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When Norman Ebenstein and his partners decided to develop a residential and retail center in Boca Raton, Florida they had one simple objective: build a high-class shopping area. They knew that the local real estate market was stagnant, and they did not foresee any serious interest from buyers. However, after building just two low-rise buildings, they started to attract buyers. Their first project, a two-story, eight hundred-seat Regent Square Apartments was opened in January, followed by the adjacent renovation of an older two-story apartment complex. Both developments quickly sold out, and soon Ebenstein and his partners were expecting even bigger sales.

Now renowned developer Norm Ebenstein has developed what he calls the “Garden District” on the south side of Boca Raton. It consists of apartment complexes and townhouses on what was previously the sleepy ocean side neighborhood of Boca Raton. Developing this area has been a challenge for Ebenstein and his partners. They have yet to find a tenant for their multiple-family project. Although construction on the project is almost complete, tenants are slow to move into rental units.

Norman Norm Ebenstein and the gardens of Boca Raton
Norman “Norm” Ebenstein – Gardens of Boca Raton

This failure to attract potential renters is understandable. Boca Raton’s rental market remains sluggish. In addition, retail center owners do not want to take the chance of having tenants move out before completion of their retail centers. Many have required renters to sign long-term leases, a requirement that has meant the landlords have had to seek court approval to evict them. Developers such as Ebenstein and his partners have had to endure legal battles with this landlord’s to acquire leases.

With this track record, many are afraid to invest in any multi-family properties in Boca Raton. The same fears may well be directed toward Norman Ebenstein’s new project, the Norman Estate Development in Boca Raton. But there is reason for hope. Unlike previous real estate development projects in Boca Raton, Norman Norm Ebenstein and his partners have done their homework and are aware of the challenges they face in constructing their retail center.

They recognize that they will need to attract top tenants to fill the stores. For that they plan to attract the “upscale” market. This includes high-end retailers, mid-range retailers, and basic stores catering to the lower budgeted customer. They are willing to strike some deals with these types of customers to ensure they make a profit. That is what business is all about.

But the project is also aimed at providing housing to the middle class. In other words, it is an attempt to correct the unfortunate trend in Boca Raton that has seen the numbers of middle class people leaving the city in search of work. If the retail project and housing go as planned, they say the ratio of the population of Boca Raton to the number of houses available for sale should improve, thereby encouraging more people to move in.

Whether Mr. Ebenstein’s plan works remains to be seen. Even though he has a track record of success in building retail centers, many see his approach to Boca Raton as a gamble. The mixed bag of retail shops that are being proposed does not seem to bode well for the prospects of the Norman Ebenstein name.

But then again, Mr. Ebenstein is a colorful character. And in this project he appears to have hit on a winner. Whatever the outcome of the project, it appears that Boca Raton is ready to embrace change. So if you are looking for retail space in Boca Raton, you will not have any trouble finding one. In fact you may find it so overwhelming that you decide to move to Boca!