As The Teachers Go…

In a few weeks, we will elect School Board members, choose gubernatorial candidates and judges and determine who will represent us in Tallahassee.

Sadly, few of us will vote.

I sure hope I am wrong on that account because voting is hugely important (even if often times the choices seem limited or uninspiring).

This year, the August elections dovetail with the start of a new school year in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

The beginning of school is always a good time to look forward but also to reflect on where we are as a community.

Education is a core component of a healthy community. It drives economic development, impacts investment decisions and often determines where people decide to live.

In Boca Raton, education is a strength; a competitive advantage. The public schools have historically been largely A-rated, parental involvement is usually very high and city and business support through the Chamber of Commerce’s Golden Bell Foundation is enviable.

As a result, schools operate at or above capacity and some are calling for the building of new schools to accommodate the growth and demand.

Across the border, in my hometown of Delray Beach, the story is a little more complicated and the challenges more complex.

Since the late 1980s, the City of Delray Beach has been involved in education despite it not being a “core” city responsibility. The School Board is in charge, but that has not stopped Delray Beach and its leadership from caring deeply and doing a lot in the education space. In fact, millions of dollars in city money has been spent in support of public schools in Delray Beach.

There have been notable achievements as a result, and I would argue that they would not have happened without the city leading and putting real skin in the game.

Examples include: hiring the first city education coordinator in Palm Beach County, creating an Education Advisory Board, adopting and driving the completion of an educational blueprint entitled “Sharing for Excellence”, leading the effort to build a new high school with career academies, advocating for a new S.D. Spady Elementary School, supporting a grass roots effort to build and grow the Village Academy, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading and the list goes on and on.

It’s a lot to be proud of, but the challenges are very complex and ongoing. While Boca schools are at capacity, many Delray schools are under capacity, which is something that deserves some serious analysis.

What’s beyond debate is the value of good schools and how it drives economic development and quality of life.

In my capacity as a “PIP” (previously important person, i.e. a former elected official) around election time I often get approached by candidates seeking endorsements. A few even ask for advice, which I don’t give unless expressly asked.

I have had the occasion to talk with two of the five Democrats vying for governor: Mayor Phillip Levine and Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

But I’ve known Mayor Andrew Gillum since he was a rookie Tallahassee commissioner with huge potential a decade ago and I’ve met Jeff Greene and seen Chris King speak in West Palm Beach. All seem to be good people. I’ve never met or talked to the Republican candidates Adam Putnam or Ron DeSantis. I’d like to.

But the two I met with—Levine and Graham—I offered one piece of advice after being asked: Make Florida the best place to teach in America and you’ll solve just about every problem the state has and create untold opportunities.

We are far from being the best place to teach in 2018. Our educators are vastly underpaid, the pressure to teach to the test is intense and while we say we value education, our budgets don’t reflect that. I don’t know of any teachers who enter the profession thinking they are going to get rich, but entering the field shouldn’t require a vow of poverty either. We need to invest in teaching talent, it’s just that simple. And apparently that elusive too.

But until we do, we can expect the same old results. And in a very competitive world the same old doesn’t work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Man, A Dog, A Van & A Blog

ManVanDog=Compelling

Worry less. Experience more.
That was the hashtag on a recent Instagram post from an account called ManVanDogBlog.
The author is an ex NFL player who walked away from the game, gave most of his possessions to charity, adopted a dog named Freedom, bought a 2007 Ford van and hit the road.
The trip is open ended and the man, his dog and the van travel where they feel like going.

It’s fascinating (and a little addicting)  to live vicariously through Joe Hawley and Freedom and see where the van takes our heroes.
And the worry less, experience more mantra is pretty compelling too.

It helps that our protagonists are so appealing.
Joe Hawley played 8 years in the NFL and walked away while he still could.  That’s takes courage.
Here’s Joe..

“What an incredible journey this has been! People keep asking how long I plan to be on the road or what I plan on doing when I’m done and the honest truth is..I don’t know. The reason I’m ok with that answer is because I truly believe that when I do decide to stop and figure out what’s next I’m going to be such a changed man. I continue to grow and get outside my comfort zone every single day. This trip continues to evolve into something bigger and more transformative than I ever could have imagined and it’s only been four months. What I’m trying to say is that I’m not worried about what the future has in store for me because it’s going to be bigger and more amazing than anything I can even dream of right now. So I’m going to enjoy the process, live in the moment and continue to grow every day. I’ll be right where I’m supposed to be. I have no doubt about it. Worry less. Experience more.”

