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Vision, Courage + Urgency=Success

Dollar Shave Club CEO Michael Dubin's viral video disrupted an entrenched industry.

Dollar Shave Club CEO Michael Dubin’s viral video disrupted an entrenched industry.

Vision.

Courage.

A sense of urgency.

If you want to succeed as a city or a business, you need all three.

Two out of three, just won’t cut it. All three traits are non-negotiable.

Unless of course, you don’t really want to succeed; if you want to pay lip service you can skip one or more of the aforementioned and you’ll fool a few people but you won’t get anything done.

Vision is a big word, but it can be as simple as an idea or as complicated as a breakthrough innovation. I think it also requires a particular mindset: you have to be aspirational and you have to know where you want to take things.

Examples of vision, courage and urgency abound.

Dollar Shave Club sold this month to Unilever for $1 billion.

Fueled by a clever viral video, Dollar Shave Club took a simple idea—make it easy to buy cheap razors and solved a painful problem. Razors are expensive and they are often kept under lock and key in the pharmacy. Blades are inconvenient to buy and ridiculously priced. But Dollar Shave Club made it easy, they had the courage to go up against industry giants and they had a sense of urgency to make it happen.

A small (but growing fast) hot sauce company I’m involved with also has a simple idea. We think the market leader is old, tired, vinegary, watery and doesn’t taste good. So we created Tabanero, using premium ingredients and a complex recipe that we believe tastes great. We are a long way from a billion dollar exit, but we just gained placement at Publix, Sprouts, Lucky’s and all the big food distributors. We are on our way. We have a vision, we are fearless and we are peddling as fast as we can.

Same with another company we are heavily involved with; Celsius which seeks to disrupt the beverage industry which is filled with iconic giants such as Coke and Pepsi. But Celsius is a healthy alternative to sugary soft drinks and seeks to capture a market that doesn’t want aspartame, sugar, corn syrup, artificial flavors or preservatives. The Celsius team has courage, belief and a tremendous desire to seize the day. Working with people who exhibit these traits is an energizing experience; pun intended.

That mindset translates to cities as well.

Delray’s vision was simple: revitalize a town that had good “bones” and make it a desirable to place to live, work and play.

Now mind you, ‘live, work and play’ is not a revolutionary idea. Thousands of communities have adopted that mantra—but if you look closely only a few had the courage and the sense of urgency to make it happen.

Why? Who knows?

But you can bank on resistance to progress, long lines of protesters, lawsuits and election challenges if you try and make change.

Delray had the courage to do it anyway. And leadership also had a sense of urgency and a desire to take advantage of good economic cycles. Some may call it making hay while the sun shines.

Boca had a vision too. Consider Mizner Park for example. They were challenged, but they persevered and got it done.

Pittsburgh saw its steel mills close but had a vision to reinvent their economy around medicine, education and robotics. Their sense of urgency in doing so was important because without a wholesale reinvention, the Burgh would have sunk into the ooze.

Last week, I got a call, (I won’t say from who) other than he was a property owner who is concerned that Delray has lost its vision and sense of urgency. The guy is not a household name per se in Delray, but he’s owned some strategic pieces over the years. His identity is really not important.

It’s not the first call of this nature that I have received. Mostly, the calls are laments that complacency has set in, political divisiveness too and that the economic cycle may be closer to the end than the beginning and that we didn’t make hay, in fact we chased the hay away.

Yeah, I know development is controversial. And for good reason a lot of times. Some of it, maybe even most of it, can be generic, lacking in imagination, poorly designed and more of the same old, same old.

But that can be fixed. Architects, developers and designers can be and should be challenged to do better.

It’s possible to make places people friendly and to design spaces that complement or improve their surroundings.

Some cities have created design studios to help ensure that projects are the very best they can be.

When famed new urbanist architect Andres Duany came to Delray for a town hall lecture, one of the first things he said was that cities should never make developers and architects guess—they should engage with projects early in the process and shape them so that they enhance the built environment.

Legendary former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley felt that mayors were the primary architects for their cities and had a responsibility to make sure that each project was as good as they could possibly be. Now, truth be told, there are limits. After all, most mayors, including Riley, are not architects or designers, but if they take the time they can learn enough to help make projects look and feel good.

FAU’s Abacoa campus used to have what they called a Florida Public Officials Design Institute, which sadly became a victim of budget cuts. It was a great program; it helped me a lot on the original vision for the Congress Avenue corridor and ideas for the four corners of Military Trail and Atlantic Avenue.

Nationally, there is a Mayor’s Institute for Civic Design which has a stellar reputation.

But there are limits too, I admit. There are property rights and if a developer, with his or her own risk capital wants to build a certain building they have a right to do so—as long as they follow the rules.

Still, most developers I have met are open to being challenged and open to design ideas, if as Duany notes, you engage them early– before they spend big bucks on plans they will be reluctant to toss in the trash.

Mix is important too. I agree with the lament about endless condos, even though I am a firm believer in the need for– and wisdom of –downtown housing if we are to have safe and sustainable urban cores.

But charmless boxes are just that—city codes should encourage good design, varied styles and features that please the public.

But talking about design is a very different conversation than the ones we typically have, which is usually about chasing development away or pretending that we can prevent change. We shouldn’t do the former and we can’t do the latter, even if we wanted to.

We should be talking about design and the very real challenge of how to allow cities to evolve without losing their essence, uniqueness and charm. We should also be talking about mix—how can we encourage cool uses and what’s missing in our community—i.e. workforce housing, co-working, boutique theaters, studio space etc?

