Recent Updates:

Delray Center for the Arts Names New CEO

Rob Steele

Rob Steele

Bill Branning, Chairman of the Board of the Delray Beach Center for the Arts, today announced the appointment of Rob Steele as President and Chief Executive Officer of the nonprofit visual and performing arts center that is the anchor of the city’s dynamic cultural community. He succeeds longtime CEO Joe Gillie, whose last day is September 30.

In making the announcement, Branning stated, “Joe took the reins of this organization in its infancy, and under his leadership, developed a cultural center that provides a total arts experience for the community and at the same time, generates continuous economic activity for our downtown. Our nationwide search for his successor aimed to identify a proven leader with the ability build on these successes and raise the Center to even greater heights.  Out of almost 100 applicants, Mr. Steele stood out as the right person with the right skills, talent, experience and energy.  He has a unique background that includes a master’s degree in business administration as well as a successful track record of developing strong non-profit organizations through strategic planning, collaboration, and community engagement.  We’re confident Rob will continue to move the Center forward, and welcome him to the Delray Beach Center for the Arts.”
Steele comes to Delray Beach from Pennsylvania, where he spent the last 10-years as executive director of the Williamsport Community Arts Center, a 2,100-seat, state-of-the-art performing arts center that bills itself as “one of the top venues on the Eastern Seaboard.”
Under Steele’s leadership, the Community Arts Center implemented event analysis and fee negotiation practices, marketing strategies and guest service enhancements that effectively doubled ticket sales in only two years; initiated a community outreach that increased the number of local and regional partners from 10 to more than 200; facilitated a systematic upgrade of all technical systems and protocols; and successfully devised an endowment campaign in 2010 that generated more than $5 million in gifts and bequests.
William J. Martin, Board Chairman for the Williamsport Community Art Center, told the local newspaper that Steele has done an extraordinary job in making it a more “community-minded facility … There’s something going on at the arts center about 250 days a year. It’s a very busy place and I attribute that level of activity to Rob’s initiative and his ability to engage people in the community.”

 

Prior to moving to Pennsylvania, Steele spent five years as executive director of the 576-seat civic auditorium in Tecumseh, Michigan, and had previously been both a successful restaurateur and an executive vice president of a Michigan-based national bank & trust.
“Joe Gillie has been the champion in establishing the Delray Beach Center for the Arts as a premiere arts institution in South Florida,” says Mr. Steele. “My goal is to honor, preserve, and extend the rich traditions he has established.”
“Community outreach and coordinating broad-based collaborations with local organizations has become one of the hallmarks of my career,” he adds. “It is my expressed desire to reach into every corner of the market served by the Delray Beach Center for the Arts to engage new audiences, create lasting partnerships and serve the cultural needs of this vibrant and diverse community.”
“The arts are without question an economic engine, and Delray Beach stands as a magnificent example of this reality,” says Steele. “That is why I am committed to keeping a constant eye on the relationship between what we do on the Old School Square campus and how it can help stimulate the local economy.”

A Better Way

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Last week was exhausting and you could see the divisions in Delray writ large.

But what is often lost when emotions run hot are the commonalities.

In this city, there is one common thread that trumps (sorry for the word trump) everything else.

People love Delray Beach. And that’s a good thing.

Some like a vibrant growing Delray; some might prefer it a tad or a whole lot quieter. But the concern is there, so is the passion.

No “side” is right and no side is wrong.

It’s a debate that plays out in towns and cities throughout the country. But many people I know long for a more intelligent, fact-based debate in which all stakeholders can feel like they’ve been heard and respected. We should have a process that doesn’t feel so bruising and nasty.

But we don’t have that yet, not by a long shot. Here’s what we have as illustrated by the recent iPic debate.

Project comes to town.

Economic development fans get excited.

Jobs! Tax base! Cleaning up a blighted property! Yay!

But they’re not allowed to get excited or to enjoy the moment for longer than a nanosecond. And heaven forbid if we give the economic development team a pat on the back for bringing the opportunity to town.

See, unless the new project or company is being built on acres of virgin land nowhere near anything or anybody —they can expect opposition.

Why? Because inevitably they will “need” something; two feet more of land, a liberal interpretation of some requirement—something. And inevitably, there will be impacts associated with the proposal (and benefits as well).

And then all hell breaks loose.

No exceptions!

What are they trying to pull?!!

Suddenly, the company or developer becomes the “deep pocketed” corruptive force sent here to pillage and take advantage of the helpless resident/taxpayers.

Sigh….

Then the misinformation and accusations begin to fly. The developer is greedy and disingenuous. The city staff is in their pockets or incompetent. They won’t “compromise”.

Meanwhile, as the developer or company seeks to build support they make the rounds of the usual suspects and they are asked to do certain things such as contribute funds to a cause or build certain facilities. Some make sense, but others feel a little strange, words like extortion get thrown around.

Most play the game, to a point. But they start to wonder are they doing the right thing? When will the requests end? Where exactly is this going? Is this ethical?

Some decide to fight misinformation with PR. Big mistake; at least in the minds of opponents.

See we told you so, they say. The deep-pocketed developer is spending big bucks on mail, robocalls, ads, email blasts etc., seeking to overwhelm the poor resident/taxpayer.

Meanwhile, if you happen to be one of these resident taxpayers, or just a lowly renter or even a business owner who would like to support something you start to draw some heat.

