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.

Lessons Learned

ULI is a global non-profit.

I’m a huge fan of the Urban Land Institute.

ULI is a global organization that promotes responsible development and the organization is often called on to provide expert advice on how to build great communities.

I’ve worked with the organization on a few special projects over the years including public leadership seminars and an in-depth dive into the future of Winter Park, Florida.

Recently, I had the pleasure of working with a talented panel seeking to help Tamarac, in West Broward County make sense of their potential.

It was a great experience and I got to meet some terrific elected officials and very dedicated staff. The ULI panel also consisted of some really smart people including economic development professionals, a real estate broker for a large firm, a cutting edge developer and a very talented urban designer from Miami. I thought I’d share a small portion of my session on public leadership.

 

Ten Lessons Learned

 (Some the hard way, but most by watching other leaders and learning from talented mayors).

  1. Focus on the Big Rocks (Don’t Major in the Minor)

Being an elected official is like drinking from a fire hose… you will get lost in the weeds if you’re not careful. Successful elected officials learn to lead and leave the management to staff. They also focus on large meaningful goals—“the big rocks.”

 

2. Trust But Verify

(Trust movement but outcomes are more important than words)

 

Even if you focus on the big picture, you will be blamed for the potholes. So empower staff to do their jobs but also hold them accountable for getting things done—both large and small. Outcomes are what you will be judged on. Process is important, but sometimes you can have process without outcomes. Make sure that doesn’t happen. You have to deliver. Have a sense of urgency.

 

3. Have a Vision-

The “Grassroots” (your constituents) depend on the “Grass Tops” (elected officials and senior staff) to get things done.

The most successful cities have a vision for what they want to be and how they’ll get there.

The best cities are aspirational, so dare to dream but also understand who you are as a community.

Visions Should Be Community Based—coming from the Grassroots.

Community Visions Should Be Sacred– Elected officials (Grass tops) are Stewards and have a responsibility to deliver.

Visions allow you to say no to projects that don’t fit and to say yes to projects that fit the vision.

 

4. Find Shared Goals

 The most successful councils/commission’s have shared goals.

Not having shared goals leads to:

Dysfunction

Staff Confusion

Inaction—whose ideas, projects should we pursue?

Creates Winners and Losers

End result—it’s hard to make sustained progress.

Once the other side gets in or the players change, policies, directions and progress are often reversed. One step up, two steps back syndrome.

 

5. Celebrate Success

(Blame is a given in public life, might as well celebrate when you succeed)

Let the community know when you fulfill a promise or achieve a goal.

It’s important to celebrate—it builds civic pride and confidence in City Hall. You need to build a reservoir of good will to take advantage of opportunities and to weather setbacks.

 

6. The Loudest Voices Aren’t Necessarily Representative of the Community

 

Be wary of people who claim to speak for “everyone”

Our jobs as elected officials is to leave the city better than we found it. Sometimes that means making tough decisions that may not always be popular at the time we are asked to vote.  But if  your votes are tied to a community vision or goals, you will survive and thrive.

 

7. Mayors and Commissioners are the architects of their city

 

We are responsible for holding developers to high standards…but we are also responsible for making sure there is “rule of law” and a predictable process. If we allow our cities to become nightmares, we will chase away investment and or attract the wrong investors. Mayors and commissioners set the tone for their cities. Are we nice? Are we civil? Are we professional? Or are we mean and petty? Mean and petty is a recipe for failure.

 

8. The Best Economic Development is a Clear Vision and Predictable Process

 

If you can develop a compelling vision for your city, it will serve as a great sales and marketing tool for your town. If you can get investors through your process without it becoming a clown show or worse you will see progress. It’s that simple. The best incentives are a compelling vision and a predictable process with high standards.

 

9. Once Votes Are Taken, It’s Our Responsibility to Make Sure We Get the Best Outcomes Possible


We won’t always get our way. We will lose tough votes. But once the roll is called and the votes are cast we must move on and not re-litigate over and over. If the decision is horrible, it will tend to reveal itself in time and you will have another chance to right the wrong. If it moves forward, we must move forward too.

 

10. Municipal Math

(Math can be cruel)

 

It takes 10-20 years to build something of value, 1-2 years to mess it up and there is no guarantee you will recover. So think about the future and leave your city better off than when you were entrusted with its welfare.

 

 

A Leadership Opportunity Emerges

The winning bidder’s project is called Alta West.

When you go to the few neighborhood hangouts that are left, talk often turns to local happenings.

So when I ventured downtown after the CRA decision to award six acres of land to a local developer recently, I was asked what I thought about the project. The short answer is I don’t know, because I haven’t really been following the drama.

I didn’t spend five hours or so watching the video feed, didn’t go to the usual social media haunts where armchair “experts” opine (often without any facts) and didn’t talk to any of the players involved. As a hometown guy I just hope they picked the best project. That’s their job.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion on the big picture.

I do.

And as an armchair quarterback myself these days I don’t mind sharing.

