Events and Things to Do in Delray Beach and Boca Raton

Boca Raton and Delray Beach are among the most vibrant communities you’ll ever find.

Both cities feature a vast array of events year-round that are sure to interest people of all ages and interests. From arts festivals and music events to a vibrant food scene and cultural landscape Boca-Delray has it all.

At YourDelrayBoca.com we strive to curate the best events and give you insider’s tips to make your experience the best it can be.

We Need You To Make An Impact

We need you: To Make An Impact

We take a break from local politics  to focus on something just as important: local philanthropy.
Last week, the newly formed Impact 100 for Men Palm Beach County held its first awards night at Delray’s Arts Garage.
It was a fun and memorable evening. And hopefully, the start of a long history for the nascent group started by my friend Chuck Halberg, a local contractor (we won’t call him a developer..heaven forbid) who spearheaded the group to support non-profits serving children in southern Palm Beach County.
I am honored to be part of the founding board along with a group of truly great guys. Impact 100 was modeled after the wildly successful Impact 100 for Women’s group which I think now gives close to $600,000 a year to local charities.
The concept is brilliantly simple: write one check, attend one meeting and vote to give a big amount to a few non-profits. Repeat year after year and make an impact.
In our first year, we managed to attract 56 men who stepped up and wrote checks for $1,000 plus a fee to the Community Foundation which houses the funds eliminating the need for us to form and administer a 501c3.
While we fell short of our goal of giving away $100,000 we were pleased with our debut and hope to grow each year.

The big winner in our first year was The Miracle League  founded and run by our friends and neighbors Julia and Jeff Kadel.
We’ve written about the Miracle League in this space before. The program allows children with special needs to play the great game of baseball.
It’s an amazing and beautiful endeavor. I was fortunate to be on the City Commission when the Kadel’s approached the City of Delray with the idea of opening the first accessible baseball diamond in Palm Beach County. We provided some seed money along with the county and the league formed at Delray’s Miller Field. It has grown and thrived ever since attracting private philanthropy, grants and scores of volunteers.
The dream now includes creating a boundless playground for children at Miller Park.
The Impact for Men group voted last week to award the Miracle League $50,000 toward the dream after hearing a compelling presentation from Julia.
We were also proud to donate $3,000 each to the amazing Milagro Center in Delray and to Junior Achievement which teaches kids the importance of entrepreneurship.
We are hoping that those dollar amounts increase in subsequent years and that we can make as large an impact as the Women’s group has been able to achieve.
While we live in a community that features great wealth, we are also a community that has overwhelming needs.
Less than a mile from million dollar homes and a rocking downtown there are many people living in crushing poverty.
There is hunger and deprivation in our communities and children and families  who go without.
We are fortunate to have many great non-profits that work hard to address the needs from Family Promise of South Palm Beach County which provides emergency housing to families and the Milagro Center which has a remarkable track record of impacting our most vulnerable children to Delray Students First which mentors and cares for kids looking to break out of the cycle of poverty to the stellar Achievement Center for Children and Families we are blessed with organizations that care and do a great job.
But despite the talent and dedication to making lives better there are unmet needs. And each of the organizations mentioned and many others struggle to raise funds for their critical missions.
I have long felt that while Delray has done a remarkable job revitalizing our city we have fallen somewhat short in our potential to develop a deeper pool of local philanthropists.
Yes, we have many generous people and a few foundations that have been invaluable. But from my vantage point, too many people are sitting on the sidelines, giving “back home” or simply unaware of the needs we have here at home. And this is our home.
While I’m sure there are unmet needs in Boca, from across the border I’ve long admired that community’s ability to raise funds for education, health care and the arts.
I have had the good fortune to sit on many non-profit boards over the years and it’s been a struggle to expand the pool of those who give back.  And so I see many of the same people going to the well time and time again. I’m so thankful for them. But we need more people to give what they can.
Many of the charities in our community are designed to break the cycle of poverty or inspire people to do more and be more.
Whether it’s teaching a child to consider business as a career (Junior Achievement) providing children with an arts experience that may spur a career choice or inspire beauty and understanding (Old School Square, Milagro) or spurring an interest in education (The Delray Public Library, Delray Students First) etc., we have vehicles to transform people. We just need some more fuel.
I’ve enjoyed the first year of Impact 100 for Men. The camaraderie of guys getting together to do good and the emotion of awards night.
I continue to marvel at the leadership and energy of people who step up, like my friend Chuck and many others.
As Uncle Sam might say, we need you to get involved. It really does take a village.

Better Boulder Comes To Delray

On Tuesday night, four community leaders from Boulder, Colorado will be in Delray Beach to share their story.
At 6:30 pm at Old School Square’s Crest Theatre,  representatives from Better Boulder (www.betterboulder.com) will give a free presentation on their efforts to build a sustainable city based on respect for the environment, sensible growth and housing policies that are inclusive. We hope to see you there. It’s important that you attend.
Better Boulder’s work has helped to both spark and further a growing movement of people who are proudly calling themselves YIMBY’s for Yes in My Backyard, a counter to NIMBYism which has often stopped smart growth projects that provide jobs, expand the tax base, add vibrancy and provide needed housing in communities.
Across the nation, there is a growing backlash to NIMBYs led by people who want cities and regions to make room for them too.
In the super expensive Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle and elsewhere YIMBY movements consisting of environmentalists, urban planners, young people and employers are banding together to push back against those who consistently say no to even reasonable development.
Particularly galling to many in the YIMBY camp is that NIMBYs often claim the moral high ground citing their desire to protect neighborhoods and cities. Others view their opposition in a vastly different light; more of a  “I’m in the boat pull up the ladder” mentality that shuts off opportunities for others.
Many times  it’s not that black and white.
Traffic, noise, parking and design are important considerations in any city.
But they must be balanced against property rights, the need to provide jobs and housing and the very real need to grow your tax base or risk losing services or raising taxes for existing residents.
Saying yes to reasonable, planned and intelligent growth does not mean anything goes.
Indeed, it should mean the opposite.
Cities should plan–and those plans should be based on a vision of the future . And visions should come from a wide variety of stakeholders in a community, not just those with the loudest voices and the time to protest.
A premium amount of attention should be spent on design, compatibility, desirable uses and how projects function in terms of parking and circulation.
Community input throughout the process is critical but it’s also important that elected officials and key city staff engage with development teams early to discuss local goals, sensitivities and sensibilities.
Some cities employ “town” architects who work with developers and designers to ensure good projects. If you seek to work with developers and they don’t listen, give them the boot. But if you don’t engage with them, you are forcing them to guess and setting all sides up for failure, stress, strife and suits of the legal kind. It doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s so much better when our civic discourse makes us smarter not angrier. 

