A Wellington-based developer wants to buy the village’s last large developable piece of property along State Road 7 for $54 million, with a plan to build a mixed-use, walkable project.
W & W VIII LLC submitted what is known as an unsolicited offer to Wellington to buy the roughly 66-acre property that is on the southwest corner of State Road 7 and Stribling Way. The company is owned and managed by Jim Ward and Patricia Holloway, a father-daughter team that runs Ward Real Estate, which has offices on South Shore Boulevard.
Ward and Holloway also developed Village Green Center, which is just across the street from K-Park on the northwest corner of State Road 7 and Stribling and is home to Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, PDQ and Taco Bell, among others.
Ward and Holloway pitched an overview of their initial plans to Wellington’s council during the monthly agenda review workshop on Monday. Council members seemed receptive, with Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone absent, and provided Wellington’s staff with consensus to move forward on continuing the conversation with Ward and Holloway.
The pitch from Ward and Holloway comes a few months after Wellington received notice from the North London Collegiate School that it would like to build the first U.S. campus of its private K-12 international school on the western portion of K-Park.
Village Manager Jim Barnes told the council during Monday’s workshop that Wellington last heard from the school’s representatives about three and a half weeks ago. The school had requested a long-term lease on about 35 acres of the property land, while Ward and Holloway propose to buy the entire thing.
The possibility of sale rather than a lease seemed to appeal to council members.
And this isn’t the first time Ward and Holloway have shown interest in developing K-Park. They brought another proposal forward about 10 years ago to develop a mixed-use project at the site, which Wellington currently leases to an organic farm.
“We get a lot of calls from potential tenants who want to be in Wellington, but they can’t figure out what to do about the mall (at Wellington Green) or they can’t find a good location,” Ward said. “So what’s happening now is a lot of them are going out to Westlake, looking out there, or they’re going to the new center across from Costco on Southern,” he said, referring to the Tuttle Royale project that is being developed in Royal Palm Beach.
The Mall at Wellington Green has posed an issue in luring tenants to Ward Real Estate’s Wellington properties he said, noting that it is “a very complicated situation” because the mall has five owners. He believes the mall eventually will be torn down, but it will take time “before the mall gets straightened out.”
Ward said the team drew inspiration from other thriving mixed-use centers, including the Avalon and Halcyon centers in Alpharetta, Georgia, and the Woodlands development near Houston.
“It would be, I think, a really great use of the property,” he said.
Timing is very important, Ward said. Barnes later noted that if Wellington is interested in the sale, the staff could lay the groundwork for any possible project by working now on land use and zoning changes.
The project has evolved in the 10 years since Ward and Holloway initially pitched a plan for K-Park, Holloway said.
“There’s thousands of tenants,” she said. “Once we know that we have this, we go to work and I find the tenants. … We have a knack for being able to find the tenants and bring them to the market.”
At the heart of the project is a plan for a pedestrian-friendly area with shops and restaurants, Ward said.
Mayor Anne Gerwig asked how, if Wellington moves forward with the sale, council members should respond when asked by residents why K-Park isn’t being developed as a park.
“How do I tell someone that, OK, but we wanted that purchase price because we need it to spend on the items that we have on the table that are for your benefit?” she said.
“I think that’s what you just said,” Ward said. “It’s paying for a lot of things that you want to do for them.”
Wellington, as the Acme Improvement District, originally bought the land in 2003 with utility money as a holding area for the wastewater treatment process, Barnes said.
Here’s a quick history of K-Park, assembled by village staff:
In 2006, Wellington had considered developing K-Park into a multipurpose parks and recreation site with a community center, aquatics complex, athletic fields, a tennis center and more. That plan was scrapped, and in the years since, Wellington has built those facilities on other properties.
After New London Collegiate School’s proposal came in, Wellington ordered two appraisals of K-Park. One came in at $39.7 million, and the other came in at $46.4 million.
The money from the sale could help Wellington balance future budgets, as the village emerges from a five-year plan to hold the tax rate steady, Councilman John McGovern said.
“At some point, I think that what we hear, what I’m hearing, with some more grave certainty from Ms. (Tanya) Quickel, is that we won’t be able to hold the millage rate where it is without some infusion of capital,” he said.
Councilman Michael Drahos said he would have to be sure the project is “something that’s not your run-of-the-mill, forgettable development project, but something that’s going to enhance the lifestyle of Wellington.”
Councilwoman Tanya Siskind asked if something could be included in a sale that would hold the land’s purchaser to a certain concept or plan.
“I think because we own the land, we should dictate the terms of what we want, and if they want to buy it, they can, and if they think our terms are too onerous, they don’t have to buy it,” Drahos said.
Ward and Holloway said their vision for the property is one that would be a boon for Wellington and its residents.
“We have come to you guys every time that we’ve had a project and said, ‘Here’s our vision. Does it go along with your vision?'” Holloway said.
Ultimately, council members decided to direct village staff to move forward with the discussion with Ward and Holloway.
“I think we’d be shooting ourself in the foot if we didn’t entertain the offer and have the discussion,” Siskind said.
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