Delray Beach and Boca Raton Real Estate and Homes for Sale

Watch as Jeff and Dave, the founders of YourDelrayBoca.com, give you their take on the local real estate market:

There is no more dynamic real estate market in the U.S. than Boca-Delray.

From oceanfront mansions and historic homes to picturesque country clubs and subdivisions the market is vibrant, the choices are endless and the neighborhoods varied depending on age range, price and taste. The area features everything from old Florida to the most modern downtown condo’s and townhomes.

You are sure to find exactly what you want in these two world-class cities.

Buying or selling in the Delray-Boca area and need a recommendation? We can help. Learn more here.

Special Places Lift Our Spirits

 

 

 

 

Old School Square in patriotic splendor.          Let’s  start with the obvious.

This has been one horrendous year.
Let’s be honest,  if years were things, 2020 would be a smoldering dumpster fire.

I don’t have to or want to recount the craziness and tragedy, we know it all too well. We are engulfed by it.

What I do want to write about is what can soothe us during troubled times.
So here’s something to try— inspired by Yankee magazine—one of my favorite publications because it celebrates the best of New England.
Yankee’s basic premise is that places are special because they tell stories, have distinctive styles and personalities and that we ought to explore as much as we possibly can.
When I scanned the most recent issue it got me a little down because I know that at least this year, there’s no way to see any of the amazing places described in the magazine.
But then I had a thought, what are the local places that make me happy either because they are beautiful or trigger positive memories.
So I decided to take inventory of those places— first in my mind and then via a car ride—which is still possible even during this time of Covid.
I visited old homes and neighborhoods, cruised Atlantic Avenue, took a walk on Banker’s Row, went to Papas Tapas (love that place), cruised around the West Settlers District, swung by the Catherine Strong Splash Park, went north  then south on A1A, visited Lake Ida Park where I have walked all of my dogs over the years and parked across the street from Old School Square where so many of my “Delray memories” were launched.
I dropped by Knowles Park to visit the Intracoastal and took a drive west to the Morikami.
I drove the bridges at George Bush, Atlantic, Linton and Spanish River—for some reason I’ve always loved bridges. Maybe that stems from childhood when crossing the Whitestone Bridge meant we were visiting my grandparents.
Anyway, it did my soul some good.
It’s not the same as discovering a new place or going to Maine but somehow it was soothing.
I think it’s because the act of thinking about which places mean something to you triggers endorphins, memories and positive feelings.
I thought of the people I’ve met over the years at Old School Square, the photo shoot we did with my now 30 year old daughter at Morikami, great neighbors we’ve had, friends who live in certain neighborhoods and votes we took on the City Commission that led to new places and exciting things—-Bexley Park, Coral Trace, CityWalk, Ocean City Lofts, the public art program etc etc.
For a moment, I forgot about 2020 the nightmare and focused on the sense of place we enjoy.
This summer I had dreamed of going to New England, there’s something about the region that speaks to me. That dream has been dashed.
We’ve been grounded. At least for now.
So my visions of weather beaten cottages along the Maine coast will be replaced with drives around Palm Beach County.
Things could be worse.
And I promise they will get better.

Planning Is Great; Action Is Better

Don’t let your plans gather dust. If you do, you burn public trust which is the most valuable currency.

 

It happened a long time ago, so I guess it’s safe to tell the story.

It was the early 2000s and Delray Beach was still reeling from a bruising battle over Worthing Place—the apartment building that also houses Park Tavern and Salt 7.
The city commission agreed to a Downtown Master Plan process and we got some funding from the MacArthur Foundation to hire a slew of planning and design consultants.
A large cross section of the community turned out for meetings that surfaced a bunch of cool ideas.
It was a true community building experience.
We felt  a lot of civic pride, it was exciting and we felt as if we could do anything we set our minds too. It was a special time.
Then the plan was sent to the commission for adoption with a list of priority projects.
But despite the enthusiasm and effort, the commission never adopted the plan. They ignored years of advocacy from residents pleading for the plan to be adopted. And nothing happened.

The gateway wasn’t built. None of the downtown garages were ever built, and we never got Old School Square Park.
All of the innovative policy ideas that enabled restaurants to thrive, the grid system to flow and events to take root vanished along with our hopes.
Northwest/Southwest Fifth Avenue which we had hoped would include public art, small businesses and interesting streetscapes never happened.
Downtown housing, which we had wanted so that we could add vibrancy and support for local businesses didn’t happen either. The plan was placed on a shelf where it gathered dust.
And all of the participants who gave their time and energy to our town went back home disappointed. Some moved away. Many never participated in anything “civic” related ever again.
Instead, we watched neighboring towns flower and attract investment and entrepreneurial energy.

Eventually, our talented staff began to send their resumes out hoping to catch on in a place where they could make something happen and feel that their careers were meaningful.

Property values stagnated. The momentum we started to feel in the late 80s and 90s faded away like so many other things we hoped to do.