We’ll end with this post with quote from Jane Jacobs, perhaps the most influential thinker and writer on what makes cities work.
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created, by everybody.”
It’s hard to argue with Ms. Jacobs. But I’d add that cities work for everybody only when they consider everybody. And sometimes that means making room for others. 
See you tomorrow night at the Crest.
Wishing my Daughter a Happy Birthday
My little girl turned 27 yesterday.
It’s hard to believe because it seems like only yesterday when we were dropping her off at Little Friends in Delray and later at Poinciana Elementary School.
Now she’s teaching school. In Tampa. And I miss her.
I’m also very proud of her.
I have great respect for teachers and especially ESE (exceptional student education) teachers who make such a difference in the lives of children. That’s the path my daughter has chosen.
Samantha has what it takes to succeed as a teacher: passion for kids, boundless patience, a sense of humor and a heart as big as Florida.
When Sam was a little girl she had a series of ear infections. It seemed like we were always battling one painful episode after another.
It finally passed, but the battles left her with something called auditory processing disorder. As a result, she had a hard time learning how to read.
When we finally discovered the cause she was able to address the issue through an arduous series of exercises. Hours and hours of wearing headphones while completing computer programs designed to rewire how her brain heard and processed sounds.
It was hard work. Done after she had already put in a full day of school.
It was a lot for a little girl.
She never ever complained.
I remember telling her that she was special and that people like her succeeded because they had to work hard for their success. And the perseverance and resilience she learned would serve her well in life.
It did.
Nothing came easy for her. But she had a deep appreciation for every milestone achieved.
She graduated Atlantic High School went to Palm Beach State College and then to the University of South Florida where she excelled academically and with extra curricular activities.
To say we’re proud of her would be an understatement. There are just no words to adequately express how we feel about the young woman she has become.
My only beef– and it’s a small one– is somehow she and her younger brother became Patriots fans when their dad bleeds Giants blue.
I have several friends whose kids are having grandkids and I can’t wait for that to happen to us as well.
All I know is that it goes so fast.
The days of taking her to Old School Square as a small child to see an art exhibit, the ice cream cones at Doc’s and Kilwins, soccer at Miller Field, softball with her coach Dr. Grubb (his daughter whose Sam’s age is now Dr. Molly a veterinarian like her dad in Delrat), Girl Scouts, K-9 exhibitions to earn Brownie points, Safety Patrol, summer camp at Trinity, story hours at the old Delray Library. Arts and Jazz on the Avenue, high school, dates, driving and nights you slept with one eye open until your heard her come in the door.
And then they are grown.
Oh she still needs her dad. I know that. I hope that never ends but it’s a fast ride. Savor every moment.
Happy birthday Sam.  

On Events: Hit Pause & Create a Win

Garlic Fest has become a Delray tradition providing much needed funds to local non-profits and schools. Photo by VMA Studios courtesy from Garlic Festival website.

Garlic Fest has become a Delray tradition providing much needed funds to local non-profits and schools. Photo by VMA Studios courtesy from Garlic Festival website.

Sometimes you have to slow down to get it right.

The challenge and the beauty of local government is that you often know the people impacted by a particular vote. You can’t say that about other levels of government.

If you are a state legislator or a member of congress you vote far away from home and usually with your team–be it Republican or Democrat.

Most people in your district probably don’t even know what you’re doing. But on a local level, your neighbors know. And that’s a good thing.

You can’t hide in local government. Ideally it keeps you grounded and accountable. People know when you show up and when you don’t. They see how you treat people. They can see when you read a prepared statement, answer a text, roll your eyes at a speaker or fail to read the backup material.

If your kind, they notice that too. If you’re rude they see that as well. Chances are you are lecturing someone’s friend, a neighbor, or someone you see around town. So tone matters. A lot.

I don’t like what’s happening to special events in our town. I’m not alone.

I think the process has turned into a game of bait and switch and I think the opposition to events has been overstated. I think the costs have been too.

I’m not sure if it started out this way and I’m not sure there has been any sort of diabolical intent, but somewhere along the way this attempt to make the special event process better went off the rails or was co-opted by an agenda.

I think event producers and the organizations that host festivals volunteered in a good-faith effort to make things better; I don’t think they would’ve shown up to plan their demise.

I’ve seen polling numbers of registered voters in this city for over 20 years and events have always scored very high. I can’t imagine that two decades of polling by firms relied on by elected officials past and present would be that far off.

Sure, there are those who despise events. I heard from a few during my seven years in office. A few in particular have been impossible to please despite efforts to soothe their bruised sensibilities. At some point, you have to apologize and move on even if they won’t. As much as you may wish to, you simply can’t scratch every itch and you certainly can’t run a city based solely on the wishes of those who complain. There are others to consider too.

