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Corner Office With an Ocean View: How Canadian Architects Are Reimagining Wall Street in West Palm Beach

As Financial Firms Flock to South Florida, Developers Race To Build Office Space

May 12, 2022

A Canadian design team is behind one of the latest office projects looking to take advantage of Wall Street's migration to Florida. (KG&A)
A Canadian design team is behind one of the latest office projects looking to take advantage of Wall Street’s migration to Florida. (KG&A)

It might seem unexpected for an architectural firm from Canada to design outdoor space in South Florida, but for Patrick Fejer, a principal at Toronto-based B+H Architects, the challenge made perfect sense.

The project “speaks to the DNA of Canadians, and there are two types: ones that would buy a convertible, and ones that would say, ‘Why would you buy a convertible if you live in Canada?'” said Fejer, whose firm is designing one of the latest developments in West Palm Beach, an area becoming known as Wall Street South as New York financial firms open more offices.

The answer to the great Canadian convertible question is simple for the Toronto architect: “It’s because we want to enjoy the eight weeks of summer and make the best of it.”

His company is designing a project in West Palm Beach that is making the best of its year-round warm weather surroundings and redesigning the corner office with ocean views.

B+H Architects is part of the design team behind the redevelopment of the historic building at 111 Olive St. in West Palm Beach. Plans call for transforming the former three-floor department store into boutique office space on the top two floors, with ground floor retail and restaurants. His team is also working on developing a glass office tower with 12 floors nearby at 300 Banyan Blvd., a former parking lot.

Brand Atlantic Real Estate Partners bought the sites last year. The project is the latest attempt to cater to Wall Street executives and their companies flocking to West Palm Beach during the pandemic. Major financial companies and hedge funds such as Goldman Sachs and Elliott Management have announced plans to either relocate their headquarters from New York City to West Palm Beach or open hubs there.

“There is a real growth trend in the financial sector, and we are currently working with around 50 financial firms planning to make a move to the Palm Beaches,” said Kelly Smallridge, president and chief executive of the business development board of Palm Beach County, in a report published in November.

Bennett Gale, vice president of Brand Atlantic Real Estate, said West Palm Beach has been at the forefront of Wall Street embracing the South and that, while some thought remote work would slow the appetite to move, it hasn’t happened.

His company’s two projects will offer a combined 142,000 square feet of office space once they are completed, with 111 Olive ready to occupy in the fourth quarter and 300 Banyan completed in the last quarter of 2023.

A department store once anchored the building in West Palm’s Clematis district. (KG&A)

Luring the CEO

The company is building the projects on a speculative basis with no tenants signed, but Gale said wealth management and technology firms have been showing interest.

“There is really a race to deliver space to West Palm Beach,” said Gale. “Tenancy and leasing discussions are ongoing, but we have had a lot of promising discussions. Once CEOs move down, the rest of the [company] will follow.”

Florida cities grabbed 10 of the top 25 spots on U-Haul’s 2021 growth index, which tracks the top destinations for one-way, do-it-yourself moves.

Bennett Gale of Brand Atlantic. (KG&A)

The Sunshine State added about 211,000 residents between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021, the second most in the U.S. after Texas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. New York lost the most residents during that time, shrinking by 319,020 people.

It probably doesn’t hurt sunny Florida’s standing as an attractive destination that it has no state income tax. By comparison, New York City residents face a municipal income tax on top of state and federal taxes.

Palm Beach has long been a playground for the wealthy. Former President Donald Trump lives there after shifting his residence from New York City to his Mar-a-Lago Club. A lot of the people who have moved to West Palm Beach during the pandemic are high-net-worth individuals, said Greg Martin, principal and managing director for Avison Young in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton.

“What occurred during COVID [was] the great accelerator. People who were planning to move to Florida are moving earlier than anticipated and saying, ‘Let’s do it now,'” Martin said.

Different Viewpoint

It’s a lifestyle choice, Martin explained.

“You get a big condo in West Palm Beach, and you find 3,000 square feet” of office space, said Martin. “And instead of looking at the skyline in New York, you are looking at Palm Beach and watching the Intercoastal.”

Gale with Brand Atlantic said he thinks West Palm Beach, which has its own international airport and is connected to a high-speed, private rail line that can whisk people to Miami in just over an hour, is about to head into the next chapter of development.

“The city and business development board have welcomed this commercial and office interest with open arms,” Gale said.

The project is the first in South Florida for West Palm Beach-based Brand Atlantic after managing partners Andrew Dance and Adam Demark founded the company last year. “We are looking at a few other key markets in the south and the southeast,” said Gale.

One of the key components of the project was creating more indoor-outdoor food and beverage options, but Canadian architect Fejer said his group had to overcome some local requirements that say anything with a roof is not true open space, even if it is not enclosed.

“Why can’t we carve out this great space at the base of the building?” he said about the project, which will have parking above it. “There is a roof, so it can’t be called open space. We presented it to the chair [of the local council], and he said this should be open space. The fact that it is covered provides some protection from the elements if it’s too hot or rainy. He said, ‘Why does it take Canadians to define what we call open space in terms of our planning criteria?'”

Brand Atlantic’s project in West Palm Beach offers views of the ocean. (KG&A)

Hot Versus Cold

The design issues are almost the opposite of the far colder climate of Canada — creating patios deep enough to avoid direct sun in Florida. By contrast, his firm would be looking to add electric heaters into slabs back in Toronto to prolong summer.

“There is a battle for amenities, so we created this grand veranda with a reflecting pool and a gym that is a place to be,” said Fejer, adding that the project is designed to attract and retain younger talent. “It needed to be edgy in terms of its design.”

B+H Architects, which has 12 global offices, including studios in Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle, is now looking at setting up an office in Florida.

Patrick Fejer of B+H Architects. (KG&A)

Lockdowns sometimes made designing the project from another country more difficult at the beginning. There was a bit of pushback and “Why did we hire these guys from Canada? They can’t even come into the country,” said Fejer, adding it was a relief to finally be able to “touch the site and see the building.”

But B+H Architects designed the project in partnership with executive architect Spina O’Rourke + Partner, a local Florida firm, and that was helpful.

“We are the authors of the design for the architecture component. We take it to a level of documentation where the design intent is all drawn, and then their team observes the construction,” said Fejer.

Fejer says the views from the project are what will stand out most.

“They are spectacular. We are trying to redesign what the corner office is,” he said.

For the Record

Wheelock Street Capital is a joint venture partner on the project. Gilbane Building Co. is providing pre-construction and construction management at-risk services for the 111 Olive Ave. project.

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