At this point in the story, I can share that all of this is bunk.
The plan was not only adopted it was largely implemented in a blizzard of civic projects and investment that helped our town blossom.
Oh some people didn’t like what happened. One guy referred to our vibrant downtown as a “concrete jungle.”  I’m not sure what he was referring to, it is a downtown of course. We have concrete. We also have open space, art, culture, sports,
music.  restaurants and nightlife that cities all over the country envy.

But hey, you can’t please them all.
The downtown master plan was the first to expand the boundaries of our downtown from the ocean to I-95, an important symbolic step.
But it wasn’t just symbolism.
We added an attractive “gateway” feature just East of 95 because the citizens who participated in the process felt it was important to send the world a message. When you exited the Interstate at Atlantic Avenue you were entering a special place. We wanted people to know it.
Some criticized the art work and lighting that decorated our gateway. It was too expensive they said. They always say that by the way. And they are always wrong.
My friends cities work when you invest in them.
You get a return on that investment in the form of increased property values and civic pride. If you fail to invest, you fail your citizens in ways that you can measure and in ways that you cannot.
Atlantic Grove got built—“they” said it couldn’t be done. Nobody would build market rate housing in “that neighborhood.”
Once again, they were wrong. The market rate and the affordable housing sold.
So did the commercial portion of the project and for the first time in a long time—maybe ever—we saw people from all parts of Delray mingling at places like Ziree, a wonderful Thai restaurant.
The streetscape that made East Atlantic so trendy was extended all the way out to 95, a new library was built where it was needed —again despite some people coming up to the microphone and saying you can’t put the library “out there” because people will be afraid to go. Once again they were wrong. Lots of people use the library.

There were other plans that were implemented too.
The southwest plan called for infrastructure  upgrades that were funded and done. The plan called for an expansion of The Village Academy and that was done too.

The parks plan added a splash park named after our first female mayor Catherine Strong, becoming the first park in the long neglected Southwest neighborhood.

A community land trust was formed, I think it was the first in the county, and they built some adorable homes for first time buyers.
We had an independent CRA back then, and by the way it was independent in name only because it worked collaboratively with the City Commission. The agency won a ton of awards and was recognized as one of the very best in the state before a mayor came along a few years back and used it as a punching bag.
That was shameful. Truly was.

How smart is it to take your best economic development tool and put cheese in the engine? Answer: not very.
Oh well, thankfully so much got done before the dysfunction set in.
Which is a good segue I suppose.
Last week, after four years of trying, a neighborhood calling itself “The Set” finally got their plan on the Commission agenda thanks to Vice Mayor Ryan Boylston. The neighborhood, which used to be called the southwest and northwest sections of the city, came together to work on  “The Set Transformation Plan.”

Of course, you might not know that because when it hit the agenda the word “Set” was removed. Kind of like when the Egyptians removed the name Moses from their history books when they discovered he was Jewish.
It struck me as odd, petty, political, small and disrespectful.
It struck others that way too.
Anyway, it’s a good plan. I’ve read a bunch over the years and this is solid. But it needs to be adopted, funded and implemented. Otherwise, it’s just platitudes on paper.
Unfortunately last week, after four years and after many a campaign promise to get moving, the adoption of the plan was postponed so it can be workshopped.
Interesting.
The decision or lack thereof, smells.
It just does. And it smells worse considering where we are as a nation right now wrestling with issues of equity and racism.
There are some players tied to the plan who are controversial.
So what?
One of the guys spews a lot on social media as is his right. He gets some things right and he is way way way off on other things. For example, he’s wrong when he says nothing has ever been accomplished by the city or CRA in or for his community. A whole lot has been done. And nobody has ever said that things were finished.

But it’s really not about him or his friends. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Is the plan worthy? Is it supported by the neighborhood it aspires to help? Is it good for Delray?
If the answer is yes, it ought to be adopted and put into action not put on a shelf.
If the answer is no, well then we need another plan and leadership ought to make that happen. But they better be able to explain why the plan falls short. And the answer can’t be because a few people who run their mouths on Facebook are behind it.
We are at an inflection point in this City and this country.
I don’t watch city meetings but my phone sure blew up when the plan’s adoption was postponed.
I’m not a bellwether. I’m just a middle aged white guy sitting at home watching Netflix riding out the pandemic.
But I’m feeling something and it ain’t COVID. People want change. They want progress. They want to be heard and respected. Those are not unreasonable demands.
Many are not feeling like they are being heard.
That’s not healthy.
It’s time for the plan to be adopted, funded and implemented.
It’s past time really.
As Sam Cooke sang, “a change is gonna come.”
Even in sleepy ole Delray.

Preparing For Recovery

I moved to Delray Beach just when efforts to revitalize the city were beginning to kick into gear.

The year was 1987, so I had just missed Mayor Doak Campbell’s Atlantic Avenue Task Force, an effort that served as an important precursor to the massive efforts that were about to be launched.

But I was there for Visions 2000, the Decade of Excellence, Visions 2005, Sharing for Excellence (which focused on the city’s schools) the Downtown Master Plan and a host of other efforts that created modern day Delray Beach, a three time All America City, that has earned national acclaim for its redevelopment efforts, successful downtown, events, culture and food scene.