At some point you have to wonder why a business can’t make a crowded street full of pedestrians work for them. At some point you have to wonder why some people can’t just take one for the team because maybe the particular event works for someone else, benefits a non-profit or is a city tradition enjoyed by many. I think the point is when life gives you lemons make lemonade and if you can’t make lemonade, there’s always another day.

Tonight, the city commission may or may not decide the fate of the Garlic Festival. Nobody is quite sure, including the fest’s producers, because she and her team have been unable to get a clear answer on process from anybody.

Somehow that doesn’t feel right. We are supposed to be a village right? Why are we acting like we live inside of a Kafka novel?

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m friends with Garlic Festival founder/producer Nancy Stewart-Franczak and her husband John. I like them. I think they are good people who mean to do well by the community. Nancy’s partner, Bern Ryan, is a good guy and Nancy’s small team consists of really nice people. They are a part of our community. A valuable part.

Nancy has lived in Delray for 25 years. She has been active as long I’ve known her which has been a long time. She has volunteered for many community causes, works very hard and gives back in many ways. She loves this city. She should be treated with respect. She hasn’t been. That’s my opinion based on what Nancy and others who support her have told me.

She’s been told that what she has brought to Delray is dispensable. I don’t think it is.  Neither do the non-profits who have benefitted from her event, even though some question the business model. See, the Garlic Festival has raised close to $600,000 for non-profits in its 18 year history here. People volunteer their time and their causes benefit. If the Boy Scouts or Police Explorers or any number of groups who volunteer don’t like the model, they can opt out. But apparently, they do. And it’s their choice to participate or not. They have told city commissioners that the event is meaningful to them and their causes and activities.

That said, no festival is beyond being asked to improve.

Nancy volunteered to be part of a process designed to mitigate some of the concerns raised about special events. She did not know she was donating hundreds of hours over nearly a year to destroy her livelihood and two decades of hard work.

Think I’m exaggerating? I wish I was.

But she and other event producers came to the table in good faith and they compromised by agreeing to shrink the footprint of their events, avoid road closures and in Nancy’s case get rid of rides which seem to upset the delicate sensibilities of some. Tell that to the kids and their parents who might have enjoyed the rides, I’m sure they’ll understand the need to make sure that our city doesn’t resemble a carnival.

If you think my friendship with Nancy and Bern might color my views so be it. Dismiss this opinion as biased. But know that while I have attended scores of events over 30 years living in Delray I haven’t gone to any lately and if I never go to another festival I’ll be ok.

Still, I don’t begrudge those who do. When my kids were little we went to Garlic Fest and other events and I looked for activities that they would enjoy. To take a family to a nice downtown event is a blessing. The kids are grown now, but there are other young moms and dads out there looking for something fun to do. Maybe it’s Garlic Festival, maybe it’s a dunk tank at a Wine and Seafood event or maybe it’s a St. Patrick’s Day parade with fire trucks and music. (That event is in trouble too).

These events mean something to this town; they mean something to our resident and to those who own businesses here and those who visit us. I think events are part of our brand. I think they bring value as economic development tools and yes I think they ring cash registers.

Sometimes the sales are made on the day of the event and sometimes they come after because when people come to Delray and experience our city I’m pretty sure that at least a few decide to come back to shop, dine and maybe even shop for a home or a nice hotel near the beach or downtown.

They may even tell some of their friends and relatives.

So while Bacon and Bourbon may not be my thing (and it’s not because I’m kosher and prefer Grey Goose) I have an appreciation for events and their meaning in terms of building community and supporting non-profits.

Downtowns– if they are worth their salt– are places to gather. We are so lucky have a downtown. Many cities don’t.

Others have downtowns that are dead or blighted—as ours used to be.

But we are blessed with a downtown that is vibrant, fun and has fueled a huge increase in property values and quality of life. If that goes away, I will care. And so will you. Because the downtown is our community’s heart and economic engine.

It’s where we go with friends and it’s where we gather when we celebrate and when we mourn like we did after 9/11 or when we needed to raise money when a beloved officer died on his way to work. If you think our downtown is bulletproof or immune to competition I think you’re wrong.

In season, you may have some trouble parking. I get it. In season, it may take you a long time 7-10 minutes in my experience to go from Swinton to A1A (I kept a diary this winter). Heck, sometimes the bridge goes up and sometimes an art fair closes a street. I suppose it can be annoying and I sympathize –to a point.

The opposite of traffic is no traffic. And trust me you don’t want that. We had that and it was awful. Dead, boring, dull, depressing…We used to have nothing but a sea of parking and it wasn’t that great–a sea of asphalt.

if you want to avoid any parking issues build a place that nobody wants to visit. That’ll solve your parking problem and create other issues.

Still, I think we need to see the other side and work together. The organizations and event producers seem willing.

Truth is, we should reinvent our events. We should talk about which ones work and which ones no longer fit. We should talk about what kind of demographics we hope to attract and who we hope to serve.

We should talk about timing, cost, and public safety. We should understand the needs of residents and the importance of tourism to our economy.

But somewhere along the line, this process has gone astray.

Instead of a collaborative effort to improve events–even reinvent them– the process morphed into an effort that will drive them out of business.

From small little walks for charity to events that support our Chamber of Commerce and Old School Square, we are at risk of losing a lot.

If you don’t think our Chamber is worth something you haven’t been there in a while. It’s helping businesses and connecting people all day every day. If you don’t think Old school Square is important I can’t help you because then you don’t understand how incredibly blessed we are to have the arts smack dab in the middle of our downtown. The center was conceived as a place for the community to gather. Events, inside and out, are at the very core of its mission. Do the grounds take a beating? Yep. Should we be discussing how to minimize and pay for that beating? Absolutely. But we should never put velvet ropes around Old School Square and turn it into a static museum. Yes, there are costs that have to be considered, but a cost structure that effectively ends events, may provide some relief to the city, but will also hurt the city in other ways.