That would require vision.

In order to achieve the vision, you need courage.

And in order to drive change, you need a sense of urgency.

If nobody’s waking up every day with a burning passion to make a difference, it tends not to happen. And those communities, businesses and organizations that do have a burning desire will clean your clock before you even know what happened to you.

Discovering and Protecting the Secret Sauce

We've all experienced it: same ingredients, but different taste.

We’ve all experienced it: same ingredients, but different taste.

Most cities share similar assets.

In Florida, the cities may have beaches. In Colorado, they may be ringed by mountains. In Arizona, you may see red rock and cactus.
But we all know that special places are different. They have a different feel and special ingredients.
Just like your favorite pizzeria. Most use dough, tomatoes and sauce but the great pizza places stand out. Somehow the same ingredients just seem to taste better.

What drives the demand that’s responsible for success?

The one true advantage we all have at our fingertips is how we make people feel, and the stories we tell about our community.

I think it’s a combination of history, character (and characters), a sense of place, personality, civic pride and values–yes communities can have and should have values.

Mix it all together and you end up with a community feeling and hopefully a sense of community.

To my mind, that’s a city’s biggest asset. A feeling of community builds pride and confidence. It enables you to fall in love with a place and love leads to commitment and when people commit they make things happen.

A sense of community allows you to celebrate good news and just as important it enables you to deal with the bad stuff: tragedy, challenges and disasters –natural and man made.

I have thinking about this secret batch of ingredients as a new civic engagement boot camp kicks off this week at the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce.

I think 15-20 folks have signed up for a four week program that touches on history, leadership, redevelopment, planning and how individuals can make a positive difference right here in Delray Beach.

I’m hoping the program goes well. And I’m hoping many more sessions are scheduled.

The first session features several Delray icons including Old School Square founder Frances Bourque, influential former CRA Director Chris Brown, longtime and now retired Chamber President Bill Wood and two fine police officers from a golden era Vincent Mintus and Tom Whatley.

In a follow up post, I will let you know what they talked about.

The first class is designed to set the stage by sharing where we came from as a community. Follow up sessions will cover economic development and the most important topic of all: leadership.

Stay tuned and we’ll share the trip. It’s a compelling story. If it’s forgotten we will surely lose our way. If we honor and learn from our past we can find answers for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges and ensure that we don’t miss opportunities.

Do You Believe in Magic?

We've read somewhere that pictures of cats attracts readers. Kittens exhibiting friendship can't miss, no?

We’ve read somewhere that pictures of cats attract readers. Kittens exhibiting friendship can’t miss, no?

Friendship has been on my mind lately.

Maybe it was a visit from a childhood friend or watching my stepson light up when he came home from college and reconnected with his best buddy—but the older I get the more I find myself treasuring the friends I have made over the years. I am so grateful for friends; the people you can count on year after year for fun, laughs, good conversation, advice and just plain hanging out. The best ones are there for you when you are up and when you’re down. They are real, sincere and sometimes painfully honest.

They give you the benefit of the doubt when you mess up—as we all do from time to time –and they are happy when you succeed; sad when you suffer a setback. As I approach yet another birthday I have been reflecting on the magical times in my life and they all revolve around family and friends. That’s not a profound discovery, but I also realize that I have had several very special eras of friendships and a few professional and community experiences that can only be described as magic (sorry, there’s no other word). And in talking to people I have come to understand that not everybody gets to have that in their life, either personally or professionally. So I feel a whole lot of gratitude for the magic and that’s what I will always look for in my work and relationships.

I’ve been blessed with several friends that I have had since early childhood. I have a core of guys who I have known since we were 6, 7 and 8 years old and I am very aware of how special and how rare that is.

We’ve kept it going through junior high cliques and high school crushes, college, first real jobs, marriages, kids and now middle age. We are spread throughout the country—California, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, New Jersey and our native New York. We don’t see each other much, but we are in touch. And when we do get together for reunions or milestones we pick up where we left off.

Truth be told, the talk of glory days gone by is rare. We typically talk about our present day lives and our plans for the future, which shockingly now includes talk of retirement and yes mortality (in another 50 years or so).

To be able to share those conversations with guys who knew your 4th grade teacher, met your grandparents, went to your bar mitzvah and know who you took to the prom is nothing short of remarkable. Past embarrassments become the source of warm memories, like the time you pretended your car broke down just so you could linger at the local fast food joint and talk to the cute girl from your social studies class or the time when a friend painted a rock with the phrase “the search is over” (a cheesy 80s song by Survivor) only to have the object of this sure thing say she never wanted to see him again when she drove by and saw it.

We have gone through cancer—(parents and one of us), experienced marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, business ups and downs, births and deaths— together. We have also experienced a whole lot on our own. We have close friends that the others don’t know, experiences that we didn’t share and a whole life separate from each other. But we know that if something ever happened to any of us, we could reach out and find whatever help we needed within our circle. No questions asked. These are the brothers I never had.

I live in Delray Beach because of my friend Scott, who is one of the guys I’ve known for over 40 years. So blame him if you must. After we graduated high school, Scott went off to SUNY Oswego and I spent a year at Stony Brook University before joining him in a place that was so cold, snowy and windy that we didn’t thaw out until four years after graduation. So the prospects of warm weather made it an easy decision for me to seek a newspaper job in either Florida or California, where another guy from our circle was going to chiropractic school. The Florida offer came first and off I went to join Scott who was already here sitting by the pool.