I thought this was important to share because time flies. Life moves fast.

People get cancer.
People get old.
Kids grow up. Fast.
None of this is new information but sometimes we act as if these things aren’t so.

We skip the vacation. We don’t make time for lunch with friends. We don’t bother to look at the orchid in the yard or the beautiful ocean that is so close for those of us who live in Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

We forget about the neighbor we used to see while walking the dog, we realize we never use the pool anymore and that the tennis racket is gathering dust in the garage. We drive by Old School Square– but when’s the last time we took in a show?

You get the picture.
I do too.
I think they call it being present— living in the moment.
I try. I too often fail.
But I’m going to try a little harder. It’s a promise I’m making to myself.

Heroes Change Lives

Delray Students First is a local non-profit that is changing the lives of young people.

 

Mark Sauer is one of my local heroes.

The founder and visionary behind Delray Students First has a passionate desire to help young people break the cycle of poverty so they can find a better life. We are blessed that he landed in Delray and has decided to put his considerable talents, abilities and passions into changing the lives of our young men and women. After a long and successful career at the top of the sports and corporate worlds (past president of the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Blues), Mark has immersed himself in our community. Thank goodness.

One of those lucky folks who landed in Mark’s orbit was Delray’s own Tre’Quan Smith, a University of Central Florida wide receiver who was drafted in the third round by the New Orleans Saints this year.

Smith is currently experiencing his first NFL training camp training under the watchful eye of disciplinarian coach Sean Payton.

So imagine the delight when we got an email last week from Mark directing us to the New Orleans Saints website  http://(https://www.neworleanssaints.com/video/afternoon-wrap-for-monday-july-30) where we caught a first glimpse of Tre’Quan doing his thing which is basically catching everything thrown his way by future Hall of Famer Drew Brees.

The Saints are absolutely over the moon with Tre’Quan’s early performance—although Coach Payton sticks to the script with some cautious words of what he needs to improve. But based on what we know about Tre’Quan Smith, we can rest assured that he will do what needs to be done to make the most of this shot at the NFL.

Now my friend Mark Sauer will never say it because he’s humble and kind, but there are many young people like Tre’ Quan who have a shot at a good life because of the efforts of Mark and his talented team at Delray Students First.

The organization provides tutoring and mentoring to talented young people who need a dose of caring and love in order to succeed.

These are the type of efforts that change lives and communities. Mark and his lovely wife refer to Tre’Quan as a son—and that love, caring, attention and help has made all the difference.

There is a very good chance that Tre’Quan can have a successful career in the NFL. He’s talented, hardworking and hungry. If you watch the video you won’t see over confidence despite a strong early camp. What you will see is a humble young man who is dedicated to getting better, who is anxious to dive into the complex playbook so he can make the most of a unique opportunity that a whole bunch of people have worked hard to make happen.

While Tre’Quan gets the ink and is the most vivid story of Delray Students First’s success, he is not the only example of a life made better thanks to the efforts of an organization and its supporters.

Delray Students First empowers high school students in Delray Beach to reach their potential…We love that word empower. Because this program asks a lot of its students. They have to put in the work. They have to study, avoid temptation and work hard. If they do, there is a community of caring professionals and volunteers who will help them achieve.

But it does take a village and so Mark is an evangelist in search of resources. So if you happen to be looking for a great cause driven by great people—look no further. Delray Students First changes lives.

 

 

The Genius of Creative Mornings

Readers of this blog know that I’m head over heels in love with a group called Creative Mornings.

It’s an international group with 188 chapters all over the world.

The Creative Mornings Palm Beach chapter is the one I’ve gotten to know and I try to make as many of their monthly Friday morning meetings as my crazy schedule will permit. I never leave feeling anything other than motivated and inspired. In today’s stress filled world, you can’t put a price on the value of inspiration.

The most recent Creative Mornings was held at Old School Square’s Crest Theatre… a venue near and dear to my heart. I got married in the Crest, gave a few “state of the city” speeches on the stage and have seen some amazing performances over the years ranging from Roger McGuinn of The Byrds and Delray’s own Joe Cotton Band to memorable speeches by former Irish President Mary Robinson, winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. It’s a magical place.