Charitably you can call this process a bait and switch exercise—event producers volunteered to help mitigate concerns but did not sign up for a process that would drive them out of town.

But there is a chance to hit the pause button. There is a chance for the commission to exert leadership and get the process back on track. The event producers have acted in good faith and have stepped up to the plate by agreeing to meaningful reforms. It’s the city that has dropped the ball. It takes two sides to collaborate. A one sided process can be called a form of bullying. ‘I’m going to take your lunch money because I can’ is not a good way to run a place.

The city has the power–for now.

They can not only call the shots they can insist on anything they want–in the short term anyway but with lasting scars.

If you want reinvention, challenge the event producers and charities that rely on events. But don’t give vague directions and disappear, sit down and join the process. Spell out what a new vision for events might look like. Work with the producers and festival organizers not on them.

These are people we know. These are important civic institutions. They should not be driven out of town or to their knees financially in the name of reform or because some perceive that events are no longer needed or popular with residents and business owners. I have seen polling data and public records requests of emails that indicate otherwise. I have not seen data or analysis to show widespread dissatisfaction. Nor has anyone else– including the organizations that sponsor and produce the events.

As for costs, let’s talk. Share with the community what they cost, but show your work. I find it hard to fathom that a contained special event can approach the costs of an NFL game.

When we look at costs (and I’m sure that producers would pay more but not triple or quadruple) it’s only fair to consider benefits as well.

If you live close to the downtown you have seen your property values soar at a rate that far exceeds other cities.

It’s not all because of events. Some of it is because of Old School Square and some of it is because of our great shops and restaurants. But events play a role. They distinguish us. They have value not just costs and impacts.

Hit the reset button, invite the innovators to the table and every one should agree to show up with an open mind.

Again, events can always be better and they can always pay more to offset city costs. But they have value too and so do the individuals and organizations that produce, host, create and rely on them.

If a “solution” is imposed it won’t be sustainable. If it’s negotiated with a win-win outcome in mind it will make our village a better place in more ways than we can imagine.

Tonight is an opportunity to save the Garlic Festival and rethink the events policy.

 

Success: A formula

I agree.

I agree. Do you?

When communities can’t see past the next week they suffer.

When communities scratch every itch, react to every complaint and ignore what’s positive they degrade the spirit of the most important people in a city, the people who volunteer, serve, work hard, invest, dream and aspire. The people who build community.

When I speak to groups I am often asked what it takes for an elected official to succeed.

I hear how difficult the job is, how brutal  the politics can be and how complex today’s issues seem. It’s all true.

It’s a hard job.

Time consuming and at times very stressful.  And if you care about your neighbors it can be very hard to disagree with them or to say no.

But it’s not all vinegar and heartburn either.

 Public service can be a joy and immensely rewarding. And there’s nothing like local government. If you have a good idea on a Tuesday night and two colleagues agree well then… change can be made Wednesday morning. That’s the beauty of local government.

There’s also an opportunity to engage, connect and help people. And that’s powerful and very meaningful–unless of course you choose not to do any of those things.

And make no mistake, it’s a choice.

So I deeply respect and appreciate those who choose correctly and to be honest I have no use for those who don’t.

So while the job is complex and the issues difficult, the job can be made simple.

If you serve you can be certain that you won’t please everybody. That’s a guarantee. Even the “no brainer” issues will manage to set somebody off.

So the choice is clear: who do you choose to please?

Those who are engaged in activities that move your city forward or those who sit back and complain (usually about the doers)?

The choice should be easy. But you might be surprised how many politicos blow it and choose to kowtow to the squeaky wheels and disappoint, disparage and dismay those who get up every day and seek to make the community a better place.

That’s it in a nutshell.

If you want to succeed in local politics–I can’t speak for state or federal office–determine who is busy making a positive impact and do what you can to help them.

Those people are not hard to find. They serve on boards, mentor children, seek to heal those who are hurting, raise funds for good causes, work hard to advance ideas and create jobs. They aspire. Oh, how I love that word. It makes all the good in this world possible.  

Please those folks. Work hard to help them succeed. Praise and support their efforts.

As for the rest, well don’t go out of your way to anger them. (You wont have to, they wake up mad).

Listen to your critics, sometimes they have something to teach you and other times they are simply full of it.

But they do serve a purpose–they are usually wrong. Their batting average is terrible when measured against the doers in your city. Their predictions of doom and gloom rarely come true and their negativity usually doesn’t amount to much.  The worse thing you can do is empower them; that will deflate the contributors and you can kiss progress goodbye.

On the other hand, if you listen to those who aspire, who seek to do the impossible you’ll find that the word doesn’t exist.

Oh, you’ll trip a time or two, you may even get some stuff wrong but you’ll be someone whose service mattered. It’s guaranteed. Or you can squander the opportunity and fail.

It really is that simple.

 

Festivals Have Their Place

 

Garlic Fest has become a Delray tradition providing much needed funds to local non-profits and schools. Photo by VMA Studios courtesy from Garlic Festival website.

Garlic Fest has become a Delray tradition providing much needed funds to local non-profits and schools. Photo by VMA Studios courtesy from Garlic Festival website.

We know people who love the Delray Affair.

We know others who wait with baited breath for the Garlic Festival (pun intended). And we know people who love craft beer and spend extra to buy VIP tickets to support Old School Square and enjoy the latest suds from small purveyors— many of them local.

We also know others who avoid the Delray Affair, don’t get the whole garlic thing and have no interest in tasting anything named Swamp Ape.