The day after the vote my friend and neighbor Commissioner Bill Bathurst posted a cartoon on Facebook that kind of sums up America these days. The cartoon depicts a large group of people walking along a path toward hate, division and intolerance and only a few walking down a path labeled critical thinkers and the truth.

So even though I don’t visit the political pages on Facebook anymore,  I can’t help but bump into the noise that is out there. Some of it is really good analysis, but a great deal of it is angry diatribes and the settling of personal scores. Unfortunately, what’s best for the community gets lost in the commotion.

So here is my armchair analysis, based on nearly 32 years of following things in Delray. All provided with the proviso that I have never looked at any of the projects submitted to redevelop the CRA property on West Atlantic Avenue.

First and foremost—we are flying without navigation; therefore I don’t think we have a unified vision. If we do have one, I don’t see it.

We used to have one back in the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s. But we’ve gone a long while without a blueprint that the community can agree on. And if there is a vision—say the Set Transformation Plan for one important part of town (but not all of Delray)—it doesn’t help if the city is not on board. Visions drive goals, budgets and ultimately accountability. How can we evaluate our progress, if we don’t  know where we’re going? Sadly, personal scores fill the vacuum when leadership fails to provide a forum for the community to create a vision.

Look no further than Washington D.C. to see what happens when there is no unified vision.

The place simply doesn’t function.

So even when we agree that we need to have comprehensive immigration reform, fix our infrastructure and improve our health care system we don’t have a framework or a methodology for doing any of it. So all we see is partisan warfare, skirmishes, sound bites, gridlock and dysfunction. When something does get done, we’re actually surprised. Which is really sad when you stop and think about it.

This level of dysfunction is why people are angry—because all they see and hear is pettiness and empty sound bites—not the critical thinking, fact based decision making and yes compromise that is needed to solve problems and seize opportunities.

In the last few weeks, there have been a lot of articles about mayors running for president and some have declared their intention to do so or are considering a bid.

Why?
Because—in theory anyway—mayors are supposed to be problem solvers. The best use their “soft power” to convene people and focus attention on issues that need to be solved or opportunities that their cities should pursue. That’s what effective mayors do. Mayors that matter.

Ineffective mayors divide or simply hide by “keeping their own counsel” or just placating their base and ignoring the rest of the community’s stakeholders.

The awarding of an RFP after years of property aggregation, planning and a laborious RFP (request for proposals) process should be the cause of celebration and excitement.

After all, private investment is coming to an area that needs it.

Jobs will be created.

Property values will increase.

New businesses will take root.

It’s opportunity.

But I’m not sure that’s what I’m seeing. There doesn’t seem to be any excitement or pride in the process that led us here.

Of course, I could be wrong. But it seems that several of the decision makers were less than happy with the process and the politics—even those on the prevailing side.

There’s a large group of stakeholders who celebrated that one applicant wasn’t chosen but didn’t seem to be happy with the outcome either.

Maybe that’s the world today, but I refuse to accept that cynical view. The beauty of local government is we don’t have to act like the nitwits in Washington whom I believe history will judge very harshly, we can decide to do better. We can decide to be better. It’s a choice we can make.

That’s the leadership opportunity.

Fact is, this RFP should not have taken several  years to award. That fact alone is indicative of the dysfunction that has invaded our politics right here at home.

Again, I’m not involved in this issue and don’t plan to be. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I don’t have a voice that I plan to use.

I live here. I have an obligation and a right to care. But we seem to be stuck in a climate of division and paranoia. That’s the real issue here and the one we should all care about.

I’ll give you a personal example. At some point along this multi-year RFP odyssey, a wannabe political lackey was calling around trying to sniff out whether I had a dog in this hunt. I can assure you the information the lackey was seeking was not in an effort to help.  The effort was an intelligence gathering operation designed to settle an old score or make points with some power broker they wanted to impress. Nowhere in this effort was there a desire to make sure that the best project possible for Delray would be chosen.

The lackey could have called me but didn’t. I assure you the conversation would have been short and probably not that sweet. But I would have given some needed advice: stop looking behind every bush and start getting things done for Delray.

Simple advice. You don’t have to be a management guru to figure it out.

But getting things done—once Delray’s calling card and the reason for any success we’ve enjoyed—is a muscle that seems to have atrophied on some key projects and in some key areas.

This isn’t a shot at anyone. It really isn’t.

But it is a call to arms so to speak.

There is a lot to be done here.

Such as the continuing redevelopment of West Atlantic Avenue and The Set. The operative word is continuing because those politicos who spout that nothing has been done can write or call me and I will be happy to give them a personal tour of the progress that has been made by a CRA that has been ruthlessly and unfairly been maligned by people who ought to know better.

Saying that nothing has been done is not only untrue, it is disrespectful to a whole lot of people who have rolled up their sleeves for decades and made some good things happen. I can give you a list if you need it.

Nobody has ever said that more investment or more progress wasn’t needed. But if we are to get unstuck we have to start from a basis of truth and respect.  We have to rebuild trust that I think once existed however imperfect that trust has been through the years.

We need to decide as a community that we want to get things done, function better and more efficiently and yes treat each other better. That doesn’t mean that we have to hold hands and sing ‘kumbaya’ on the grounds of Old School Square. Vigorous debate, critical thinking and accountability are essential ingredients.

