Restaurants and Nightlife in Delray Beach and Boca Raton

When it comes to restaurants and nightlife few cities can compare to Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

Delray Beach was recently named the “Most Fun Town” in America by the Travel Channel and Rand McNally as a result of its incredible restaurant scene and vibrant downtown night life.

Atlantic Avenue has to be experienced to be believed. Very few streets in America have block after block of amazing restaurants, shops, galleries and nightclubs that appeal to all ages. Safe, with ample parking, downtown Delray ends at the ocean and is considered one of the finest Main Streets in America.

Boca Raton is also home to scores of incredible restaurants and has its own vibrant nightlife along Palmetto Park Road and in its renowned Mizner Park.

Seize the Momentum To Come Together

Local elections are different.

They are up close and personal—almost like trench warfare among neighbors.

So when campaigns end, there is widespread relief– as if a pressure valve is finally released and you can breathe again.

It’s the morning after and it feels good for a few thousand Delray people whose candidates won and won big last night.

For the few dozen who roll up their sleeves and do the campaign grunt work–signs, signatures, phone banking, message development, fundraising, canvassing, social media, sign waving and get out the vote efforts– the feeling of stress gives way to elation if your candidate wins.

Losses sting.

On many levels, those brave enough to enter the arena deserve a measure of credit.

Because it’s no longer safe to run; not that it ever was but it’s much worse than I’ve seen it. And that’s a sad thing for our community.

Of course, we are not alone. Other cities have toxic politics too.

But that’s immaterial? Delray always dared to be different.

Campaigns used to be about ideas. Lately it’s about how Delray has been ruined. Only that’s not true. And finally people said; we’ve had enough.

Enough labeling.

Enough division.

Enough whining.

Enough bullying.

And not enough empathy, collaboration and listening.

And people said enough. Enough negativity. Enough online attacks by people who have contributed little to nothing to what has been a national model for city revitalization.

As I’ve written countless times, we are not a perfect place. We have problems, big challenges and mistakes were made. But…

A great job was done here by many many people over many many years.

And it’s time we say that. It’s ok to feel good about our town. Have pride, you’ve earned it.

We are coming off a very hard fought campaign following what has been a trying time in Delray.

I’ve written often about the need to ensure that the contributors, volunteers and investors in your city are happy. I’ve written often that it is impossible to please everyone. But if you have to make a choice it’s easy. If you’re a Mayor or a city commissioner, the best way to succeed is to please the people that do the work in your town.

A large number of workers and volunteers in our community have not been happy for a long time now.

Many of our major organizations and agencies have been criticized, bullied, dismissed and disparaged.

Some have had to spend their time justifying their very existence and past decisions. You can’t focus on your mission when you’re doing that.

So when I went to Jim Chard’s Election Night Party hosted by a young entrepreneur named Ryan Boylston a lot of thoughts flooded my mind. Ryan is a partner of mine in a local newspaper and media company. He runs a successful creative agency, employees a bunch of people, volunteers an enormous amount of hours, serves on boards, started a business incubator/co-working space and is raising a family here in Delray. His wife is a teacher.

But I’ve seen him ripped to shreds by people doing none of those things. Why? Is it because he has tattoos, ambition, energy, aspirations, and a point of view?

So what?

I wish we had more Ryans. My goal—and the goal of many other mayors—was to create an atmosphere where we would attract young entrepreneurs and their families. As the movie “Field of Dreams” taught us, if you build it, they will come. Well, we built it.  And they came here. Let’s be thankful.

And the opposite of that saying is also true: if they come, they will build it–that is take your community in really cool directions and create opportunities we didn’t dream possible.

One of my other partners in the newspaper is my friend Scott Porten. He built CityWalk, the Estuary and Harbor House in Delray and he stopped developing about 10 years ago. He took risks here, he created value and energy in Pineapple Grove and elsewhere where businesses and restaurants create jobs and serve people. I think what he and others did was pretty amazing. He replaced blight with vibrancy.

In the past decade, he has chaired city advisory boards, been heavily involved in the Beach Property Owners Association, he and his wife are raising two terrific kids, they are involved in their children’s school and Scott has chaired our chamber and Old School Square. He is a good and generous man. He loves this city and serves it every single day. I’ve never seen him say no to any person who has asked him for help and or advice. I can say the same for many other developers in town. Have you seen what Rick Caster has done with the 21 Drops Building? It’s indescribably beautiful and houses his wife’s growing business. Have you been to Ziree, the great Thai restaurant? Before New Urban Communities came to town–the area’s highlight was a drive through liquor store.

But some have vilified developers and development; when we should be encouraging good design, respecting property rights and putting trust in our land development regulations which guarantees we won’t look like Boca or Fort Lauderdale.

At Commissioner elect’s Jim Chard’s party, a woman I know came over to me and thanked me for helping Jim and Commissioner elect Johnson. She said “thanks for being fearless.”

Well, the truth is I’ve been anything but.

