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Town Hall Lecture Series: A Can’t Miss

Joe Minicozzi has done groundbreaking work in Asheville, N.C.

Joe Minicozzi has done groundbreaking work in Asheville, N.C.

If you haven’t attended the town hall lecture series you are missing out on some extraordinary speakers.

Mayor Glickstein, the City of Delray Beach and the sponsors of the events are to be commended for bringing the best urban thought leaders to Delray to discuss a range of topics. If only we would listen…

I’ve been privileged to moderate two recent events and both were outstanding.

We wrote earlier about placemaker Fred Kent whose powerful message kick started discussions on what to do with the Old School Square Park, a conversation that has started and stopped for at least a decade. A subsequent community discussion on March 21 regarding the exterior uses of the Cornell Museum of Art, what should happen at the park, the OSS parking garage and how it all connects to Atlantic Avenue produced a range of ideas. A follow-up to that meeting is set for Tuesday, April 28, from 6:00 – 7:30 pm in the Ocean Breeze Room at the Delray Center for the Arts, 51 North Swinton Avenue.  Make sure to attend and bring your ideas.

It is really encouraging to see plans for the downtown park take shape. The park was created as a result of the 2005 Parks Bond, which envisioned a lively downtown park. The goal was to replace an ugly surface parking lot with open space and then build a mixed use parking garage that would yield a net gain in parking. The garage later became home to the Arts Garage and the Chamber of Commerce, but the park has remained lackluster, a great site for the CRA Green Market and good event space, but lacking the daily vibrancy that was originally envisioned.

If plans proceed—and I believe they will—the lecture series should be credited for jumpstarting the process.

Now, the city should use the same template from the Kent lecture to re-assess how we look at development in Delray Beach.

The most recent lecture featured Joe Minicozzi, an Asheville, N.C. based urban designer/planner, Chuck Marohn, an engineer and founder of the amazing “Strong Towns” blog and former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, the president of the Congress for New Urbanism.

Minicozzi’s talk focused on the financial side of development. Using simple math, Joe is able to compare the value of sprawl like development versus dense, mixed use development, often referred to as smart growth or new urbanism. His work is groundbreaking and clearly shows the stark differences in taxes and economic impact between making efficient use of land versus inefficient, traffic inducing sprawl. No judgment, just numbers.

Marohn, a reformed engineer, takes on the cost side, showing graphically how our pattern of development in America is slowly but surely bankrupting us because tending to sprawl costs a lot more than building walkable, compact and yes somewhat dense communities.

Norquist talked about his experiences as mayor of Milwaukee, where he earned a reputation for deploying new urbanist philosophies.

At the end of the lecture, Norquist asked me what I thought and my initial reaction was that I did not know of any cities that were doing this type of financial analysis when they evaluated development.

Upon further reflection, I think that in many ways we were moving in the opposite direction of what Marohn, Minicozzi and many of the other speakers we have invited to Delray have suggested.

Instead of a form-based code, we are still hung up on numbers. Instead of understanding that suburban parking codes don’t make sense in urban cores, we are still fearful of not having enough surface parking. Instead of understanding that parking isn’t free (courtesy of a fascinating lecture by the world’s foremost parking guru Donald Shoup) we still haven’t made a decision on whether to charge users or not (meanwhile taxpayers are footing the bill).

From Andres Duany and Viktor Dover to the most recent speakers, the common thread is a full-throated embrace of urbanism, smart growth, design, placemaking etc.

If it leads us to have a better conversation about growth and development, the lecture series will be remembered as the catalyst for an even better Delray. But if it’s just an exercise in what we can’t have, it will be remembered as a lost opportunity.

Readers of this blog know that as the co-chair of the downtown master plan, I had deep disagreements with our most recent attempts to “fix” our Land Development Regulations. I was hoping we would have gone to a form based code that emphasized design and desirable uses but feel we ended up with a more prescriptive code that I believe will hinder innovation and infill development. Just my opinion and I certainly empathize with the concerns that people who love Delray have regarding traffic, parking and gentrification.

But I still don’t think we’ve addressed design and use and I’m afraid by capping density, we’ve given up on creating affordability downtown.

Regardless, the lecture series has given us an invaluable opportunity to raise the level of debate in Delray—if we so choose.

Fred Kent got us thinking about placemaking again—and that’s a good thing. We have some lazy assets that can be so much more.

Hopefully, Minicozzi and Marohn can get us thinking about the cost and revenue side of development patterns, a timely conversation as we look at corridors such as Congress Avenue and as budget season kicks off.

The next Town Hall lecture is set for 6 p.m. April 30 at the Crest.

Peter Kageyama, renowned community development consultant and author, will discuss on “What Makes Cities Lovable.” You won’t want to miss Peter. He spoke at Leadership Florida two years ago and they are still talking about it. When he got done speaking, I grabbed a bunch of his books and have been given them away ever since.