Florida in the late 80s was an interesting place. I thought it was summer camp. Every morning we went for bagels with Scott’s dad Mickey and after work we played tennis, went to the pool and explored the area.

I was assigned to cover Delray and it was like discovering journalistic heaven: political bickering, horrific crime, City Hall intrigue and interesting people everywhere you turned. This place put the fun in dysfunction. But despite the myriad of serious problems there was a vision in place and a whole lot of aspiration and talent aligned to turn the city around. And I got to write about it and eventually participate.

The newspaper office was in Boca on East Rogers Circle and the newsroom was filled with off the charts characters and a lot of gifted writers, editors and photographers. It was a golden age of community newspapers and we were growing by leaps and bounds—the Monday-Thursday Papers was a great place for me to learn from older and much more experienced journalists who spent a lot of time showing me the ropes and teaching me how to spot news and dig deep for the telling detail that made a story resonate.

It was a magical time and again friendship drove a lot of the creativity, fun and success of the venture. We enjoyed each other, hung out together at Dirty Moe’s, went to lunch at Spinnakers, Tom Sawyer’s, Boston’s, Ken and Hazel’s, Rosie’s Raw Bar and George’s Diner. We pushed each other to succeed and laughed along the way. I couldn’t wait to go to work in those days.

Over time, the era came to an end. People move on, to other jobs, me included. The industry changed, technology changed, the characters that made newsrooms so amazing faded away. And I miss them. I think the world misses them.

I next experienced magic– driven by friendship and relationships– during my 7 years as an elected official in Delray Beach. In hindsight, it was a special era. The great initiatives and visions that I covered as a reporter were largely completed by 2000 and so the group I served with and the staff I worked alongside were given the gift of a blank slate.

When that happens, you have two options. Build on what came before and put your own stamp on things or go in another direction. We chose to build on. And we did.

We engaged people in a Downtown Master Plan, we did a plan for parks, we did a cultural plan, we focused on neighborhoods, we delved into race relations, worked to engage citizens, addressed recruitment and attrition issues in police and fire, adopted a southwest neighborhood plan, revamped our historic preservation policies and invested in assets like Old School Square and the library which moved to West Atlantic which became a major focus. We moved the high school and focused on schools. But we did more than just plan and dream. We got things done. And we did it as a team.

We celebrated our successes and we came together during the hard times too—hurricanes, the death of Jerrod Miller and the myriad controversies that occur in a place that people are passionate about.

Along the way, you make friends—and a few enemies– but you realize in hindsight that it is all about relationships and the ability to touch people; to make their lives better if you can.

I served with commissioners, citizens and city staff who talked about the need to listen, work together and take responsibility for trying to make a positive difference on whatever challenges we faced. They believed in building a great city and we were willing to try new approaches in order to make things happen. We were bold and ambitious and took some risks. Some stuff worked, some things fell short. But we learned together and it was a whole lot of fun.

I served with a Commissioner named Alberta McCarthy and she talked about community unity and we adopted the slogan. As we see divisions in our nation get wider by the day during a particularly brutal election season; as we witness bickering at city commission meetings and negativity on social media, I think about that phrase. Maybe some think it’s trite and corny. But it isn’t. It’s a big thought, an ideal, something to strive for. It may or may not be achievable. But it’s everything, isn’t it? It’s about coming together to build a better future for as many people possible; hopefully everybody.

We never achieved it totally, but I think we came close enough to see what it looked like.

Magic occurs when caring people commit to each other; whether it’s a childhood friendship that never ends; a successful business or a city that wants to make something happen.

You can have all the raw material—money, strategy, resources galore but you need the people part. That’s a must.

It’s all about the relationships…there is no short cut around people and you can’t achieve great things in isolation. You need friends. It’s just that simple.

 

Change

change

You are never FINISHED

“By nature good public spaces that respond to the needs, the opinions and the ongoing changes of the community require attention.  Amenities wear out, needs change and other things happen in an urban environment. Being open to the need for change and having the management flexibility to enact that change is what builds great public spaces and great cities and towns”–Project for Public Spaces 11 principles for creating great community spaces. Note: Founder and President Fred Kent has a home in Delray Beach.

The Project for Public Spaces is spot on, as they always seem to be.

The best part of cities is their changing nature. Cities evolve. Places change. That’s the beauty of an urban environment, it’s never stale. And switched on cities know this, embrace this and seek to shape and ride the waves of change.

We are witnessing tremendous change in Boca Raton these days. Just cruise on over to Palmetto Park Road and you’ll see large scale development taking shape on what I’ve always found to be an interesting but underperforming street.

The nature of the development is not everyone’s idea of healthy growth but there’s no question that Boca is evolving before our eyes. And I’ve talked to many people who love what they’re seeing. Development and change will always be a mixed bag. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder as they say.

On Military Trail, the Moderne Boca is taking shape and its nice to see some attention to design in a western location.

FAU Research Park is booming under the capable leadership of Andrew Duffell.  Both FAU and Lynn are coming of age as innovative institutions of higher learning and the Park at Broken Sound  is sprouting three new residential apartment projects (1,050 units) to go along with office space and new retail in the 700 acre business park. With yoga rooms, pet facilities, a Fresh Market, putting greens and Zen Gardens, the former home of IBM is shaping up to be a true, live, work, play destination.

It’s an interesting time.

And a time when visionary public officials have an opportunity to work with the community and design spaces that can become great public spaces.

In Delray, the opportunities are immense but only if we recognize them and embrace good design and change.