Yes, I speak my mind but I also pull punches. And that’s wrong. And so another guy I know called me out on it this week and we got loud with each other. And I said, “well, I have my style and you have yours. Let’s see which is more effective.”

But perhaps he’s right. A little bit anyway.

I don’t like bullies and I will and have stood up to them. But I also don’t like to fight and I don’t like politics. I like the work.

But another friend taught me that commissioners own culture in a town. Not the kind of culture we see at Old School Square or the Arts Garage. But culture in the sense of how we feel about our city—whether we have pride, whether we can work together effectively and whether we can disagree without burning down each other’s homes.

And on that measure our commission has failed. Big time.

So that’s why worked I hard for the candidates I backed this cycle—because I liked their maturity and temperament.

I left Jim’s party when Mayor Glickstein began to speak because I hold him accountable for some of the mess the volunteers have been dealing with for the past several years. I care about our Chamber—and it has its challenges because of politics. I love Old School Square—and it struggled to get a lease, lost events and rental income and I watched as two of my heroes Frances Bourque and Joe Gillie were criticized and the board I serve on accused of not being effective and worse. These are good people, our best.

I watched when the BPOA spent 6-8 years working on a Beach Area Master Plan pro bono—only to see the architect Bob Currie–who has been 48 years– get criticized and the leaders of the association feel dismissed.

And I watched a corporate headquarters and movie theater CEO who does business on a global basis be called an “amateur” at a hearing. That remark stung him. And many of us volunteers who love Delray reached out to him to apologize. Not because we’re shills or bought, but because we value people who want to invest here.

It doesn’t matter so much whether you want iPic or not, but it does matter how investors and businesses or anyone is treated when they go before our elected officials. It’s everything and it reflects on all is us.

So…I’m happy this morning. So are many others.

But we have made mistakes in this town that I hope we don’t repeat this time. When we hit a rough spot and we think we correct it, the tendency is to move on and that’s good. But it’s not good to move on before we the people discuss what has happened and why; and how we might avoid problems from recurring.

We have a chance…to mend fences with people who have spent years attacking each other culminating in ugly elections that trash our town and leave marks. But only if we seize this moment.

My hope is we do—this time. Because there is a new positive energy in the city and there is room for everyone—even those who disagree. But only if there is civility and respect. And it starts with the dais.

It always has.

 

Prepping For the Barrage

Promises, Promises.

Its election season in Delray Beach and the knives are out.

Sigh.

Over the next several weeks you will hear the following tired old phrases. So if your new to this or just plain curious, we thought it might be helpful to provide a glossary of terms.

“Special interests.” -anyone with a profit motive or an opinion contrary to those who really know best.

“Developers”–usually described as greedy, corrupting and insensitive to neighbors. You know, bad hombres.

Dark Money”-money given to PACs usually by greedy self -interests.  Of course, it’s OK for the “pure” candidates to hide the sources of their cash.

“Puppets”–corruptible elected officials who are typically weak and told how to vote.

“Puppeteers”–those who direct the puppets.

 “Overdevelopment”–most anything proposed in the central business district even if it meets the city’s rules, fits into citizen adopted plans and replaces blight or functionally obsolete buildings.

 “Recovery”–refers to the recovery industry includes sober homes.

“Lobbyists”–those who register to advocate for a particular good, service or project.

“Chamber types”-mostly small business people who care about the city. Some live and work here. Some just work here–that’s often not good enough for some despite the fact that some of Delray’s most valuable contributors have actually lived outside city limits. Also referred to as “good old boys.” Reality: step into the Chamber and you’ll see a lot of new faces, (and some older ones) and a whole bunch of smart women running and growing businesses.

“Slick consultants” – usually referring to the political type. If you use them you are not to be trusted. But frankly, trust has nothing to do with consultants. If you can be trusted you can be trusted. If you can’t, it’s usually not because you engaged someone to help you run a campaign.

 “For profit event producers”-those who stage events to make oodles of cash. PS. They typically don’t.

 “Resident taxpayers”—As Tarzan might say: renters no good. It also sometimes implies that business owners who live elsewhere are not qualified to volunteer for City boards even if they care, pay tons of taxes, donate handsomely to local nonprofits and want to serve and have the chops to do so. And sometimes it refers to people who live here and pay taxes.

“Out of control” –usually refers to events, development, spending etc.

You’ll soon be barraged by mail, robocalls and social media messages that will paint a dark picture outlining threats to the Village by the Sea by dark, greedy forces who ignore the people unless of course you vote for the protectors who will magically lower taxes, fight crime, stop overdevelopment, fight special interests and shut down sober homes.

You’ll also hear that while they care and have pure motives their opponents…oh their opponents…well they are just plain evil. Bought and paid for by dark money forces aiming to destroy our way of life.

What you are unlikely to hear is reality or any ideas. Oh they’ll say they have plans but you’ll never see details.

If I sound cynical maybe it’s because I am. Can you be a cynical optimist? I don’t know, but I do see bright skies ahead once the dust settles anyway that’s another blog.