So I am always excited to be at the Crest. It feels like home.

The guest speaker at Creative Mornings this month was Sean Scott, a founder of Subculture Coffee. He was very interesting.

Each month, the international body of Creative Mornings comes up with a topic that speakers all over the world address. Sean’s topic was “intention.”
He left me and others thinking about the word and the role intention plays in our lives.

He started with a provocative question: “Do you have an intention for your life?”
It’s quite a question if you think about it.

Because in a fast paced society we often rush from event to event. The months fly by: “Wow, I can’t believe its August already.” Pretty soon years fly by, then decades and you wake up and your 40, 50 or 80 for that matter.

If our lives are devoid of intention we might find that life slips by and those things we had dreamed of doing are suddenly out of reach.

Sean reminded me of that possibility; the very real chance that without intention you can lose time that you cannot ever recover.

He also gave us a valuable perspective on intention.

First, there are ingredients to a life of intention. They include truth, humility, transparency and integrity. If you combine those four traits, you get a good human. He also reminded us that intention is immune to success or failure, which makes sense if you think about it. If you have an intention in life success is a way station and failure is just a hurdle to clear.

But my favorite piece of advice was this: “intention is a long game.”
I love that line.

Intention is a long game.

If we are strong in our intentions we stick with them. It’s not something we instantly achieve or discard.

Creative Mornings is full of people who live creative lives of intention. In a harsh and fast paced world, it’s good to be with people who give a damn. Those words are straight from the Creative Mornings manifesto.

I’ve included the manifesto here with the hopes that I will see you one of these Fridays. I promise you will leave inspired and energized.

Everyone is creative.

 

A creative life requires bravery and action, honesty and hard work. We are here to support you, celebrate with you, and encourage you to make the things you love.

 

We believe in the power of community. We believe in giving a damn. We believe in face-to-face connections, in learning from others, in hugs and high-fives.

 

We bring together people who are driven by passion and purpose, confident that they will inspire one another, and inspire change in neighborhoods and cities around the world.

 

Everyone is welcome.

 

 

 

Things We Liked in July

Fran Marincola was honored with a cake for 19 years of advisory board service in Delray…see item below.

Things we loved in July

Thanks Patty!

A fond farewell and a hearty thank you is owed Patty Reed who left the Delray Chamber to start a new chapter in Melbourne, Florida.
Patty was a wonderful asset to the Delray Chamber and will be missed by all. Her warmth, attention to detail and hard work was not lost on chamber members who always looked forward to seeing her at events and activities. We wish Patty all the best and thank her for a job extremely well done.

News & Notes

Kudos to Sardinia Enoteca in Delray. Great food, excellent service and an extensive wine list make this a welcome addition to the ‘off the avenue’ food scene. Don’t miss their eggplant. Magnificent.

Summer time can be a little dull if you don’t like blockbusters movies. Thank goodness for the Living Room Theatre at FAU in Boca. An oasis in a desert.

We finally tried the Foxworth Fountain at the new Delray Shores Pharmacy on U.S. 1. It was wonderful.
Great pressed sandwiches, cute counter, a real throwback.
We didn’t try the desserts or soda fountain, but that gives us a reason to return.

We will miss Uncle Tai’s. But wish the proprietors a happy retirement. 32 years of excellence. Bravo!

Enjoyed checking out the classic and historic Addison with my partner Marisa Herman. The corporate open house featured incredible food, pineapple mojitos and showcased the classic property which is ideal for special events and corporate parties. Check it out. The holidays are around the corner.

Enjoyed spending time with County Commission candidate Bob Weinroth during an informal discussion at my office. We brought some Delray people over to exchange ideas and share priorities. November is coming soon, but first we have a primary on August 28.  Make sure to vote. So many important races and ballot questions.

Enjoyed spending time with friends at Apeiro at the Delray Marketplace.
It’s a great place for large groups. Good food. Great Moscow mules and the best orrechiette I’ve had in a while.

Baja Cantina in Boca is a cute little joint smack dab on the tracks south of Glades Road. Good prices, delicious San Gria and the chips and salsa are wonderful.
We also discovered the Corner Porch in Delray after all these years. It’s wonderful. Great drinks, delicious food and an historic atmosphere. It’s becoming a favorite.