US 1 is looking good these days. And there is tremendous opportunity to extend the downtown north and south along Federal Highway. The idea to narrow the federals and slow down speeding traffic was first broached in 1991 but it took a decade before it became a city goal when it was included in the Downtown Master Plan. It took years to construct, but now that the project is complete, it presents an opportunity to create something special; it’s now a street not a highway. There’s a difference.

The area near Third and Third and South of the Avenue offer great opportunities for infill development.

Congress Avenue also represents an important opportunity for transformation.

My hope is that both Delray and Boca think strategically about placemaking and about what is needed in order to sustain and build on their obvious success.

Any analysis would include honest discussions about what has worked (and how those aspects can be extended and sustained), what’s not working, what can work better (lazy assets) and what’s missing.

Other key discussions should focus on demographics, design, mobility, land uses and how it’s all paid for.

In Delray, that means focusing on what’s important and no more majoring in the minor. (For example, weeks of discussion on a tattoo shop but little or no discussion on how to attract millennials, create more jobs and add middle class housing or how to improve our torturous approval process).

It’s time to move on Congress Avenue, not wait for an outside firm to confirm and codify what 30 plus citizens who studied the corridor for nearly a year already concluded. A sense of urgency is needed to take advantage of the economic cycle.

It’s also time to activate the Old School Park and make it a great public space as was envisioned when voters overwhelmingly passed a bond issue in support of that idea in 2005.

It’s time to bring back discussion of a bonus program for our CBD to jumpstart housing for young professionals who are attracted to downtown living. The best way to support our mom and pop businesses is to encourage people to live downtown. Study after study show that downtown residents strongly support local businesses. As rents soar –threatening to crowd out independents –this is needed more than ever.

Downtown office space is also critical. Every conversation I’ve witnessed with and about entrepreneurs laments the lack of office space in the urban core. This isn’t necessarily a call for class A space, but rather creative space, co-working space and incubator space. It’s nice to see The Kitchn open inside the offices of Woo Creative and Delray Newspaper, but more is needed.

The aim of past citizen driven visions was to build on food, beverage and culture and create a sustainable city driven by creative industries. Delray’s vibrant, urban feel is hugely appealing to entrepreneurs but a lack of space hinders the sectors ability to gain traction in our central business district.

An important caveat to note: the key words are “build on” not jettison or replace. So it would be folly to lose events or culture or our robust food scene, we need an additive attitude because community building is not a zero sum game.

Finally, both Delray and Boca are blessed with abundant human capital. A strategy to retain graduating college students and bring home locals who go off to college while also attracting the best and brightest from other locales will go a long way toward diversifying our economy and growing opportunities. Again, placemaking is at the core but so is opportunity making. We need to create cities of opportunity.

We also need to tap into the incredible knowledge base of our boomer and senior population many of whom long to be creative, active and involved as they age.

Cultivating our human capital is the best economic development strategy we can ever hope to conceive.

When I survey the region, it’s hard not to get excited by the possibilities. Sure there are big problems and challenges. Every single place in America has them. But few regions have our upside potential.

Miami is rapidly taking its place as among the world’s most exciting cities. Fort Lauderdale is making some interesting strides and several other cities in Broward, notably Pompano Beach are well positioned for a renaissance.

Boca is attracting industry and further north Boynton Beach is making some noise with several growing breweries, Hacklab, young leaders, eastern investment and some really cool restaurants (Bond and Smolders, Sweetwater and The Living Room among them) and keep your eyes on 22-year-old Ariana Peters who is quietly accumulating key properties in Lake Worth. Northern Palm Beach County cities, led by dynamic business leaders such as Chamber President Beth Kigel, are working well together on branding and industry recruitment efforts.

It’s an exciting time. Cities can’t rest on their laurels and they can’t succumb to those who want to freeze progress and stop change.

You can do the former but you can’t do the latter. And if you freeze progress you can be sure that the change you’ll see won’t be pleasant. Not at all. It will be ruinous.

As General Eric Shinsecki once said: “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

 

No Way to Run A Railroad

It even has a t-shirt

It even has a t-shirt

I learned a new word this weekend: kakistocracy.
It’s a Greek word and I saw it in Peggy Noonan’s weekly Wall Street Journal column which covered this very strange election season we are stuck (trapped?) in.
The word means government by the worst persons, the least qualified and or the most unprincipled.
Noonan concluded that we are on our way there. I would take it one step further. I think we are there.
Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t standouts in office at every level of government or bright stars on the horizon but let’s face it Congress stinks and many state and local elected officials are lacking.
Inevitably elected officials are judged on results but style counts too.

Maya Angelou may have said it best: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Yes indeed.
It’s hard to get results with a bad style and if your all hat and no cowboy (style but no results) you’ll also fall short.
But one thing is certain, public service is a job to do, not to have. And too few people are willing to take votes that they know to be right because they fear losing their next election. The best elected officials have to be willing to lose if it means doing the right thing. You have to be willing to put it on the line.

The job of an elected official is not an easy one. I’ve only got direct experience on the local level, but I’ve observed state and federal officials and I can comfortably say the jobs are complex.
On the local level, you have to understand municipal finance and taxation, you need to be cognizant of public safety, urban planning, architecture, mobility, labor unions, economic development, ethics, education, social issues, health issues, race relations, the importance of culture and the nuances of your local economy to name but a few. Hopefully, you’ll also value the importance of citizen engagement, the need to attract talent, encourage economic growth and how to position your city in the regional, state and yes national and even international conversation.
On the state and national levels, the list goes on.
So if you are going to do the job, you have to be willing to work hard, do your homework and show up because there are endless demands on your time.
But perhaps the most important skill is leadership.