But I would love to be wrong.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if candidates would just level with the voters?

What would that look like?

Well it might include the following:

We have a pretty terrific small city.

Lots of things have gone right.

Lots of value has been created out of a town that could have easily gone the other way.

Like so many other cities have.

But this town had guts. This town had vision. This town had leadership. And a great deal of unity too.

Great things were achieved. But more needs to be done. Too many people and neighborhoods have been left behind. And there are challenges and opportunities galore.

Schools that need attention—and yes the city has a role and there are ways to make a difference.

Too much property crime—if you don’t feel safe in your home and neighborhood nothing else much matters.

Opioids and terrible sober home operators who are exploiting people pose grave problems—but the issue is full of layers and complexities that don’t lend themselves to sound bites. A little empathy for people doing wonderful work in this field would go a long way.

Kids are dying. On our streets. Needles are everywhere. It’s taking a toll on our police officers and firefighter/paramedics. Our city needs great officers and firefighter/paramedics and they need to be supported not just with words (which are important) but with policies that ensure we are competitive and can attract and retain the best talent around.

Rising property values have made commercial rents skyrocket and many treasured mom and pop businesses are threatened as a result. This is a blend of “irrational exuberance” (and 1031 money sloshing around) and market acknowledgement that investors see great value in Delray Beach. But if we think the downtown is bullet proof, guess again. In order to remain sustainable, we need a mix of uses and more good jobs to complement a food and beverage based economy. Tourism is critical, but so is finding space for businesses, young entrepreneurs, family entertainment etc. We have to be concerned about demographics and keep our central business district attractive to people of all ages.

We lack middle class housing and need a passionate commitment to attract millennials  and jobs that will bring back our children after college. I’m seeing talented young people bypass coming here because they can’t get traction in our market. And yet we capped density where young professionals might want to live limiting supply and driving up already high prices. It’s about design folks—not some artificial number. We learned that lesson in the early 2000s, we need to learn it again.

Our community is divided–by personalities, history, perceptions, rumors, innuendo, social media, armchair critics, racial lines and even whether we like festivals or not.

You get the picture.

There are answers to all of those challenges or at least ways to make things better.

But an honest candidate would tell you that it’s hard to impact anything if your divided, focused on the wrong things and too busy labeling others to enjoy the good things in our community while working together on alleviating the bad and uniting against the ugly.

This March please vote. But kindly insist on honesty and experience in the candidates you ultimately choose to support. Seek candidates who have rolled up their sleeves and done something FOR this community.

It’s easy to discern those who are genuine and real from posers who divide and label in order to amass power.

Ask them what they will do with the power if they get it. Ask them how they plan to solve problems and seize opportunities if they divide, judge and label.

The truth is they can’t.

Because it really does take a village.

 

 

 

An Early Valentine

Delray Beach City Clerk has been a bright spot for years at City Hall.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.
As a hopeless (OK some might say helpless) romantic I thought I would send an early Valentine to Delray and Boca.
Bear with me, it might get mushy.
Five things we love about Boca.
1. As a friend recently told me, “Boca has depth.” By depth he meant strength. Great neighborhoods, high achieving schools, a couple of universities, office parks filled with jobs, tons of shopping options, glorious parks–you get the picture. And we could go on.
2. An airport with a Tilted Kilt restaurant. There really is no more to add.
3. Barrel of Monks Brewing. The beer is delicious and different from other craft breweries. It’s the way they brew. Check it out. And if you can take a tour. The brewery is a homage to Belgian brewing and it’s wonderful.
4. The Wold…Lynn University’s world class theater. Plush, beautiful, elegant and comfortable.
5. The Waterstone. What a great spot…water, views, a nice restaurant. Treat your loved one to a romantic evening on the Intracoastal–you don’t have to check in to indulge.
Now for Delray…
1. For another 11 days, City Clerk Chevelle Nubin  Chevelle is the epitome of a public servant. Kind, competent, conscientious and calm–I was so fortunate to work with her. We all were. She’s leaving us for Wellington at the end of the month, but she will be long remembered for her kindness, skill and grace under pressure. I was fortunate to see her grow under the capable guidance of Clerk Barbara Garito and when Barbara retired we had a smooth transition. She became a leader among clerks in Palm Beach County and Florida-while balancing a busy life with beautiful children. We wish her well.
2. Lake Ida Park–there’s so many birds, dogs are welcome, it’s active, large and beautiful.
3. Saltwater Brewery–we can’t give a shout out to Barrel of Monks without mentioning Saltwater. Have you had their watermelon beer? The only drink that compares is the Blueberry vodka and lemonade at Olio.
4. The Achievement Center, Space of Mind, Milagro Center, Old School Square, Delray Students First, The Arts Garage and all the other schools, non-profits, day cares and organizations devoted to children. Which means they care about and are seeding our future. What’s not to love about that?
5. Good citizens. We are a city of people who rally to help others when they need it. A city that reaches out to each other. A city that is not afraid to innovate. The kind of place that when police officers  reach out to a trusted citizen to help a single mom whose child was a victim of a sad and heinous crime, money and gifts were gathered in lightning fashion.
Now that’s community.
Happy Valentines Day.