Finally, a heartfelt thanks to my dear friend Fran Marincola who wrapped up 19 years on Delray’s Parking Management Board in July.
I think it’s fair to say nobody knows more than Fran does about parking in Delray nor is more passionate about the issue.
Board service is essential, important and often thankless work. The volunteers who give their time are often unsung but hugely valuable to a successful city.
Fran did his part, which also includes a long stint on the Downtown Development Authority. He cares a whole lot of about his town and that’s really cool.
Until next month, have a great and safe August.

The Ties That Bind

If you’re a local Vietnam Veteran you may want to check out the Boca based chapter of the VVA.

Earlier this week, I had the honor of speaking to the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1125 at Patch Reef Park in Boca Raton.

It was a humbling experience for me since I have great respect for veterans. The opportunity came about when members of the organization attended a Bronze Star award ceremony that recognized the heroism of Skip Brown, a friend, retired Delray police officer and Vietnam veteran who was gracious enough to accept the Bronze Star at Old School Square’s Crest Theatre recently.

The local chapter of the VVA has about 90 members and does some great work in the community raising money for good causes and working to provide services and information to Vietnam veterans in our community.

Our conversation was a memorable one. We all have much to learn if we listen to those who have served. My takeaways: many of the veterans are concerned that basic civics aren’t being taught to young people. They worry about low voter turnout, a fundamental lack of knowledge about history and a lack of understanding of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. They are also keen on reaching Vietnam Veterans so they can engage with them and if needed steer them to services. The organization is working on a website which should be ready by Veterans Day.

I thought I’d share my remarks with readers of Your Delray Boca in an effort to raise awareness for the group.

 

“I’d like thank my longtime friend Arthur Brown for the opportunity to be with you this evening…

I have to admit I struggled with what to say tonight and that would make those who know me laugh…because I’m a lot of things but speechless is not one my afflictions.

I struggled because shortly after Arthur told me about your group and asked me to visit, I happened to stumble across the movie “Coming Home”  which depicts the experience of Vietnam veterans coming home and struggling to adjust to life back in the states.

And I realized that I don’t have much to tell you, but you have much to tell me and all of us.

I was born in 1964 and while I registered for selective service in 1982, I grew up in an America that relied on volunteers and not the draft. And so my peers and I never had to contemplate going to war—others fought for us. While I have respect and gratitude for those who volunteer and those who go to war, I don’t know what it’s like and I never will. If you told me everything you knew about that experience, I would appreciate and grow from that knowledge, but I would still not fully grasp what you lived.

So what do I have to share with you?

Thankfulness and gratitude…for sure.

And yet, as I thought about tonight, I began to think in a larger context and what I concluded is that maybe this inability or unwillingness to understand each other’s experience and perspective is at the heart of what is ailing America these days.

We are here together at a very strange moment in our nation’s history.

We are a nation divided.

We are estranged from one another. That is probably a feeling that you recognize since many Vietnam veterans have shared that they were not exactly welcomed when they returned home. (Editor’s note: during the Question and Answer session following the talk, one veteran said he had to travel in civilian clothes because he was treated harshly while in uniform).

These days, we are talking and often times yelling past each other…we don’t hear and we don’t listen. We don’t seek to understand and we are lacking in thankfulness. We are lacking in gratitude. We are failing to recognize each other as people, as Americans.

Yet, despite our troubles…despite our divisions…despite our broken politics, our opioid addictions, our homeless issues, poverty, despair and violence—we do remain a land of abundance.

Despite racism, hatred, anti-Semitism, homophobia, trade wars, tariffs and political swamps—we remain a place of beauty—we regularly enjoy the blessings of this nation…opportunity, love, compassion, freedom and justice. However, imperfect, it does exist.

And so I thought that just like I could never understand your experience in the Vietnam era, it is possible for me to appreciate and respect it. And therefore it’s possible for all of us to appreciate and respect each other—in spite of our differences.

That’s a decision that all of us have the power to make.

We need to decide what binds us as a nation. What do we share as Americans…not as Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives or other labels relating to race, religion, sexual preference or identity—but what binds us as people.

Maybe if we could see beyond the labels, maybe if we made an effort to listen, to be respectful and gracious… maybe just maybe we can find our way back to a place of reconciliation.

Abraham Lincoln called on us to summon our better angels. He also understood that a house divided cannot stand.

I see Lincoln as a model leader because he sought to unite not divide. Division is not leadership, its demagoguery. We lack leaders, we don’t lack demagogues.