Why?  Because your success or failure will ultimately depend on your ability to lead, your emotional intelligence, your ability to communicate and connect and how you handle the stuff that’s inevitably going to be thrown at you that you don’t expect.
Success depends on your soft skills,  how you navigate the nuances and most perhaps importantly how you are able to communicate and connect with the communities or constituencies you serve.
And the operative word here is serve. You are elected to serve the people, not to indulge your personal preferences or to have others serve you. Sounds simple, but take some time to study how issues are handled and you’ll often find a deficit of leadership. And if issues remain unresolved a lot of times it’s because elected officials are unwilling or unable to compromise, unwilling to listen or cling to their personal preferences at the expense of the community.
We wouldn’t be talking about kakistocracy if we were attracting stellar leaders to politics.
When was the last time you couldn’t choose in a political race because there were too many good choices?
Wouldn’t it be nice if elections were like visiting your favorite restaurant where there were so many good options you couldn’t go wrong?
Can’t hurt to dream…

But at some point in time, hopefully sooner rather than later, we’ll fix what prevents our most capable leaders from running for office. Until then, we will have to content ourselves with too often having to choose between the lesser of two evils. And our Democracy, our communities and our country is too important for that to continue.

The Return of Print? Perhaps

Print promotes concentration and allows for an immersive experience.

Print promotes concentration and allows for an immersive experience.

I’m a print guy.

Oh, I love the Internet, have a blog, enjoy Facebook, know how to tweet and read the New York Times on my smartphone. But I still love books, real books. And I still love print newspapers and read two a day and the Times in print every Sunday.

So I was thrilled to see a terrific column by Colin W. Sargent, editor and publisher of Portland Magazine this month extolling the many virtues of print.

I subscribe to Portland Magazine and eagerly await its arrival every month. I fell in love with Maine two years ago during a birthday trip to the state and especially enjoyed spending time in Portland, a great, walkable little city with amazing restaurants, a vibrant art scene, live music, festivals and a picturesque waterfront.

This month, Sargent wrote about the many benefits of print, citing research done by cognitive literature scholar Susanne Reichl of the University of Vienna who says when we read we actually lose ourselves while reading books, magazines and print newspapers. Good writing transports us and in a world full of noise, our minds can use the escape.

Sargent writes that when he reads he gets swept up in the stories and descriptions and that he becomes more “fully human” and that’s why we will always have a need for print material because the digital experience is just not quite the same thing.

“Pop-ups, streaming, email alerts and other interruptions can’t help but prevent us from reaching deepest into the reading experience,” he writes. “The internet may be irreplaceable, but so is real reading with a real book or magazine.”

Naomi Baron who has studied the difference between online reading and reading print materials says her research clearly shows that readers pay more attention and retain more information when reading print.

Students multi-task three times as much when reading online than when they read hard copy and therefore don’t connect emotionally to digital material, she says.

Sargent’s prediction: a print comeback is coming soon to give us relief from the cacophony of the internet.

His advice: “buy all the print newspapers you can right now, because they are on the eve of a renaissance.”

Well, we did. (shamless plug: Delray Newspaper, Boca Newspaper) So I sure hope he’s right.

No less a sage than Warren Buffett is also bullish on local newspapers and magazines. He doesn’t believe in regional papers, but small papers that serve their markets well have some life left in them, says the Oracle of Omaha.

So maybe our desire to connect emotionally with the written word; our need to concentrate and move away from the screen (for just a little while) and our need to avoid pop-ups, texts and email notifications will give newspapers, books (I wrote one of those too) and magazines (go Atlantic Ave) a bright future.

I sure hope so.

 

 

 

Leadership Instills Belief

crossroads

I read a fascinating story in Sunday’s New York Times.
It was the story of a man in a poor Brazilian favela who converted an old decrepit building into a badminton training center that is producing champions.
His son will compete in the Olympics only a few years after picking up a racquet and dozens of other children are training and winning in the midst of poverty, crime and despair.
It was an uplifting story of what my old commission colleague Jon Levinson used to call “a monomaniac on a mission.”
Never ever underestimate what a passionate person can achieve if they believe in their cause and won’t stop until they change the world, or their little corner of it.
And that’s why a dad in Brazil worked for years, scavenged dumps and pushed until he created a place where children could come and learn that they could achieve. It wasn’t about badminton per se, the sport was just a vehicle. The real end game is to instill belief.
That’s what leadership does. It instills belief, uplifts others and speaks relentlessly about possibilities, solutions and a better future. Leadership is empathy. An ability to see and feel what others may need in order to thrive, even if they might not see it (yet) themselves

It’s doubtful that impoverished children in Brazil were sitting around dreaming of playing badminton. But they were certainly in need of someone who cared about them and believed in their futures.
Fortunately, in Boca and Delray, we have been blessed with people who have stepped up and made a difference. Some have worked with children, some have devoted themselves to the arts and culture, others have devoted their lives to bettering a neighborhood or treating addiction.
They are leaders in the purest sense.
I’d love to share a few examples with you.
Tony Allerton and a few other good people founded the Crossroads Club 35 years ago to help those who are in recovery from an array of addictions.

For some it’s drugs. For others it may be food, gambling, alcohol or sex. Tony, a Korean War veteran and all around good guy, has been the heart and soul of the place from the beginning. And he and others at Crossroads do an amazing job. They serve over 900 people a day, an astonishing figure and a blessing to those in need of community, love, understanding and truth.
Tony is something else. Inspiring, positive, warm and caring.

