Shopping in Delray Beach and Boca Raton

When it comes to shopping you simply can’t beat the options in Boca Raton or Delray Beach.

Boca Raton has several distinct shopping district from the nationally renowned Mizner Park and Fifth Avenue Shops to the Mall at Town Center and West Boca shopping centers there is an endless variety of shopping experiences for all budgets.

Delray is home to vibrant Atlantic Avenue and Pineapple Grove where you’ll find boutiques, shops and galleries for those with an eclectic eye.

Palm Beach’s famed Worth Avenue and Fort Lauderdale’s renowned Las Olas Boulevard are both 30 minutes away to complete your shopping needs.

Greetings From Asbury Park

The boardwalk in Asbury Park, N.J.

I’ve always wanted to go to Asbury Park.

So last week we made the trip.

We loved it.

As we toured Belmar, Ocean Grove, Asbury, Allenhurst, Freehold, Neptune and Colts Neck one thought was top of mind: New Jersey might have the world’s worst PR, because the reality far, far, far outstrips the perception.

New Jersey is breathtakingly beautiful (that’s right)  with a magnificent coast, incredible neighborhoods, vibrant cities and architecture that makes you pull over and stare.

Asbury Park has always held a place in my heart and  imagination thanks to its association with my musical heroes Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

I’ve read a few books about the boom and bust history of Asbury Park and the musicians who helped to put the place on the map.

So I was curious to explore the tiny (1.5 square miles) city.

Asbury has a pretty boardwalk, a beautiful beach, some amazing seaside bars, wonderful architecture, a hip hotel, a really nice downtown and some terrific restaurants.

But what sets it apart is its vibe.

Asbury Park is a town that seems to be built on rock n’ roll.

From rock photographer Danny Clinch’s “Transparent Gallery” and the Sound Booth lounge at the Asbury Hotel to the live music at Asbury Lanes and the renowned Wonder Bar—music is everywhere.

This weekend, Asbury expects 20,000 people for the first Sea. Hear. Now. music festival with big names like Social Distortion and Brandi Carlile coming to town to rock the shore.

Asbury is a town building on its roots—its glory days as evidenced by the Paramount Theatre and a grand boardwalk and a musical heritage which includes Springsteen, Southside Johnny and so many great bar bands.

Off the boardwalk, we found a nice downtown, especially Cookman Avenue which featured some interesting retail (a bookstore!, an adorable cinema and a tea house featuring cats—yes cats—called Catsbury Park) and some amazing restaurants. (If you visit, run don’t walk to Taka, it’s as good as it gets).

The surrounding towns feature block after block of really beautiful homes, Victorian gems that make you realize that Florida missed a golden opportunity by allowing so much cookie cutter housing to be built.

When visiting a place it’s important to consider its history and to see what’s in front of you. But it’s also important to understand its psychology, what drives a place. It’s critical to understand not only the reality but what the aspirations of a place are.

You can do this by observing who’s in town—what kinds of people do you see buying homes, opening businesses and investing in a place.

You can supplement what you see with a little reading—local newspapers, real estate publications, even what the hotels are saying about the town in their marketing materials.

And that’s where Asbury gets really interesting.

This little city with a rich history and a very cool present has aspirations.

Asbury is an ambitious place with a goal of becoming a nationally renowned cultural mecca built around music, art, festivals, great restaurants and a sense of place. Sound familiar?

The local press celebrates this ambition with profiles of entrepreneurs building web businesses, opening bakeries, planning music festivals, opening unique restaurants and creating boutique accommodations that pay homage to the area’s history and vibe.

One of the urban pioneers that seems to loom large is famed rock photographer Danny Clinch who has a very cool gallery attached to the ultra-hip Asbury Hotel. Clinch is arguably the most acclaimed music photographer around these days. He has chosen Asbury Park to not only show off his incredible portfolio but also to grow the city’s cultural brand.

The Sea. Hear. Now. festival is probably the most ambitious attempt so far. But the gallery itself is more than just a gallery. It’s a live music space where the local creative community can meet, grow and find encouragement and an outlet.