Different strokes for different folks as they say.

But whether you like or loathe events—and a recent poll of Delray voters show that 83 percent of them support and/or attend downtown special events–there’s no doubt that festivals have played a large role in building Delray’s brand.

There’s also no argument that they can be disruptive and costly. But a smart look at the issue would not just focus on impacts but benefits as well. In the coming weeks, Delray Beach commissioners are expected to consider a new event policy and cost structure. While many (not all)  of the policy recommendations we’ve heard about seem to make sense, the cost structure attached to the policy threatens to kill the events. This would be a big mistake. In many cases, the cost of events would nearly triple, which would most likely drive them out of business. That would be tragic.

Special events are a form of economic development. They bring people to your urban core and they help to ring cash registers and fill restaurants—and not just on the day of the event. Many people will come back to Delray after having been exposed to the downtown at a festival.

They also attract tourists and day visitors and some of those tourists and visitors have ended up investing here. We know many residents who decided to live here in part because they enjoyed the events and the overall vibrancy of the city. Events are placemaking and creating a sense of place is critically important.

Festivals also serve as important fundraisers for key community non-profits and they help to build community too.

Delray Beach is very fortunate to have a downtown, a place to gather. Cities without downtowns feel different and many seek to create urban cores to generate that community feeling.

Old School Square was a brilliant civic idea because instead of bulldozing history past visionaries like Frances Bourque recognized the strategic importance of having a cultural center at the heart of our city’s redevelopment efforts. And make no mistake Old School Square was the catalyst. The outdoor space is ideal for events and the new park– approved by voters in 2005 to replace an ugly surface parking lot– should be designed to host events and every day activities.

The energy created by the restoration gave life to efforts to create a vibrant downtown which is at the heart of our success and our economic well-being. Other cities have a beach; very few have a downtown like Delray Beach.

If you are fortunate enough to live anywhere near the downtown you have seen your property values soar–usually viewed as a good thing. There’s a correlation between our downtown’s success and property values. It’s doubtful we would’ve seen any appreciation if downtown remain vacant, blighted and dangerous. But when you are a short golf cart ride away from over 100 great restaurants, shops and yes events you can bet that translates into value. It also translates into qualify of life.

So yes there is a strong need to preach quality over quantity. Some events are tired and need to go or at the very least need upgrading. But that’s a very different conversation than a wholesale “cull”.  Where possible disruption should be mitigated and costs are always a factor but chasing away events from our central gathering place would be a big mistake especially if many of those events are contained, don’t close roads and are enjoyed by many. We should also consider that many of the events raise needed funds for worthy community non-profits.

A few emails and complaints is not a reason to jettison a formula that has worked. Event producers have stepped up and agreed to compromise on items such as their footprint, vendor quality and road closures. Our city leaders should declare victory, perhaps gently raise some fees and move on. Events belong downtown.

 

 

Random Thoughts…

Dare 2 Be Great Scholars Believe in 'paying it forward'

Dare 2 Be Great Scholars Believe in ‘paying it forward’

This is the time of year that the Dare 2 Be Great board pours over applications for scholarships.
It’s a humbling experience to read through the resumes and essays of these incredible young men and women.
Many of the essays are inspirational and more than a few are heartbreaking.
The common thread seems to be resilience. It just seems that some people are built by adversity. They succeed regardless of life’s circumstances and overcome hurdles. It’s almost as if they succeed because they are determined to live better lives.
These kids inspire me. I wish we could help them all. It breaks my heart that we can’t. We’ll keep you posted on the Class of ’16.

It’s a Miracle
Congratulations to the Miracle League of Palm Beach County which pulled off its first successful dinner on the diamond last week.
Julia and Jeff Kadel and their team of volunteers have done a remarkable job bringing the great game of baseball to kids who might not otherwise have an ability to play.
So good to see this wonderful non-profit grow and thrive. And I’m pleased to see Celsius, a company I’m involved with, step up and sponsor.

An Affair to Remember

We hope you’ll visit the Delray Affair this weekend.
The 54th annual event is a great chance to see friends and to adopt a rescue pet.
That’s right.
We’ve adopted two pets at the Affair over the years: Randy and Sophie.
Both little dogs enriched our families beyond words. We also hope the city doesn’t “fee” this event to death.

It’s Delray’s signature event, a tradition and helps our Chamber of Commerce stay healthy and more than ever this city needs a healthy chamber.

Hello Rhys, Goodbye Kim
We wish Tech Runway’s founding director Kim Gramm well on her new job in Texas.
Kim did a lot to put FAU’s ambitious project on the map.
She will be missed.

We are excited to see our Leadership Florida friend Rhys Williams step into the role of leading Tech Runway.

Thanks, Alyona

We’ll also miss Alyona Ushe well as she departs Delray’s innovative Arts Garage.
Alyona won’t be far away as she will continue to work her magic in Pompano Beach.
It’s not easy to start something and make it relevant. Alyona put the Arts Garage on the cultural map in South Florida creating buzz and staging lots of memorable shows and performances.
She made an impact.

Down To The River

river

We take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to devote a column to Bruce Springsteen who played the BB&T Center in Sunrise Tuesday night.

As you might know, Bruce and his wife Patti are part-time residents of Wellington and he has some ties to our neck of the woods through his band and some old friends.

The late great saxophonist Clarence Clemons had condo’s in Boynton Beach and Singer Island, pianist Roy Bittan has close friends in Jupiter and visits frequently and Bruce himself played a small, but pivotal role in the life of Fran Marincola, owner of two-time restaurant of the year Caffe Luna Rosa.

