Charles Cohen came to West Palm Beach on Monday to tout his plan for renovating the old Carefree Theatre site into a mixed-use project, which has so far failed to win approval from city officials. Photo above is a rendering of El Cordova.

“This project will draw attention from all over the country,” Cohen, CEO of New York City-based Cohen Brothers Realty, said at a luncheon held by the business group Economic Forum of Palm Beach County.

The development at the Carefree Theatre site at 2000-2100 South Dixie Highway includes two buildings. One would have seven floors containing six auditoriums (750 seats in total) for classic, independent and foreign films. The ground floor would have two restaurants and the top three floors would house 58 high-end apartments.

The second building would have five floors, encompassing three or four upscale furniture showrooms on the ground floor and 39 high-end apartments on the top four floors. The properties together would total 191,410 square feet.

“This is a project where design, art and film will combine to create a unique opportunity,” Cohen said.


Rendering of El Flamingo

“This is a legacy project for my family,” which has owned some of New York’s signature commercial buildings, he added. “This will greatly enhance South Dixie real estate on many levels.”

But so far Cohen hasn’t impressed city officials, who rejected his plan in September as too large for current code. The buildings would sit in the middle of a low-rise commercial district adjacent to neighborhoods with single-family homes.

Some real estate pros and city officials expect Cohen to revise his plan to a smaller scale, but he voiced no intention of shrinking the project during the lunch meeting.

“The access to cultural activity will help the city’s competitive edge,” Cohen said. “It brings residents and tourists. That brings companies, which mean jobs.”

Cohen Brothers plans 500 underground parking spaces for the development. It also intends to beautify the two-block area, with paving, lighting, benches and landscaping. The South Dixie Highway corridor has sizzled in recent months, with a $60 million renovation underway at the Norton Museum of Art and restaurants and shops sprouting up throughout the area.

“This will be the southern anchor for the South Dixie arts and design district,” Cohen told The Real Deal in May. 

Cohen Brothers owns and manages more than 12 million square feet of commercial property around the United States, including the Design Center of the Americas (DCOTA) in Dania Beach.

Some residents have complained about the project’s size, its many uses and traffic. Cohen told TRD in May that he wasn’t too impressed with the criticism.

“People have to understand the size of the sites,” he said. “You need site lines for movies — 30-foot high ceilings.” The multiple uses are what will make it a destination, he said. And they’re needed to make it work financially too. “The apartments subsidize the art house theaters,” Cohen said.

“If the town doesn’t want a cultural and art house magnet, then do something else. Now you have two derelict sites and overgrown weeds.”

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