These are the types of people I think Pope Francis referred to during World Youth Day yesterday when he urged people not to succumb to complaining and negativity but instead find ways to care for and help others.

The Pope called negativity a “virus infecting and blocking everything” and said young people must not forget about God in a world of unlimited information.
My friends at CROS Ministries are also amazing. In our community, you may know their work at The Caring Kitchen which for many years has provided food to the hungry in our community. They are remarkable community servants. They serve over 100,000 meals a year, each and every year. Just remarkable.
Fortunately, there are many more examples of the power of visionary leaders to make a difference.
For a while now, there has been a desire to create an entrepreneurial “hot zone” in Delray Beach.
There’s also been a long time desire to jumpstart Congress Avenue and to rejuvenate US 1 and south of the avenue, the Sofa district.
All of this and more is not only possible, it’s probable if the right combination of people, passion and leadership make a choice that it will happen.
If you can create badminton champions in a favela (and teach them movement based on Brazilian dance steps) anything is indeed possible.

Task Force Exhibits Passion & Leadership

heroin

Our country is suffering from a deadly crisis.

People are dying from coast to coast as a result of heroin and other forms of substance abuse.

It’s not a new problem, but it’s growing, and right now heroin, flakka and fentanyl are taking a heavy toll. A very heavy toll.

Our community is really suffering. Nearly 800 drug related calls for service in the first six months of the year, according to recent stats. People are overdosing or dying with shocking regularity on our streets and in homes.

Our police officers and firefighter/paramedics –many very young– are having to cope with a humanitarian crisis, hitting people with doses of Narcan (which reverses the effects of heroin) to save lives. But Narcan is not much of a match for fentanyl, which is incredibly powerful. It’s a lot to deal with and despite incredible efforts by dedicated people the flood continues.

Recently, I have gotten to know and admire Suzanne Spencer, who for five years has been the volunteer leader of Delray’s Drug Task Force. The effort dates back to a former commission colleague of mine, the late Pat Archer, who was passionate about the issue and led early efforts to gather the community and respond to the challenges posed by substance abuse disorder.

Suzanne Spencer has taken the task force to new heights and it has taken a toll on her and others involved on the front lines of this issue. There’s not a lot of good news to share–yet. But Spencer and the people she has attracted to the task force understand that if our community is going to make a positive impact it will require collaboration, communication, information sharing and a whole lot of resources and smart problem solving. They are making a difference.

I have had the privilege of attending the past two task force meetings hosted by our Chamber of Commerce. The meetings attract a wide variety of players from our police chief (and other local law enforcement from Delray and neighboring cities) and the State Attorney’s Office to corporate citizens such as Ocean Properties, treatment providers, city officials from as far away as Pompano Beach, hospital administrators, insurers, EMS providers, Congressional staff and attorneys.

I was particularly touched to see retired Police Officer Jeff Messer at the meetings. Jeff is volunteering many hours in an effort to talk to people in the grips of addiction. It is heartening to see experienced officers stay involved— their experience and perspective is simply invaluable. Many dealt with the crack cocaine epidemic, which also took a very heavy toll on Delray Beach.

But as difficult as the crack wars were, heroin  and its tentacles may prove to be even more challenging. The issue leeches into human trafficking, patient brokering, insurance fraud and all sorts of exploitation.

Another retired police officer, my friend Marc Woods, now works for the city dealing with sober homes and related issues. Marc is a very passionate guy. He has seen a lot. What he’s seeing today overwhelms him—the emotional toll of seeing what happens to people caught up in a twisted system in which bad actors exploit and destroy lives is very evident when you talk to Marc.

It is important to note that there are good providers in our community, doing good work with people who need help to return to their families and to a productive life.

But it’s the bottom feeders that are literally soaking people for money and playing with their lives that trouble the officers and paramedics that I talk to.

Heroin abuse is a particularly vexing challenge even for good providers, because according to those in the know, the condition of patients coming into treatment is deteriorating—they are in the grips of an addiction that is very hard to shake.

It is gratifying to see the heart and minds sitting around the table at the Chamber from all walks of life and disciplines trying their best to make an impact.

We should take pride that our community is pioneering a lot of innovative tactics, but we must also realize that we haven’t made a dent yet.

Delray Beach Police Chief Jeff Goldman is deploying a three-pronged approach to the crisis: enforcement, education and lifesaving.

He has reached out to FAU’s school of clinical social work in an effort to bring more resources to the cause.

More resources will be needed because the scope of the problem is ever changing. For instance, last week law enforcement was tipped to a large shipment of flakka that arrived in the area. That drug is incredibly powerful and causes very volatile and strange behavior in users. In addition, local addicts are now carrying their own Narcan, meaning that they are self-administering or working with buddies to prevent overdose deaths. But without professional medical attention or an understanding of the drug’s half-life, the behavior is seen as extremely dangerous.

Delray police are seeking to hire a clinical social worker and that would to be a very wise hire to help our community cope better with this issue.

Meanwhile, Delray Medical Center is expanding its facilities to add 12-15 beds by year’s end to deal with behavioral health emergencies and local businesses are joining the task force so they can help employees and better understand the issue.

Thanks to efforts by people like Marc Woods and Delray police and code enforcement officers so-called “overdose houses” used to exploit addicts are being identified and shut down. But despite these proactive efforts, nobody is under the illusion that victory is near.

