The La Clara condominium in West Palm Beach broke ground in March 2019, a time when the biggest appeal of the waterfront project was living in a new, luxury condominium with views of the Intracoastal Waterway, Palm Beach and the ocean.
But today, with the project rising from the ground on the site of the former 1515 Tower condo, the 25-story La Clara is attracting more than the usual collection of buyers downsizing from large homes on Palm Beach or elsewhere in the county, or people seeking warmer climes from the Northeast and Canada.
Residents from cities in the Northeast and Midwest also are buying at La Clara, as they seek a move to Florida because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to Chris Leavitt, executive director of luxury sales at Douglas Elliman Real Estate on Palm Beach.
It’s a trend that’s taking place at homes and condominiums throughout South Florida and Palm Beach County, as buyers snap up new properties as fast as developers can build them.
Sales of La Clara’s million-dollar plus units tell the story. In a recent 10-day span, Leavitt and his team inked 10 contracts at the 1515 S. Flagler Drive condominium.
“It’s almost a deal a day,” Leavitt said. “Some people are flying in for presentations and some are buying (remotely) over FaceTime.”
“The market and sales have surpassed our expectations,” added Niall Collins, Great Gulf President Residential, the project’s Canada-based developer.
Leavitt said some buyers are sought-after hedge fund executives who are moving offices to Palm Beach County and want to secure housing now — even though La Clara won’t be finished for two more years.
Collins said completion of the boutique, 83-unit condominium is set for spring 2023.
Hedge fund offices are being built in existing office space or will be built in new office towers under construction, including 360 Rosemary next to Rosemary Square and One West Palm just north of the courthouse.
Other buyers are eying the planned One Flagler tower — near South Flagler Drive and Okeechobee Boulevard and adjacent to the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Leavitt said. The 25-story tower is set to start construction this summer.
“They’re looking to the future, and we’re about to go into a full-on city,” Leavitt said. “This is the tip of the iceberg.”
The latest sales mean the 83-unit La Clara is half sold with the expectation that the 40 or so units remaining will sell out this season, Leavitt said.
Prices range from $1.6 million to $5 million for standard units, but penthouses sell for more. The top-floor penthouse, still unsold, costs a cool $17 million. Four other penthouses on two floors just beneath the top sell for about $9 million, and two already sold, Leavitt said.
Leavitt said sales perked up when the project began rising from the ground in the fall.
The 25-story La Clara features a modern, contemporary design by architect Siamak Hariri. The styling of La Clara, which means “clear” in Spanish, is intended to bring as much light into the units as possible.
Each unit has a large, private terrace for an extra indoor-outdoor feeling. Building amenities include an outdoor swimming pool with cabanas and outdoor dining area, an indoor fitness center, entertainment room, lounge, private dining room and kitchen. A concierge also will be on site for residents.
Every building has a story, and the 1515 site is exceptionally explosive.
For many years, the property was home to the 1515 Tower condominium, which was built in the 1970s. After the 1515 Tower condo was badly damaged in the 2004 hurricanes, the Trinity Development investor group bought the property with plans to build The Modern.
The Modern had fewer stories than the 30-story 1515 building, but the mass was three times greater. Neighbors opposed the scale and the mass, but Trinity prevailed with city officials and obtained various waivers for setbacks.
When the time came for Trinity to tear down the 1515 condo, it became a social event. On Feb. 14, 2010, in an intricately planned implosion, the high-rise was reduced to a pile of rubble in less than 10 seconds.
After demolition of the 1515 tower, Trinity’s luck imploded, too.
The property slipped into foreclosure when First Commonwealth Bank of Pennsylvania sued Trinity for allegedly failing to repay a $36 million loan. In December 2011, the property was quietly sold for $5.5 million to Terrace Mountain of Austin, Texas.
Terrace Mountain’s Frank Trabold considered building apartments on the site, but the city nixed the plan because he wanted to build 187 units, and the code allowed for only 84 residences.
Terrace Mountain ended up partnering with Great Gulf on the La Clara project.