It’s been quite a ride—turbulent at times, but joyous too.
Now in the midst of a pandemic I am reminded every time I drive down Atlantic Avenue about those early years when downtown was dead and buried in a lot of people’s hearts and minds.

Delray came back as a result of careful planning, massive public investment, risky private investment and a playbook that included everything from a downtown tennis stadium and festivals to a focus on culture and a big bet on food and beverage as a driver of commerce and branding. A strong commitment to Community Policing was another indispensable tool. If people don’t feel safe, they simply won’t spend time or money in your city.

In a pandemic, most of those tools are largely off the table—- for now at least. So I wonder how we will fare in the short and long term.
Long term I think we will find a vaccine and effective treatments that will give us the confidence to venture out again and be among people.
That’s what downtowns do best if they are healthy. They bring us together.

But short term it may be a while before we see restaurants packed and feel comfortable enough to attend festivals with thousands of people.

Thanks to societal changes, retail doesn’t appear to be viable option especially in a high rent environment.
Pineapple Grove has done well as center of personal services and hopefully salons, gyms and the like can safely re-open soon.

We never quite had a huge office component downtown and one wonders where that sector will be in the wake of the coronavirus. Many companies are realizing they can effectively operate remotely and may not require the large offices they now occupy.

Still, there are opportunities at Atlantic Crossing and the IPic building to bring workers downtown.
In time, it will also be important to get anchors such as Old School Square and the Arts Garage up and running again.
The arts are a morale booster and an economic development engine.

I also think  there is  a great opportunity to introduce educational uses downtown and perhaps someday (post vaccine) that will be possible too.

Tourism is a huge part of our economy and we finally have a critical mass of hotel rooms after years of lacking capacity.
In time, if the hotels can stay alive, that sector will bounce back and be a critical piece of our economic recovery.
My belief is we need a short term survival plan because long term we can bounce back because the fundamentals are there. But it will be harder to bounce back if we lose too much of what we had prior to the pandemic.
What’s probably needed is a local city specific Marshall Plan.
Is that an overreaction? Maybe, but what we seem to be facing is an economic event unlike any we’ve experienced since the Great Depression.
So in my estimate, it will take big and bold thinking to restore a sustainable local economy that has the potential—if done right—to be better than pre-Coronavirus.
Tall order?
Perhaps.
But we are starting with a decent foundation this time.
Back then, all we had were good bones and a lot of dreams.
A slew of visionaries made it happen then, we can do it again.

Seizing the Golden Hour

 

Have you heard about the golden hour?
The golden hour is the period of time following a traumatic injury during which there is the highest likelihood that prompt medical and surgical treatment will prevent death.
In a crisis, I have a hunch that there’s a golden hour as well.
While in medicine, the golden hour is literally an hour, in other endeavors we are given a longer time to seize the moment. Not forever. But a season perhaps. 
 
For America, life post Covid-19, whenever that may be, will be different. But will it be better?
 
It can, if we want it to be. 
 
The crisis laid bare some real weaknesses. 
Our public health care system was caught unprepared for this pandemic. We lacked resources and equipment and we found that when we needed to replenish our stocks we had to look overseas. 
We now have an opportunity to strengthen our health care system and recapture our manufacturing capacity to ensure our national security. 
We also have an opportunity to reconsider some of the people we’ve forgotten in our society. 
 
Teachers, hospital workers, delivery drivers, supermarket staff, restaurant workers, pharmacists and support staff, first responders , farm workers (many foreign and undocumented) are essential to our society. That has been made clear by this crisis. Yet many live paycheck to paycheck often without health insurance. During this pandemic, we have asked them to risk their lives to keep us afloat in our time of need. Maybe, just maybe, we will begin to think of these important workers differently. Maybe, just maybe, we can find it in our hearts, to extend them healthcare, a living wage and an affordable place to live. 
Prior to this we haven’t done those things have we?
Maybe now we will look at policies and attitudes that have prevented tens of millions from climbing the ladder and sharing in the American Dream.  
And if we think this work is for someone else to do we’d be wrong. 
Sure, the president and Congress have a role to play and to date they’ve failed to stem the forces that have kept so many from living a secure and stable life. But we have a role too. 
On the local level, we have an opportunity to be better citizens. We have an opportunity to support our schools and our teachers. We have an opportunity to support our first responders and front line workers by advocating for policies that support housing near jobs and transit. 
We can be smart consumers and shop local. 
Delray’s economy is built on real estate, food, beverage, tourism and culture. 
There are other industries in town and they are important. 
 We need to diversify for sure. 
But we also need to cherish what makes us who we are. 
The chef Jose Andres was on 60 Minutes last week discussing his heroic efforts to feed the hungry in America.
The hungry in America.
Digest that for a moment.
The richest nation on Earth has people who are hungry and homeless. Lots of them. 
We have people who struggle and live lives of quiet despair. We can and should seek to help these people. We have the solutions. Do we have the will? 
Will we seize the golden hour?
Mr. Andres says the local restaurants in our community represent our DNA. When we support these establishments we support the men and women who work there, those who fish, grow our food and deliver it to our homes when we decide to take out. 
I think that’s true. 
Restaurants are the largest U.S employer supporting more than 15 million jobs that add about $1 trillion to the economy according to the Wall Street Journal. This month, they are expected to lose $50 billion in revenue. 
We are seeing a yeoman’s effort right now to support and save our local restaurants. 
It’s heartwarming.