“We haven’t made a dent yet,” said Goldman. “But we will.”

I believe him.

I also believe in collaboration and that’s what makes what the task force is doing so important and so extraordinary. They deserve our support. Suzanne Spencer is what leadership is all about, bringing people together to solve challenges and make a difference. Over time, they will. They already have.

 

 

What We Often Don’t See Is What Matters

the-iceberg-of-successI saw a great graphic the other day. (Look above).

The picture depicts success as an iceberg with only the good stuff visible on the surface.
But just below is what it took to achieve success. The trials, tribulations, setbacks, false starts, hard work, good habits and more that few see. But it’s the struggle that is essential for achieving success.
While the graphic is probably aimed at individuals, I think it also holds true for cities and other things we strive to build.
There are so many things that don’t appear on the surface. So many hurdles that few get to see.
And so it has been with Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
First Boca.
I moved here in 1987 and I remember the old mall on US 1. It wasn’t a very nice mall, but it had a bookstore and so I went there often.
I worked for a newspaper at the time headquartered on East Rogers Circle and it was a fairly desolate place back then. There were few places to eat, we had to drive to Tom Sawyer’s or into Delray where there was a restaurant sort of underground at Linton Towers. We sometimes went to Rosie’s Raw Bar, Dirty Moe’s  or to a barbecue joint on Linton and Congress.
Boca was always pretty with beautiful parks. But there was really no downtown. The best restaurant may have been La Vielle Maison. West Boca began to boom and often we would venture to Wilt’s or Pete Rose’s Ballpark Cafe and yes we saw Wilt a few times and Pete a whole lot. He did his radio show from the cafe which was attached to a Holiday Inn on west Glades.
Boca was a pretty nice place back then but at the risk of offending some folks, I like it now too.
Although I knew many of the city folks and elected officials through the years I wasn’t privy to the struggles they most surely dealt with.
I was too absorbed with Delray’s journey first as a reporter and later as an elected official.
And dear reader, there were some titanic struggles and make or break decisions to make.
When I think of the 80s, the first thought that comes to mind is crime. The town felt dangerous.
I remember walking into the old Phoenix at Atlantic and A1A as a naive 22 year old new to town hoping to shoot some pool and grab a beer. I actually wondered whether I would make it out intact.
Then there was the time I was assigned a “man on the street” interview and when I stopped a guy on Atlantic Avenue he turned around and ripped the sleeve of my shirt clean off. We both stood there shocked. It was a perfect tear, not sure how he did it and I guess he surprised too, because he ran off. I can’t remember whether he answered my question. Probably not.
I went to police briefings and neighborhood crime watch meetings and heard a litany of horror stories.
Back then, there was a major drug dealer in town named Deniz Fernandez. His network of dealers were brazen and actually hung a pig’s head off a street sign as a warning to cops. When he finally went down as a result of a task force consisting of Delray police and federal agents, the scope of his astonishing empire was revealed: 10 homes, acres and acres of property, a few businesses and duffel bags full of drugs were seized.

 Fernandez owned a place locals called “The Hole,“ a notorious crack house on Southwest Ninth Avenue in Delray Beach.

During the summer of 1987, the group`s business reaped an estimated $50,000 a day in gross profits by selling individual doses of crack cocaine for $10 a rock, according to federal agents and police  who worked on the investigation.

Check out that number, $50,000 a day in $10 increments.

When undercover Delray officers closed in on him on a dirt road wear of town, he brandished a blue steel revolver and pointed it at them before ditching the weapon. Germantown Road, steps from a popular Ford dealership, was Fernandez’ turf and drivers were brazenly hailed to pull over and buy crack rocks. When  officers showed up the dealers dispersed in seconds disappearing into the darkness. Our city was literally an open air drug market.

Once a month, the Sheriff’s fugitive task force came to town and teamed up with our officers to round up literally scores of felons who failed to show up in court or were on the run.
We rode with Charlie Comfort of PBSO, Lt. Jeff Rancour and the late Johnny Pun in an effort to find as many of the  worst offenders before word spread on the street that the warrant task force was out and about.
Augmenting those efforts, was the legendary or infamous–depending on what side of the law you were on–tact team also known as the jump out crew. They were tasked with fighting and disturbing street level drug sales which was rampant in parts of Delray. This is where I first met a young Jeff Goldman, now our chief and really amazing officers such as Mike Swigert, Don West, Eddie Robinson, Chuck Jeroloman, Toby Rubin and John Battiloro.
Mad Dads was active back then. They were citizens determined to reclaim their streets from drug dealers.
I saw K-9 officers like Skip Brown and Geoff Williams deploy their dogs in pursuit of dangerous criminals and a slew of incredible detectives solving one horrific crime after another. Legends like Bob Brand, Robert Stevens, Tom Whatley, Craig Hartmann, Dwayne Fernandes, Casey Thume, Brian Bollan were only a few of the people who labored long hours below the success iceberg.
John Evans, Terrance Scott, Robyn Smith, Tom Judge, Shirley Palmer, Randy Wilson, Marc Woods and Jeff Miller were road patrol cops who made a big difference. Vinny Mintus was a fixture in Pineapple Grove which was far from gentrified in those days. Very far. Tom Quinlan and Glenn Rashkind kept our beach safe and everybody knew their names.  There were more. So many more.
While police and fire lived most dangerously, in every department at City Hall there were people toiling below the success iceberg struggling with financial issues, code enforcement challenges and even zoning problems–all trying to find a formula to  unlock success. They found it. And that should give us comfort as we read about today’s challenges, which include a crushing heroin epidemic.
Our community has risen to challenges before, they will again.
Meanwhile, I appreciate the present because I saw the hungry years. And that’s what gives me and others civic pride.