In Fran’s past life he was a nightclub owner on the Jersey Shore and Bruce played his club. You can read the story in a newspaper clipping posted proudly on the wall of Luna Rosa. Next time you visit CLR, ask Fran to share some stories about Bruce and the band and check out the pictures on the wall they’re great.

So it was great to see the show with Fran this week and hear the stories.

It was also transformative to spend 3.5 hours listening to what I consider the best rock/bar band on the planet. At age 66, after 50 plus years playing together, Bruce and the E Street Band remain forces of nature. If you’re sad, he’ll lift you up. If you need energy, he’s a rocket like boost. If you want to reflect on life, simply sit back  and listen.

E Street Nation—as his legion of fans worldwide are known–is a tight knit community of people who come together to celebrate music that transcends time and place.

The latest tour celebrates “The River”, a 1980 masterpiece that was an elegy to growing up, moving out, gaining distance from your parents, leaving your hometown, falling in love and coming to some understanding of life compromise’s and your own mortality.

I bought the album when I was 16 years old, way back when vinyl was king.

For me, “The River” spoke to life’s mysteries—love, the open road, independence and dreams—those that are compromised or lost. But what’s amazing about Bruce’s music-and the music of other greats—is that the material still resonates well into the audience’s AARP years. From teenage angst to middle age—the songs take on new and deeper meaning.

We went with a group—and the prevailing wisdom beyond the sheer entertainment value of the show and the marveling at the performer’s stamina– was the fact that the songs take you back and still have meaning today. That’s a rare and very unique experience.

The other takeaway is what we knew we were witnessing rare artistry and we openly wondered who if anybody would still be relevant to audience’s 40 years from today.

The Springsteen concert took place one day after The Grammy’s, so today’s hottest acts were fresh on our minds. But will any of them endure and transcend the moment? Bieber? Lady Gaga?

Our small sample thinks Ed Sheeran and Chris Stapleton may have legs, but the rest—we’re not so sure.

2016 has been a sad year for those who like the legendary artists. We lost Glenn Frey, Bowie, Paul Kantner, Natalie Cole, Lemmy and the great Maurice White and it’s only February.

We are here for a moment in time. Bruce told the audience that The River is about mortality, doing our jobs, raising our families and doing some good in the world.

Yes indeed.

From the song “Stolen Car”

“And I’m driving a stolen car.  On a pitch black night.  And I’m telling myself I’m gonna be alright.  But I ride by night and I travel in fear.  That in this darkness I will disappear.”

Hopefully not for a very long time and not without having made a difference to those we love.

 

Mysteries Revealed: Why Do We Have A Stadium?

When it's rockin' it's good, when it's empty it's not so good.

When it’s rockin’ it’s good, when it’s empty it’s not so good.

Editor’s note: First in a series of posts that will reveal the stories and answer the burning question “what were they thinking?”  behind local mysteries including “the gateway feature”, special events and our favorite “conditional use.”

The Delray Beach Open was in the news last week.
News outlets all over the world reported that 5 of the top 30 players on the planet will be coming to Delray to play in the ATP event Feb. 12-21.  And the Sun-Sentinel reported that the city commission is challenging the legality of the tennis contract with the event’s promoter signed in October 2005 with the city.
Commissioners felt the need to hire outside counsel to review the deal even though it appears that perhaps two members of the commission had no idea that such a decision was made. They don’t remember voting and nobody can find a record of an agenda item. Ironic since the outside lawyer was tasked with opining on whether the city followed the proper process in 2005 in not bidding the contract.
So much for “process” I suppose.

At least when we approved the deal it was at a public meeting with 32 pages of back-up material available for public perusal.

I was mayor at the time. More on the process part later.

It’s my understanding that Delray is the smallest city in the world to host an ATP event.
It wasn’t my decision to build a stadium downtown. That was a decision made by a City Commission led by Mayor Tom Lynch. In my opinion, Mayor Lynch was as good as any mayor we’ve had in the nearly 30 years I have lived in Delray Beach.
As good as Mayor Lynch was, he’s not above criticism. Nobody is.
Over the years the public has questioned whether the tennis stadium was a good idea.
It’s certainly debatable and it’s healthy to debate because sometimes you might learn something that you can use to inform future decisions.
But in order to have a meaningful debate rather than a game of “gotcha” which does nothing but make bullies feel a little better you have to go deeper than platitudes and sweeping indictments of past decisions.
When the decision to build the tennis stadium and redo the old and blighted tennis center was made, Delray was not the Delray we live in today.
The downtown was promising, but not quite vibrant or sustainable. The West Atlantic corridor was plagued by crime, disinvestment and negative perceptions. There was no library, no Fairfield Inn, no Atlantic Grove, no Ziree, no Windy City Pizza. There was however, loitering and drug dealing and a drive through liquor store.

So when Mayor Lynch and his colleagues (which included a future mayor named Jay Alperin) decided against relocating the tennis center to suburbia and then made a deal to build a tennis stadium to host a Virginia Slims event it was a bold and dramatic decision. Mayor Lynch thought the decision changed how people thought of Delray. He believed it encouraged investment and drew visitors to a city that was ambitious and was trying to turn the corner and become a vibrant and prosperous place.
He believed that decision, along with the restoration of Old School Square among other decisions and investments, set the stage for Delray’s renaissance.
I know how he thought, because I covered his commission and later tried to build on his and others work when I was elected to the commission.
Note the words build on–it’s the opposite of reverse. Not that prior decisions are sacrosanct or that we didn’t reverse many things that were done by prior mayors and commission’s but we did so with the benefit of either knowing or trying to understand the rationale of the original policy.
The Virginia Slims event lasted 2 or three years before Kraft pulled out of women’s tennis. The event and it’s long term deal went away. We were left with a stadium without an event. Concerts were tried and mostly failed at the facility. Boxing failed too. An arena football team took a look and then went away.
The stadium was an issue on the campaign trail and in the various meetings with the community that we held regularly during my term in office. It was called a “white elephant” and severely underutilized. It was considered a costly drain too.
So the commission’s I served on made a decision.