We need to elevate the conversation in Delray Beach and just as important we need to put the community first and start to get things done—like we used to do.

 

 

Those Great, Good Places

Found this shot of Ken and Hazel’s on Newspaper.com

I’m a member of my hometown page on Facebook.

It’s a combination of great photos, obituaries, current news and nostalgia.

It’s a great way to stay in touch and reminisce.

Recently, someone created a hugely popular post listing old businesses.

The post went viral and has attracted scores of responses as the list of “great old places” keeps growing; old pizza places that we loved, long shuttered department stores, delis, record stores (remember those?), grocers, movie theaters (when one screen was the rule and a triplex was a big deal), bowling alleys, florists and sub shops (or were they hero, grinder or sandwich shops?)I can’t remember.

The post was a great walk through the past. And it’s still going on.

Which got me thinking of some great old businesses that once inhabited this place.

Now admittedly, my history only dates to the summer of ‘87 but that’s 30 plus years— enough to have seen a few things come and go.
So here’s my list. Feel free to add.

Burger Chin, the Arcade Tap Room, Ken and Hazel’s, the Patio Delray, Costin’s Florist, Mercer Wenzel, AE George and Sons, Clay and Hy’s Boutique, Damianos, Splendid Blendeds, Bob Miller State Farm Insurance, Sefa, The Phoenix, Sopra, Delray TV, Pierce Tire, The Rod and Gun, Dirty Moe’s, Liberties, Louie Louie’s, Tryst, Sal’s Sporting Goods, The Trellis Shop, the Seagull Shop, Tom’s Ribs, Club Boca, Taco Viva, the Delray Mall, Webster’s, Jefferson’s, the Boca Mall, Mervyn’s, Pete’s, D Train, Locos Only, Elwood’s, Las Hadas, Pineapple Grill, Hoot, Toot & Whistle, Gillis & Sons and The Annex. Whew.
You get the drift…
Great places all..at least as I remember them.

 

The Rise of the “Urban Burb”

Options for sprawl repair

It’s 2019 and as dedicated trend seekers what do we see?

Well, here’s one prediction based on what we are reading and seeing.

Look for the rise of the “hipsturburbia” or “urban burb”—suburbia with a touch of the city meaning walkability, mixed use development and multi-family housing.

As the Urban Land Institute says: “The first phase is millennials moving to the suburbs for larger, more affordable homes and access to schools, so adequate single-family and multifamily housing will be necessary. Retail follows rooftops, so retail development to meet the new residents’ requirements will follow. Finally, you may begin to see more emphasis on employment centers as residents decide they want to work closer to where they live.”

Sounds good. It also sounds logical.

Pick your nickname but the trend of urban suburbs is playing out all around us.

Consider The Delray Marketplace (which would be so much better with housing), a slew of urban (lite) “lifestyle centers” in Broward County and future plans for places like the old IBM campus in Boca, the old Office Depot headquarters in Delray and the prospective rezoning of the Boynton Beach Mall. All are moving toward a walkable, mixed use environment in which people can live, work and play as they say.

Live, work and play has become a bit of cliché, but there’s a lot of wisdom and traction in the concept.

As the world becomes more technology dependent, there is a blending going on. If you are like me and many others, our work life doesn’t end when the whistle blows at 5 p.m. anymore. We are accessible before and after traditional office hours and business is conducted at all sorts of hours.

My colleagues at Celsius, the Boca-based beverage company, work all sorts of hours as they interact with partners and distributors in China, Sweden and other parts of the globe. As a result our lives tend to meld—we live, work, learn and play wherever we are these days so doesn’t it make sense to make these activities convenient, walkable and accessible.

While I was born in borough of New York City, I spent the majority of my childhood living on the North Shore of Long Island. Levittown—America’s prototypical suburb—was a short car ride away. In fact, we lived mostly– in Levitt Homes—in traditional suburban neighborhoods in which everything we did required a car.

It was an idyllic life in those days and traditional suburbia certainly has its attraction. But it’s also the definition of urban sprawl, not great for the environment, not the most efficient use of finite land and designed for cars not people. As a result, urban planners often frown on the traditional suburbs blaming it for congestion, sedentary lifestyles and even segregation.

As a result, some cities are responding with policies to promote more diversity, density, affordability and sustainability. Minneapolis recently banned single family zoning districts—a remarkable policy that will promote duplexes, triplexes and other forms of housing in once traditional suburban neighborhoods. It will be interesting to see how the policy plays out in the real world.

I’m a fan of New Urbanism which is really a throwback to how cities were traditionally designed before suburbia became so popular. New Urbanism promotes walkability, a mix of uses and supports density as long as it’s well designed.

So I cheer the advent of urban burbs or “hipsterburbias”—even if the brand names are borderline obnoxious. I do question how many “mini downtowns” markets can absorb especially with the headwinds facing retail these days.

While big box generic retail seems to be a goner these days (so long Sears, Kmart etc.) experiential retail is all the rage. But again….how many retailers will be talented enough to give us enduring experiences and how many location can they serve?

