing with transplants from the Northeast and California, is pro-business and supportive of development. Geleerd commutes between homes in West Palm Beach and Highland Park, north of Chicago.
“This is our first ground-up, multifamily complex in West Palm Beach but I’ve done 20 of them in other states and cities,” said Geleerd. “These will be built with the newest and best materials, luxury and first class, top service. It will be true luxury living.”
One of the signature features of the apartments will be a floor-to-ceiling glass skybridge suspended over Eucalyptus Street that Geleerd called the Golden Gate of West Palm Beach. He named his company and the apartments after the tortoise because the reptile has a reputation for being wise, methodical and it “always wins the race.”
Rental prices for the apartments have not been determined, but there is no affordable housing element in Tortoise One. Geleerd said he is eyeing other properties in West Palm Beach and could include affordable housing in new projects.
“We are happy to do affordable as we do more and more, and we are looking at more sites in West Palm Beach and other parts of the county,” Geleerd said.
Tortoise One also will have about 3,400 square feet of retail space on the bottom floor.
A handful of other apartment projects are completed or in the works in or near downtown West Palm Beach with more than 1,000 apartment units added during the past few years.
Those include the 315-unit Broadstone City Center, at 410 Datura St.; the 290unit Park-Line, between Datura and Evernia streets west of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks; the 205-unit The Alexander, at 333 Fern St.; and the 300-unit Casa Mara at 3111 S. Dixie Highway.
But developers and economists said more homes and apartments are needed to meet demand and mitigate rental prices that skyrocketed during the pandemic.
The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in West Palm Beach is about $1,652-a-month, down from a peak of $1,811 in May, according to online rental finder Zumper. A two-bedroom apartment costs about $2,193, down from $2,366 in May.
In February 2020, a two-bedroom apartment in West Palm Beach rented for about $1,450 — less than a one bedroom today.
“We absolutely need more units both to own and to rent,” said Florida Atlantic University real estate economist Ken Johnson.
That could be especially true in West Palm Beach, which has recently been nicknamed “Wall Street South” because of the number of New York financial businesses putting down roots in the city.
West Palm Beach real estate developer Sam Fisch, who is buying, building and renovating residential and commercial properties south of downtown, said lease and purchase-price declines over the summer is indicative of the market trying to find a stable footing after an unsustainable climb.
“The migration here is real and it’s of a magnitude bigger than the past and there is a housing shortage,” Fisch said. “We are growing from a small city into a good medium-size city. If you go to any other big city in America, they will say we are living in a sleepy little town.”
Tortoise Properties began building in Palm Beach County in 2017. Its portfolio includes the Jupiter Innovation Center at 1701 Military Trail, which leases to several high-profile tenants including Jupiter Medical Center, jet-engine producer Florida Turbine and National Dentex.
It also has a 172,000-square-foot office campus at 1501 Yamato Road in Boca Raton.
The company secured an $88.5 million construction loan from Acore Capital in July shortly before it broke ground on the apartment complex.
“In an interest rate environment where a lot of lenders are backing down and projects not getting funded, we had many options,” Geleerd said. “That’s a testament to the demonstrated track record and strength of Tortoise Properties.”
Kimberly Miller is a veteran journalist for The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA Today Network of Florida. She covers real estate and how growth affects South Florida’s environment. If you have news tips, please send them to email@example.com.