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Cartoonistry: West Palm Beach finally ‘looking down’ on Palm Beach?

By David Willson / Special to the Daily News

In 1981, Palm Beach real estate developer Robert Armour began construction of the Plaza condominium on the waterfront of downtown West Palm Beach. Armour had a strong conviction that the area had grown enough to warrant a luxury high-rise condominium that would attract big money buyers from the island.

The twin 32-story towers were an ambitious project that, at the time, was the largest real estate development in West Palm Beach history. Unfortunately, despite a slick marketing campaign with the slogan, “The only address in Florida that gives you a reason to look down on Palm Beach,” Armour’s convictions proved wrong.

Construction of the first tower was interrupted when the bank stopped funding due to poor sales. Armour had to secure additional investors before the bank would agree to proceed further. But sales continued to lag and shortly after the Plaza condominium was opened in October 1985, the bank foreclosed.

Along came Donald Trump and Lee Iacocca a few months later and scooped up the unsold units at auction. After restructuring some apartments and amenities, the newly rebranded Trump Plaza had it grand opening in November 1986. Trump planned to sell the more than 200 remaining units within a year and a half. That didn’t happen either.

While Armour had counted on Palm Beach buyers, Trump probably looked to attract wealthy New York transplants. Local real estate agents were complaining that the units were overpriced at $275,000 to $960,000, but Trump planned to further increase prices 15 to 20 percent.

In mid-1990, the condominium remained only 50 percent occupied when Trump’s entire real estate empire came under fire from creditors. In an agreement with the bank, more than 120 unsold condos were unloaded in two separate auctions for roughly half their original price.

A couple of years later, the Trump Plaza sign was removed from the building. But condo owners feared further devaluation of their property, so they voted to restore it. While Trump no longer had an interest in the property, he graciously offered to pay for the reinstallation. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to poke a little fun at the whole thing with my Feb. 13, 1994 Palm Beach Daily News editorial cartoon.

Truth is, the Trump Plaza turned out to be a great building and is doing quite nicely now. It was just a building that was ahead of its time. And that time has apparently arrived.

The Bristol, a 69-unit ultra-luxury condominium adjacent to the Royal Park Bridge, is reportedly almost sold out as it nears completion. Its average unit is 4,500 sq. ft. and runs roughly $10 million. Palm Beacher Sydell Miller recently purchased the entire unfinished 24th floor for $42.56 million. Another 25-story, 83-unit luxury condo, La Clara, has just been announced nearby at 1515 S. Flagler Drive. Its 1,500 to more than 3,000 sq. ft. units will start at $2 million. It was quite a different story than 40 years ago!

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