As we begin 2019, it will be interesting to see where this all headed. Two things we can count on: first, the innovators will find a way to succeed and second it is becoming far riskier to offer the same old, same old. The times are changing and the bar has been raised. That’s a good thing.

 

 

 

 

The Pipeline Is Intriguing

Boynton Beach Town Square looking southwest.

So on Monday, I told you that I went to a Business Development Board breakfast in Palm Beach that focused on three landmark real estate projects: iPic, the redevelopment of the Old Office Depot site and a unique public private partnership in Boynton Beach called “Town Square”.

Sadly, I was too tired to actually write about it, but I’ve recovered enough from my whirlwind week to share a few thoughts on these projects which were warmly received by about 150 business leaders at the breakfast.

Let’s start with the iPic.

Now that the dust has settled on the development battle, it’s time to focus on what’s happening to the old Delray library site.

iPic will be moving its corporate headquarters into the project along with its conventional theater offerings. There’s roughly another 23,000 plus square feet of Class A office space left to rent.

Local firm Avison Young is spearheading the marketing drive and they are well positioned to bring solid corporate tenants to downtown Delray.

Downtown office space has been a longtime aspiration for Delray civic leaders.

Cities that are sustainable have to create places where people want to live, work, learn and play.

Delray has done a good job with downtown housing—although I worry about the lack of affordability caused by some very ill-conceived changes to our code. Having residents living downtown makes for a safer city (more eyes on the street) and helps to support downtown businesses.

We’ve done a good job on the ‘play’ aspects of downtown—with festivals and special events, some open space, activities like the CRA Green Market and some cultural amenities like Old School Square, the Arts Garage and the Arts Warehouse. It would be nice if we can finally do something at the Old School Square Park, which remains a major opportunity.

The learning component is a work in progress—some of our cultural amenities have education at its core but there’s room for more learning opportunities.

That leaves work….

Creating downtown office space isn’t easy. The office market is changing, the economics are difficult and parking and access are always a concern. But I’m excited about the office component of the iPic project as well as the offices being planned at Atlantic Crossing.

So I will be anxious to see what Avison Young turns up at the iPic site and wish them well. It’s a great location.

The Boynton Beach Town Square project is also exciting.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Mark Hefferin and his team at E2L Holdings and review the plans and vision for downtown Boynton Beach along Seacrest Boulevard. It’s very cool.

The City Hall, library and Police Department have been bulldozed and will make way for a 21st Century City Hall/library with incubator space, an event venue that can accommodate 6,500 people and a restored old school with a 500 seat theater and restaurant. Downtown commercial uses are also planned. It’s a 16 acre project with open spaces, a hotel and other uses that should really make a difference in eastern Boynton Beach.

It’s an ambitious project and it looks amazing. Boynton Beach is clearly going for it as they say. If they succeed, and I think they will, the project will be transformational for Boynton Beach’s brand and its future.

The city is making a big bet on the deal—to the tune of $118 million, plus private equity.

As for the redevelopment of the Old Depot site, I’ll have more later on this deal as it evolves. But the plans call for a mix of uses and some programming to catalyze the corridor.

The site has sat vacant for over a decade since Office Depot moved its corporate headquarters to Boca Raton. The goal now is to re-energize the site and the corridor with apartments, for sale townhomes, a revitalized Arbors office building and commercial uses.

Stay tuned, this is an exciting time in Southern Palm Beach County.

Sometimes Life’s A Whirlwind

Do you ever feel caught in a vortex over a whirlwind?

Did you ever have one of those weeks?

You know the type, just a whirlwind of activity, commitments, travel, deadlines and pressure mixed with a few surprises that make you scratch your head and say “why does this have to happen this week of all weeks, I’m so busy!”

 

Mix in the holidays with its mix of fun and stress and you have a recipe for exhaustion.

I know you can relate. We’ve all been there.

So I wanted to post about this amazing breakfast I attended last week at the gorgeous and historic Colony Hotel in Palm Beach. The breakfast was sponsored by the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, an organization that I admire and one that I’ve been on the board of a few times over the years. The BDB—as it is widely known—is Palm Beach County’s economic development organization responsible for recruiting, retaining and growing business in our beautiful community.

Their “Upper Level Breakfast” attracts about 150 CEOS and senior level business leaders so the audience is time pressed, smart and the kind of people who make things happen. At this particular breakfast, they welcomed Palm Beach County’s newest relocation, Mueller Industries, a $2.3 billion a year company with 4,500 employees that does business all over the globe. Pretty cool. And I got to sit at the same table with their top local exec which was also pretty cool.

The focus of the breakfast program were three significant—I would argue potentially transformational real estate projects—two of which happen to be under way in Delray Beach with the third in Boynton Beach. Those projects are iPic, Town Square in Boynton Beach and the redevelopment of the former Office Depot site on Congress Avenue. Since my company is involved in the Office Depot project I was asked to speak.

Now, I’d like to tell you more about those other projects and I will. In another blog post, hopefully this week.