But when this crisis passes, will we care about where these workers live? Will we show concern for their health care needs and whether they have a path to a life of stability? 
I hope so.
It’s our choice. 
 
 

Friendship in the Age of Zoom

Like many of you, we’ve been keeping in touch with family, friends and work colleagues via Zoom these days.

I’ve had three Zoom happy hours, a bunch of Zoom conference calls and I have a feeling we are just getting started.
Welcome to corona world.
But this isn’t a lament. There’s plenty to lament of course, starting with the death, sickness and economic carnage this damn virus has caused. This is flat awful and extremely scary.
But even in the darkest of times, there are some bright glimmers of the indefatigable human spirit.
For me, the amazing thing about Zoom is we are reminded that we need to see each other’s faces.
It’s not the same as being in the same room but it’s still good to see loved ones. And isn’t it interesting how “seeing” each other via Zoom or FaceTime just feels good. Better than a text or a regular phone call. It’s a reminder that we need to see each other. That’s a very good thing.
I have three standing Zoom calls a week and I look forward to each one.
My first is with colleagues at the office. It’s a brief call to update each other on what we’re doing and how we’re doing. We are trying to move forward with our work projects despite this “situation.”
The second call is a late night happy hour with my childhood buddies scattered across three time zones.
I’ve written before about now fortunate I am to still be in touch with guys I’ve known since I was a first grader. It’s truly amazing. Because these friendships are 50 years old and we still enjoy each other’s company.
We have a guy in Southern California, another in Milwaukee, one in New Jersey and this week a new addition from Arizona.
Hanging out with these guys has been a real morale boost during these scary times.
We talk current events, politics, books, movies, comedians and a whole lot of nonsense. It’s therapeutic. These faces are familiar to me, comforting too. I still see the young guys we once were and I marvel at the men they’ve become.
One of the guys and his wife had the virus and was able to give us a feel for what it’s like. While he recovered nicely, it was a battle. It was somehow comforting to hear about the experience from someone you know and trust.
I’m so glad he recovered. I realize all over again how much I treasure these friendships.
If you’ve been blessed with old friends, now is a good time to reach out to them. Now is a good time to tell them how important they are to you.
I also had a local “happy hour” with some Delray friends whom I also love and treasure.
It was fun to see into their homes and talk to their kids while having wine, sharing laughs and thinking about what’s next for our community.
What will Atlantic Avenue look like? Will rents adjust? Can they?
Which of our local businesses will make it through and which will sadly go away.
The faces on the other end of the line are my local heroes, the men and women who have done so much for this town. They haven’t always been appreciated by the cognoscenti but dear G-d I appreciate them. I love them too.
The onset of this crisis was like a game of musical chairs where all of a sudden the music stops, there’s a scramble to survive and life changes.

But unlike  musical chairs, you can’t just switch the music back on. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were so simple?
But the world is not simple. The ground shifts underneath us, things change and things don’t get put back just so.
Driving Atlantic Avenue today reminds me of the 80s. It’s eerie.
Eventually this situation will lift. We will be able to buy a yogurt without a mask at our favorite ice cream shop on Linton.
But things won’t be the same. Families will lose loved ones in the most painful way imaginable.
Still, the crisis will end. Most of us will make it, but we will be altered by this experience.
I think we will treasure our friends and family more. Just seeing their faces will fill our hearts. Whether in person or on Zoom they will fill our hearts.
Seeing faces we love….never more important t than right about now.
Stay safe.

The Language Of Reconciliation

“I believe we will soon see leaders using the language of reconciliation, of healing and unifying. Perhaps the noise of the present has been drowning out the voice of reason—the voice of the future that is still there.” —Frances Hesselbein, chair of the Hesselbein Leadership Forum at the University of Pittsburgh and former CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

I admire Frances Hesselbein.

I read her leadership themed email every day.

She is optimistic.

Leadership by definition is optimistic.

We have been missing the voice of the future for a long time in our community and that absence has created a tremendous amount of damage. When you stop focusing on the future it passes you by.  You tend to get bogged down in the mundane daily battles that blur with time and don’t add up to anything productive.

It’s the day after the Delray Beach municipal election—another bruiser that did little to elevate the conversation around town and a lot to take us further down the “hey, let’s continue to hate each other” rabbit hole that simply does not work.

So let’s congratulate Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson and newcomer Juli Casale on their victories and hope that in the midst of a huge national crisis, we are able to come together in Delray.