Kageyama is the co-founder and producer of the Creative Cities Summit, an interdisciplinary event that brings together citizens and practitioners around the big idea of the city. Internationally sought after as a community development consultant and grassroots engagement strategist, he addresses audiences all over the world about bottom-up community development and the amazing people who are making change happen.  Kageyama has authored two best-selling books, For the Love of Cities:  The Love Affair Between People and Their Places (a great and fast read), and its follow up Love Where You Live:  Creating Emotionally Engaging Places.

Hope to see you there.

Meanwhile check out www.mydelraybeach.com for more information on the series and for tapes of the talks.

 

 

Urban Myths: Delray Edition

Can this really happen? Or is it a myth?

Can this really happen? Or is it a myth?

Local urban myths

  • Nobody parks in the Old School Square Garage
  • The CRA hasn’t invested in the community.
  • All Developers Are Greedy and Bad
  • You Can Still Steal Real Estate in Delray (those days are gone)
  •  Your million dollar plus house in east Delray has nothing to do with the success of the downtown
  • People don’t want to live downtown
  • All density is bad. (It’s about design)
  • 48 feet is a tall building
  • The US 1 project will create gridlock
  • Conditional use is bad
  • Conditional use is the same as a waiver or variance
  • Suburban parking codes work downtown
  • Downtown is bullet proof (see Street, Clematis, Boulevard, Las Olas)
  • Downtown is done.
  • Cities can ignore private property rights (not in America)
  • Property owners can ignore the public (no they can’t and they shouldn’t)
  • Sprawl like development is sustainable
  • We can ignore millennials
  • Process trumps outcomes
  • Contracts shouldn’t be bid (a view still stubbornly held by a few)
  • The highest or lowest bidder should always win (better make sure they can do the job)
  • Economic development incentives are the answer (a tool: yes, the answer: no)
  • You don’t have to grow your own jobs
  • Parking is free
  • Culture doesn’t matter
  • Success is an accident
  • Visioning is a waste of time
  • Delray hasn’t implemented visions (just look around)
  • The squeaky wheel should always get the grease (it’s a big town out there, happy people tend not to show up at meetings, sadly)
  • Being an elected official is an easy job
  • Workforce housing is an option
  • Cities can ignore education
  • Success is always final and failure is always fatal
  • Public Art is a waste of resources
  • Cities should stick to the basics
  • Leadership is an option– nice to have but not necessary
  • Public Employees aren’t passionate about their mission
  • Elections don’t matter. Yes they do.

The Challenges Of Success

NYC's Famous Oyster Bar closed after 55 years in business when its rent went from $15k a month to $50k a month.

NYC’s Famous Oyster Bar closed after 55 years in business when its rent went from $15k a month to $50k a month.

 

There was a great story in the New York Times recently about a blog called Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York (http://vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com/).

Jeremiah (not his real name) chronicles the “hyper-gentrification” of NYC and the loss of landmark businesses from old dance halls and classic bookstores to delis and coffee shops.

The Vanishing New York blog has a scathing opinion of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who ushered in an era of development that some praised and others despised.

NYC in many ways is celebrating a great renaissance with plunging crime rates, cleaner and more walkable streets and rising property values. But the flip side of gentrification is the loss of some charming pieces of old New York and the fact that the city has become unaffordable for a great many people.

Delray Beach is often likened to the Big Apple, but those who make that comparison are not paying the “village by the sea” a compliment.

We are a far cry from Manhattan, but the fear of losing what makes Delray-Delray is real and valid.

While stopping progress is neither wise nor possible, it is wise and possible to shape the future look and feel of your community.

One of the driving forces to do the Downtown Master Plan in 2001 was a desire to “keep the charm” and to talk about issues of growth and development that were raised by the controversy surrounding Worthing Place, a six-story, 93 unit to the acre mixed use project that became a lightning rod and a series of lawsuits that lasted for years.

I ran for office in the midst of the controversy and deliberately carved out a neutral position in the hopes that if I were elected, I could broker a compromise between the litigant Tom Worrell and the development team. I knew the players on both sides and at one time worked for newspapers owned by Mr. Worrell who at the time owned and had recently restored The Sundy House. While at the time I did not know Mr. Worrell, I figured our common background might give me a chance.

Shortly after getting elected, we brought the parties together at Old School Square and we came close to a compromise agreement but I couldn’t quite close the deal. Shortly after, a judge ruled on the final suit and the project was a go as originally planned. The lawsuits were counterproductive to my mind and the process produced no winners. Worrell lost the legal battle, but the developers lost valuable time and missed the market and instead of coming out of the ground as the first project downtown Worthing was among the last and had to be changed to a rental project; albeit a hugely successful one.

The concerns about Worthing centered on the scale of the project and how it might impact the downtown.

So we’ve been at this for quite a while.

Defining charm and what a village looks like is not exactly a measurable science.

Some would say Delray lost its charm years ago. Others would say the city’s vibrancy is its charm.

But when I read the story about Vanishing New York and the reports last week that the “George Building” sold for nearly $1,300 a square foot I immediately thought that it is getting tougher and tougher to make a go of it on Atlantic Avenue if you are an independent.