“What’s in it for you,” you might be asked if you have the nerve to express support for something (it’s always OK to be against something, just don’t dare support something).

I was asked that last week, because I came out in favor of bringing 400 jobs, a corporate headquarters and family entertainment to downtown Delray.

What’s in it for me?

Let me answer that question: See above. I want to see 400 jobs; a corporate headquarters and family entertainment come to downtown Delray Beach. Shame on me.

But for me and for many others it goes beyond that. I’ve been working, alongside many others, on trying to create something in Delray since the 80s. I left office in 2007, after what I felt was a very productive 7 year run.

Am I bragging? Just a little.

But it was a team effort and I am proud of the team that I was on and the commission’s that came before us. I even like many of the people on the city staff…shocking, I know.

I live here. I care about this place. I think it’s smart for us to diversify beyond food and beverage and I want our children to be able to come home and work in Delray.

I’m a resident/taxpayer too. If I see something I like I want to be able to support it without being accused of being paid off. I think others feel the same way.

And by the way, we respect the legitimate concerns of opponents. I don’t relish traffic. But I understand tradeoffs. And I’m willing to live with inconveniences if there are compelling benefits. To me, there is no more compelling benefit than jobs. But I get the angst and I know it comes from a place of concern and love for Delray. Still, I am biased in favor or jobs and opportunity.

I am the co-founder of a non-profit called Dare 2 Be Great. Our mission is to provide scholarships and mentoring to some of the incredible kids who live in Delray Beach. We are investing in the next generation of leaders with the hope that some will come back here and make a positive impact on our community. The kids we help love this city and would like to come back. It is our responsibility to do what we can to provide them opportunities to do so.

We have a big job in front of us and a long, long way to go.

I don’t accuse opponents of ulterior motives so I don’t think it’s fair for them to do so to others just because there is an honest disagreement on a vision for Delray.

If I like something, it’s because I think it’s good for the city. If I don’t like something, it’s because I think it’s bad for the city. Pretty simple.

Most projects have good and bad elements…benefits and impacts. But if it’s a close call, I’ll always support progress and jobs, even if there is a tradeoff.

I think opponents are sincere in their love of Delray Beach. Others love the city just as much.

But I think our city slogan should be “How Can We Make It Work?” Some projects just don’t work. I voted down many projects during the biggest real estate boom imaginable. But the good ones, I wanted to see built—Mallory Square, CityWalk, Marina Bay, Ocean City Lofts, Atlantic Grove, a new library on West Atlantic, the Seagate Hotel and others. All of them required the team to say “how can we make it work?”

And we did.

And this town is great as a result.

We love this town too. It’s worth saying over and over.

So does our CRA and our Chamber and our DDA and our DBMC and the people who bring you festivals from Garlic to Delray Affair.

Are we perfect? Nope.

Did we get it all right? Not by a long shot.

Are we done? Not on your life.

Once upon a time, we worked together.

We became a national model for smart growth and great (not good, but great) urban planning and redevelopment.

We didn’t do all of this by talking past each other. We did it by saying “how do we make it work.” Change is going to come, whether we like it or not. We have to shape it and manage it.

It will work better if we figure out a way to talk respectfully on these issues. We need standards and high quality development, but we also need to understand that sometimes you have to give a little to get a lot.

Collaboration not confrontation; was a phrase we used in regards to our labor unions. It works.

The concerns are legitimate. But the people who back projects like the iPic are not blind, callous or in the pockets of developers.

Delray has been built on three pillars: scale, vibrancy and uniqueness. The LDR’s safeguard scale, we will never have high rises downtown. Uniqueness is in jeopardy right now as a result of very high land costs fueling what I think are unsustainable rents for independent retailers and restauranteurs.

We are vibrant, for 4-5 blocks anyway. But there is clearly more to do to help local businesses weather a long, hot and slow summer. And we need more jobs and industry beyond food and beverage. We did not aspire to be a seasonal resort town.

So what can we do to raise the level of discourse?

  • Continue the Mayor’s Lecture Series, but make them more interactive and take action on some of the advice we have been given.
  • Restore the Town Hall meeting, but to increase dialogue create smaller discussion groups.
  • Explore Community Engagement Platforms; town hall formats are great and so are public hearings, but if you have kids and a job it’s hard to be at a meeting from 6 p.m. to past midnight. As a result, important voices are left out. Technology is available to equip stakeholders with facts and allow their voices to be heard. CoUrbanize is just one I have seen. http://courbanize.com/ I’m sure there are others.
  • Open a design studio as mentioned in last week’s column.
  • Don’t allow any one group to speak for all, either pro or con. Effective leaders seek to engage all stakeholders, but the business community in this town has been labeled a special interest. They are not, they are stakeholders and their voices are important as well.
  • Have a fact based and ongoing conversation about traffic, parking and density.

We can make it work and still be friends and neighbors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes to iPic

Not a multiplex.

Not a multiplex.

By now, if you’re paying attention you’ve been inundated with information pro and con about the iPic theater project seeking to come to Delray Beach.

We’ve heard the benefits:

–A corporate headquarters coming to town

–400 plus jobs

–Much needed downtown office space

–Family entertainment downtown

–Summer time commerce

We’ve heard the negatives too:

–Traffic

–Alley issues

–Height

–Design

 

Let me state right up front, that I support the iPic. Why?

Because for 30 years we have envisioned getting beyond food and beverage.

The Downtown Master Plan’s philosophical foundation was to give us a strategy to create a sustainable downtown.