But before we move on and the election fades from our memories, we should do a brief post-mortem.

So what did we “learn” over the past two plus months of intense campaigning?
Here’s a brief primer in case you might have gone numb.

Election Narrative: All developers and all development is Bad—It doesn’t matter what the project is, it’s all no good. Developers are rapacious, corrupting criminals and somehow we’d be so much better off without them.

Reality: Without investment we’re dead.

Healthy cities need to grow their tax base. Healthy cities need to create jobs and they need to offer housing especially attainable housing so that families and young people have a way of becoming part of our community. We need good development, smart growth, attractive design and policies that promote economic and environmental sustainability. We didn’t get that discussion in this election cycle or in past cycles either to be fair. And until we have that conversation as a community, we are doomed to keep slinging a lot of lies and innuendo at each other. How sad for us. How unproductive. We need to do better and we can do better.

Election Narrative: Business interests— but especially developers —are a “special interest” and therefore not worthy of participating in our local elections.

They shouldn’t make a donation to a candidate who they think might be good for Delray; they can however continue to pay taxes and shut their mouths when it comes to endless approval processes and endless insults relating to the damage they are allegedly doing.

So it doesn’t matter that maybe you hope to exercise your property rights or whether you are following the city’s codes or acting on a vision…. say to jump start the Congress Avenue corridor or create a job or provide a home for a young family. The message is clear: how dare you. I’ve met a slew of developers over the years. Some were terrible. I mean lock the doors, check your wallets and take a shower after meeting them bad. And some were terrific.

Reality: In my experience, the good ones don’t want to buy anyone and would never do so. That’s one of the reasons they’re good.  They believe in their projects and their vision and are willing to take risks to make things happen.

They don’t mind tough standards as long as the playing field is level and the process is not endless. Candidates often decry “developer money” flowing to their opponents, but why would developers support candidates who base their campaigns on stopping development? Not bad development, all development.

Election Narrative: Endorsements are worthless and reflect poorly on the candidate who receives them.

So if the police and fire union endorses you, it’s only because they want bigger pensions and higher salaries. It can’t be because you have been supportive of police and fire or they think you’d best serve the people of the community they are sworn to serve and protect.

Reality: Never mind the fact that in the last contract negotiation they agreed to give up benefits. Never let the facts get in the way of a good mail piece.

Let’s pretend that it makes sense to portray our police officers and firefighters as mercenaries. Hey I get it, unions and all. But, I’ve known two-plus generations of officers and firefighters; they care about Delray and will do what’s right for the city when it comes to crunch time. If you think the best way to “deal” with them is confrontation you are wrong.

Election Narrative: Challenger vs. Corrupt Establishment

We can’t discuss issues in any kind of depth because we get caught in the endless spiral of attacks and counter-attacks.

So here’s how it goes: Challenger (usually inexperienced with little in the way of a civic resume takes on “establishment” candidate (which is code word for someone who has spent at least a few years working in the community or serving in office).

Challenger attacks record, character and integrity of their opponent. Opponent feels compelled to strike back and call the challenger inexperienced, a bully and a liar. And so it goes down into the gutter.

To be fair, in this particular cycle, several of the challenger candidates ran very positive campaigns—a few didn’t. All are to be commended for running because it’s a huge commitment.  I hope commissioners seek to put several of the candidates on boards where they can get experience and learn more about the city they seek to lead.

 

There’s a lot more to discuss. Campaign finance reform, an apparent disconnect between the stated level of spending and the amount of mail we receive, the divisions in our city. Especially the divisions and the need to move past issues once they are decided.

 

The re-elected, the newly elected, the incumbents and we the people have an opportunity here to heal those divisions or at least agree to disagree in a more civil manner.

Our first order of business is to make it through the virus—which is sure to change our world and our local community in ways we can’t even begin to fathom yet.

But this too shall pass—and we have a responsibility to each other to find a way forward together.

The election was close—and it was a split decision. Which means there is an opportunity for all “sides” and viewpoints to reach out and be inclusive.

 

 

Bricks & Mortar

Bricks and mortar is changing retail , but retail is not dying.

We’ve seen the headlines.

Macy’s closing stores.

Bed, Bath and Beyond closing stores.

Forever 21 going bankrupt (but being revamped).

It’s a “retail apocalypse” screams the headlines caused by Amazon and the big bad world of e-commerce.

Yes, the numbers look tough for brick and mortar retailers. More than 9,000 stores closed in 2019 which was more than 2018 and more than 2017—all record years.

Ugh…

But there’s a deeper story here.

My eyes were opened recently after reading a report by University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee. And as we plan our local cities and lament the lack of retail in places such as downtown Delray and Boca Raton we need to pay attention to societal trends and adjust our expectations and maybe our codes accordingly.

First, there is no doubt that e-commerce is growing by leaps and bounds. Twenty years ago, about $5 billion worth of goods were purchased each quarter online. Today, that number is about $155 billion per quarter.

But while that’s an impressive number it still represents only 11 percent of the entire retail sales total.