The economics are changing—rapidly. Word is we already have a restaurant paying over $100 a square foot in rent. When I moved to Delray in 1987, rental prices on the avenue were $6-$8 a square foot and vacancies were 40 percent.

A whole lot of economic value has been created for property owners in the ensuing decades; lots of jobs as well.

But the key to success is sustainability not just economic sustainability, but a city that continues to delight.

We have a strong desire for mom and pop retail and independently owned restaurants. A large part of our charm is the uniqueness of our businesses and the vibrant street life that has taken root here.

So if the avenue becomes overrun by chains we risk our point of difference as a city.

But when it comes to ensuring the viability of independents, you run up against a whole lot of headwinds:

  • Price—it’s hard for independents to pay high rents and hard if not impossible for landlords buying properties at big numbers to offer inexpensive rents. Even long time property owners who bought low are hard pressed to keep rents affordable if the market is commanding higher rates.
  • Seasonality—Better than it has ever been but it’s still a long, hot summer for small businesses.
  • Societal trends—Retail is always a tough game and not getting any easier thanks to the Internet. But societal trends are also favoring authenticity, uniqueness, craft and localism, all of which favor small independents and regional operators.So how can we preserve our uniqueness?
  • Here are a few thoughts, none of them fully baked, but perhaps these are topics that can be explored.
  • Successful cities are the places you fall in love with; it’s hard to fall in love with something generic, easier to fall in love with something local, independent, unique and valuable. So there’s also a very compelling case to fight for independents and small businesses.
  • Maybe having some regionals and some chains can actually help local retailers by driving customers to the downtown. Where’s the balance? Hard to say, but there is definitely a tipping point somewhere. Independent restaurants can still make it because we have become a dining destination, so we really don’t need an Applebee’s downtown. But independent retail is another story. They need help. Campaigns to urge people to “shop local” etc.
  • The Downtown Master Plan contained some solutions; a cluster study was done to determine sales by area cluster and also determined gaps that economic developers and property owners can use to recruit desired retailers. That study needs to be continuously updated and used. In addition, the master plan called for “development without displacement” and as such a Community Land Trust was formed and has been very successful. Perhaps, a commercial land trust can be explored for key parcels. An interesting concept (maybe), but difficult and costly to implement.
  • Trading of Development Rights—this tool could be used to help finance/subsidize retail districts. Again, is this the role of government? If not, will the “free market” knock out mom and pop and usher in Walgreen’s etc?
  • The encouragement of “pop up retail” or retail incubation to test concepts inexpensively that can then be rolled out downtown.
  • The development of the “nooks and crannies”. We are already seeing lots of great activity in the Artist’s Alley area. Look for US 1 to become a hot neighborhood in the near future. As US 1 is narrowed and beautified and made safer; it will become less a highway and more of a street. And streets will create opportunities for entrepreneurial independents. But prices are rising on the corridor. We have seen prices of $1 million or more per acre on North Federal.
  • Density…the dreaded D word. But if you want independents to thrive, they need people living and working (not driving) downtown. That means downtown residential is a good thing and so is office space. Downtown residents and workers will shop and dine downtown; studies done in the early 2000s show that.As we noted earlier, restrictive land use codes create scarcity and lead to two one of two outcomes: devaluing property or increasing values because you’ve limited the supply of buildable space. Not all of what we are seeing can be attributed to the city’s codes, a lot has to do with economic cycles and what some would call “irrational exuberance” in which you start to see prices that just make you scratch your head and wonder.Atlantic Avenue and its side streets and now corridors are a strong brand and people are willing to bet millions on real estate and restaurants in the downtown corridor.
  • Whether that’s good or bad is immaterial, it’s probably both. But it’s also reality and that’s what communities and policymakers have to deal with. Wishing it away, won’t change reality.
  • Regardless, there are consequences to cycles, codes and human emotion.
  • These are just some thoughts I’m sure there is a body of case studies out there that can be used for further conversation. But the challenge is here and the time for this conversation is now.

Random Thoughts on a Monday

Pet Parade also raised funds for Dezzy's Second Chance Rescue

Pet Parade also raised funds for Dezzy’s Second Chance Rescue

Random thoughts on a Monday…

Happy 10th anniversary to the Delray Beach Miracle League

It’s hard to believe that a decade has passed. I still remember the first presentation that Julia and Jeff Kadel did at City Hall.

Their passion, commitment and ability to deliver are simply remarkable. They got it done and our kids have benefitted immensely.

Sure, it takes a village, but the village has to include some amazing people and the Kadel’s certainly qualify.

Congratulations on a truly remarkable achievement.

Blaze Pizza

My day job requires that I keep up on some trade publications and so I have been reading a whole lot lately about a new franchise—Blaze Pizza.

Blaze Pizza is being billed as the Chipotle of the pizza business.

Explosive growth is being predicted for this concept, which is a build your own pizza and then watch it cook in 180 seconds.