That meant having density and like a sound investment strategy, a diversified portfolio: housing, arts, restaurants, retail and office uses.

We need people living downtown in order to support mom and pop merchants and you need people on the streets to create vibrancy and a safe environment. We learned that design was more important than density and that we needed to get away from numbers and concentrate on scale and creating a human feel downtown.

We led with food, beverage, culture and festivals because that was a strategy to breathe life into a town that desperately needed it.

We followed with downtown housing, which is also an essential element to a sustainable downtown. We invested in our parks and created new open space…including a central park where a parking lot once existed near Old School Square, we also opened a teen center and a skateboard park and invested in new parks like Catherine Strong and old parks too.

But the missing piece remains employment.

And we seem to be chasing it away.

Don’t tell me we’re not.

We are.

And no you can’t put everything on Congress Avenue. People want to work downtown. We should be happy that they want to.

I don’t have any special insight into tonight’s vote, but I think the tone of the debate has not been our finest moment. I have seen a lot of misinformation about this project. We are not positioning ourselves as a city that wants to create jobs in our central business district. And that hurts us more than any one project.

Our approach to growth and development in Delray Beach leaves a lot to be desired.

Every election cycle we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars bashing developers and hinting at corruption. Folks, it ain’t that black and white.

There are good developers and crappy ones. Just like any other profession.

So regardless of where you stand on the development spectrum, I think it’s safe to say that there is only one way to stop it; become a city that nobody wants to invest in.

So assuming that’s off the table, we need to take a more pro-active and intelligent approach.

My idea is simple: create a design studio staffed by architects and urbanists (yes urbanists because we are a downtown, not a suburb) who can vet projects before they are submitted and put through the meat grinder that has become the Delray “process”.

This is precisely what architect Andres Duany proposed when he gave his town hall lecture. Talk to developers early in the process so that they can make adjustments and understand local sensitivities and sensibilities.

Smart developers will adjust their plans, because smart developers want to build, not get put through an expensive and uncertain process. This kind of “process” is also exhausting for the public.

But a mindset change is also in order. Let’s go back to current example of iPIC.

When it comes to infill development there are always problems to solve, things to worry about and designs to be improved. That’s why we have a planning department. And engineers. Oh and city commissioners too.

But instead of trying to solve the issues, we seem to be debating the very use, need, process and rationale for this project. Everything it seems, but trying to make it work.

Should it be a park? Was there a scrivener’s error on some legal document?

Hello, how about rolling up your sleeves and making it work or at least try?

These are jobs we are talking about; that’s precious in this economy and worth fighting for.

The goal of returning the old library site to the tax rolls has been a work in progress since 2001. 14 years… that’s how long it has taken to move the library, move the chamber, clear title via referendum on parcels, market an RFP, lose the first deal to a recession and inaction on the winners behalf, remarket the property, select another proposal and move through the process. Along the way, we built a 500 plus space mixed used parking garage replacing an ugly surface parking with open space near Delray Center for the Arts, (there’s your park and it’s bigger and more centrally located. How about making that park great as the commission I served on envisioned?).

During this time, the city helped to move the library with CRA support, bond issue money and private funds working a complicated deal with the county on a parking garage.

The point is, time didn’t start when this project was submitted to the city’s now byzantine and cumbersome “process” but many moons ago. This is the 7th inning not the first. And this project is in service to a vision…not owned by any particular commission…but a citizens vision to have a complete and sustainable downtown. Adding jobs, a corporate headquarters, much needed office space and family entertainment diversifies our portfolio. This investor–he’s not a developer–has “compromised” by adding more parking, improving internal circulation and agreeing not to have a restaurant that would compete with nearby establishments.

Did he get a deal on the land? Sure. He bought it coming out of the recession and before the eye popping deal for the George Building, which will do a lot to raise rents and property values in our core. But do we really think if we send iPic packing and get more for the property that we’ll get less development? Friends, that’s not how it works.

I happen to think this project is terrific. I also think it is manageable. We have restaurants that will draw more people than this theater.

I feel strongly about the jobs and about the need to move beyond food and beverage and to give families an entertainment option. I think it will boost summer foot traffic downtown and help mom and pop merchants.

That’s my opinion and I think it’s shared by many. Check that, I know it’s shared by many.

I’m sure many others disagree, I get it. And their concerns are valid, but so are the viewpoints of those who want to see this happen.

This project did not spring out of the thin air and I believe strongly that cities need to be seen as problem solvers and try and make projects work.

If you don’t agree with development on that site –valid but I disagree-that decision was made many years ago by a commission I served on. There was a lot of support for the concept at the time. We were clear, no residential on that site. Return it to the tax rolls, office and retail are Ok. No restaurants. A theater was added later as a desired use.

I think we ought to be proud that we have built a city attractive enough to lure investment. But as good as the downtown is the mission isn’t over. We need year round jobs to be a sustainable downtown.

We also need to be thinking about the bigger questions.

How and where will we create employment downtown? Or did I miss the vote and have we decided to stick with food and beverage and become a seasonal resort town?

Can Congress Avenue thrive if downtown wanes? The answer is no. While I share the opinion, it isn’t mine. It’s what I am being told by property owners on Congress.

–Is Atlantic Avenue bulletproof? Nope. See Boulevard, Las Olas, Street, Clematis.