The G Word

There’s a new book out about the gentrification of Brooklyn and how it went from crime riddled to cool.
As the book “The New Brooklyn: What it Takes to Bring a City Back” notes, ask any mayor–well not any mayor– what they want and they’ll say safe and bustling streets,  events, culture, busy stores and restaurants, jobs and visitors.
In other words, gentrification. Only we don’t say the word.

Because it’s loaded.
Because gentrification often comes with displacement. When values go up, poor and middle class residents often get priced out. And when rents go up, it can mean the loss of treasured retailers and restaurants.
Gentrification yields winners and losers. There’s no doubt. But the book on Brooklyn notes that when cities decline everyone loses. So why not just leave everything alone then?

Well, it’s just not that simple in most cases. Change is a constant–unless you live in an historic district. Most of us don’t.

I was thinking about this when we ventured to Olio restaurant on a recent beautiful Saturday night.
We hadn’t been to Olio in a while.

It’s located south of Atlantic in what some are calling the “Sofa” district for south of the avenue.
Downtown was mobbed, lots of people walking, dining and riding the Downtowner.
We ran into two friends from Pittsburgh who visit for a month every year and they were astounded and delighted by the action and the new businesses.
They loved it.
Sitting outside at Olio and enjoying a wonderful evening, I thought to myself if I didn’t already live here this is where I’d want to be.
A small town with big city amenities–great restaurants, interesting shops, great hotels, culture and a beautiful beach.
At least that’s how I see downtown Delray Beach.
But we had to park a block and a half away and when we left the restaurant and went home there was a back-up at the intersection of Swinton and Atlantic. For us, we didn’t mind at all. It’s ok to walk a block or so to park. If we wanted too, we could have taken an Uber or a Lyft or the aforementioned Downtowner, which fortunately serves my neighborhood.

As for the back up at Swinton and Atlantic— eventually it moves and it doesn’t happen all year–only during “season” or during weekends when stores and restaurants are doing brisk sales. I can live with the slight inconvenience (emphasis on slight) because I want to see downtown businesses thrive.

But others don’t see it quite the same way. They consider parking a hassle or worse and traffic and congestion as a terrible inconvenience.
They see some favorite businesses close or move and it bothers them. I get it. I miss a few of those places too. (To paraphrase Simon & Garfunkel: “where have you gone Green Owl, a breakfast crowd turns its lonely eyes to you”).
But…
Things change.
Cities change.
Downtowns evolve.
Sometimes they boom.
Sometimes they bust.
When they boom there are winners.
And there are losers.
But when cities bust, there are only losers.
I’ve lived here 30 years.
Our downtown has changed during that time.
There wasn’t much south of the avenue in the 80s and 90s–a sausage factory, empty lots and blight. Today, there’s Sofa, the apartment complex, an indoor cycling facility, Olio and more.
I like it. Based on the crowds we’re seeing and the property values of nearby neighborhoods I’m guessing others do too.
When I moved into town, Pineapple Grove was anchored by a tire store, empty streets and a self service car wash. Today, there’s Brule, Papas Tapas, the Coffee District, Christina’s, a bookstore, gym, other great restaurants, the Arts Garage, Bedner’s and Artists Alley.
I like it. It’s better than it was. A lot better, in my opinion.
There wasn’t much happening on 4th Avenue north of the avenue. Today, Beer Trade Company is killing it and Ocean City Lofts is a coveted address.
West Atlantic Avenue has been vastly improved since the 80s.
It still has a long way to go but it’s been beautified with paver bricks, the Elizabeth Wesley Plaza, a gateway feature and improved by investments such as the Fairfield Inn and Atlantic Grove which has some great spots including Ziree and Windy City Pizza.
It’s a lot better and vastly safer than it was when hundreds of people would be hanging out near the old Paradise Club on Sunday nights. Police officers and firefighters were routinely showered with rocks when they responded to calls for help.
Change is not always easy and it always comes with trade offs–create a place that is attractive and you get traffic.
Raise rents because your successful and beloved stores may leave. But because your successful you won’t see vacancies.
You get the picture.
Gentrification has winners and losers, decline has nothing but losers.
The key is to be aware and to be sensitive to those impacted and find creative ways so they can win too.  Create housing, job and cultural opportunities for all, get involved in your schools, encourage the private sector to offer creative space and not chase away artists, develop other parts of your city. But don’t stop paying attention to your core.

Be hyper vigilant about what’s happening and do what you can to create opportunities for all–small businesses, young families, kids returning after school, retirees, start-ups and growing companies.

Manage but don’t stifle.

Encourage ideas.

Reach out to your citizens  and don’t keep your own counsel.

Lead with humility, praise others, model civility, inclusiveness, exhibit gratitude and foster civic pride.