But truth be told, last week was such a blur that I couldn’t tell you much. It was my goal to simply get through it—and I did. But my recall of the details is less than stellar.

So here’s how it played out.

We had a major hearing on the Office Depot project on Tuesday and a lot of pressure because of timing etc. So we have been consumed with a slew of details and questions.

Now I know there are people who can’t stand developers and this is not a call for sympathy, but trust me when I say that the field is not for the faint of heart or those who can’t handle endless curveballs and hundreds and hundreds of details that if missed can sink the project and take a huge bite out of your check book.

Since I am not a developer but work for a company that invests in real estate (and many, many other things) a lot of this is new to me and it’s like drinking from a fire hose of complexity on issues ranging from the law and sewage (not the same thing despite rumors to the contrary) to design and engineering.

I thought I knew a lot—and I do—for a layman. But there is no substitute for sticks and bricks experience and so I’ve surrounded myself with people who have been there, done that and know enough not to make the same mistakes— although there is always the chance to make new ones.

But I digress.

We got through the hearing with a nice vote of support from our City Commission and an ongoing pledge to work with the community. But it was late at night and I found it hard to sleep.

The next day I was up at 4 a.m. to catch a flight to Asheville, where we have invested in a really cool start-up. We wanted to meet the team, assess progress and talk about future needs. It was a great day, but also a long one since I had to fly back the same day in order to get up early again and drive to Palm Beach for the breakfast.

I was honored to speak because I respect the BDB and it was a good opportunity to access a slew of top business leaders and put our site on their radar. You never know when the next Mueller Industries may want to come to our beautiful city and we have a very special site.

But even after more than 20 years of public speaking I still get nervous before each and every speech I give. You’d think I’d be able to draw on experience or draw inspiration from past talks that went OK but I still sweat it… every… single…time.

Adding to my stress for this particular speech was my lack of sleep, my lack of preparation (because I’ve been running around) and my inability to connect with Tim Tracy, my BDB contact who was the keeper of the format, timing etc. Tim tried. I tried. We just couldn’t get each other on the phone. Ugh.

When Tim learned I was in Asheville the day before, he freaked out a little and was sending texts early on the morning of the breakfast to make sure I got back to Palm Beach County.

Of course I did and I made sure to be at the breakfast at 7 a.m. 30 minutes before the start so I could exhale and work on my prepared remarks which I inexplicably discarded when I got up to speak.

I’m not sure what I said…but it seemed to go OK. There was applause (a few laughs, I hope it was laughing with me not at me) and I met a lot of nice people after the program who expressed interest in our project. The other guys did great too….I just wish I could remember what they said. I was just relieved it was over.

I treated myself to a leisurely ride back to the office along A1A. I caught up on calls and soaked up the coastal scenery.

The rest of the day was a blur of meetings and emails and day dreams of my couch and hanging with my dogs—Randy and Teddy. But I was reminded by my wife that we had a party to go to that night at the Delray Hideaway, a neat little bar on East Atlantic.

Ugh…

Now, I like parties and I like people. And I really like the host of the party the amazing Delray Beach Community Land Trust and the incredible people who make that organization so cool.

But for one night only, I liked my couch more.

When my wife got a screw in her tire and texted me from XpertTech I replied that I was sorry and I guess we couldn’t go to the party. “Nice try” was the response from a woman who is always supportive, tolerant and sympathetic to my emotions. We were going.

And so we went and had a great time.

I’d like to tell you more about the Land Trust and someday I will. Just as  soon as I recover.

 

 

It’s Better (Or Is It The Same) In The Bahamas

Bay Street

 

A few years back, a small contingent of civic leaders from Palm Beach County were invited to Nassau, Bahamas to advise the government on how to revitalize their main drag, Bay Street.

The trip was organized by the U.S. Embassy which was manned back then by Ambassador Ned Siegel, a Boca resident who was appointed to his post by President George W. Bush.

I was invited along with former Mayor Tom Lynch, Boca Chamber President Troy McCllellan and Kelly Smallridge, the President and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.

The trip was truly a first class adventure and Ambassador Siegel introduced us to top government ministers and prominent business leaders. We later invited many of those people to Palm Beach County where they toured West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Delray Beach so we could show them how theory met practice when it comes to revitalizing downtowns.

I was reminded of that trip last week when I walked Bay Street with my wife as part of a cruise to The Bahamas.

Nassau is picturesque and enjoys wonderful weather. There are some great old buildings enhanced by vibrant colors and a scale that is reminiscent of Delray.

In fact, there are a lot of historical ties between Delray and The Bahamas. Some of the earliest settlers in our town were from The Bahamas. I was especially intrigued by the Pompey Museum of Slavery.

C. Spencer Pompey and his wife H. Ruth Pompey are dear old friends and local legends. I’m pretty sure there is a connection between the museum and the Pompey’s of Delray. Sadly, Mr. and Mrs. Pompey have passed so I can’t ask them but I plan to delve into the history to satisfy my curiosity.

