Finally, West Atlantic in Delray Beach to get restaurants, grocery store and housing

In this rendering, the complex takes up three blocks on West Atlantic Avenue east of I-95.

West Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, the neglected sibling of trendy East Atlantic Avenue, is finally getting the restaurants, grocery store and housing that neighbors have been seeking for years.

On Tuesday, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency is set to approve plans for a three-block complex that will have a 33,000-square-foot grocery, 165 apartments, office space, two public parking garages and an open space for public gatherings.

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“We all want something great to happen on West Atlantic Avenue,” City Commissioner Bill Bathurst said. “There are so many points that made this bid a winner.”

When drivers exit east from Interstate 95 and head toward the beach, they drive through West Atlantic, a mostly deserted series of empty lots peppered with the occasional bar or retail store.

Then they hit some government buildings, including the police station, courthouse and library, before having to slow down for the heavily trafficked East Atlantic Avenue, dense with pedestrians, eateries, art galleries, retail stores and apartment complexes.

There have been many proposals over the years on how best to develop the blighted West Atlantic area in the heart of the city’s African American neighborhoods. Most recently, the city was close to selling the land to Uptown Delray, but decided in July to seek new bids after its developer sought a contract extension.

Some residents expressed concern that the new developer, BH3 Management, is getting the property for free.

The agreement to be approved Tuesday calls for a $10 purchase price, although a city appraisal said the land is worth $17 million.

Neil Schiller, attorney for BH3, said the company offered several amenities to sweeten their proposal, including 206 extra parking spaces for the public and 18 workforce housing units that will be available this year.

Schiller said the developer sees the site, in the 600 to 800 blocks of West Atlantic, as a destination for dining and community gathering and also a place for visitors to park and take a shuttle or other transportation to East Atlantic. Parking near the restaurants, art galleries and clubs on East Atlantic has proven a challenge that has spurred complaints from visitors to the city.

“We are delivering aspects that have financial value to the CRA and the public,” Schiller said. “The benefit you’re going to get will outweigh the cash flash you get from selling the property.”

BH3’s pitch included “Atla West,” a retail-office complex that will front West Atlantic. Plans also call for a public open space, the width of a city block, called “Frog Alley,” paying homage to a historic African American neighborhood nearby. Frog Alley was founded in the early 1900s by Caribbean Americans and named for the amphibians that invaded the neighborhood after heavy rains.

There will be 165 apartments, including 12 to be dedicated to police officers, teachers and other middle-class workers, as well as the 18 BH3 already owns that will be available this summer at 11 and 21 SW Sixth Ave. Total parking will consist of about 700 spots in two garages and one lot.

The complex is expected to open to the public in 2022.

Lsolomon@sunsentinel.com

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