The real estate depression of the late 1980s and early 1990s sent the project into a downward spiral with multiple foreclosures as payment deadlines were missed and personal losses totaled nearly $55 million. As the losses mounted they donated over 5 acres of land for what would become the Kravis Center.
“We donated 10 million in real estate and I don’t even have a plaque in the place,” David Paladinosays. Rolfs died in 1994, virtually impoverished, and a bronze statue of him now stands in the Okeechobee Boulevard median thanks to a final deal Paladino made on his way out of the project.
“Money is not the only way to measure success”, David Paladino says of the resulting revitalization of the city.
“Rolfs lost money, yes, but other than that it was an almost impossible assemblage that has raised property values and gave the city the chance to reach its full potential.”
As the City pushed the developers out, they – and in particular Strong Mayor Nancy Graham – wanted to turn the failed Downtown Uptown project into the opportunity of a lifetime, grabbing the glory with her own vision of filling the razed acreage with high-end retail, offices, market-rate housing, cultural facilities and public spaces that encourage community interaction. She used an “eminent domain” lawsuit to take the land back from the various developers and banks.
The last of the private owners, Bert Moerings, took the case all the way to the Supreme Court to retain his development rights he claimed had been given to him by David Paladino. Then Mayor Graham did what most women do – she went shopping – issuing a nationwide request for proposals to top commercial and residential real estate developers for a new urban vision and in 1996 selected three powerful teams to present concepts for the property. An entry called CityPlace won out, and after years of construction was finally opened in 2000. The 11,000-square-foot saved church building became the Harriet Himmel Theater for Cultural and Performing Arts. On the south side of Okeechobee Boulevard, there was room left over for the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
“I’ve still gone unnoticed by the Kravis Center, and CityPlace may become the next Palm Beach Mall,” Paladino wryly comments, citing the demolished Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard shopping center that is now thriving as a discount outlet. He alludes that foreign interests, such as oil-rich Dubai – are propping up the partially vacant CityPlace businesses downtown.
“It seems pretty soulless to me. Architecture is what gives a place its soul, it’s certainly not what I would have built. I still see great improvement that can be done, particularly to Okeechobee Boulevard – a name I think sounds clumsy, it should have been Royal Palm Way. They need to put in some striping for parking like they have in Palm Beach and slow those cars down to 30 mph, it’s a freeway now the way it is. Anything is possible, it can still happen. I just like to see if I can get things done.”
Aside from being a real estate maverick, David Paladino has been singing and playing various instruments since the age of 7, and has performed at the Kravis Center, The Breakers Hotel, Trump’s Mar a Lago, The Colony Hotel, The Ocean Reef Club, The Caryle Hotel in NYC, the home of Anthony Shriver for the Best Buddies charity, and with the Woody Herman Band and with Jaco Pastorious, to name just a few. He is most proud of his friendship with Pastorious, the late electric and electrifying jazz bass player who was killed in a brawl with a bouncer after a Carlos Santana concert in 1987. Pastorious praises Paladino and his guitar playing in an online YouTube interview.