When we were invited to share ideas and best practices with The Bahamian government about a decade or so ago, Bay Street was struggling with crime issues, vacancy in certain sections, an underutilized waterfront and stiff competition from the Atlantis resort which was sucking tourists off the cruise ships out of the downtown and into the casino and water parks.

Walking around Bay Street last week I saw the same issues—only now there is another mega resort to worry about: Bahia Mar.

Sure the streets were crowded on a warm Sunday but it didn’t appear that many people were shopping. The retail mix is heavy on t-shirts, perfume, duty free alcohol and jewelry—not surprising given the heavy influx of tourists.

Bay Street could use more food options—and while I didn’t feel unsafe (despite warnings from the cruise line about crime) the level and intensity of solicitors was a turn off. You were just assailed from the moment you get off the boat to the moment you get back on. Yuck….

Years ago we recommended that Nassau turn up the Bahamian charm—for example increase security but outfit police in traditional uniforms and activate the waterfront by incentivizing restaurants and cafes to balance the multitude of t-shirt shops. Granted these aren’t “genius” ideas and I can’t remember the rest but the exercise was fun and we made a lot of friends as a result.

That I didn’t see a whole lot of change on Bay Street is indicative of how hard transformation is to achieve.

When I think of Delray’s transformation I feel the same way. It takes a whole lot of hard work, dedication, investment and some gutsy decisions to make change—and a fair amount of good fortune too. It helps to catch a break or two along the way, but by the same token change doesn’t happen by accident. It happens via intention.

Recently, I ran into some consultants who worked on our downtown master plan way back in 2001.

The efforts our community made over the years were rewarded with awards which are nice….but not as important as the opportunity and value that were created.

Now I get that not everybody was pleased with the results. And they are entitled to their opinions and we are compelled to respect those views.

Yet, I can’t help but think that sometimes we go overboard with our angst. The consultant mentioned to me that “Delray is so hard on itself” and that statement struck me. It rang true.

Just take a cruise through social media to see for yourself—ugh… all the negativity.

Criticism that isn’t constructive isn’t valuable at all. It doesn’t feel like affection it feels like anger.

Accountability is necessary and important, but it’s best when it’s rooted in love and empathy.

As we head into the holiday season, I hope we see more love and less anger. More constructive guidance and empathy and less vitriol and blame.

Root your community in those values, observe the guardrails and be patient. The magic will happen.

 

 

 

Amazon & Main Street

Is Amazon gunning for Main Street?

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about Amazon.com.

The e-commerce giant has been all over the news lately finally naming two winners to share the spoils of its H2 Headquarters quest and dominating Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

I’ve long wondered about the pros and cons of incentives but my reading about the deal and Amazon’s business model led me to wonder and worry.

What are we doing?
Is Amazon growing too big for our own good?

Has Jeff Bezos created a monster that taxpayers in Virginia and New York are subsidizing?

What does this mean for Main Street?

Then I read an interview with Starwood Group CEO Barry Sternlicht on Bisnow Media and my gravest concerns were verified.

Here’s a quote that ought to make us think.

“I was super disappointed in the cities they chose. Neither city needed them. And the fact that New York is in an opportunity zone and they got $5.5B of credits for the $5B of investment. I’m not a fan of the gifts. I mean, really? Amazon, a $1 trillion company doesn’t have the resources to build a plant? They need inducements? A $1 trillion company. And by the way, Amazon’s job these days is to put most everyone else out of business. So you’re facilitating that. Mom and dad can’t get a $5B tax break to expand their dry cleaners.

 

If you’re Amazon and you want to be a responsible corporate citizen just say, ‘No. We can do this on our own. We’re big boys. We’re worth $1 trillion. We’ll build these plants on our own.’ Why not go to a city like Atlanta or Miami, and why pick some place that doesn’t really need you? And those are congested cities, particularly New York, and the fact that it’s in an opportunity zone so they’ll never pay taxes on the building and land. I find it abhorrent. I think it’s just awful. It’s like a free headquarters. Why doesn’t somebody give me a free headquarters?”

Here’s another one that ought to give you pause or maybe hives.

“Amazon was fine when they helped little businesses survive, now they’re actually going after little businesses. And that’s not healthy for this country. You’re creating a monster. Now you’re funding the monster to destroy mom and dad’s businesses. That ain’t a good deal.”

The coup d’grace was Sternlicht’s next set of sentences:

“The endgame for Amazon is to wipe out the main streets of America. Maybe if the consumer is so busy he’s OK with that. But I can assure you they don’t know the consequences of what they’re doing. Those commercial businesses along main street pay the real estate taxes that fund schools and if they go away, and most assuredly they are going away, then taxes on individual homes will have to go up to pay for the support system.

 

I don’t think the average person spends a lot of time thinking about that. It’s really convenient to have them deliver a bicycle pump to your house that costs $20 for free in an hour. By the way, that’s predatory pricing. In the industrial commodity complex if you sell aluminum below the cost of consumption of aluminum, it’s called dumping and it’s illegal. They’ve been allowed to get away with that forever. They’ve lost more money in shipping than they made in the margins on the goods that they were selling. That’s predatory pricing and they were never called out on it. In my view, what they’re doing is illegal, and it crushed mom and dad. How can you compete with that?