In many ways, I saw some parallels between Asbury Park and Delray Beach circa 1980s through early 2000s.

The emphasis on culture, food, beverage, festivals, tourism, entrepreneurship. The aspiration and hunger to fix and invest in neighborhoods and commercial districts. The willingness to take some risks. The presence of visionary pioneers with dreams and ambitions. The passion to make something happen.

I can’t comment on the politics of Asbury. But the truth is you need both the private sector and the public sector rowing in the same direction to make change and realize ambitions. It doesn’t work if volunteers, business owners and residents are out of step with local government or vice versa.

Towns need their Danny Clinch’s for sure. But they also need their elected officials and city government’s help too.

 

 

 

 

Success Is Never Final

Downtown Delray wasn’t quite this bad, but it wasn’t too vibrant in the 80s.

I was following an interesting “thread” on social media recently regarding the closing of a retail store on Atlantic Avenue and U.S. 1.

Those commenting were lamenting the closing and the high rents that they blame for pushing out “mom and pop” retailers.

There were a few folks who were concerned that Atlantic Avenue was endangered by what some call “high rent blight”—the phenomenon of vacancies in a hot area caused by landlords asking for very high rents.

There were calls for more promotion of the downtown, rent controls and action from government.

It was a really interesting read.

A short time ago, I read other postings calling for an end to events and for the abolishment of agencies and entities that promote the downtown. Why waste the money, the argument went. Downtown Delray is successful, the job is done.

Well…folks, here’s an adage to remember. Success is never final and therefore your downtown is never “done.”

I moved to Florida 31 years ago this month. And it was a vastly different place.

The 1980s were not kind to downtown Delray Beach. We were not alone. Those were the days when malls and suburban shopping centers ruled the roost. Big box stores such as Walmart were killing main streets across the land.

Downtowns were left for dead and Delray was no exception.

In the mid to late 80s, downtown Delray had a roughly 40 percent vacancy rate, there was very little pedestrian or vehicular traffic, hardly any place to eat and you could have gone bowling at 5 p.m. on Atlantic Avenue without fear of hitting anything. Our brand was “Dull Ray.”

But things change.

Committed citizens, visionary entrepreneurs, bold elected officials and creative city staff began working together to change the fortunes of our downtown. Similar stories, with varying degrees of success, happened across America.

Once downtown Delray began to gain traction, leaders in the community developed a mantra. It went something like this: the downtown will never be ‘done’—it is the heart of the community and you can’t have a healthy community without a healthy heart. Complacency is a killer, we are competing with other cities for investment, residents, businesses and consumer spending and we have to constantly re-invent.

That was the philosophy that I grew up with in this town and one that I adopted when I was given the privilege of serving on the City Commission. I served with an interesting collection of people: Pat Archer, Bob Costin, Fred Fetzer, Bill Schwartz, Jon Levinson, David Schmidt, Brenda Montague, Alberta McCarthy and Rita Ellis. We were very different people—different ages, different religions, different races, different political parties and we had very different life experiences. But we managed to find common ground, even if, especially if, we had heated debate. We’d always find our center or “true north”—which was what we felt was best for the long term good of the city.

We weren’t always right. We didn’t always see with 20/20 vision what was around the bend, but we understood fundamentally that current conditions didn’t necessarily indicate future performance.

So if a part of town was broken, we assumed it could be fixed. And if a part of town was working, we assumed it could break. We knew success would require a commitment. We knew success wasn’t final and that success itself would pose additional challenges (hello traffic and high rents).

Which is why when times are good you don’t declare victory, you keep working and you wake up a little bit scared because you know that complacency is a killer. And when times get tough, you look at your assets—your agencies, your entities, your institutions, your ‘bones’ (as planners like to refer to our grid) and you sharpen them. You ask them to reinvent—to do more, be more, create more, grow and lead.

But if you kill or neglect those institutions, agencies and entities those tools will be gone or damaged. If you declare victory and take your eyes off the prize—well you just might find that you’ve been left in the dust.