Repeat. Because you are never done. And that’s what’s so fascinating about cities.

A Bountiful Harvest

harvest_logo-220We finally had a chance to visit Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar a few weeks back.

Over the weekend, we went back and happily saw many people we knew and one we recognized, former tennis champion Jim Courier.

Harvest is the new restaurant at Delray Place and it’s been on my to do list ever since I met the GM at the Chamber’s holiday party.
She seemed nice and she handed me a voucher for a free flatbread. She had me at flatbread.
Still, it took a couple of weeks to make it to Harvest.
It was worth the wait.
The restaurant is beautiful and warm with fireplaces and dark wood.
The menu is full of healthy low calorie choices sourced from local farms and producers like Old School Bakery, Heritage Farms, Saltwater Brewery and Barrel of Monks.
Delray Place elicits a lot of comments among people I know.
There’s not enough parking…
It’s weird looking…
It’s a great looking …
I love Trader Joe’s…
What’s up with Trader Joe’s…
You get the picture.
But here’s what I thought as we walked around after dinner and read a sign for a new business called “Local Greens”: how cool is this?
I also had this thought. I’ve lived here nearly 30 years and never before have we had so many great places to visit.
So many great local businesses here and in Boca too.
Top notch restaurants, great hotels, nice shops, terrific grocery store options, really cool arts venues and nice parks and recreational facilities. It wasn’t always this way.
Which brings me back to Harvest.
As a noun, harvest means the time of year when crops are ripe and ready to be gathered. The picked crop is also called a harvest: a bumper crop is a plentiful harvest, and a poor harvest is when things didn’t grow as well as expected.
I think we grew up to be a nice place. I would label it a bumper crop. 
We can focus on what we don’t have –which I tell my kids is a recipe for unhappiness– or we can appreciate the gifts we’ve been given or those that we’ve earned. 
Gratitude is so important. 
We have an awful lot to be thankful for.

LA Story

The Salt and The Straw in Larchmont Village

The Salt and The Straw in Larchmont Village

Greetings from Los Angeles.
I’m out here with our west coast Tabanero team interviewing agencies for what will become our first major advertising effort in 2017.
It’s the next step in our start up entrepreneurial journey and it’s exciting.
We’ve done billboards, print ads, Amazon promotions, events, samplings, coupons and social media advertising along the way, but the new effort will represent our first large scale–for us anyway –advertising campaign.
It’s exciting and a little scary too. This is our shot and while we’re confident we’ve got a great hot sauce and Bloody Mary mix we are all veterans in business. We know it’s not easy and that there’s no shortcuts. We have great assets: a great tasting premium sauce and some excellent retailers and some challenges too: a crowded category and a need for more brand awareness. We are a challenger brand in a world of Goliaths. But we see that as our advantage because we live in a world where consumers want new and exciting over old and tired.
We’ll keep you posted.
Some impressions about LA: I love it.
Yes,  there’s traffic and sprawl. Crazy traffic and debilitating sprawl.
But there’s also great weather, very interesting people and this is where you can see the future emerge.
LA and NYC are where trends are birthed and spread.
So when I come here I like to look around. What are the new restaurant concepts? What are the new items on menus? What are the new drink trends?
What’s happening in retail, hotels, fashion and design?
It’s interesting for me to see what’s happening and what people are talking about. Information is currency. And you never know what insight you might glean that can help you in whatever business you’re in.
The same principle applies to cities.
Switched on municipal leaders are always scanning the horizon for ideas that can be customized for their communities.
Whether it’s street furniture or pop up retail, unique crosswalks or parking technology it pays to see what others are doing.
When I venture west I stay in the Hotel Orlando a very comfy boutique hotel.
It’s amazing how boutique and historic hotels and inns have become focal points for cities and neighborhoods.
A few great little hotels mixed in with restaurants, art and event spaces can literally make a place pop.
On this trip I’m anxious to see creative work spaces. One agency we interviewed is housed in an old industrial space that has been converted into one of the nicest offices I have ever seen.
Wide open, with exposed ceilings and fun games and furniture, the space is just inspiring.
I also loved that the office featured a slew of dogs. It was comfortable but productive.
Count me in as someone who would love to work alongside dogs, mine and others.

West Hollywood where I’m anchored is a cool spot.
Since I can never adjust to the time, I find myself up early and able to take walks before a day of meetings.
I stumbled on a neighborhood featuring very old but beautifully designed apartments I later learned were designed by legendary architect Leland Bryant in the 20s and 30s for movie studio personnel.
The craftsmanship, details, bay windows and unique design are stunning. It made me wonder whether these types of artisans exist today or whether developers would even consider these types of details given the high cost of land and the regulatory hurdles we’ve instituted.
Curious I did some light research on Bryant who turned out to be quite the guy. I learned that he built 300 projects in Los Angeles and Hollywood in the time it would take to get one or two projects approved and built today considering rules and politics.
None of his iconic and beautiful projects would meet today’s codes despite their enduring beauty and value. Now that’s food for thought.
I’ve often wondered in our zeal to “control growth” with rigid codes and batty politics whether we are also stifling creativity. While developers and architects bear their fair share of responsibility wouldn’t it be interesting to challenge them to be creative and design something that generations might embrace rather than fight. Heavy sigh.
Leland Bryant would be dead in his tracks today.