 

The endgame where the consumer will get really crushed is when my little store that I used to go to buy my pump is out of business and Amazon will charge me $80 for a pump and $200 to have it delivered. The government put restrictions on the sale of vaping for teens. That’s the government looking to the future and saying it’s not good for teenagers. The government could look to the future and say, ‘You’re going to destroy America as we know it today, and we can’t let that happen.’”

Wow….

In the interest of full disclosure, I buy frequently from Amazon. Like everyone else, I enjoy the convenience, the vast selection and the ability to shop prices. Companies that I work with do lots of business on the Amazon platform and it has added to their bottom lines and our ability to access consumers throughout America.

But I do worry about what all of this is doing to Main Street. In Delray, we have an interesting dynamic, high real estate values which lead to high rents and a shifting landscape which makes it hard for independent retailers to survive. These conditions lead to vacancy, which isn’t good for a Main Street.

But I also don’t think it makes any sense to long for the good old days or wish that technology is going to retreat. It’s not.

Retail—at least as we knew it– is over or at the very least highly challenged.

Sure there will be stores, but successful retailers will have to carve out a very distinct niche, learn to be “experiential,” employ a digital strategy and or exist in high traffic areas. It’s possible to succeed, just not easy or obvious anymore. And frankly—as the son of a retailer—it never was easy.

Still, while it seems counterproductive to wish away the likes of Amazon, there are some big issues that we need to talk about as a society.

If retail fails or shrinks considerably (and that’s what’s happening), it will have an impact on sales and property taxes which fuel local government.

Real estate on and off Main Street will have to be rethought and reinvented.

There’s peril and opportunity in change, the challenge for leaders and communities is to make you maximize opportunity and hedge against peril.

P.S. the next article I read on Bisnow was an interview with Jorge Perez, CEO of Related Companies. It was on sea level rise and included this quote: “Sea level rise is something that is going to hit us all.”

Yes it is…and that’s a thought for another day. We sure do live in interesting times.

 

 

Keep Your Amazon Headquarters; Build Your Own Ecosystem

NY is paying $61,000 per job and Virginia is shelling out $796mm in tax incentives to land Amazon’s second headquarters.

I saw an article in the Tampa Bay Business Journal recently that caught my eye.

The headline was a show stopper for those of us who care about economic development and the use of public dollars: “Incentives are becoming less important than workforce.”

Which is another way of saying that today—maybe more than ever—talent rules. And the cities and regions that develop, nurture and attract talent will be the cities that win.

The Business Journal’s headline may sound funny in the midst of perhaps the biggest incentive gusher ever which was the pursuit of Amazon’s H2 headquarters and its promise of 50,000 jobs and billions in economic impact. Congratulations to our friends in Crystal City and Long Island City: the two winners of the Amazon sweepstakes who will split the prize.

But even amidst the gaggle of mayors who threw incentives Amazon’s way, the smart guess was that Amazon would choose a headquarters where executives believe they can hire from a deep pool of talent. Northern Virginia and New York City are both regions rich in tech talent.

But also playing into the decision was Amazon’s desire to be in a city or region where today’s and tomorrow’s workers will want to live.

I’m a passionate student of economic development and it’s endlessly fascinating to me how cities and regions work or don’t work.

I think the most successful places practice economic “gardening” which is an effort to grow your own companies rather than throw money chasing corporations that oftentimes take advantage of cities by threatening to leave if you don’t ante up.

If you grow your own and create an environment where companies would be foolish to leave, you won’t to have worry that someone else will steal your jobs by waving checks at CEOs.

So how do you create an environment conducive to economic gardening and how do you keep the garden healthy and sustainable?

I like the analogy of threads—you have to knit a fabric and build a community by adding to– not tearing at –the fabric of your city.

Threads include: good schools, a good support network for parents, strong and safe neighborhoods, a clean environment, great parks, recreational opportunities, a range of housing options, good transportation networks, strong and ethical governance, business friendly regulations, a people friendly or tolerant atmosphere, abundant art and culture, a sense of place, efficient and competent local government, great health care and the list goes on.

If you build a strong fabric and create a place that is brimming with opportunities– both economic and social—over time you will create a dynamic and sustainable environment that generates jobs by keeping and attracting talent.

Consequently, if you tear at the fabric by pulling threads, chasing away investment, making it hard to get established and hard to get rooted you will send a message to go elsewhere. In those types of places we send a clear message. We are essentially telling our children that ‘yes we raised you here, but there’s nothing for you here so go elsewhere as soon as you can.’

And we will tell outsiders that their investments are better spent elsewhere.

Growth and change are hot topics around these parts. Recently, the South Florida Business Journal reported that there was $950 million of projects underway in downtown Delray Beach. That’s both a source of angst and pride and I can understand both feelings.

Growth and change can be hard to swallow, especially if it swallows up what we like best about our towns. But growth and change are also inevitable. The best communities find a way to shape and manage growth and change.

The best cities also focus on the opportunities that growth and change can provide: they maximize benefits hopefully for as many people as possible, while minimizing impacts.