Blaze recently opened on US 1 in Boca and we tried it last week.

The review: wonderful.

Fresh ingredients, gluten free, plenty of veggies available and a friendly staff.

Keep an eye on this concept.

Easter Bonnet Dog Parade

Every year I wait anxiously for the phone to ring, praying for the offer.

It came this year while sitting at the Solita Table at the Savor the Avenue event.

“Would you be a judge at the Easter Bonnet Dog Parade?” said CRA Green Market Director Lori Nolan.

Are you kidding? Of course!

There is no more fun under the sun than to watch the parade of dogs and sometimes cats, birds, goats and chickens that show up in their finest Easter wear.

The people are pretty interesting too.

This year, was no different. And the cat, 18 years old and brave, got a special award.

It was also interesting to note that most of the pets who participated were rescues; fitting since the parade highlighted the great work being done by Dezzy’s Second Chance Rescue, a fixture at the market.

 

Kudos to the Pineapple

Our friends at The Pineapple Newspaper did it again with a very cool April Fool’s prank outlining a new TV series featuring Delray politics.

There was some inspired casting including Ed Harris as Mayor Glickstein and Eva Longoria as Commissioner Jordana Jarjura.

Last year, The Pineapple created a stir when they reported that Boca Raton was purchasing Delray Beach. The report went viral on social media.

Kudos to Jeffrey Dias, Ryan Boylston and the team for their good work.

The Future Is Now And It’s Exponential

Salim

A few years ago, I had a chance to see Salim Ismail give a rock em sock em talk to Leadership Florida.

Ismail, a co-founder of Singularity University, blew the audience away with a presentation on the future.

It was the first time we saw drones delivering packages and he concluded his talk by printing a belt on a 3-D printer.

It was science fiction come to life. We were in awe. And probably a little skeptical too.

Would we see these things on a mass scale in our lifetimes?

Well, a few years later drones are the talk of the media (and one flew over our table during Savor the Avenue this week), 3-D printing has come down in price to the point where China worries about its role as a manufacturing hub and self-driving cars are being talked about by Google and Tesla as being only a few years away.

I had a chance to see Salim Ismail again a few weeks ago at a workshop at Miami Dade College’s Idea Center. We were at an event sponsored by Rokk3r Labs, a magnificent technology accelerator in Miami and the Knight Foundation which is increasingly doing more and more important work in the areas of community building, the arts and technology in our region.

I first met the Rokk3r team about a year ago through a friend in Delray. They have gone from a handful of employees to over 85 in a short period of time. They are taking a leading role in building Miami’s tech scene, so when they invited me to see Ismail, I jumped at the opportunity.

Ismail is an evangelist for what he calls Exponential Organizations or E0s. The philosophy stems from his work at Singularity University, a unique school in Silicon Valley that taps into the latest thinking on technology from the best minds in the world including Tesla founder Elon Musk and the Google founder Larry Page and futurist/technologist Ray Kurzweil who has been called among the smartest men in the world.

Their basic belief is technological change is so rapid these days that you can’t have a fixed curriculum; it must always be evolving to keep pace with the world.

Ismail sees technology “disrupting” just about every industry you can imagine from health care and education to politics and land use.

For example, he opened his presentation with this showstopper: “ I have a three year old son. He will never have a driver’s license.”
What? Why?
Because Ismail believes that within 10 years and maybe sooner, we won’t be driving. Instead, we will use Uber like services to summon driverless cars. That means an end to accidents (the Google car has driven over 1 million miles without a fender bender), no need for auto insurance and an end to traffic.

That will enable cities to reclaim infrastructure and land now used for exclusively for cars. Ismail says it will provide the biggest real estate opportunity of our lifetimes.

Cars that we actually drive will be like horses; used for primarily for recreational purposes.

Of course, all this change and disruption will mean a loss of traditional jobs and industries, with incumbents who don’t adjust being wiped out, just like Blockbuster Video (by Netflix) and Polaroid (by the rise of digital cameras on smartphones).

The regulatory and political framework does not exist to accommodate this rapid change. Ismail says our politics are “light years” behind our technological prowess. (That’s not a revelation.)

Some in the audience of innovators and entrepreneurs were thrilled and others frightened by his vision. But he says the technology is already here and spreading– you guessed it–exponentially.

Organizations in every walk of life will either become E0s or be disrupted.

There’s no turning back, but there is a way to become an Exponential thinker and to turn your business and organization into an EO.

For a glimpse into the near future read Salim’s new book Exponential Organizations and visit his website: http://www.salimismail.com/

 

 

 

Collaboration Key to Success

collaboration

I recently had an opportunity to meet and talk with a diverse group of Lake Worth business leaders.

They were a mixture of retailers, restauranteurs and service providers, mostly from the downtown core.

They are a motivated group, eager to see their city grow, thrive and succeed. You can’t help but get swept up in their enthusiasm and passion for their city. They are hungry and you have to be hungry to succeed.

I’ve always liked Lake Worth.