A Trip to Naples, Yields Some Lessons

Upscale and stylish today, 5th Avenue in Naples also had some hard times.

Upscale and stylish today, 5th Avenue in Naples also had some hard times.

Fifth Avenue in Naples is an elegant main street.

It features some great restaurants, a boutique hotel and a nice array of retail stores.

At night, the street is vibrant, filled with boomers who seem to enjoy a lively but decidedly upscale vibe.

It doesn’t feel like a late night place, but that’s OK. For me late is 10 p.m. these days.

We had a chance to spend a day and night in Naples recently when we attended a Florida Redevelopment Association meeting focused on Business Improvement Districts (BID); particularly Naples successful model which includes a partnership between downtown property owners, city government, the chamber and CRA.

My wife Diane is president of the FRA this year and I spent a few years on the board many years back so it felt good to reconnect with an association that has done a great job advocating for CRA’s, DDA’s and BID’s over the years.

The focus of the day was the history, present and future of Naples’ much loved main street, 5th Avenue South, which like many Florida main streets has reinvented itself over the years through good times and bad.

In December 2010, in an effort to jumpstart the avenue, a group of civic, business and city leaders got together and formed a Business Improvement District that levies a tax on property owners that is then reinvested into beautification, events and marketing.

The Naples BID is a good model for other aspiring streets and may serve as inspiration for places such as Palmetto Park Road in Boca and Congress Avenue in Delray.

The goal of the Naples effort was to re-establish 5th Avenue South as “the place to go” in Naples.

An active board of directors, a small but entrepreneurial staff along with a strong core of merchants and downtown evangelists has restored 5th Avenue’s luster and importance in the wake of competition from nearby lifestyle centers and shopping districts.

We heard from Mayor Bill Barnett, BID President Michael Wynn (whose family has owned property on the avenue since the 40s), BID Director Lise Sundria and Naples CRA Director Roger Reinke on how they work together on branding and marketing efforts.

Mayor “Bill” as he is affectionately known has been an elected official for 24 years with some time off between terms. His historic perspective and involvement has proven invaluable as he recalled efforts in the 80s to transform the look and feel of what had become a tired downtown.

“It took people with vision,” he said. “And the changes were not without controversy,” he said. “Downtown is the heart of Naples and the heart was broken.”
Two early catalysts were the conversion of a suburban style Nationsbank building into the Inn on 5th, an attractive hotel that has become an important economic engine for the district and the hiring of new urbanist town planner Andres Duany whose team came to Naples with a slew of ideas.

It took political will and some time to add the design elements needed to rejuvenate 5th Avenue and BID President Wynn said Mayor Bill has been a champion of that vision.

“The mayor’s warmth is an asset,” Wynn said. “It makes a difference to have a mayor who believes and who is engaged along with us. We’re fortunate.”

The Duany plan drew upon Naples historic strengths as a hub for tourists, fishing and commerce.

Leaders also wanted to remind people that 5th Avenue led directly to a beautiful beach, a fact that was somehow lost as Naples bled tourists to other popular west coast beach communities.

The Wynn family has more than 70 years of history in Naples and as president, Mike Wynn has a unique perspective of how the city has boomed and busted through the decades. The city got its first traffic light in 1949 and thrived through the 50s before being hit by Hurricane Dennis, a category 5 storm that devastated downtown Naples.

Along with many other cities—Delray included—5th Avenue was hard hit by suburban flight and the rise of the mall in the 70s and 80s, with vacancy rates hitting as high as 40 percent. Former Delray CRA Director Chris Brown, who was at the Naples meeting, can relate.

“When I came to Delray in 1991, I closed my office door at 5 p.m. and nothing was moving on Atlantic Avenue,” he said. “There was roughly 1 million square feet of commercial space and 500,000 of it was vacant. I thought…’what did I get myself into’ here.”

The situation was similar in Naples and the retail that was left was marginal at best. There was even an adult bookstore on the avenue, hard to imagine given today’s upscale vibe. Office vacancy downtown was also 50 percent, Wynn said.

“Like many cities, we came together,” said Wynn. “We realized we needed to act and act fast. We also realized that for the avenue to have life, we actually needed to have people coming downtown.”

Not a revolutionary concept, but hard to pull off because it requires a tremendous amount of promotion and hard work.

The BID was formed in part to compete with competition from other shopping districts. Key strategies include beautification, relentless marketing and promotion and 12 street festivals. The BID, a non-profit, also organizes block captains, provides business counseling and also offers local businesses an array of marketing services. Money for the BID is raised via assessment and the BID also does some fundraisers that ultimately raises over $400,000 annually.

Wynn said the BID takes to heart the wisdom of the great placemaker Willliam H. Whyte who said: “what attracts people most, is other people.”

Wynn said the BID hopes to compete by embracing the arts, retail, office, tourism, events and a vibrant food scene.

Rod Castan, VP of the BID and a property owner from the Courtelis Companies, said 5th Avenue won’t rest on its laurels because of competition and an ever changing commercial landscape. On his wish list: more chain stores which he says drive retail traffic that also supports mom and pops, a small boutique theater and a need for more housing near the downtown, which appears to be under way.

“When the avenue suffers, the whole city suffers,” says Wynn who also serves as president of his family’s chain of Ace Hardware stores.

How true.