WEST PALM BEACH — For some folks in West Palm Beach, Tuesday’s election will be about 8111 South Dixie Highway.
Never heard of it?
Neither had we, until November 2012. That’s when West Palm Beach Commissioner Shanon Materio got the city to buy the seven acres at the southern border of the city for $2.9 million, $500,000 more than its appraised value.
Materio, who’s up for reelection Tuesday in District 5 in city’s south side against challenger Christina Lambert, thought getting the acreage was a great idea. She was a rookie, having just been appointed to the seat left vacant by the 2012 death of beloved Commissioner Bill Moss, yet she managed to get it done.
“Things are starting to pick up in the commercial market,” Materio said to justify her pushing for the purchase at the time. “And now is the time to get this crafted so we can look at possibly pulling the trigger a year from now. Going into the new year as banks start to loosen up the stranglehold on commercial lending, it’s the perfect timing.”
Five years later, the seven acres are still sitting there.
And the patch of dirt is what visitors to the city first see when they drive north from downtown Lake Worth — which is probably why it’s surrounded with “Vote Shanon Materio” signs.
Sorta makes you want to turn right around!
“Nothing has happened there in five years because Commissioner Materio is always in the midst of a fight with other members of the commission,” said Bill Newgent, a south side activist who runs rehab projects of historic homes near the empty property. “She can’t get a compromise on what to do there, and we’re dying for something to happen. She (Materio) didn’t have a plan when she make sure the city bought the place, and she still has no plan.”
Newgent said the strategic location of the property makes it one of the most important south of Forest Hill Boulevard.
Yet, he says, the city is not making any revenue from its investment since government properties like 8111 South Dixie are not taxed.
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“It’s a showcase location,” Newgent says. “The fact it’s not back on the tax rolls is why I’ll vote for Christina Lambert. I can’t really pinpoint to what Shanon Materio has done since 2013.”
What still sticks in the throats of folks around here is the fact the purchase of the land pulled the rug from under grocery giant Walmart, which then eyed the property to build one of its then-new neighborhood markets.
Make no mistake about it, however: If Materio was the driving force behind the land deal, her cohorts on the commission bought her belief the land would be good for the city hook, line and sinker.
The board voted for the deal without much as a real debate in public meetings.
Back when The Palm Beach Post still did some work, the dying newspaper’s sleuths figured out Materio’s shadowy friend, campaign consultant and campaign donor Richard Pinsky, a lobbyist, was the one pulling her strings.
The former husband of then-Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell, Materio’s ready-made ally on the commission, Pinsky pushed the land deal on behalf of the seller, SGBK Properties, a subsidiary of the Pompano Beach-based Stonegate Bank.
In time, Materio claimed she didn’t know Pinsky represented the seller.
This being West Palm Beach, however, something else about the sale stunk: Appraisers came up with the value of $2.4 million for the land.
Yet, Pinsky and the bank managed to get the city’s taxpayers to pay $2.9 million.
Materio picked up our call for comment this afternoon but declined comment.