They talk through the tough issues, raise the level of discourse and do their best to build for the future.

In many ways, we are all stewards. We are here to leave a better place for those who come next. If we adopt a mindset that we need to be concerned about not only our quality of life but also that of others, we have a chance to create something good. But if we have an “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder” mentality we ensure that the future either drowns or heads elsewhere and that the boat we’re in will sink.

It’s better to swim than it is to sink.

 

October Musings & Memories

Happy Halloween!
October loves

Lunch at the Cuban Cafe with two leaders I admire: Pastor Bill Mitchell and Karen Granger of 4 Kids.
Pastor Mitchell produces the terrific Boca Lead series which in October featured the incredible work of Simon Sinek. If you want to be a better leader this is the community to explore.
Taking the dogs to Lake Ida Park in the evening when it is finally cool and there’s the hint of a breeze. The best part of the year is nearly here.
Fresh Kitchen and Bolay–both in Boca are terrific.
So good. Every time.
The recently remodeled Delray Elks Club looks great. Terrific job and some really nice people are members.
Bagels With and Bagels with a Schmear are also so darn good…oy the carbs…
Delray Beach author and poet Letit Flose is making some noise.
Her original poem, “It’s We,” has been selected to appear in A Garden Of Black Joy: Global Poetry From The Edges of Liberation & Living! 
 
They received poems from all over the world – from Cape Town South Africa to New Orleans to Berlin, Germany and rigorously selected 114 poems to be included in this year’s anthology.
Very impressive. Amazon has her two books of poetry. Highly recommend both.
Deepest condolences to the Walsh family on the loss of Tom Walsh, patriarch of the family that founded and runs Ocean Properties.
OPL has significant holdings in Delray including the Delray Marriott and Residence Inn.
The company has properties throughout North America.
Delray’s own Tre’ Quan Smith was on the receiving end of the historic pass from New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees that set the new record for career passing yards.
Brees has now passed for nearly 41 miles—astounding.
We’ve written about Tre’ Quan before. His involvement with Delray Students First, now College Bound, his attending Village Academy etc.
His NFL career is off to a stellar start.
Here’s what future Hall of Famer Brees had to say about his rookie teammate.
“Tre’ Quan stepped in and did a magnificent job. Credit to him for the way he has come along here in his rookie season. Really made a ton of progress each and every week, especially the last couple weeks this kid can really be a big part of our offense.”
That’s high praise from an NFL legend. Wow!
We lost two other local icons/contributors in October.
Detective Kenny Herndon passed away and it was gratifying to see an outpouring of love and support on social media from an array of retired Delray police officers. He was very special.
Bob Miller, a long time leader in the city’s business and sports community also passed in October.
Miller Field is named after Bob who did a lot for Atlantic High School sports and Little League baseball. He was a long time leader at the Chamber of Commerce and ran a very successful State Farm Insurance agency on Federal Highway for decades. Just a great guy.
Both Mr. Miller and Sgt. Herndon will be missed.
I wanted to share a tribute to Mr. Miller written by Bill Wood, our former chamber president and another amazing guy. Bill shared this on Facebook so I don’t think he will mind if I share these wonderful sentiments.
“Over the last several decades Delray Beach has been blessed with an amazing group of remarkable men and women who provided wisdom and guidance to the development of our city.
Sadly we just lost one of those remarkable leaders…
Bob Miller.  Bob passed away this October and even though we have not talked in years I already miss him and his stories of growing up in Delray Beach.
Hopefully there are biographies popping up on Facebook about Bob’s life  that will outline his many contributions to our city.
In simple words Bob was (among other things) a husband, father, teacher, coach, fisherman, businessman (over 40 years) and leader in the community… there is a reason for the name “Bob Miller Little League Park”.
The people who helped make Delray an outstanding community were not all Mayors or City Commissioners… most were residents, business folks, remarkable individuals who loved our city, believed in it and wanted to make it better…
The Chamber of Commerce recently held one of it’s Leadership Programs featuring several of our past Delray Beach Mayors.  Jeff Perlman (a former Mayor), in the most recent installment of ‘Your Delray Boca’ wrote about that and towards the end of his blog Jeff said this… “We need people with passion, a love for the town, humility, emotional intelligence, strength, foresight and courage to step up and lead.”
We do need people with those attributes but… we have been blessed by having former leaders, like Bob Miller, who had the passion, the love, humility, intelligence, strength, foresight, and courage to be a leader in our great community over a long period of time.
I am so grateful for remarkable men (and women) like Bob Miller who collectively made Delray Beach – as the Chamber saying goes – a great place to live, work, and play.”
Other highlights: an evening at the Elks (congratulations on their award from the Chamber).
We discovered Prosper Ice Cream on Congress Avenue. Magnificent.
And we also enjoyed some great pizza with a stagiano salad at Renzo’s. Highly recommended.
If you can don’t miss “The Old Man And The Gun” Robert Redford’s farewell to acting. He’s terrific, as he always is and so is Sissy Spacek. Two old pro’s who transcend the screen. It’s worth a visit to the theatre.