What worrisome trends are we seeing and what strategies can we employ to reverse course? Worrisome trends include very high rents, some vacancies, an influx of national retailers, restaurants struggling, parts of the avenue not as strong as other parts, young professionals buying homes in neighboring cities because we have affordability issues and a lack of middle class housing and schools that continue to cause concerns.

We need to raise the level of discourse on these issues and more.

iPic is a symptom, we will see the same exhausting process play out when Sundy House and other projects submit their plans.

Our elected leaders need to get out front and shape these projects, but with a mindset of making things work (assuming they are within our rules and the uses are desirable).

“How can I stop you”, sends a horrible message. “How can I make your project work” will make for a better downtown, jobs for our kids and better designs that work for all.

Debate and Dysfunction

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'We figure out the city or we fail'--David Simon creator of The Wire and Show Me a Hero.
We used to have some tough meetings. 
There were ugly incidents; episodes of incivility. 
There were nights when you came home and you couldn't sleep. Some nights you would leave a meeting and just drive hoping the night air would allow you to breathe again.
Local politics can be as ugly and as petty as national politics. In many ways it's even tougher because on a local level its personal. We know the people involved. We know where they live, have common friends, see them downtown, know their spouses. 
I know all five elected officials in Delray Beach; have known everyone who has served here since 1987. I've liked many, didn't care for a few.
When I first started writing about Delray Beach nearly 30 years ago, City Hall was a lion's den of intrigue. It was great to be a reporter back then, it wasn't so great to be a resident or a business owner.
Then Tom Lynch came along.
The tone of the meetings changed dramatically. Tom had help from people like Jay Alperin and David Randolph and later gentlemen like Ken Ellingsworth and Armand Mouw. There were some kind female elected leaders as well: Barbara Smith, Rita Ellis, Brenda Montague, Alberta McCarthy and Pat Archer come to mind. There were others.
We had 17 years of commission peace and strong leadership; it allowed progress to happen. 
Peace doesn't mean no skirmishes or that everyone loved each other. It also doesn't mean that were wasn't heated debate and passionate arguments. But it does mean that when the question is called and a vote is taken, you move on. You win some and lose some, but you try not to let bad feelings carry over to the next issue.
We've been off course for a while now. If you don't believe me, take a gander at the last meeting. Watch 20 minutes or so (if you can stomach it) of an issue relating to whether the city should accept a million dollars from the CRA for the old library site or fast forward to commission comments. Go ahead...we'll wait a few minutes.
For those who watched the meeting, it was a microcosm of what ails us as a community.
I saw mistrust and disdain among commissioners for each other and for key staff and agencies. I saw anger. I saw frustration and I saw dysfunction.
I don't watch meetings and haven't since leaving office in March 2007, but I was sitting on my couch watching a ballgame when I started getting texts from employees and others who were at the meeting.
"You gotta see this," one wrote.
"Hurry, tune in," wrote another. "It's like Jerry Springer."
So I did, I tuned in. And while the Springer references were an exaggeration, it was a poor display. If this was an aberration, I would chalk it up to a full moon. But this is a pattern and it shows a commission that's deeply divided. They can't even agree to cash a million dollar check without a split vote, a tongue lashing from the finance director (not a good move for an employee) and a full on attack on the City Attorney that was labeled an organized lynching by the mayor.
Most fun city? Indeed.
Every mayor and commission have their crosses to bear. We dealt with several hurricanes, a racially charged shooting of a 15 year-old child, a few hot development issues and a wildly controversial and deeply complicated move of Atlantic High School.
So far, at least in my view, this commission has had it easy. If you're biggest problem is whether to approve a downtown movie theater and a corporate headquarters, I'd say you were a damn lucky city.
But if I learned one thing about public life is that you never know what's coming down the pike.
It's a smart move to get your house in order, so that if something more serious than cashing a check comes before you, you'll be able to work together.
I'm sure this column will rub a few partisans the wrong way. That's OK. I'm not a partisan player...I've had favorites but Delray has always come first for me and for many others. So if my friends are screwing up, I don't think it's wise to ignore it. I don't think that's what a good friend does or a good citizen either. See no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil is no way to run a railroad.
I've been friends or friendly with all five elected officials sitting on that dais as temporary stewards...with the emphasis on temporary and especially on stewardship.
 It's hard to be productive when you can't get along or when there is no trust. You don't have to be buddies, but you do have to find a way to be productive because this city has serious issues.
I see a problem up there.
You will too, if you tune in or  listen to the chatter around town.
Tomorrow: iPic.