Another observation…
As mentioned, California is a great place to search for trends.
Food and restaurants have come a long way in the last decade.
It seems like every industry and option are being disrupted by innovative artisans.
California is teeming with them.
From cold pressed juices and craft burgers to artisanal sandwiches (I kid you not) California has it all.
Sure some ideas are hipster pretentious, but others are just flat out inspiring.
A marketing firm we use out here recommended we visit a small ice cream shop called the Salt & Straw to sample various interesting flavor combinations. We did.
Aside from seasonal offerings like fennel eggnog there were options that included olives and sea salt and goat cheese.
Somehow it works. The ice cream was amazing.
My California colleague, a native Floridian, said the creativity he found in the Golden State keeps him here despite the high cost of living, heavy taxes and traffic.
“California is where the creators come to innovate,” he said. “It’s aspirational. Not every one makes it here. It’s hard and the competition is fierce but it’s where you come if you want to make an impact.” As they say if you want to dance you go where the music is playing.
Can Florida make the same claim?
I have to ponder that one. But if the answer is no it ought to be yes.
The places that empower people and inspire dreams and risk taking are the ones that will thrive.
I found Delray to be highly aspirational when I came here. I think Boca is a city coming into its own these days. As a friend recently told me about Boca: “that city has depth.”
By that he meant assets.
He’s right.
Delray has assets too, but there needs to be greater attention paid to ensure that those assets stay healthy and new assets need to be developed.
More on that when I come home.

Odds & Ends & A Delray Heroine Retires

Beautiful Quebec City

Beautiful Quebec City

In Praise of Quebec City and BVT

We’re back from a week of rest and relaxation in Quebec City and Burlington, Vermont.
Both are terrific cities.
Quebec City is magnifique–physically beautiful and very European in look, feel and scale.
While historic and oozing charm, Quebec City is also a dynamic and energetic place filled with street performers, artists, musicians, innovative food concepts and public art.
If you haven’t been, put it on your list. You will not be disappointed. You will be delighted.
Burlington is also a beautiful city with a rich history.
While its Vermont’s largest city, it’s smaller than Delray and Boca. Much smaller with just over 40,000 people.
Bernie Sanders got his political start in BVT becoming mayor with a 10 vote win back in the day.
When you drive into town after exiting a very scenic ride on Interstate 89 you run smack dab into the campus of the University of Vermont which is spectacular. Drive a few minutes and you come to the top of a hill overlooking picturesque Lake Champlain which serves as a backdrop to the city.
Burlington’s walkable downtown is charming and vibrant and features a pedestrian mall along Church Street, one of the few pedestrian malls that has worked (other examples are Lincoln Road and Charlottesville). It has one glaring flaw– not fatal mind you– but odd and that is an indoor mall anchored by a Macy’s. It doesn’t quite fit and seemed mostly dead while we were there. People preferred to be outside where like Quebec they enjoyed cafe dining, street musicians and the joy of just watching the world go by.
Burlington and surrounding cities –we visited Woodstock, Waterbury–(home of Ben & Jerry’s), Stowe, Shelburne, Queechee Gorge and Winooski–(known as Burlington’s Brooklyn) are teeming with incredible restaurants, creameries, cider mills, vineyards, distilleries and a slew of breweries. It’s beyond cool. And Lake Champlain—just wondrous.
It’s a sophisticated little place.
Relevant lessons for Delray and Boca: don’t design downtowns for cars, design for people. Both Quebec and Burlington favor the pedestrian and celebrate sidewalk dining, activity, festivals, pop up retail and localism. Local food, local beers, local wines, local artists, local farms, you get the picture.
Arts, culture, tourism are important economic drivers. They are celebrated.
The sense of place, history and the cool vibe is leveraged to create other industries. Burlington has a downtown incubator which was recently featured in the New York Times which is doing what it can to capture the entrepreneurial talent in the area and at UVM.
Breweries, distilleries and the local food scene are also encouraged with news articles, festivals, tastings and the like. We saw this in both Quebec and Burlington.
It’s really wonderful to have a university close to the heart of your city. It’s not only nice to see young people, but the college is a remarkable resource and source of intellectual energy.
Finally, both cities have a feeling of civic pride. They know they are special places, people seem proud of their cities and everyone you run into is eager to recommend sites, restaurants and things to do.
Civic pride is a killer app.
The Passionate Mayor
Over the weekend PBS ran a documentary about former NYC Mayor Ed Koch.
It was fascinating as was Mayor Koch. Alternately loved and despised, Koch was a larger than life figure and to a generation of New Yorkers he will always be the mayor.
He strived for relevancy and public engagement well into his mid 80s. It was both poignant and inspiring to see.
Love him or loathe him, one thing that was apparent was Koch’s love of his city. He reveled in New York.
That passion, that fire, I think is essential if you are going to be a mayor that matters.
If you don’t like people, loathe your downtown, use the office as a resting stop until you can get another seat or generally refuse to push, prod, coax, market or move your city forward you simple won’t succeed.
Short story about Koch.
I saw him once in Central Park and he was swamped by people. Many years later, I received a call to have breakfast with him at the Green Owl. It was 2004 and Koch–a lifelong Democrat who had never voted for a Republican– had jumped party lines to support George W. Bush over John Kerry in the presidential race. The campaign sent Koch to Florida and he was making the rounds. I declined the invite because I wasn’t interested in being a political prop, but I sure did wish there was a “no agenda” opportunity to meet Mayor Koch. It would have been fascinating.
Thanks Dr. Hunter
Last but most certainly not least we would like to wish a happy and healthy and productive retirement to Lynda Hunter who retired last week from the Delray Public Library.
Dr.  Hunter was the Children’s Librarian for forty years and positively impacted the lives of thousands of Delray Beach children through her love of reading.
A few of those kids were my very own.
Lynda and I worked closely together along with Janet Meeks and Lula Butler to create the Mayor’s Literacy Initiative which included everything from introducing books to summer camp programs to ice cream parties in our PJs.
Lynda was also there when we moved the library from US 1 to West Atlantic Avenue–which wasn’t without controversy but was the right thing to do. She helped to plan the new and vastly improved children’s section at the larger facility which bears her name along with philanthropist Virginia Kimmel who was so taken by Dr. Hunter’s passion that she felt compelled to get involved. Lynda is that kind of person. Inspirational.
Lynda’s heartfelt dedication to children and reading leaves a lasting legacy.
She sparked a love of books and reading on generations of young people who will surely pass it on to their children. That’s what the great ones do: they leave a legacy, they touch people and shape them, they leave us better for having met them on our journey.
Lynda is one of the  great ones. And lucky for us, she’s not done. She will continue to spread the love of reading which sees as an answer to what ails our society.
Thanks Lynda…what a legacy.