The city has an amazing array of assets: two main streets (Lake and Lucerne), a beautiful beach and casino, a fun pier, a nice waterfront park and golf course, cute cottages, a vibrant art scene, some great restaurants and some nice festivals including the Street Painting Festival which is a whole lot of fun.

I’m part of a team that is trying to restore the historic Gulfstream Hotel on Lake Avenue. It’s a fun and challenging project and I’ve learned a whole lot about historic preservation, design and what it takes to build a successful hotel in today’s world.

A project like the Gulfstream would be a no-brainer in a place like Delray or Boca, established markets and proven destinations for tourists.

But in Lake Worth, The Gulfstream is being viewed as a catalyst, a market maker so to speak.

The risks are greater and so are the challenges. But the rewards, if successful, are that much more satisfying.

In Delray, I’ve seen entrepreneurs succeed and fail: especially when we were more of a start-up city; back when we were excited and confident but not quite 100 percent sure about whether the vision for the downtown would take root.

I saw many early pioneers open shops and restaurants and then go out of business—with the common lament that “they were just a little ahead of their time.” And I saw others make bets that paid off beyond their wildest imaginations.

On our beach, I grew to become great friends with Perry Don Francisco, the managing partner of the landmark Boston’s on the Beach. Perry and I were reminiscing last week and talking about the “early years”. He virtually lived at the restaurant—in a third floor apartment. At that time, Boston’s was a breakfast place, a lunch spot, a dinner destination, a nightclub, a caterer, a bar and a host to private parties. Eventually, Perry added the upper deck for fine dining and then an outdoor bar. Oh and there was a small hotel out back. Whew!

He juggled all of those different businesses and found time to serve on city boards, start a police support group, attend myriad chamber of commerce meetings and give to every worthwhile charity that helped kids and the community.

He was there during the struggle; he believed, he engaged and he made it happen. But it wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight.

Next door, Fran Marincola came from a Jersey boardwalk and opened a gelato shop that ultimately became the award winning Caffe Luna Rosa. Did he envision lines out the door for brunch when he started out almost 30 years ago, probably not? But it happened and along the way, he went out of his way to be involved in building the town through service on the Parking Board (talk about excitement), the Downtown Development Authority, Delray Marketing Cooperative, Beach Property Owners Association, DELPAC. the Sandoway House among other causes. He lives and breathes Delray and has helped employees find homes and a life in this community.

Further on up the street, it’s nice to see long time merchants like Hand’s and Vince Canning Shoes working well alongside new shops.

In Pineapple Grove, people scoffed when Scott Porten and Morgan Russell proposed “CityWalk”, which has given us great stores, services and a personal favorite Brule.

We saw the Miami City Ballet come and go, the Esplanade plaza change hands a few times and then flower with a gym, Christina’s, Papas Tapas, a Mystery Book Store and more.

The sky was supposed to fall when the old Post Office left. We fought to keep it, calling our reps in Congress, but Pineapple Grove made it and now the nooks and crannies; Artist’s Alley, Third and Third and the Arts Warehouse feel alive. There’s even rumors of a food market coming to a neighborhood that had been dormant for years.

There’s more to do, of course. Federal Highway is going to thrive, South of the Avenue is on its way and investment is coming to West Atlantic Avenue. Keep your eye on Northwest/Southwest 5th Avenue as well. We have a great CRA and they are focused.

So as I meet more and more people in Lake Worth, I think about my experiences in Delray Beach in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. Each city needs to find its own distinctive personality and leverage its own strengths, but there’s a commonality in what it takes to make it happen.

A great Police Department is essential.  People have to feel safe to visit, live, shop and invest. A friendly city government is also a must. That means a staff and elected leadership that doesn’t lower standards or cut corners but works hard to make deals happen and to shape positive outcomes that benefit both the business owner and the community. Yes, it’s possible.

And most importantly a supportive community that shops locally, welcomes entrepreneurs and supports them in ways large and small. The community piece is vital. A group friend told me recently that “money is fungible; it goes where it’s welcome.”

That saying resonates, so before intractable opposition forms, it is important for community leaders to get out front with a message of “how may we help you” versus “we’re going to stop you” or “you are on your own, good luck.” Again that does not mean lowering standards, but it does mean an attitude of trying to solve problems collaboratively, a distinction that many cities miss.

Can Lake Worth do it?

Absolutely.

We are betting on it.

 

 

Vision

Vision is imperative

Vision is imperative

Over the past few weeks, I have been meeting with a friend who is hard at work on a book about mayors.

The book is focused on mayoral leadership and the author’s premise is that successful mayors articulate or champion a vision, involve the public, put a team in place to implement the vision and exercise political will to ensure that the vision is accomplished when the inevitable opposition to change arises.

It’s all good stuff. But what intrigues me is the author’s premise that cities need to create a new vision every 25 years or they will run into trouble.

I agree with that. And doing the math, I’d say that Delray is due a new or renewed vision.

The best visions are community building exercises in which all major stakeholders are engaged and asked to participate.