An Influencer Returns

TomFleming

There’s a name in recent Delray Beach history that gets short shrift.
It shouldn’t.
The name is Tom Fleming and the good news is he’s back in town after more than a decade in Colorado.
I had a chance to reconnect with Tom a week ago at The Green Owl and while we share a lot of history, we spent our time talking about current conditions.
Tom has a fascinating perspective because he has both a history of Delray and a fresh view having been away for awhile.
He’s also an expert on downtown revitalization having worked for years in Delray and then in Colorado.
In short, he gets it.
Tom is an adherent of the Main Street school of revitalization. The National Main Street Center uses strategies and tools that have been proven in cities nationwide to bring Main Streets back to life.
Back in the day, Pineapple Grove was an officially designated “Main Street” and volunteers and early visionaries worked together and executed brilliantly.
When I first became aware of Tom I was a newspaper reporter and he was a developer. Along with a partner, Tom was building the beautiful Andover neighborhood off of Germantown Road.
Back in the 80s Delray was not exactly a desirable real estate market.
The city had a poor reputation compared to some of its neighbors especially posh Boca.
One of the major issues was the poor reputation of city schools.
It was hard to attract young families to live in Delray because of this issue and realtors even coined a termed for the malady naming it the “Delray dilemma.”
Tom was sensitive to this issue but instead of throwing up his hands in despair he rolled up his sleeves and got to work crafting a plan called “Sharing for Excellence.”
The document served as a blueprint for improving local schools. It called for special programs called magnets, better facilities and a host of other strategies. The community and city quickly got behind the effort and the School District embraced the plan–impressed that a city was willing to step up on behalf of its children.
The effort was the start of a long tradition of Delray leading the way on education issues, becoming an example for other cities to emulate.
Tom was an igniter of that movement.
Shortly after, he ditched his real estate career and reinvented himself as an urban revitalization specialist becoming the staffer for Pineapple Grove in its early days.
The grove was the brainchild of Norman Radin, a really cool pioneer who cut hair by day and sparked a movement by night.
Tom employed Main Street strategies to lead a volunteer, member based movement to create a successful street north of the avenue.
I often think how hard it is to have one great street in Delray. We have a few and hopefully more on the way.
In the early 2000s Tom left for Colorado and I missed him. We all did. I missed our conversations about streets and what makes them cool.
He is a thinker. A smart guy who knows how to get things done.
He sparked a movement in education and a great district in Pineapple Grove.
He is–without a doubt–one of our Delray greats. I’m glad he came home.

5 Gems to Liven Up Your Summer

Celebrity Chef Paul Niedermann has made Hudson a must visit restaurant.

Celebrity Chef Paul Niedermann has made Hudson a must visit restaurant.

At YourDelrayBoca.com we love exploring and finding new treasures to share with our readers.

Here are five recent finds that we love:

M.E.A.T.—Located at 980 N. Federal Highway (Cendyn Spaces Building) in Boca, M.E.A.T. Eatery and Taproom is a delight.

Don’t let the office building in which the restaurant is located dissuade you, M.E.A.T. has amazing food and a great selection of craft beers.

The restaurant won the 4th annual Boca Burger Battle, no easy feat and there’s always something new on the menu to delight repeat visitors.

The brainchild of Chef George Patti and Sommelier Thomas Smith, M.E.A.T. isn’t your typical burger joint; they smoke all of their own meats onsite, make their sausage in-house and even create their own condiments from scratch. (Shameless plug: we wish they had Tabanero hot sauce).

And don’t let the name fool you either. The restaurant has great salads a nice variety of veggie dips as well as healthy microbrewed soda’s and wines.

A real treasure that we expect to grow into legendary status.

http://www.meateateryboca.com/

 

Hudson at Waterway East—900 E. Atlantic Avenue, Delray.

We went to Hudson in downtown Delray when it opened a few months ago for lunch and frankly we weren’t impressed.

But we went back a few weeks ago and were blown away. The restaurant has re-tooled with a new chef, excellent menu, great atmosphere and great service.

Hudson is a winner and perfectly positioned to capture those who want a lively and tasty meal without the crowds of E. Atlantic Avenue. (We still love you, East Atlantic).

If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to meet celebrity chef Paul Niedermann, who captured first place in 2011 on Gordon Ramsey’s “Hell’s Kitchen” competition on the Food Network. Niedermann is a culinary talent and it’s a testament to Delray’s culinary scene that he was lured here.

Hudson has great flatbreads and it watermelon and tomato gazpacho is a hall of fame item.

http://hudsondelray.com/

 

Beer Trade Company– 145 NE 4th Ave, Delray Beach

If you love beer, there is no better little cool place than the Beer Trade Company to pass a summer evening.

Stocked with refrigerators full of delicious brews and ciders, Beer Trade is a self-serve establishment which actually encourages experimentation. Highly recommended.

Casa Tequila–located at 8228 Glades Road, Boca Raton.

Already a hot spot in Wellington, Casa Tequila is a relative newcomer to West Boca and we predict big success.

Great for dinner, but also a wonderful lunch option that offers fresh, affordable food with prices ranging from $5.95 to $8.50.

The tostada’s and veggie burritos are out of this world.

http://greatmexicancuisine.com/#/

Dosia– located at 5837 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton.

No list from Dave and Jeff is complete without at least one Italian restaurant.

Dosia is a two year old hidden gem that you will be thrilled to discover.

Restaurateur Cris Lanza has managed to pull off the trifecta, great food, really interesting atmosphere (modern) and a terrific dessert menu featuring homemade delights.

Dosia has small and large plates to match every appetite and for the diet conscious offers wheat and gluten free pasta.

Enjoy!

 

 

Context, Community & Optimism

Optimism-HarryTrumanSmall-1024x717

Last week, we talked about symptoms–controversies that emerge because of fear.
Fear of overdevelopment, fear of traffic, fear of parking problems, fear of change and fear of bad design.
All of these fears are legitimate and there is near universal agreement that all of the problems outlined above should be avoided at all costs. But unfortunately life and community building are never as black-and-white as we might like them to be.
Issues are nuanced and filled with variables that sometimes we can’t see.

Most worthwhile endeavors in life come with trade-offs. If you want something you usually have to give something up to get it: when it comes to cities that decision is typically made by mayors and city commissioners.
When development occurs, there is an impact. It might be traffic, it might be construction noise and it may be the closing of an alley.

