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1920s-era apartment-and-retail building fetches $17M in Palm Beach

Darrell Hofheinz

May 24, 2022 11:30 AM

A New York City-based real estate investment firm bought the courtyard building at 184 Sunset Ave., which has 23 one-bedroom rental apartments along with storefronts on the ground floor.

A landmarked mixed-use building built in 1924 with ground level shops and 23 courtyard rental apartments has sold off market for a recorded $17 million on the North End of Palm Beach

A Delaware limited partnership controlled by Benchmark Real Estate Group in New York City bought the building at 184 Sunset Ave., the deed shows. Benchmark is a real estate investment and management firm that specializes in “multifamily assets” primarily in New York City, its website says.

The seller was a limited partnership controlled by financier and seasonal Palm Beach resident Sean Conlon. He is a principal, co-founding partner and CEO of Chicago-based Conlon & Co., a merchant bank and asset-and-fund management advisory firm with roots in the real estate industry.

Conlon confirmed the sale earlier this month in an exclusive interview with the Palm Beach Daily News.

Conlon runs a satellite of Conlon & Co. and his family office out of one of the Sunset Avenue building’s three storefronts. He also moved into one of the apartments in the three-story, Mediterranean-style building and handplanted the bougainvillea that covers much of the courtyard walls, he said, adding that the building was one of his “passion” projects.

Conlon’s ownership entity bought the building 12 years ago during the Great Recession for $2.9 million through a Delaware-registered limited partnership named after the property’s address. He had been part of the building’s former ownership’s investment group when the building changed hands in 2010, he said.

With 14,086 square feet, the building has arcaded storefronts along North County Road that are home to longtime tenant Top Cycle Palm Beach bicycle shop and the Helen Ficalora jewelry boutique. During its history, the building has been known as The Biltmore Apartments and by its current name, Mizner Court.

The buyer paid $1,207 per square foot for the building, based on its total square footage.  

The building is expected to continue operating as an apartment rental building with shops, according to sources familiar with the sale. The buyer is said to be planning improvements to the property. 

Jordan Vogel and Aaron Feldman co-founded Benchmark Real Estate Group in 2009 and serve as co-principals with Brian Dooley, who joined the company in 2018, according to the firm’s website.

In a brief emailed statement, Feldman said the design and vintage of the property “really appeals to us as real estate people who appreciate unique architecture and prefer restoration versus new development. There is so much value to good design and craftsmanship, just in terms of having a positive impact on the community. And we’re excited to further express that positive feeling as we execute our vision for a casual, inspired, lively and effortless place to live and enjoy the Palm Beach lifestyle.” 

Feldman signed an $8 million mortgage on the property on behalf of the general partner of the buying entity, 184 Sunset Benchmark LP, the mortgage document shows. The latter’s general partner, 184 Sunset Benchmark LLC, is a Delaware limited liability company. Valley National Bank holds the mortgage.

Palm Beach real estate broker Zach Baraf acted as a consultant in the private sale and worked with the seller and the buyer, he confirmed. Baraf, founder and principal of The Stanwich Group in Palm Beach, said the transaction closed May 5 but declined to discuss specifics of the deal.

The deed for the sale recorded May 16. 

From the archives: Historic apartment building with storefronts at 184 Sunset Ave. listed at $5.5 million

Conlon said he had enjoyed owning the building but the sale price was too tempting to refuse. 

“I was getting amazing offers,” he said, adding that he had five back-up bids from would-be buyers had the first deal fallen through.

Facing a narrow central courtyard, the building is U-shaped with one-bedroom, one-bathroom units of about 650 square feet each. In addition, the building offers 1,800 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and a basement.  

The building is a rarity in Palm Beach, where the supply of multi-family rental buildings is limited. On the North End and in Midtown, the largest rental building is a lakefront building at 333 Sunset Ave. on the opposite end of the street.  

It is also located in the Royal Poinciana Way commercial district, which has undergone a renaissance of sorts over the past few years with redevelopment projects, including the Via Flagler by the Breakers mixed-use project and the revamp of the landmarked Royal Poinciana Plaza.

Mizner Court was granted landmark-protection status by the town in 1996. According to a report prepared for that designation, the building was designed by architect Bruce Kitchell for owner Palm Beach Realty Co.  

Its architectural features include archways, columns, corbels and balconies with wrought-iron railings. The building also offers beach access a block to the east.  

The report described the building as a “highly picturesque Mediterranean Revival apartment group from the town’s great period of development” in the mid-1920s.  

“The building was part of a larger design that developed the heart of Palm Beach into an expensive block of buildings that ranged from ultra-modern apartments (The Biltmore Apartments) to commercial offices for prominent brokers, real estate agents and other professional businesses,” the report said. 

In addition to its Chicago headquarters, Conlon’s company has offices in Dallas, New York, Los Angeles and London. Conlon founded Conlon & Co. with former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daly.

Conlon’s primary home is on St. Croix, he said. 

Property records show Conlon’s company purchased the building on Sunset Avenue from Daniel Colnaghi and and Warren Colnaghi. 

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