Right or wrong we decided not to raze or sell the stadium. But we did decide to pursue events.
Mindful of the departure of the Slims we thought it was wise to try and lock in a tournament for a long term deal. We also agreed to try concerts again (that didn’t work), approved a deal to bring the Chris Evert Pro Celebrity Classic to the stadium and eagerly approved adding national junior events during “off season” to put heads in beds. That worked well.
We also pursued and won Davis Cup and Fed Cup ties which were highly successful.
We did these things not to ring city cash registers but to market our city (the deal included TV coverage and TV ads) and to help our downtown businesses grow.
Considering the hot summer and the hurricane season (we had a bunch during that era) we thought if we could have events from November through April it would suffice. We could breathe life into the white elephant and market our city.
You may think that makes sense or you may think it was the worst business deal around these parts since IBM shunned Bill Gates and something called Windows, but that’s the rest of the story as Paul Harvey might say.
If there is a desire to get rid of the event or to renegotiate it so be it.
If there is a desire to sell the stadium, tennis center and City Hall–yes City Hall have at it. Personally, I think those ideas are ridiculous.
But regardless, it’s helpful to understand the history, context and rationale of decisions so you can best plan for the future.
Again, I don’t think selling public assets to pay for recurring expenses is prudent. I can promise you future policy makers will be looking at that and scratching their heads if indeed any of these ‘out of the box’ concepts come to fruition.
I also don’t buy into the assessment of the current administration that we are broke. Spiritually and morale wise maybe–financially no way. With nearly $30 million in reserves and a growing tax base and people still willing to invest here despite a Byzantine and never ending approval “process” I’d say we are in decent shape. Not because of current policy and “leadership” but because of vision and leadership going back to the mid 80s that was able to build a pretty cool city with growing property values and a ton of amenities that has made future progress possible citywide including Congress Avenue. (But not if you shut down or take your eye off the downtown).
We may have made a bad business decision in 2005. I would happily debate the current mayor or any elected on that point and many others including the Byzantine never ending approval process, flawed LDRs and the  lack of transparency on the fire merger and the decision to hire outside legal counsel to look at the tennis contract. As I mentioned earlier,  I’m told two commissioners didn’t even know about it. I talked to one and he said he didn’t. I didn’t call the other.
So we have outside counsel investigating whether a contract was entered into in violation of a process without a process to hire outside counsel. Interesting.
As for the opinion that the contract should have been bid, I disagree.
Here’s the ordinance we worked off of. You decide. Or maybe a court will. Our commission didn’t build the tennis stadium, we did decide to try and put things in it.

CHAPTER 36. – ACQUISITION OF GOODS AND SERVICES AND DISPOSAL OF CITY PROPERTY[4]
Sec. 36.01. – APPLICABILITY; DEFINITIONS.

(4)

Specialty Goods and Services. Acquisitions of or contracts for specialty goods and services (including but not limited to performing artists, artwork, special events, entertainment, and food and beverage) may be made or entered into by the City Manager without utilizing a Sealed Competitive Method or the Written Quotations Method. Acquisitions of specialty goods and services, where the expenditure by the City is estimated to be twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) or greater, shall be subject to approval by the City Commission.

Thanks Joe

Mr. Debonair

Mr. Debonair

Editor’s Note: Joe Gillie officially retired this week as President and CEO of Old School Square. A celebration of his legacy will be held Nov. 7 at Old School Square. To get tickets visit http://delraycenterforthearts.org/

 

I remember the first time I met Joe Gillie.

It was 25 years ago and he was a board member at Old School Square, which at the time was a fledgling experiment in a town trying desperately to change its narrative.

It was 1990 and Delray Beach was a very different place. In March, the city held a landmark election and elected a slate of candidates who promised to reform government, bring stability to City Hall and implement what was being called a “Decade of Excellence.”

The 80s had been a rough decade for Delray, also known as “Dullray” back then. The city had serious crime issues, the downtown had major vacancies and the crack cocaine epidemic had engulfed entire neighborhoods. But there were signs of hope all around. Visions 2000 brought people together, there were plans to reform schools, a new CRA was doing good things, historic districts were being established and the Decade of Excellence Bond passed with huge voter support, promising over $20 million in needed improvements and beautification.

A year later a visionary police chief was hired and a new chamber president too. It was a time of hope and promise and Old School Square was at the forefront of civic endeavors charged with being a catalyst for downtown revitalization.

Two years after I met Joe, he became President of Old School Square. By 1993, he was in charge of our first bid for an All America City Award and when I say he was in charge, he was in charge.

Joe managed every detail using his theatre background to craft a presentation that literally blew the judges in Tampa away. I recently found archival footage of that event and it was remarkable to see our diversity and spirit in action—and it was remarkable to see Joe’s leadership at its most impactful.

He incorporated young and old, black and white, east and west into a team. In baseball they call it clubhouse chemistry; that intangible that makes champions. Joe was the architect of that chemistry and the vehicle was the All America City Competition.

When you view the footage from that event, you see a young Mayor Tom Lynch, civic giants like C. Spencer Pompey, dedicated city staff like Lula Butler and Dorothy Ellington, residents like John Tallentire and Sandra Almy and you just marvel at the energy, spirit, humor and camaraderie. There was trust among neighbors, people loved their city and trusted their local government enough to go millions of dollars in debt in order to achieve a vision.