It’s up to policy makers to determine whether the upside is worth the impact.
But we rarely take about benefits anymore.

And that’s a shame because focusing almost solely on impacts skews the debate and denies the public a chance to see and understand issues.

For example, there was a short story last week about the CRA in which the focus seemed to be on the budgetary impact the CRA has on the city’s coffers due to the way these agencies are set up using tax increment financing.
But in order to fully understand the issue readers need context and to see the whole picture before they can render an informed opinion.
For example, the CRA already gives substantial financial support to the city and has for years –paying for items that range from police officers and infrastructure  to supporting key non profit partners that would need a larger subsidy from the city if not for the CRA. CRA money does not go down some dark hole, it’s reinvested in the community, largely in neighborhoods that need help.

I think the CRA has been invaluable to Delray Beach and that its success and track record of getting things done has benefitted our city far beyond its district.
Property values citywide are up and rising faster than neighboring cities in large part–in my opinion–because of the work of the CRA.
Congress Avenue and other parts of our city have become viable business and investment opportunities thanks to the work of the CRA, Delray Marketing Cooperative, DDA, police, fire , the city and others.

How do I know this? Because I’m talking to people making investments on Congress and many have said they wouldn’t have looked at the corridor 15 years ago but now feel it represents an extension of the Delray brand, which has value. Businesses want to be here. People want to live here.
In addition, quality of life– often hard to measure– has been improved as well as a result of a more vibrant city.

These are just some nuances that are important to consider when judging the value of an agency,  project, development or initiative. I happen to think the most value can found in the intangibles; not just the tax revenue, building permit fees or raw numbers we often see bandied about. Those are important too, but the most important aspects of any initiative are often the subtle benefits that make all the difference.
Examples: energy, civic pride, attracting difference makers to your community and creating opportunities.
As a result, I’m a firm believer that leaders need to be optimists. They need to be cognizant and worried about impacts but also aware and excited by benefits.
Ideally, they have a growth mindset, and see themselves as problem solvers.

They work hard to mitigate impacts, but never lose sight of benefits.
We need more optimism in our politics and in our communities.
Problem solving enables us to progress. Change can and should be managed, but cannot and should not be stopped.

The Vision Thing

Citizen driven

Citizen driven

iPic is a symptom.

Just the latest. There will be more.

The skirmishes over specific development proposals mask an underlying dynamic 30 years in the making: what do we want to be when we grow up?

That question was first posed in the 80s when the Atlantic Avenue Task Force and later Visions 2000 convened to talk about a future vision for Delray Beach.

At the time, we were not exactly a charming “village by the sea”. Sure, there were charming elements; a grid system, a nice beach and historic homes but vacancies were widespread downtown, there was a dearth of activity and our crime rate was horrible. People were clamoring for change.

The Task Force and Visions 2000 efforts were launched as a response to those conditions; nobody was arguing that vacancies were good or bragging that we had no place to eat. There was not a whole lot of crowing about property values that were stagnant and a real estate market that was hot in Boca and West Boynton but anemic in Delray.

Visions 2000 laid out a blueprint for renewal and listed projects to be completed in order to fix and— yes save Delray. Voters overwhelmingly approved the $21.5 million Decade of Excellence bond and city officials went about the task of renovating the city.

They did a remarkable job.

Delray won an All America City Award in 1993 and another in 2001. The city earned a ton of good press (which was very rare for Delray at the time) and Florida Trend named Delray the “best run town in Florida.”

Private investment began to flow into town, a coffee shop opened and oh did we celebrate. A few restaurants came…Damiano’s, Splendid Blendeds, 32 East, Dakotah..and we were off to the races.

But community building and downtown revitalization is not an overnight effort. It takes years and then some more years. Truth is, you are never done.

The first coffee shop went out of business. Some of the first restaurants didn’t make it. Retail had a hard time gaining traction. There was and is a lack of office space. Back then, nobody was living downtown. That would come later when some pioneering developers took a risk and put some townhouses on Federal Highway. Their efforts were mocked and there was strong resistance to projects that are now part of the fabric and filled with residents who are great contributors to our community.

I was in town for the Visions 2000 and Visions 20005 efforts—covering the process as a reporter for the old Delray Times, part of the defunct Monday-Thursday Papers.

There was talk about a village by the sea during those exercises, but nobody was calling for a sleepy or seasonal village by the sea. The consensus in the 80s and 90s and then again in the early 2000s during the Downtown Master Plan process was to create a dynamic village. Words such as vibrant, bustling, compact and dense, walkable and sustainable were used.

There was a desire to be a complete downtown; not trendy or seasonal, but year round and built to last. There were calls for mixed-use projects, the master plan emphasized design and yes—(horrors!)– density. We learned that design trumped density and that density was needed to support local businesses and was desirable because it was better for the environment than sprawl, which generates more traffic and is more expensive to service. We didn’t make this up, we brought the best minds in downtown planning to town over and over again and all of them cited the virtues of new urbanism, density, design and mixed used development. We just brought them back for another round and the message is the same.

And guess what? Unlike a lot of other places, this city delivered. We ought to be proud.

Delray Beach executed and implemented its citizen driven visions. Not developer driven, not staff driven, not even commission driven, but citizen driven visions. It takes a village…it really does.

So what you’re seeing today is a manifestation of 30 plus years of planning, execution and investment.

It’s not developers flouting rules or building things contrary to the vision.

Have waivers been granted? Yes. But never for height and density.