Delray’s revitalization began in the late 80s, when a group of committed citizens working alongside city staff developed Visions 2000.

Visions 2000 served as a blueprint for the next decade of policymaking and informed spending for the next ten years. It also enabled the passing of the landmark $21.5 million Decade of Excellence Bond, in which citizens voted to go into debt in order to improve the community.

Why? Because they not only believed in the vision, they helped to craft it. They also had faith in local government to deliver.

The Decade of Excellence helped to usher in a lot of private investment; business owners, homeowners, restauranteurs and developers began to risk capital because they believed in Delray and were excited by the vision. I can think of no more valuable economic development tool than to have an exciting vision.

But you can’t stop at a vision, you have to implement and Delray did so–remarkably well.

When the Decade of Excellence wrapped up and the projects were completed, a new vision for the downtown was formed –again with an inclusive process. While Visions 2000 brought a representative sample of citizens together, the Downtown Master Plan invited everybody willing to show up to the table.

In all, over 500 people participated in the charrette, plus several hundred who visited temporary design studios set up on Swinton Avenue.

Immediately upon completion, a steering committee in charge of the plan, morphed into an implementation committee which prioritized projects and worked with staff and related agencies to get projects designed, funded and under way. The process worked and unlike other cities that let plans sit on a shelf, Delray delivered.

But like everything else in a fast-changing world, visions need to change to meet current needs and aspirations.

As a result of past good work, Delray has a ton of options and possibilities that it didn’t have when the journey started 30 years ago.

We dreamt of creating a place attractive to the creative class and now they are here.

We dreamt of creating a vibrant food and beverage scene and it happened. Now the challenge is to move beyond food and beverage.

We dreamt of creating a walkable community with downtown residential options and mixed use projects and saw it happen.

We dreamt of becoming a cultural beacon for the region and it happened with the redevelopment of Delray Center for the Arts,  The Arts Garage and now Artist’s Alley and other efforts.

Parts of the vision are incomplete and or didn’t quite happen, but a great deal of it did. And it should be a source of enormous civic pride.

But complacency is a killer and cities should never rest on their laurels. Downtown is never done, we used to say. Success is never permanent and hopefully failure is never fatal.

Cities are not a zero sum game, you can concentrate on downtown and the neighborhoods. You can promote West Atlantic Avenue and Congress Avenue.

And you should.

 

FAU & Lynn: Driving Local Innovation

President John Kelly has energized not only FAU but the broader community.

President John Kelly has energized not only FAU but the broader community as well.

We pride ourselves on being local trend spotters here at YourDelrayBoca.com.

So we are proud to announce that we are seeing a positive trend taking shape in Boca Raton, which will impact the entire region.

Our two local universities FAU and Lynn are making major strides to deepen their excellence, expand their influence and increase their relevance to our local economy.

This is important because both FAU and Lynn are major drivers of intellectual capital and leaders in how our region is viewed by the world. If the Boca area is seen as an intellectual hub and a magnet for young talent, it virtually guarantees economic sustainability and quality of life for the entire community.

FAU has clearly been invigorated by the leadership of President John Kelly. Great leaders engage with the world and bring energy to institutions.  In his first year, Dr. Kelly’s drive and ambition for FAU has clearly penetrated not only the university community but the outside world as well.

A recent agreement to partner with Scripps Florida and the Max Planck Institute is just one of many partnerships fostered as a result of his energetic leadership. It seems that wherever we travel these days, the topic of FAU comes up in conversation and usually in terms of collaboration and external outreach. In Delray alone, the university is working with Delray Students First, Dare 2 Be Great and the Achievement Centers for Children and Families.

VP of Public Service Jorge Calzadilla and his team have been making the rounds and turning heads in the community with their zeal to make an impact and to turn FAU into a university of national significance.

Calzadilla came with President Kelly from Clemson where he served 27 years and did remarkable work impacting children in South Carolina. If you meet Jorge, you can’t help but be swept up by his enthusiasm and vision for FAU.

On the research front, we recently had a chance to hear new VP of Research Dan Flynn discuss his plans to turn FAU into a major research institution complete with patents, start-ups, commercialization efforts, student research opportunities, faculty initiatives and major grants. Flynn has done it before at other institutions and sees no barriers to FAU becoming a world class research center utilizing the amazing natural resources provided by the ocean and the Everglades.

All of this is good news for students, our region, Boca and Delray, alumni and the general community.  Not only will a reinvigorated FAU attract talent, it will help our region retain its young minds. Already in some of our work with young students in Delray and Boca we are beginning to hear a desire to stay home and attend FAU or come back home for graduate work. And keep an eye on FAU’s Tech Runway and Research Park because within a decade or even sooner you will see the first superstar company launched right here in our backyard. All of the elements are in place.

This is great news for those of us who value economic development and it provides our region with an opportunity to go beyond food, beverage, services, construction, tourism and retirees to fuel our economy.

At Lynn University, President Kevin Ross and his leadership team are innovating on multiple fronts.