That does not mean we cannot hold strong beliefs or advocate for deeply held convictions that conflict with each other. But it does mean, that we should strive for a better way to disagree. Because I know for sure that what we are doing today isn’t working. It’s not making America great again, it’s not instilling hope or affecting change, it is ripping us apart.

Maybe, we ought to step back…lay down our arms, shut off cable TV and social media for a few minutes and consider what’s at stake.  We just might think differently.

Maybe if we paused…we might change our perspective.

So what is at stake?

What is at risk?

I would argue that America itself is at risk.

For all of its imperfections, for all of its problems, this is an amazing country. A nation that has led the world, a beacon for all other nations.

How can we risk that?

How dare we risk that?

Your sacrifice…the sacrifice of others who fought for our country deserves better than what we are seeing these days.

The great leaders and American citizens and service members  who gave us liberty, freedom and the right to pursue happiness—deserve better than what our leaders and our pundits are giving us.

We, the people, deserve better.

I want to conclude with a few suggestions and then I’m anxious to hear your thoughts….

What do we do until we figure this out? What do we do to come together as a nation?

I would suggest we begin to think and act locally…volunteer, mentor a young person, find a worthy charity and give our time and talents…build a community. There are so many worthy causes to dive into in Delray and Boca.

Anne Frank said: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
How true and how amazing….that in the midst of the Holocaust Anne Frank was able to express hope. And her sentiments are spot on.

 

I’m anxious to hear your thoughts, but I just think we need to focus on what binds us, not what divides us. And that we need more uniters in leadership positions at all levels of our society.

The stakes are high…they couldn’t be higher and we are certainly at an inflection point. A house divided cannot stand…we need to heed the lessons of history if we are to have a future.

But we have the power to change things….to improve as Anne Frank said, our little slice of the world.

 

 

 

A Golden Anniversary

Golden retrievers gather in Scotland to mark their anniversary.

Last week, news outlets the world over ran a feel good story about a gathering of 361 golden retrievers in Scotland.
The dogs congregated to celebrate the 150th anniversary of their breed. And that is excuse enough for me to write about them.
Golden retrievers have become the third most popular breed in America.
I know why they’re popular. Golden retrievers are— in a word—amazing.

I’ve been blessed to have had four in my life and a now fifth “granddog–Riley.”
My roster of fur greatness:

Rusty, a retriever-shepherd mix who was my boyhood dog. Rusty was in my life from around the age of 9 until I graduated college. It was a long and fun run. He was a rescue from the Kent Animal Shelter on the east end of Long Island.
Magnum, named after the Private investigator played by Tom Selleck in the 80s, was my first puppy. He was an amazing dog, huge, good, smart and loving. He once ate our carpet and a couch, but hey that was a low price to pay for his friendship.

 Casey, came next. She was a rescue who was fostered by an employee of former mayor Leon Weekes. Casey was sweet and loving but taking her downtown was an adventure. She enjoyed Kilwin’s but then spent the rest of the time trying to get into any car on Atlantic Avenue. She was a homebody, I suppose.

Of course, there is my current “soul dog” Teddy, a handsome 90 pounder who is as good as…well he’s as good as gold. Teddy is well known for his Facebook and Instagram appearances–I can’t help it, he’s cute. He’s also full of personality and may be the best behaved dog I’ve ever had and that’s saying a lot because all of my dogs have been outstanding. Teddy is something special. I just don’t have the words to describe what he means to us.

All four of our retrievers were and are outstanding dogs: friendly, smart, well behaved, loving, loyal, funny and easy on the eyes.
We’ve gotten our dogs through two local rescue organizations: Golden Retrievals, a Boca-based non-profit and Everglades Golden Retriever Rescue also a local 501c3 non profit.
Both are terrific organizations and both changed my life by placing a golden retriever in it.
They really do rescue us as much as we rescue them.

To enjoy the love of a good dog is one of life’s true joys.

My latest love affair Teddy is a remarkable dog. He’s incredibly well behaved, I dare say considerate. He just seems to be sensitive to our words and feelings as if he can read our moods and emotions.
He has a wonderful personality and greets every day with a smile. His hobbies include dismantling stuffed animals, walking, car rides, following me everywhere and watching TV.
In short, he’s a hoot. I adore him. So does my wife and everyone who comes in contact with him in our neighborhood and at Lake Ida Park. I should also mention that our next door neighbor Brooke, a spirited and adorable little girl is Teddy’s heartthrob. He looks for her every time we go outside. He’s also close to his brother Randy, a 15 year old chihuahua who we adopted 14 years ago at the Delray Affair from the Animal Rescue Force (ARF). Randy is amazing too. We are very fortunate.

