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Thanks a latte! New lease keeps Subculture Coffee on Clematis Street five more years

SUBCULTURE COFFEE CAN keep brewing at its original Clematis Street store for the next five years after city commissioners, rejecting an earlier staff directive, approved a new lease Monday — exactly one week before the existing lease was set to expire.

“I, for one, am very happy to see this move forward,’’ said Commissioner Christy Fox, who persuaded city officials in June to renegotiate the lease, even though the city attorney in April told Subculture it would be evicted from its city-owned space at 505 and 509 Clematis St. when the current lease expired Oct. 23.

Subculture Coffee “is one of the anchors for the 500 block,’’ said Fox, whose district includes the city’s downtown. “It’s very successful and has a strong following. I'm glad to see this moving forward.’’

Under terms of the five-year lease, Subculture will pay $35.70 per square foot in rent, or $6,643 per month in its first year, followed by a 3 percent increase in each of the next four years. In the fifth year, Subculture will pay $7,477 a month for the 2,233-square-foot space that also includes the vegan restaurant Ve.

Subculture currently pays the city $28.59 a square foot under terms of an agreement signed in 2018.

The new rent is based on an Anderson & Carr appraisal that put the fair-market value of the property at $42 per square foot, Jennifer Ferriol, the city’s housing and community development director, told commissioners. The city settled on charging Subculture $35.70 by following the city’s lease-management policy, which says lease rents on city-owned properties cannot be less than 85 percent of the market rate, she said.

Subculture owner Rodney Mayo said he’s glad the coffeehouse is staying on Clematis Street, but believes the new rent is too high.

“We felt we might lose the space if we did not pay what the city asked for, so we did,’’ he said in a text.

Mayo, who owns 10 downtown businesses and is familiar with real estate trends, said he thinks a reasonable market rate for the 500 block is $30 to $35 per square foot.

Subculture Coffee at 505 and 509 Clematis St. in downtown West Palm Beach.

Despite the higher rent, the new lease represents a positive development for Mayo during a year in which he feuded with a longtime adversary, Mayor Keith James.

Mayo tried to challenge James for the mayor’s seat in the March election, but was kicked off the ballot in January when a judge, ruling in a lawsuit brought by James, disqualified him from the race over a residency violation.

In the weeks after the judge’s ruling, James directed city officials to end two other leases that benefited Mayo, shutting down both the Artist Alley next to Subculture and the popular weekend street closures on the 500 block. At the time, Mayo said he wondered if the Subculture Coffee lease would be next on the city’s retaliatory chopping block.

He said his fears came true when the city in April told him an option to extend the lease was no longer available. Mayo missed a deadline to notify the city of his intent to exercise the option. That deadline was Oct. 23, 2022, a year before the lease was set to expire.

Mayo said he forgot about the deadline. But he wondered why the city waited until April, after his aborted run for mayor, to notify him that he’d missed the deadline six months earlier.

James has denied that the city’s decisions to end the various permits and leases were politically motivated.

As strong-mayor, James cannot vote on the lease; only the City Commission can, but James can vote to break a tie.

Subculture Coffee has three other locations, in Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter and Boca Raton. A Delray Beach branch is in the works, followed by a spot in downtown Lake Worth Beach as part of a new restaurant called Man Ray.

Mayo earlier this week said Man Ray would open “soon.”

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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.

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