From a curriculum that is high on relevance and providing hands on experience in an increasingly global society to a very impactful partnership with a little company in Cupertino called Apple, Lynn’s campus crackles with excitement.

Dr. Ross has attracted a top-notch faculty attracted by the opportunity to innovate and a diverse student body that is placing a premium on making an impact on the world.

Whenever I visit with President Ross I’m reminded of a saying: “Normal” is what the majority does, which is why “different” is so much more interesting.

Indeed.

And Lynn has transformed its model to be both different and compelling.

To have both Boca universities performing at high levels at the same time is a unique and happy circumstance.

Switched on cities, progressive non-profits, schools and businesses will find ways to tap into the innovation and excellence happening at Lynn and FAU.

And that’s good news for Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

 

 

 

 

A Job Well Done; A Mission That Continues

Nancy K. Hurd on the campus that bears her name.

Nancy K. Hurd on the campus that bears her name.

We used to say if we could clone the Achievement Centers for Children & Families, we’d have a better world.

Whenever I’m asked for an example of a model non-profit, I immediately think of the Achievement Center.

For over 40 years, starting in a church classroom and growing into a major campus on Lake Ida Road, the Achievement Center has changed lives by striving to break the cycle of poverty in our community.

Yesterday, the center’s longtime– but now retired –executive director Nancy Hurd was honored when the campus was named after her. It was a small but joyous ceremony which was fitting for those of us who know Nancy. After all, she declined a big gala when she retired preferring to be surrounded by friends, family, longtime supporters of the mission and of course the children she dedicated her life to.

For generations of children in Delray, Nancy Hurd and her staff were angels. They provided love, care, education and a range of services to our most vulnerable children and their families. And they did it as well as it can be done. To see that work continue is heartwarming beyond words.

Under Nancy’s smart and strategic leadership, the Achievement Centers (which started out as the Delray Community Child Care Center) set the bar for excellence in service delivery, financial stewardship and real and lasting impact.

In life, you don’t meet too many people who impact generations, but Nancy Hurd is one of those few who have done it. Her passion for children, her pursuit of excellence and her big heart not only impacted our most needy families, but they inspired staff members, volunteers and board members to dig deeper, try harder and care more.

I am one of those she influenced. I first met Nancy when I was young reporter, new to Delray and anxious to write about interesting people. We hit it off right away and I returned to do many stories over the years for the old Delray Times.

When Gov. Lawton Chiles paid the newly expanded center a visit, the governor’s staff arranged for a private tour just before the big public event. Gov. Chiles was like that, a rare politician who really wanted to dig in and learn why this organization was so special. He also wanted to interact with the kids away from the press. Nancy made sure that I was included on that exclusive tour and it give me a chance to meet and talk with the governor. Nancy knew the experience would be meaningful to me and it was. We never talked about it, but the visit made an impression and showed me that politicians could have hearts.

Later, I would spend many years on Nancy’s board and I must admit it was easy work. The organization was so well-run that most meetings were spent just smiling at the results we were seeing.

Trust me, that’s not always the case when you serve on non-profit boards.

My term on the board allowed me to observe Nancy’s leadership style and I was especially impressed with her ability to spot and nurture talent. The best leaders develop other leaders.

Nancy and the board did a great job finding and developing the super talented Stephanie Seibel, who took the reins when Nancy retired.

The organization continues to thrive, which is the mark of a championship team; when superstars retire the success continues.

Nancy and I have become friends over the years. She was a great source of strength for me during the tough times that I experienced in public office. I knew I could drop by unannounced and get hugs from the cutest children on the planet and then get solid advice from someone I knew, loved, respected and trusted. I always left feeling better. Always.

Now when I drive by the campus every morning on my way to work, I will be able to see Nancy’s name on the Achievement Center’s sign. And I will remember her life’s work, her impact on generations and her influence on one young reporter.

Nancy didn’t say much at the ceremony. She was happy and clearly touched. But she did say that she couldn’t have imagined having a better life. And for the thousands and thousands of lives she has touched; we can’t imagine anyone living a better life.

Well done, Nancy. Your work and your impact will live on forever.

 

 

 

 

 

Raising the Level of Debate

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I delayed this post until after the election, because I didn’t want to be accused of pushing one candidate over another (at least in this space).

(In the interest of full disclosure, while I did not endorse a mayoral candidate, I did endorse commission candidate Bruce Bastian).

You may recall that we blogged about the “silly season” right before the mail and robocalls began in earnest a few weeks back. We predicted pandering and boy were we right.

This does not make us proud or particularly prescient. In fact it depresses us because we deserve a more intelligent debate than what we just endured (and the operative word here is endured).

Now we’re sure that there are voters out there who really believe that all developers are evil and greedy and that candidates for Delray Beach elected office are magically raising test scores and have some magical elixir to relieve traffic congestion. To those who believe that, we ask that you be careful out there—please do not purchase any bridges without consulting an attorney.