Dogs are having a moment in our culture these days. They are all over TV in shows and Subaru commercials and immensely popular on social media.
Evidence of canine culture is everywhere. Apartment developers are adding dog washing stations, dog parks and dog sitting services to their projects and pet stores are proliferating everywhere despite the challenges of today’s retail environment.
Movies, books, T-shirt’s and posters featuring our furry friends are ubiquitous.
I think it’s wonderful.
Someone even sent me a chain and a charm depicting a golden. I’m not sure who did so, but if you’re reading this: thank you.
So while I have a preference for Golden’s (and chihuahuas) I really love them all. And I highly recommend you open your heart and your home to a dog or a cat—especially rescues.
But only if you can fully commit. They deserve our time and attention as well as our love.
In return, you will be given so much.
In honor of 150 years of Golden Retrievers check out these fine organizations.

www.egrr.org

https://goldenretrievals.org/

Here’s a peek at my guy:

Teddy…an alumni of Golden Retrievals.

Failure Versus Success

“The only ones who fear failure are those who have never tasted it.” – Simon Sinek

Bessemer Ventures is a terrific Venture Capital firm.

They’ve had a lot of hits (Yelp, Pinterest, Linked In) and quite a few misses.

Such as not investing in Facebook.

Here’s how Bessemer explains its failure to see the potential in founders Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin:

“Jeremy Levine (a Bessemer partner) spent a weekend at a corporate retreat in the summer of 2004 dodging persistent Harvard undergrad Eduardo Saverin’s rabid pitch. Finally, cornered in a lunch line, Jeremy delivered some sage advice. ‘Kid, haven’t you heard of Friendster? Move on. It’s over!’”

This week, Facebook’s market cap was approaching $606 billion—that’s billion with a B ($$$$).

I don’t know how many of us are prepared to reckon so openly (and humorously) with mistakes or let alone share them with the world.

But the truth is, if we are honest, we all miss from time to time.

I recently read an article by Bill Taylor, a founder of Fast Company magazine, who suggests that to be a better leader we ought to put together a “failure resume.”

It sounds a little odd, but the point is we often learn more from our failures than our successes.

I think that’s true, but only if we are self-aware and take the time to delve into why something didn’t work. Sometimes it’s hard to examine a failure, because failing can be painful and costly both emotionally and financially.

But if we remember that success is never final and failure is hardly ever fatal, we may be encouraged to take a deeper look at ventures that didn’t quite pan out.

As an entrepreneur, I have had some hits (admittedly minor, but I’m still swinging) and many misses.

As someone who works with a phenomenally successful entrepreneur, we have also had our share of hits (some really good ones) and some misses (it happens).

As a civic entrepreneur (aka a former elected official), there are a few votes I regret but many more (fortunately) that I’m proud of. I say fortunate because unlike business, where you can usually come back to fight another day, in politics once you’ve cast your vote, you can’t get it back.

So anyway, because I like and respect Bill Taylor and have read him for years, I thought I would sit on the couch one night and take his advice. I did my “failure resume” while watching “The Bachelorette”, which some would say should be added to my failure list. So here goes…

We failed to save the old Boca News—(although we did manage keep it alive long enough to sell it).

This was a high degree of difficulty mission since the paper struggled when Knight Ridder owned it and really struggled when they sold it, leaving us without a deep pocketed corporate parent. It was a painful exercise to keep afloat until it sold, because we had to let a lot of really good people go and those faces are forever etched in my mind.

For four years, I had some successes and some misses with a brand consultancy that helped companies bring their product to market.

We got a few clients shelf space nationally, but the amount of work we were doing (relative to the fees we were generating didn’t add up). What I failed to consider was that each start-up considered their product their baby (as they should). As a result, there was never enough attention we could pay to any one client that matched their expectations. We made some money, but we pulled the plug.

My first two entrepreneurial ventures also failed despite enjoying some early success.

As a young journalist, my colleagues and I approached my parent company with an idea—could we start a sports publication that would cover everything from youth sports to adult rec leagues?