Have variances been given? Yes, but never for height and density. When you’re working in an infill environment, sometimes you need a little flexibility to make good projects happen.

Wait… there’s more.

Was conditional use employed; you betcha. Conditional use built Delray, because it enabled a generation of policy makers to support good projects and– just as important–reject bad ones.

So what we are seeing is not some aberration or abuse, it’s the result of a vision. Now, you may not embrace the vision or you might think the vision is misguided, outdated or moronic. I don’t. I suspect many others like what has happened. But I get that some don’t.

Maybe you think it’s time to put a lasso on the vision and shut it down. But please understand that what you’re seeing after nearly a decade of no development did not come out of nowhere.

Has it been good? I believe so.

So do many others who love and enjoy Delray Beach.

Have property values increased? Oh yeah, especially if you live anywhere near the urban core.

Is that a good thing? For most, it is. I’d rather have my home appreciate than depreciate, but affordability is an issue not only for homeowners but for mom and pop merchants as well.

Are there strategies to maintain affordability that we should be considering? Yes. Almost exactly a decade ago we were one of the first cities to create a Community Land Trust to keep properties in the trust affordable in perpetuity. We also enacted a workforce housing ordinance, a flawed but  sincere attempt to address a pressing issue at the time and one that is back in a big way.

Density was one of the strategies to create affordability as well. It may not be the silver bullet, but it’s hard to have affordability without it.

As for iPic, I would love to see it happen. I like that a corporate headquarters wants to be downtown and that 42,000 square feet of office space would be built. We need the jobs and we need to make Delray more than a food and beverage success story—that wasn’t the vision, only part of it.

The vision was to create a city that was more than a resort town. It was to create a sustainable, walkable village with opportunities for people of all ages, including young people and families that need jobs.

I understand why people are concerned and worry about losing the soul of the city. These are viable concerns that leadership needs to address. In my opinion these concerns can be addressed. Others would disagree that’s OK.

These conversations are important to have because all the “sides” in town love Delray Beach.

But before a meaningful conversation can take place it’s important to put the issues in context and understand where the latest project came from. Discussions about the redevelopment of the old library site date back more than a decade. The discussion began when the land-locked library decided to move from an antiquated facility to West Atlantic and when the chamber decided to move as well, rather than invest in an old building that was functionally obsolete.

The direction given to the CRA at the time was to redevelop the site and get it back on the tax rolls. There was a policy decision not to seek residential development which was well underway downtown but to seek retail and office space, which we felt was needed. It was later amended to consider a hotel and entertainment options. The hotel proposal fell victim to tough economic times and a new RFP that mirrored the old one was issued. IPIC responded and was selected.

There was never any serious talk of a park on the site in large part because we were creating a large downtown park adjacent to Old School Square and we already had Veterans Park, Worthing Park, The Skate Park and Teen Center and some small public plazas planned for West Atlantic, which is also part of our downtown. We felt there was a need for office space and year-round employment to support our merchants during the long hot summer months.

Right or wrong, that’s the back story. The rationale was in service to a larger vision created by citizens.

 

 

 

 

There’s Something Happening Here

Ready for lift off.

Ready for lift off.

It feels good to be in on the ground floor of an opportunity.

I’m one of those types who prefer building to maintaining or worse yet protecting a lead.

I was fortunate to move to Delray in the 80s, when the city felt like a start-up and to serve on the City Commission from 2000-07, when the Decade of Excellence had been completed and we had a blank canvas to pursue a continuation of the vision—one that built on and complemented the excellent work that had been done before our group got elected.

So I was intrigued when I was asked to serve on the advisory board for Tech Runway, a new initiative at Florida Atlantic University that is seeking to build something special.

Tech Runway is nestled next to the runway at Boca Airport on FAU’s campus. The space—vast and teeming with possibility—houses start-up companies and events. It seeks to be a leading part of a growing ecosystem for entrepreneurship and technology taking root in South Florida.

When it comes to the entrepreneurial space you can feel the ground shifting in our region. Miami is on fire, with maker space, co-working, tech companies, VC’s and innovation in everything from augmented reality and finance to food and the arts.

Fort Lauderdale is also experiencing somewhat of a renaissance downtown, with condo projects, office space and a wonderful entrepreneurial hub named Thesis (http://www.thes.is/).

In Palm Beach County, downtown Boca Raton seems on the verge and the Arvida Park of Commerce has new energy and new policies to drive investment. FAU and Lynn are gaining momentum and the county’s chief economic development office, The Business Development Board of Palm Beach County is focusing efforts and energy on entrepreneurship and retention. FAU’s Research Park, under the very capable leadership of Andrew Duffel, is also a player to be watched as it celebrates its 30th anniversary.

The county’ public school system also has bright spots including Boca High’s STEM program, Atlantic’s vaunted IB program and Spanish River High School’s entrepreneurship academy.

Hopefully, we can find a way to keep our young talent home, even if many might go away for college.

As Scooter Willis of FAU’s Tech Garage (also an amazing asset) puts it “find a way to get as many smart people here as possible and good things will happen.”

Amen.

Headwinds? We have a few.

A lack of VC’s. A lack of angels. A lack of seed funders. The Gold Coast Venture Capital Association is making amazing strides and should be applauded, but we need more capital willing to get in the game. Talented engineers and entrepreneurs will follow the money which historically has been in places like Austin, Boulder, Boston, the Valley and NY. We are going to need to get in the game soon and in a big way…a way that makes a splash, hits all the blogs and is covered in Inc., and Fast Company.