We couldn't find a picture of Lynda Hunter, but we found this from a reading event. Only she could get me to wear moose pjs...

We couldn’t find a picture of Lynda Hunter, but we found this from a reading event. Only she could get me to wear moose pjs…

 

Change

change

You are never FINISHED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s an interesting time.

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

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

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

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

Congress Avenue also represents an important opportunity for transformation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Build A Great City

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Nobles.com

The adventure took me to Lake Worth last week.

Thanks to the wonderful Danika Dahl (www.I-Love-Delray-Beach.com) and my friend Greg Rice, I had the opportunity to bring some books and some thoughts to Lake Worth last week.

We had a great discussion about cities, downtowns, economic development and local politics with an emphasis on Lake Worth’s enormous potential. I began by emphasizing that they not me were the experts when it came to Lake Worth. While I have visited the city innumerable times and enjoy the downtown, its restaurants, festivals and beachfront casino and pier, I don’t live and breathe the community like people who live and work there do. But I do think there are some universal truths and principles for community building that can work anywhere if they are tailored to local sensibilities. But when it comes down to it, citizens are responsible for creating the identity, look and feel of their city. And each city should strive to have its own personality and style.

Below are the notes I took with me which framed the conversation. I thought I would share. It was a great night, with lots of intelligent discussion, some super ideas and a lot of inspiration. In an age of social media and technology it’s reassuring to see how powerful it is for people to gather and talk as neighbors with a shared passion for creating a great city. Thanks Danika and Greg for the opportunity. Local blogger Wes Blackman–a  really terrific urbanist himself– did a three part series on the evening that I am very appreciative of. You can find Wes’ blog at http://wesblackman.blogspot.com/.

Forge a Vision–

  • Involve as many stakeholders as possible.
  • Elected officials and property owners must be bought in
  • Begin to Implement immediately; prioritize and get going. If you fail to act, the vision fades and you lose the trust of those who volunteer and care.
  • Celebrate and market the small victories; build momentum because success breeds success.
  • City Budgets should reflect the citizens vision.
  • Stick to the vision: it takes time. Stare down the inevitable resistance and have patience and faith.
  • Remember that visions are living and breathing documents, principles should be stuck to, but good visions grow and are flexible to meet changing times.

Visioning tips:

Each city is different. Build on your strengths and assets. Inspiration can come from local history, local art, local architecture and design, but also embrace new ideas and changing times.

Be mindful of your strengths weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Guard against complacency. Don’t let failures or missteps bog you down, learn and move on. Similarly don’t let success make you smug or lazy.

When elections come, pin down candidates on their views of the adopted vision. Do they see themselves as being responsible to making it happen or are they running to upend the vision?

Require participants to put your city first, ahead of personal agendas, petty feuds and egos. Look for servant leaders and avoid those who think they are the smartest people in the room, regardless of the room they are in.