Our corporate parent, called us “intrapreneurs” because they partnered with us on our effort, providing sales,  if we produced, designed and distributed the paper which we called “Boca Raton Sportscene.”

I still think it was a good idea and readers loved it but….we were charged expenses (printing $$$) and being less than sophisticated negotiators we got killed. It was only when I eventually left to start my own—successful publishing company (finally! a win)—did I realize that we were being charged how should I say it…aggressively.

But I learned a lesson and I relished the opportunity I was given. It also stoked my desires to give it a go on my own. And so I did. But before I left, I also ghost wrote books for clients, including custom biographies—again we were profitable but if you added the time versus the compensation well let’s just say I’d be better off doing just about anything else.

Since then, there have been real estate deals, hot sauce, beverages, more newspapers, events, consulting gigs, my own book, race horses, investments in other ventures, a magazine etc. etc.

Luckily, a few ideas worked. But they were all really challenging.

That’s why I admire entrepreneurs and creatives—because it’s hard work and it’s always uncertain.

I’ve been under capitalized and well capitalized, I’ve worked with experienced people and some.. ahem… others. I’ve seen great ideas crash and burn and some ideas I thought were questionable break through. In my mind, that’s the fun of it all.

So consider a failure resume, because once you lay it out there you might realize that those failures actually led to your successes.

 

Success Is Never Final

Downtown Delray wasn’t quite this bad, but it wasn’t too vibrant in the 80s.

I was following an interesting “thread” on social media recently regarding the closing of a retail store on Atlantic Avenue and U.S. 1.

Those commenting were lamenting the closing and the high rents that they blame for pushing out “mom and pop” retailers.

There were a few folks who were concerned that Atlantic Avenue was endangered by what some call “high rent blight”—the phenomenon of vacancies in a hot area caused by landlords asking for very high rents.

There were calls for more promotion of the downtown, rent controls and action from government.

It was a really interesting read.

A short time ago, I read other postings calling for an end to events and for the abolishment of agencies and entities that promote the downtown. Why waste the money, the argument went. Downtown Delray is successful, the job is done.

Well…folks, here’s an adage to remember. Success is never final and therefore your downtown is never “done.”

I moved to Florida 31 years ago this month. And it was a vastly different place.

The 1980s were not kind to downtown Delray Beach. We were not alone. Those were the days when malls and suburban shopping centers ruled the roost. Big box stores such as Walmart were killing main streets across the land.

Downtowns were left for dead and Delray was no exception.

In the mid to late 80s, downtown Delray had a roughly 40 percent vacancy rate, there was very little pedestrian or vehicular traffic, hardly any place to eat and you could have gone bowling at 5 p.m. on Atlantic Avenue without fear of hitting anything. Our brand was “Dull Ray.”

But things change.

Committed citizens, visionary entrepreneurs, bold elected officials and creative city staff began working together to change the fortunes of our downtown. Similar stories, with varying degrees of success, happened across America.

Once downtown Delray began to gain traction, leaders in the community developed a mantra. It went something like this: the downtown will never be ‘done’—it is the heart of the community and you can’t have a healthy community without a healthy heart. Complacency is a killer, we are competing with other cities for investment, residents, businesses and consumer spending and we have to constantly re-invent.

That was the philosophy that I grew up with in this town and one that I adopted when I was given the privilege of serving on the City Commission. I served with an interesting collection of people: Pat Archer, Bob Costin, Fred Fetzer, Bill Schwartz, Jon Levinson, David Schmidt, Brenda Montague, Alberta McCarthy and Rita Ellis. We were very different people—different ages, different religions, different races, different political parties and we had very different life experiences. But we managed to find common ground, even if, especially if, we had heated debate. We’d always find our center or “true north”—which was what we felt was best for the long term good of the city.

We weren’t always right. We didn’t always see with 20/20 vision what was around the bend, but we understood fundamentally that current conditions didn’t necessarily indicate future performance.

So if a part of town was broken, we assumed it could be fixed. And if a part of town was working, we assumed it could break. We knew success would require a commitment. We knew success wasn’t final and that success itself would pose additional challenges (hello traffic and high rents).

Which is why when times are good you don’t declare victory, you keep working and you wake up a little bit scared because you know that complacency is a killer. And when times get tough, you look at your assets—your agencies, your entities, your institutions, your ‘bones’ (as planners like to refer to our grid) and you sharpen them. You ask them to reinvent—to do more, be more, create more, grow and lead.