So almost 90 percent of goods are still purchased in a brick and mortar store and of that percentage, more than 70 percent of retail spending in America is in categories that are fairly well insulated from the internet due to the nature of the product or because of laws governing distribution.

These categories include cars, gas, food, beverage, drugs, home improvement and garden supplies.

So what’s going on out there?
Why is it so difficult for physical retailers to make it in the 2020s?

Goolsbee puts forth three societal trends as causes.

The rise of Big Box Stores—super centers and warehouse stores such as Costco actually ring up more sales than Amazon.

Income Inequality—as the middle class has been hollowed out, stores that cater to them have suffered or died. Retailers aiming at the high and low end of the income scale have found some success. So “dollar” stores have grown along with some high end designer retailers while retailers serving the once vast middle class— J.C. Penney and Sears have suffered.

Services Have Grown, Things Have Not—According to Goolsbee, with every passing decade Americans have spent less of their income on things and more on services and experiences. We are spending more on our health, more on restaurants, education, entertainment and business services than we used to and less on products sold in stores.

Here’s a cool stat: In 1920, Americans spent 38 percent of their income on food and 17 percent on clothing—almost all through traditional stores. Today, 10 percent of our income is spent on food and clothing eats up just 2.4 percent of our incomes.

So how does this affect our local communities?

Well, it might explain why Atlantic Avenue has become more of a food and entertainment destination than a traditional downtown where people go to shop for things like clothing and decorations.

The issue becomes more acute when property values sky rocket alongside rents. It’s hard for traditional retailers to pay high rents per square foot, especially since we still have a seasonal economy.

While we all (well some of us) love mixed-use development, it’s challenging to make retail work due to economic and societal trends. Of course, mixed-used does not have to be exclusively housing and retail, it can also include food and beverage, co-working, an educational use or something in the health or fitness space.

I have some very smart friends who have succeeded in real estate and they are having a hard time imagining what will happen to all the retail space we have built in Boca, Delray and Boynton Beach.

We definitely have a need for more housing, especially attainable housing and some of the overbuilt retail space can surely be used to add to our stock.

But that’s going to require some deft planning and a whole lot of political courage/hard work to convince residents who already live here why we need to make room for more people. P.S. if we do want our existing mom and pop retailers and family owned eateries to survive, density cannot be a dirty word. Let’s repeat: density done right is not a dirty word.

There was a time in Delray when density was encouraged in our codes and plans . And guess what?

It brought the town back to life.

Al Gore would call that an inconvenient truth, candidates running for local office would sooner break out in hives than embrace the concept but density designed properly and used strategically can do much to support the mom and pops and independent merchants we say we cherish. It’s also better for the environment than traffic-inducing sprawl like development.

Events too play a role too, by bringing people to town where they might stop and shop or come back to check out stores they might see while attending an arts show or festival.

As the son of an independent pharmacist, I have a deep appreciation for how hard it is to make it in retail and how important good retail is to a vibrant and vital central business district.

As we sift through the barrage of campaign attack ads already hitting our mailboxes and inboxes, it would be useful to see if any candidate offers ideas on how to grow the local economy in a high rent, seasonal environment with tons of competition from nearby cities, without an Office of Economic Development (the two member team resigned and have not been replaced) in a changing world being disrupted by technology and things we can never anticipate such as coronavirus.

It’s not an easy challenge, but real leaders…effective leaders…. ask the questions that matter and focus their communities on issues of substance. Or we can continue to accept vapid statements saying we are against crime, for good schools and against development.

Give me substance over tired canards.

It’s time.

We live in changing and complicated times. We need ideas and leadership.

Things We Loved in February

At 6’11” Reilly Opelka is the tallest player on tour. He’s also the new Delray Beach Open champ.

Things We Loved In February

We know the month is not quite over, but close enough.

Attending the Delray Beach Open.
Nothing like watching world class tennis under the stars on a beautiful February night.
Kudos to Match Point for producing a great event.
The addition of hometown fave Coco Gauff was a master stroke. Coco played an exhibition under the lights against the NCAA champion. Great stuff.
Congratulations to the Bryan Brothers on their record sixth Delray Beach title. The brothers—arguably the best doubles duo ever—come to Delray every year and have been great supporters of the event and the city. They will be retiring so it was great to see them go out with a win.

Also congratulations to Reilly Opelka who battled weather and determined opponents to claim the singles title. He may be someone to watch. He is hard to miss at 6’11” with a serve in the 140 mph range. He has a big future and the Delray event is becoming known as the place that launches stars: i.e. Frances Tiafoe, Kei Nishikori.

Seeing Doris Kearns Goodwin at FAU. She packed them in like a rock star and we could have listened to her for hours and hours. Just a wonderful storyteller.

Having the great and vastly underrated Steve Forbert play The Arts Garage.
A great performer and wonderful songwriter, Forbert is a joy to watch and listen too. Although we were forced to give our seats away, we were told he was great and drew a big crowd. I’ve seen him several times and won’t miss him again if he comes back this way.