Remind people immediately when they stray…ignoring problems allows them to fester and grow. Insist that the citizen’s vision be honored. Be willing to fight for it—and count on having to do so.

 

Brand your street/downtown/city

What is your city’s style, what’s its promise, what’s its vibe? Once you identify your brand identity: market, promote and relentlessly work to bring people downtown.

Embrace change, but make sure change respects your city and its history. You can’t stop change, but you can shape it. The best visions and brands embrace the past, the present and the future.

Establish a culture of “how may I help you” versus “watch me stop you”. This does not mean compromising standards but it does mean being business friendly and making an effort to land deals and make things happen. Developers and investors don’t mind tough standards but they do require a fair, predictable and timely process.

A vision begins getting old the moment it’s adopted. Every day it lingers its damaged, every day you don’t talk about it people will fail to understand it. A vision is a flame. It needs to be tended to and you need to constantly educate the community of its importance and rationale. A vision is your best economic development tool, it’s what you sell.

Events are important. They bring people to your city. They allow for people to meet, talk and gather.

Public spaces and placemaking are critical. But they must be safe and active while also allowing for quiet enjoyment.

Culture is important too.–the arts are critical. Residents seek them out and so do visitors and companies.

Make sure elected officials are champions of the vision. They need to see themselves as stewards with a responsibility to make the vision a reality and to protect the vision.

If there is no vision or if the vision is shoved off to the sidelines personal agendas will take over, the vacuum will be filled with politics.

You need a team. The right people on the bus in the right seats. And those people need to be able to work together well. That doesn’t mean they will always agree but it means that they are able to overcome differences, trust each other and feel passionate about the vision and mission. Once a decision is made move on; there will be times you agree and times when you disagree.

Positioning is critical. Where does your city fit in the local and regional landscape? Delray did not want to become Boca—as successful as Boca is. Boynton should not be Delray. But city’s also have to know what is possible. Boynton is pursuing an identity as a city friendly to millennials—with workforce housing, breweries, an arts scene and inexpensive space for new companies. It’s a solid strategy/position because it counters Delray which has become expensive and a place where it is difficult to win approvals.

A good place to start

SWOT Analysis-

  • An old fashioned tool, but a good place to begin.
  • Strengths—What are the best things about Lake Worth?
  • My take: Outsiders view…
  1. A whole lot of amenities for a small city. A waterfront park, a real downtown, great history, two main streets, human scale, charming cottages, relatively affordable, a waterfront golf course, a beautiful ocean front casino, a great pier, some great restaurants, walkable. Engaged community, abundance of creatives. Central location in county, near airport and other cities. Diverse and tolerant.
  • Weaknesses

 

  • My take:
  • Crime, vagrancy, lack of residential density to support local businesses and restaurants, lack of industry, derelict properties, sense that Lake Worth has been on the brink for a long time but never quite gets there, vacancies downtown. Financial struggles, aging infrastructure.
  • Opportunities

 

  • My take:
  • Great wealth east of the bridge that could be attracted to shop and dine downtown, a great “old Florida, laid back unpretentious downtown” that has tremendous appeal, historic buildings ripe for adaptive re-use, add downtown housing and small office, co-working, incubation, emphasis on artists, ability to attract people to close-in neighborhoods through some bold program that would clean up and stabilize neighborhoods and grow tax base.
  • Threats

 

  • My Take
  • Politics that might resist change or risk taking, infrastructure issues.

All in all, a terrific night…next week my trip to Naples 5th Avenue and the power of collaboration.

 

 

 

Greetings from Delray Beach, Fla

helloWe live in a place where people like to vacation.
That’s far from a revelation, but sometimes I think we forget about that.

We live in a place so nice that others come here to spend their precious time off.
They are here now. It’s Spring Break and you can see families downtown and at the beaches.

We have a short season, a few hectic months where our streets become crowded. A few hectic months–maybe four–where it becomes a little harder to get a seat in a favorite restaurant or a parking spot. But not that hard if we’re honest.

A lot of people worked for a long time to bring traffic to our sidewalks and Main Street. It sure beats the alternative.

If you want to “fix” or eliminate traffic the answer is simple: create a place where nobody wants to go.
We chose the opposite path and we succeeded. Isn’t it marvelous? We live in a place where people vacation.

Those crowds some of us lament actually support a bunch of small businesses we love and jobs that are valuable to those who have them. It’s a small price to pay.
In the past few weeks, we have been fortunate to host friends and family visiting from other locales. All of them marveled at where we live. They love the beaches and the culture, the downtown and the restaurants. They envy the weather and the sheer amount of things to do–festivals included.
As locals we are lucky. We get to live here year round. April is around the corner. It will begin to slow down–just a little.
But isn’t this place just great?

A teacher of mine once said ‘appreciate what  you have and you’ll always be happy but if you focus on what you don’t you will be miserable’.

He was right.
Words to live by. Gratitude and appreciation.