You are not a hero if you bid a contract, you’re following the law. So promising to bid local contracts doesn’t make you Abe Lincoln and it doesn’t make you a candidate for a profile in courage.  All it means is that you are compliant with a city ordinance.  That said, you deserve a ton of credit for doing so. It has not been easy. It also means that you have paid attention to the mistakes of past elected officials.

And yes, they all make mistakes. In the interest of more disclosure, the commission I was on did bid the garbage contract but did not bid other contracts. We should have.

Bidding wasn’t a hot button issue in those days and we were hard at work on other things, but municipal contracts should be bid.  Period.

Still, I was overwhelmed by the vitriol and utter lack of ideas in this past campaign. So were many others who contacted us. As we predicted, everyone is fighting development, every developer refuses “to play by the rules” and every candidate is “going to fight congestion and overdevelopment”.

But I didn’t read about a single solution or idea. I visited websites, read every piece of mail and listened to every robocall (I even made one)—but ideas were rarer than snow in Florida.

Here’s a few of my favorites:

  • “Tougher rules and regulations for sober homes”—this is a new one.  I guess nobody else has ever tried.
  • “Congress Avenue is the answer”—The vision for revitalizing Congress Avenue is about 10 years old. Very little has been done since to advance the vision for a corporate mixed use corridor. We hope that changes.  But candidates talked about Congress as if they had discovered the Holy Grail. Congress does have potential, but I suspect that it was used as a pressure relief valve to guard against charges that candidates were anti-business. This way, you can rail against development downtown but pivot with your “vision” for a bustling Congress Avenue.  Smart growth is not a zero sum game. We need office space downtown and we need to redevelop Congress Avenue. You can and you should pay attention to both corridors, as well as Federal Highway, West Atlantic Avenue, south of the avenue and the four corners of Atlantic and Military. And all of those corridors need to be thought of as “complete streets” otherwise all you’ve done is create more sprawl, which is a huge cause of traffic.
  • Special Interest Groups: Everybody seems to hate them, but nobody seems to name them other than of course, developers, who are invariably “greedy” “irresponsible”, “not listening” “violating rules” and corrupting everyone in their relentless pursuit to ruin the village, city, community, neighborhood etc.

I can go on. And on. But you get the picture.

Social media was no better and seemed to reflect the nearly $300,000 spent in a concentrated period to say how awful Delray Beach has become. Really?!

If you were sent campaign mailers and didn’t know anything about the city you would have thought the town was ruined. To some it has been, but to many others it’s been improved. Me: I kind of like Delray.

There I said it. I like the vibrancy, the restaurants, most of the downtown housing projects (not all), the cultural amenities, the historic districts and some of the newer homes sprouting up (not all).

With success comes challenges—traffic, noise, etc.—but on balance I like my town. Check that: I love it.

 

Boca’s level of debate wasn’t any better. But it was heartening to see Jeremy Rodgers succeed with a simple message: Boca should be the best place to start a business and raise a family.

 

We don’t live in Nirvana, but we live in extremely desirable place. But if you read some of the vitriol on out there, you can’t help but scratch your head and wonder. And worry; especially when you see the posts knocking New Yorkers and northerners. It makes you wonder.

We spend a whole lot of time talking about the “village” and we seem to define it by how tall our buildings are, but perhaps we should spend some time thinking about how we debate issues of concern and how we treat each other.

Now that the silly season has concluded and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent spouting exactly nothing hopefully we can raise the level of debate.

Why?

Because there are real issues and opportunities that deserve a serious discussion; but you can’t make progress until you stop  blaming, start listening and start dealing in facts, not vitriol or platitudes.

The election dovetailed with college Spring Break and many of the kids we mentor at a foundation called Dare 2 Be Great were home to witness the adults at play.

The students I heard from were shocked by the lack of substance this election cycle.

One young man wrote: “Back home two days and can’t believe what I’m seeing and hearing. So disappointing!  Integrity has left the building. We need to do better.” Out of the mouths of babes; we need to do better. Yes we do.

One final note on the issue of dark money or funds raised by ECO’s: Personally, I have always donated directly to campaigns. But companies I have been involved with or worked for have been solicited to donate to ECO’s and have done so.  After this cycle, I think the practice, while legal, is ultimately detrimental to raising the level of debate and ends up actually backfiring on candidates the PAC’s are supposed to be helping. I suppose there are exceptions, but often funds are commingled and donors have no control over the messages they are financing. Ironically, many of the messages run counter to the donors interests. For example, developers contributing to ECO’s that send out mail pieces slamming development.  It makes no sense. Hopefully, it stops.

I do however believe that business has a strong interest in good government and a right to participate in the political process. It’s not wrong to have a commercial interest in a community. All strong towns need to have strong neighborhoods, strong schools and a thriving business community.

One positive takeaway from this election is that in a world of PAC’s, ECO’s etc. grassroots campaigning still works. There’s just no better substitute for knocking on doors. Commissioner elect Mitch Katz proved that.

Passionate candidates and passionate supporters still win local elections. And that’s the silver lining in the last cycle.