Art on the Square—in a word: terrific.

The new Whole Foods on Linton looks great. A most welcome addition.

Another whopper of a real estate deal: Menin Development’s $7.3 million acquisition of Johnnie Brown’s.
That’s not a typo.

February weather. We are reminded why we live here. Crisp mornings, gorgeous days and cool nights. And don’t forget the Florida sunsets.

Black History Month is a good time to learn about some of our local African American icons.
Visit the S.D. Spady Museum for a great primer and see if you can find C. Spencer Pompey’s book “Many Rivers to Cross.”

We wish Pedro Andrade well with his new restaurant Valentina’s Pizza and Pasta on Congress Avenue in Lake Worth Beach.
Pedro did an amazing job serving the community for years at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza never turning down a good cause. We plan to visit his new place ASAP.

We had some monumental birthdays in February.
Zack Straghn, a long time civil rights leader, celebrated his 92nd birthday and Bob Levinson, an author, business leader and philanthropist turned 95.
Lots of wisdom and accomplishments between those two gentlemen.
We wish them many more years of making a difference.

We tried Cena on 7th Avenue and it was wonderful.
A great place to spend Valentine’s Day.
I had the pollo parmigiano and it was spectacular. It’s also huge– so we made two meals out of it.
Don’t miss the buttered noodles and the tartufo.

Heartfelt condolences to the Dubin and Evert families on the loss of Jeanne Evert Dubin.
Jeanne was a really nice person and was a terrific tennis player herself during a brief pro career rising to number 28 in the world and top ten in the United States.
She was an owner of Dubin & Associates which manages the Delray Golf Club and Delray Tennis Center.
On a personal note, Jeanne was just a super nice person. She loved tennis, preferring to be on the court teaching or leading tennis leagues. She had a quiet influence.
She will be deeply missed.

We also offer sincere condolences to the pioneering Love family on the loss of  Marsha and Barbara Love.

Until next month…..

The Roads Not Taken

Neal Peirce

Neal Peirce died over the holidays and we shouldn’t let his passing go without a look back at his life and his influence.

Mr. Peirce was a journalist and researcher who studied cities, regions and states—not exactly a sexy beat but an important one because communities change or stagnate on the local level far from the gaze of Cable TV pundits and national media.

As a result, if you were a policymaker in the 80s, 90s and 2000s with a burning desire to make your time in  office count, you were most likely aware of Mr. Peirce and influenced by his work.

As an elected official in Delray Beach from 2000-07, I read every word he wrote, subscribed to his column and poured over his reports seeking ideas, insights and wisdom.

He was a hero of mine. And he inspired many other mayors I go to know through the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Florida League of Cities.

In addition to a syndicated column, Mr. Peirce was a partner in a firm called Citistates.

Cities, states and regions would hire the firm to study their communities and make recommendations on how to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities, some of them hidden.

About 20 years ago, business, non-profit and civic leaders in South Florida engaged Citistates in a unique effort that also included major regional newspapers which agreed to publish Mr. Peirce’s “think” pieces so that stakeholders could be educated on some of the opportunities and challenges we faced.

When Mr. Peirce passed during the holidays, I went back and read a few of the old newspaper columns including a wonderful piece on U.S. 1 that included recommendations to turn the auto-oriented highway into more of a neighborhood.

Peirce envisioned U.S. 1 becoming a new “Main Street” linking South Florida from the Treasure Coast to South Dade. He recommended that the Florida Department of Transportation reclassify U.S. 1 as a “local access road”, not a thoroughfare for moving traffic as a rapidly as possible.

“High speed traffic is the job of I-95 and other such arterials,” he wrote.

And he was right.

Delray took that advice and I was a policymaker at the time the decision was made to narrow Federal Highway. It was not an easy or obvious decision and the opposition to the plan was formidable—as were the proponents who wanted to make the road safer (there was a high incidence of accidents) and more picturesque. They argued that it made no sense to have a high speed freeway bisecting a pedestrian oriented downtown. We studied the issue for a year, studying speeds, looking at accident history and traffic volume before ultimately deciding to proceed with the project.

In my mind, it turned U.S. 1 in Delray from a highway into a neighborhood and gave the area a host of economic and placemaking opportunities.

Reading Mr. Peirce’s column on U.S. 1 I have no doubt that his thinking had an effect.

Peirce and his partner Curtis Johnson published a series of articles in 2000 in local newspapers on topics ranging from sustainability and traffic to New Urbanism and the difficulties of getting things done in a sprawling region with a vast variety of governments and players to navigate.

If you want to check out the articles that ran in the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald here’s a link. http://www.floridacdc.org/roundtable/index.html

If you read the pieces, you are struck by their continuing relevance and also by what wasn’t done.

Twenty years have gone by and we still haven’t addressed sprawl, environmental issues and affordable housing.

With Mr. Peirce’s passing, I can’t think of another journalist covering the urban beat that measures up. Governing Magazine had the great Otis White some years back and he did two major pieces on Delray Beach but he left the magazine and now that wonderful publication is going away too.

