| Palm Beach Post
LAKE WORTH BEACH — Business is starting to come back in downtown Lake Worth Beach.
That’s a surprise even to Joan Oliva, executive director of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
“We’re having a kind of resurgence in downtown, which is somewhat amazing during a pandemic,” Oliva said.
Affordable real estate, a motivated CRA and some willing entrepreneurs are giving the city’s business climate a boost amid the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
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The latest project? A 121-unit retail and office development at 1715 N. Dixie Highway that was recently green-lighted by the CRA board. The new enterprise is slated to be built next to The MID, a sleek, 230-unit luxury apartment building scheduled to begin a partial opening in October.
“Real estate is very attractive in Lake Worth Beach, even in a pandemic,” Oliva said. “People are realizing the amazing opportunities this city has to offer.”
Daniel de Liege is one of those people.
A Palm Beach County native and former CEO of a biofuels company, de Liege is starting not one, but two businesses at the same location in the city.
First up is a vodka distillery — Dr. Spirits Co. — that will be manufacturing hand-crafted vodka on the premises. The business will initially serve primarily as a distributor of its vodka, but will also include a tasting room where customers can try samples.
Sharing space with the distillery at 604 Lake Ave. will be Doc Holliday’s BBQ Sports Grill, which will be serving up Texas-style barbecue with a Wild West theme.
Before settling on Lake Worth Beach, de Liege said he toured locations from Savannah, Ga., south to Key West.
“We had a lot of choices,” de Liege said.
Being local, de Liege was well aware of Lake Worth Beach’s reputation — the good and the bad.
“When they approached me to come to Lake Worth, I said, ‘Look, I’ve seen it. I’ve been there. Done it. I don’t believe it,'” he said.
But de Liege was persuaded enough by what he heard from the local CRA that he rejected a bid he was strongly considering from St. Augustine, which was offering an attractive deal that included space inside a historic building.
“The CRA here gets it,” de Liege said.
The CRA recently awarded $50,000 to David Kislin, de Liege’s landlord, to aid in the construction build-out for the distillery and BBQ joint.
De Liege said he’s aiming for the distillery to be open in time for the Street Painting Festival in late February. The 3,000-square foot space will include a copper pot still “which is what moonshiners have been using since the dawn of time,” he said.
The distillery will produce Dr’s Handcrafted Vodka — created by de Liege and his team during an 18-month process. He’s planning to distribute the brand from his Lake Avenue location as well as provide in-store sales.
A bill making its way in the Florida Legislature would allow distillers to sell spirits by the glass and permit de Liege to provide bar service. It could become law next year.
A glass partition will separate the distillery from the 5,000-square-foot barbecue restaurant. The first brisket won’t be sold until “COVID clears,” de Liege said.
What de Liege is certain of is that Lake Worth Beach “is the place for us to be.”
“As we got to understanding the dynamics of Lake Worth Beach, the turnaround that seems to be on the horizon here, we felt that this would be a great place to grow with the city,” he said.
Long-term survival for downtown ventures like de Liege’s could be dependent on the increased client base provided by residential developments like The MID or the long-hoped-for reopening of the Gulfstream Hotel, which has been shuttered since 2005.
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Downtown business owners salivate at the thought of hundreds of tourists staying at the Gulfstream strolling four blocks to their restaurants, vintage shops and bars.
In March, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question designed to allow the historic hotel to be renovated and reopened.
But that was before the pandemic scared off financial institutions.
Amrit Gill, part of a husband-and-wife team of developers from St. Louis who announced plans earlier this year to buy the Gulfstream and embark on a $100 million renovation project, told residents recently that financing the deal “remains an issue.”
Gill said he was “very confident” that loans will be secured, but added the pandemic “has chased a lot of people from lending.”
An agreement with the hotel’s current owners allows for two more months to purchase the property, Gill said. If that takes place, Gill said he hopes to begin renovations in March with an eye to opening near the end of 2022.
“We know what that hotel means, not only to our history, but also for what the future holds for our city,” Mayor Pam Triolo said. “We have a lot of mom-and-pop operations that need that constant flow of traffic and business to them. This hotel, everyone knows, is the catalyst for that.”