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Boynton construction coming back; remodeling on the rise – Sun

Vicki Wiltse and her husband had some spare money, an old house and a cramped, ugly kitchen. It was time to remodel.

“We took down the whole entire wall, put a wrap-around bar; brand new granite,” said Wiltse, 55, who recently paid $130,000 for a Boynton Beach house that she’s almost done renovating. All that’s left is to hang the pictures and throw a house-warming party this weekend.

In Boynton Beach, small-scale residential construction is on the rise, according to city workers who approve permits. That means more people, such as the Wiltses, are beautifying their kitchens, repairing their roofs and installing new air conditioners.

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The upward trend is a portent of better times, says Nancy Byrne, interim director of the Boynton Beach Development Department. People have been saving and struggling since the crash, and now, with some money but not enough to buy new, they’re investing in their homes, she speculated.

Byrne predicts construction in Palm Beach County‘s third-largest city could reach 2007 levels by the end of September.

“Things are really on the upswing,” she said.

In Leisureville, a cookie-cutter senior community on the west edge of the city, Eric Nelson, 77, spruced up the living room and kitchen of his 1970s winter home. The kitchen, he said, “was a large closet” with rotting cupboards and “cheesy” décor.

“It was dreary to go down there,” said Nelson, who spends most of the year in Concord, Mass. “And it shouldn’t be dreary to go down to Florida.”

In February 2011 he applied for a permit and had a contractor make it like new.

In the 2006-2007 fiscal year construction in Boynton Beach reached astronomical heights. The Development Department issued 5,452 permits for construction valued at $244 million.

Then it all deflated. Construction in the next year was a third of the previous value, and it kept tumbling. By 2008-2009, the total value of construction in Boynton Beach was $38.3 million, according to the city Building Division.

Byrne’s office was gutted. During the recession, she lost 12 staff positions. But now there are signs of relief, and her staff is getting busier.

Much of the increase was fueled by residential remodeling, but she said there has also been an uptick in large commercial jobs. Boynton Beach will be home to the largest green-energy apartment complex in the country when construction on Seabourn Cove on South Federal Highway is finished. And Publix added liquor stores or drive-through pharmacies to three of its four locations in the city.

“We’ve lost a lot of people, so we’re learning new ways to do business,” Byrne said, including having construction go forward at-risk, or before a permit is officially approved.

Byrne said she plans to ask the City Commission for more employees and will back up the request with data she compiled that shows permit fee revenue climbing along with the increased construction. Permits typically cost 2.3 percent of the construction value.

Family decisions to remodel — such as the one Arnold and Susan Braitman made to tear out their walls — are helping to fuel the comeback. They had a 30-year-old kitchen, out-of-date wallpaper and old flooring in their Boynton Beach home.

“We updated it and made it more modern,” said Arnold Braitman, 69.

Tim Gietz is the Wellington contractor who steered the Braitmans’ home transformation. He said much of his work has come from homeowners who have purchased homes on the cheap.

“I’ve seen a big pick-up this year,” said Gietz, who has four jobs out and a potential fifth on the way. “I think people have seen that the housing market is at the bottom.”

bwolford@tribune.com or 561-243-6602 or Twitter @benwolford

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