Old School Square itself was a big risk, and you can see in founder Frances Bourque’s eyes her trust and belief in a young Joe Gillie to pull off a vision that if successful would mark a huge turning point in the city’s rich history.

In hindsight, winning that first All America City Award was the propellant we needed as a community to tell the world that things in Delray were changing and we were serious about lifting up all parts of our community.

Joe Gillie was at the forefront of those efforts. He, along with many many others, helped to win two All America City Awards and we became the first city in Florida to do so.

But Joe was our captain. In Joe, we trusted. He kept this city focused, laughing and moving forward through good times and challenging times.

Joe was a different kind of leader. He wasn’t walled off in some office, he could be found in the trenches, usually with a broom in those early days, but always with a larger than life personality that greeted patrons, promoted shows, programs and classes and always talked up the larger goal which was building community through culture.

We hear, often, how people are replaceable. How no one person is larger than the mission or more important than the enterprise. Part of that old saw is true, except that people are not replaceable.

There will be people who serve as President of what is now called the Delray Center for the Arts and hopefully they will do a great job in the role. But there will never be another Joe Gillie. He’s an original; a Delray original by way of Virginia.

In August, I attended a surprise party for Joe at Smoke. It’s not easy to surprise Joe, but it happened. Many of his friends were there and it was a wonderful night, full of memories and laughs, but with Joe in the room there is always talk about the future.

Joe is departing from his role, but he’s not retiring. He’s a creative force and creative beings don’t stop inventing and innovating. He will act. He will sing. He will write. He will paint and he will continue to be a vibrant and positive force in our community.

During the party a loop of old photos ran on the wall in back of Smoke. Joe looking dapper in a tux. Joe with hair. Joe and me and Gary Eliopoulos dressed as rappers (Joe is the only guy who could get me to do that or to get Diane, my wife to sing Rodgers and Hammerstein songs with localized lyrics at a roast in front of 450 people). Joe made us believe. His time here was magical—pure magic. How lucky we have been.

 

 

1993: A Magical Year

My wife discovered a gem recently.
While attending a fundraising party she met someone who converted old videos to DVD’s.
Searching through her archive of videos, she discovered footage from Delray’s first All America City bid in 1993.
About 140 residents made the trip to Tampa after qualifying for the finals in a hotly contested competition sponsored by the National Civic League.
In ’93, the All America City competition attracted a record 150 plus applicants, cities ranging in size from Pittsburgh to small towns in Tennessee.
Delray was chosen one of 30 finalists and ended up bringing home the award. In 2001, the city would take its second All America City title in Atlanta, becoming the first Florida city to win the award twice.
I was a reporter during the ’93 awards and remember being disappointed when my newspaper denied my request to travel to Tampa to witness the event. I had to cover it remotely, calling officials during and after the competition. By 2001, I was on the City Commission and we brought another large contingent to Atlanta to showcase our cities progress.
Viewing the footage, I was reminded how amazing the All America City awards were and hopefully still are.
Yes, there is a performance piece of the process that some may find hokey, but there was also some serious grilling from a panel of grizzled civic veterans who ask in-depth questions of participating cities.
It’s a heated competition between cities that are really serious about solving problems and working together.
The All America City award doesn’t mean you’re perfect, but it does mean that you are hard at work finding innovative solutions to difficult problems.
In 1993, Delray had some very hard problems to work on: poverty, poor schools, drug abuse, crime.
The Decade of Excellence was being implemented and so were ideas from Visions 2000 and the earlier Atlantic Avenue Task Force.
There were some green shoots happening downtown, but we were far from the thriving central business district that we see today.
Still, in viewing the official and raw footage from the event, mostly shot by my wife Diane–then assistant planning director, you could see the camaraderie, unity, confidence and excitement among a cross section of the community.
The 140 member contingent that travelled to Tampa was a large party compared to other cities and also very diverse. Black and white, young and old, east and west, business leaders and neighborhood activists and a city staff that oozed confidence and excitement.
It was fun for me to see faces that I haven’t seen in awhile, our transformative police chief Rick Overman, our former volunteer coordinator Mike Wright, the chair of the effort the wonderful Sandra Almy, Frank McKinney, Chuck Ridley, Lula Butler, Elizabeth Butler Burrows (who was a little girl) Bob Currie, Bill Wood, Frances Bourque, Chris Brown, Mike Weiner, Kevin Egan, Debra Dowd, Cory Cassidy, David Kovacs and on and on.
It was very poignant to see some departed Delray Beachers who were so important to our community: Mr. and Mrs. Pompey, Ken Ellingsworth, Helen Coopersmith and the wonderfully kind John Tallentire.
The Mayor at the time, my friend Tom Lynch was there as well; with his children who were little back then but now grown and running businesses.
The footage showed a really young and very energetic Joe Gillie leading the large group through the performance part of the competition. Joe is retiring in a few months. What a run, he has had. What a run.
My favorite part of the footage was the behind the scene shots, the breakfast footage, where neighbors relaxed and laughed with each other. The scenes of the booth, where people posed for photos and picked up literature about this beautiful town on the ocean in South Florida were also great.
Of course, hearing the former Governor of Hawaii call Delray’s name as a winner was also fun to watch. The yells of joy, the relief, the celebration.
Sandra Almy was on the verge of tears when she thanked the jurors and recognized the large group who made the journey and gave of their time and talent to move their hometown forward.
1993 was at the beginning, when it was exciting and the possibilities were enormous. They still are. At least I believe so.
I came to Delray in 1987, it was a vastly different place back in those days.
Times change, towns change, people move on. Many are still here, some move away and some pass.
But spending some time with those old videos reminded me of why I fell in love with this place.
You could feel the spirit, you could sense the warmth and you could see a community coming together to forge a future together.
It was magic. Pure magic.