The dollars are here, what’s missing is the monomaniac on a mission who either can write the check or find the check and build the funding mechanism around it.

Manny Medina and others are doing it in Miami. A visionary developer is doing it in Wynwood and another in Miami’s design district.

While it definitely takes a village to build an ecosystem it doesn’t hurt to have a leader.

Think about companies: Amazon is Bezos. Virgin is Branson. Tesla is Musk. Facebook is Zuckerberg.

Same with local areas that make the leap: Fred Wilson in NYC, Brad Feld in Boulder are but two examples.

In South Florida, the Knight Foundation is playing a catalytic role but there is room in Palm Beach County—room in Boca Raton and Delray Beach for leadership, vision and drive.

The talent is here, if we can keep it home. The lifestyle is here. The moment is here, if we seize it.

Tech Runway will be a major driver, but the beauty of building an ecosystem is it’s not a zero sum game. The rising tide does lift all boats. There’s room for many to take the ride.

 

 

IPIC: Because Delray Needs Jobs

IPIC

The sky has been falling for 20 years.
Paver bricks on Atlantic Avenue–women will never come downtown because they will trip in their heels on the grooves.
Worthing Place–it will turn into a low income rowdy tenement.
Pineapple Grove–a pipe dream.
Atlantic Avenue–won’t happen without an “anchor” department store.
Townhouses on Federal Highway–nobody wants to live on a highway and besides where will they barbecue?
I can go on.
But needless to say plenty of women and men enjoy strolling on the avenue, Worthing Place is fully leased (and pricey) and you hardly know it’s there, Pineapple Grove is a cool street, we didn’t need a department store to revitalize Atlantic Avenue and townhouses on Federal Highway remain hot commodities.
So I tend to grin when I hear the latest hand wringing concern–whether it’s festivals “destroying” our quality of life or development choking our city to death.
But before you get all wound up at my cavalier attitude let me say two things.
First, I respect contrary opinions so please respect those who don’t agree with your assessment of the latest project.
Second, I’m not an anything goes guy either.
We have had good developers and we have had awful ones.
In my opinion most of our developers have been good corporate citizens. There I said it. And I can prove it too.

We have been fortunate that most of our projects have been built by local developers who live here, work here, pay taxes, volunteer and raise their families here too.
Not all are greedy and callous. In fact, we have been fortunate to have many who are the opposite.
Sure they are motivated by profit and they seek a healthy return. Last I checked, we live in a capitalistic society where profits are a goal.
But profit motive aside, many of the developers  I have known want to build projects that work for the city as well as their wallets. Most also give to charity, have served on community boards and are in a field where the risks are enormous.
In other words developers are people too. You wouldn’t have known that from our last municipal election.
We are better than the current state of our development debate.
Still, the concerns are legitimate. We should seek smart growth which I would define as human scale, well-designed, with green elements, pedestrian friendly, mixed use where possible and oriented toward the street.
Projects that aren’t should be sent back to the drawing board.
But that’s where the opportunities are…
When a good use comes to town— say a downtown theater– that includes corporate jobs, office space and other desirable facets we should communicate with the developer/investors collaborate with them and where possible shape the best outcome.
Collaboration: what a concept.
Now if they don’t listen– and a few won’t— send em packing.

But most developers I have known will listen because they want to their projects approved and don’t necessarily enjoy being pariahs.
It’s easy to pontificate from a dais or wall off your planners and other city resources. But really what does that accomplish?
I had two experiences where we sent developers packing because they simply would not listen to community and city input. But I had many more where our CRA or Planning Department were able to make projects better because they looked at site plans and found things to improve whether it was design, traffic flow or street level orientation. You got to give your staff some room to make things work and as a policymaker you have a unique opportunity to make improvements as well.
Collaboration works, unless of course, you think Delray stinks. A few of you do, but most of you don’t.
So why not work to make projects better?
And if you think that we should merely shut the town down and say no more I have some disappointing news. It’s not going to happen.
Delray is a wildly desirable market. Not because it’s been ruined but because it was carefully planned and is a great town. People want to be here. People want to live here. People want to work here and people want to invest here.
They don’t want to ruin it, they want to contribute. If their ideas make sense we ought to help them. And we need to engage early, as Andres Duany advised us at one of the first town hall lecture series meetings.
If developers have bad ideas we ought to intervene–early.  If they are tone deaf, again send them packing. Smart developers, the kind we want to work in our town, welcome input and collaboration. It saves them time, money and aggravation. It also saves the public time, money and aggravation.
“Just say no” may have been a great anti-drug slogan but it’s no way to run a railroad. People are going to want to build here. We ought to worry if they don’t.
As for IPIC… when the RFP came out I liked the European theater concept..still think that would work elsewhere in our city.
But I’ve warmed up to IPIC. I like the idea of entertainment downtown. I like that it will bring people during the slow summer months and I love that this is a corporate headquarters deal with hundreds of jobs.
We need the jobs. We need the daytime workers. Jobs sustain towns.
We can also plan for the traffic. We know when shows begin and end. This developer/business owner has stepped up and listened.
Downtown residents will walk to the movies and others will drive–most with other people. After all, when is the last time you went to the movies alone?

We are not putting in a multiplex, but a luxury theater, with a few hundred seats.
This is a good project and we ought to be proud that Delray is desirable for such a cool and growing company.
The sky will not fall.