But if you kill or neglect those institutions, agencies and entities those tools will be gone or damaged. If you declare victory and take your eyes off the prize—well you just might find that you’ve been left in the dust.

Just remember, other cities always have their eyes on your assets.

 

 

Complacency is a Killer

Wynwood Yards—wow!

Recently, Bisnow Media convened a panel devoted to the remarkable rise of Wynwood, a super cool neighborhood in Miami.

The panel consisted of developers, investors and others who have been instrumental in the revitalization of a tired neighborhood into a hip, tourist draw and arts center.

Their conclusion: zoning was the key to the neighborhood’s success.

According to Bisnow: “Fortis Design+Build Managing partner David Polinsky said when Wynwood started becoming a hot neighborhood with galleries and street art, he had looked at a tract behind Panther Coffee and bought it the next day — only to find there was nothing he could build on it.

 In 2013, he helped write a white paper that laid out three planning and zoning goals: relaxed parking requirements, zoning that would permit flexible uses such as residential and office and increased density for residential development.

 The Wynwood Business Improvement District, which represents more than 400 property owners, worked with the city of Miami and planning firm PlusUrbia and, in 2015, developed a Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, which called for 10-foot-wide sidewalks, the development of studio apartments under 650 SF and the establishment of a design review committee that would consider future projects. Eventually, the city passed eight ordinances that incorporated the changes.”

The changes created value that didn’t exist before. And the magic of those zoning changes is that the value didn’t cost the taxpayers a fortune. Unlike expensive incentives and tax abatements, increasing flexibility (especially for urban infill sites) is the best tool cities have to create value, attract investment and transform neighborhoods. Zoning beats costly incentives my friends.

But success has its challenges too.

While Wynwood has won international acclaim, rents have soared squeezing out the eclectic array of small businesses that made the neighborhood attractive to begin with. Rents are now said to be between $40 and $100 per square foot, that’s very pricey for independents. On nearby Lincoln Road which started losing independents in 1999 rents can be as high as $330 a square foot.

Locally, we have experienced a similar phenomenon.

When I moved to Delray in the late 80s, Atlantic Avenue rents were $6-8 a square foot. Adjusted for inflation that would be the equivalent of $13-$17 a square foot in 2018 numbers. But today rents are $50 to over $100 a square foot downtown. That’s a challenge. Fortunately, the Downtown Development Authority recognizes that there are issues and has engaged Robert Gibbs, a noted expert, to help navigate. The city would be wise to listen to Gibbs’ 43 page analysis which is available on the DDA website. I don’t agree with it all, but it’s fascinating reading.

Urban redevelopment is often the tale of revitalization and then hyper gentrification which ultimately squeezes the charm out of a place. While change is inevitable (even Charleston, S.C. has chain stores up and down its main drag) it doesn’t always have to mean doom and gloom. There are tools—rental assistance (which can be controversial), pop-up store opportunities to test ideas, retail incubators and small liner shops that can help promote authentic and independent uses.

But it isn’t easy. And you’re never done.

That was a mantra back when Atlantic Avenue was making the turn from “Dull Ray” to “America’s Most Fun Town.”

There’s always a chorus of people who will be saying it’s time move on and concentrate elsewhere once you find some success.

 But city building is never a zero sum binary game.

You can do many things at once—and you should: each part of your city deserves its own strategy and investment plan—but you’ll never be totally done. Success is never final and with it comes challenges; many unexpected.

Wynwood is at an inflection point. I would argue that downtown Delray Beach and east Boca is as well. Mind you, these are good problems to have. They certainly beat the alternative which is our “town is dead, what do we do?”

I drove Atlantic Avenue with my dogs on a recent Sunday evening. It was a hot steamy off season night and it was nice to see crowds of pedestrians and diners—people of all ages enjoying the avenue. I noticed some vacancy and I also noticed that our streets could be cleaner. But I also saw vibrancy, hard fought, hard to get and harder to keep vibrancy.

The dogs stuck their heads out the window to check it out and soak it in. It felt good and it’s something we should cherish and work together to keep.

The challenges are not unique, but the opportunities are very unique. Consider me grateful. There’s something cool about never being done. It allows all of us to be part of an ongoing story.