The newspapers that partnered with key non-profits to produce the Citistates project are a shell of their former selves. As a result, we no longer have a regional or community water cooler; a place to share ideas and create momentum for positive change.

Back in 2000, New Urbanism seemed like a logical solution to traffic, sprawl and environmental degradation and a chance to return some charm to what can be a cookie cutter landscape of bland design.

But in 2020, we see the same tired arguments against New Urban style development despite growing traffic and a lack of affordable housing and walkability. I cringe when I get vapid campaign emails from candidates decrying density in one sentence and vowing to save the environment in the next breath. Folks, sprawl like development is not good for the environment. It creates traffic, uses more water and will never create the amount of housing we need to help teachers, police officers and firefighters be able to live in our communities.

All of this may sound like the work of people like Neal Peirce doesn’t matter. That’s not what I believe.

I think crusading journalists and thinkers like Neil Peirce make a difference.

In 2000, Peirce wrote passionately about highway gridlock and the dangers of sprawl. If only we had listened and acted as a region, but I would argue Delray did listen and did act and that we need to continue with smart growth and community engagement practices.

Mr. Peirce had a prescription to address sprawl: utilize planning and community engagement to design a better future. He called for “mega charrettes” to bring the community to the table.

“Consider the 1.8-million-by-2020-population projection (I think he meant additional residents moving in not total population) and debate honestly, openly where the new growth ought to go. Even if a consensus wasn’t reached — and it might not be — the true, region wide issues would be a lot clearer.

 

How can the emerging technologies, starting with neighborhood planning programs, be made available to ordinary citizens, businesses, people interested in new development possibilities and futures? One solution: walk-in urban design centers in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, designed to marry the worlds of professional design and grassroots activism.

 

Ideally, architecture or planning departments from local universities would run these centers. Information on the whole gamut of planning challenges — from single transit stops or suburban neighborhood centers to growth corridors, waterfronts and affordable housing — would be available.

 

Such centers are already open and operating in such varied places as Chattanooga, Birmingham, Little Rock and Portland, Ore., with very favorable reports on their performance. For democratized development in South Florida, they might represent a dramatic breakthrough.”

Alas, it didn’t happen. But it’s not too late. Or is it?

 

 

A Peak Into Our Crystal Ball

Casey Stengel said never make predictions, especially about the future. Sorry, Casey.

Can you believe it’s 2020?

Didn’t it seem like only yesterday when we were sweating Y2K?

Well not only did our computers survive the millennium, they have become ever more ingrained in our lives.

The beginning of a decade is a good time to dream and to take out our imaginary crystal ball.

So here are some predictions and prognostications for the 20s…

Boca Raton:
Boca Raton will continue to flourish driven by the power of FAU and Lynn universities, the growth of the Boca Raton Innovation Campus, the successful execution of the Brightline deal and a refresh of Mizner Park with several new tenants.

Fueled by new investment, the Boca Raton Resort and Club will solidify its place as one of the world’s premier resorts hosting important conferences and attracting titans of industry who will fly into an ever busier  Boca Airport.

Boca’s decade will be marked by its strengths in health care, education and technology. It will become known not only for excellent health care, but also for medical research and education.

It’s “A” rated public schools, excellent parks system, great hospital and corporate base will continue to fuel the city’s growth and success.

Yes, we are very bullish on Boca.

Headwinds: traffic and affordability. Nothing new there. But big challenges nonetheless.
Opportunities: leveraging Brightline and bringing a pedestrian orientation to the downtown. Not easy but worth a try.
Stretch prediction: By 2030 FAU will play in a major bowl game and go deep in the NCAA basketball tournament.

Delray Beach: 

Delray can achieve whatever it wants to—or it can squander the decade. Sounds harsh…maybe. Still, history has taught us that this city works best when it has a North Star and goes after it. But only when it engages the community. There has been no large scale effort to do so since the Downtown Master Plan in the early 2000s. We are long overdue and deeply in need of a unifying vision.

Delray will squander the decade if the focus remains on petty politics and settling personal vendettas and if the grass tops ignore the grassroots.

Opportunities:
Getting something going on North Federal Highway.
Getting something going on Congress Avenue.
Attract private investment to West Atlantic East of 95.
Fix City Hall.
Empower city staff.
Build on the city’s many strengths-vibrancy, a strong brand, events, culture and restaurants.

Fix an aging infrastructure while interest rates are historically low.

Engage citizens.

Build on the city’s tennis heritage to create economic opportunities.

Headwinds and land mines:
There is a pressing need to focus on Delray’s public schools.
The city needs to ramp up economic development which is virtually non-existent.

There is a need to raise the level of discourse on important issues ranging from development and investment to how downtown can survive rising rents and the changing retail environment.

Stretch prediction:
Delray’s culinary scene will get national attention. We have some exceptional culinary talents in the city.
But we need to diversify and add some strong ethnic offerings.
Regardless, the future is not yet written. So if you don’t like what you see, or if you want to see something happen, get involved.