Just remember, other cities always have their eyes on your assets.

 

 

Complacency is a Killer

Wynwood Yards—wow!

Recently, Bisnow Media convened a panel devoted to the remarkable rise of Wynwood, a super cool neighborhood in Miami.

The panel consisted of developers, investors and others who have been instrumental in the revitalization of a tired neighborhood into a hip, tourist draw and arts center.

Their conclusion: zoning was the key to the neighborhood’s success.

According to Bisnow: “Fortis Design+Build Managing partner David Polinsky said when Wynwood started becoming a hot neighborhood with galleries and street art, he had looked at a tract behind Panther Coffee and bought it the next day — only to find there was nothing he could build on it.

 In 2013, he helped write a white paper that laid out three planning and zoning goals: relaxed parking requirements, zoning that would permit flexible uses such as residential and office and increased density for residential development.

 The Wynwood Business Improvement District, which represents more than 400 property owners, worked with the city of Miami and planning firm PlusUrbia and, in 2015, developed a Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, which called for 10-foot-wide sidewalks, the development of studio apartments under 650 SF and the establishment of a design review committee that would consider future projects. Eventually, the city passed eight ordinances that incorporated the changes.”

The changes created value that didn’t exist before. And the magic of those zoning changes is that the value didn’t cost the taxpayers a fortune. Unlike expensive incentives and tax abatements, increasing flexibility (especially for urban infill sites) is the best tool cities have to create value, attract investment and transform neighborhoods. Zoning beats costly incentives my friends.

But success has its challenges too.

While Wynwood has won international acclaim, rents have soared squeezing out the eclectic array of small businesses that made the neighborhood attractive to begin with. Rents are now said to be between $40 and $100 per square foot, that’s very pricey for independents. On nearby Lincoln Road which started losing independents in 1999 rents can be as high as $330 a square foot.

Locally, we have experienced a similar phenomenon.

When I moved to Delray in the late 80s, Atlantic Avenue rents were $6-8 a square foot. Adjusted for inflation that would be the equivalent of $13-$17 a square foot in 2018 numbers. But today rents are $50 to over $100 a square foot downtown. That’s a challenge. Fortunately, the Downtown Development Authority recognizes that there are issues and has engaged Robert Gibbs, a noted expert, to help navigate. The city would be wise to listen to Gibbs’ 43 page analysis which is available on the DDA website. I don’t agree with it all, but it’s fascinating reading.

Urban redevelopment is often the tale of revitalization and then hyper gentrification which ultimately squeezes the charm out of a place. While change is inevitable (even Charleston, S.C. has chain stores up and down its main drag) it doesn’t always have to mean doom and gloom. There are tools—rental assistance (which can be controversial), pop-up store opportunities to test ideas, retail incubators and small liner shops that can help promote authentic and independent uses.

But it isn’t easy. And you’re never done.

That was a mantra back when Atlantic Avenue was making the turn from “Dull Ray” to “America’s Most Fun Town.”

There’s always a chorus of people who will be saying it’s time move on and concentrate elsewhere once you find some success.

 But city building is never a zero sum binary game.

You can do many things at once—and you should: each part of your city deserves its own strategy and investment plan—but you’ll never be totally done. Success is never final and with it comes challenges; many unexpected.

Wynwood is at an inflection point. I would argue that downtown Delray Beach and east Boca is as well. Mind you, these are good problems to have. They certainly beat the alternative which is our “town is dead, what do we do?”

I drove Atlantic Avenue with my dogs on a recent Sunday evening. It was a hot steamy off season night and it was nice to see crowds of pedestrians and diners—people of all ages enjoying the avenue. I noticed some vacancy and I also noticed that our streets could be cleaner. But I also saw vibrancy, hard fought, hard to get and harder to keep vibrancy.

The dogs stuck their heads out the window to check it out and soak it in. It felt good and it’s something we should cherish and work together to keep.

The challenges are not unique, but the opportunities are very unique. Consider me grateful. There’s something cool about never being done. It allows all of us to be part of an ongoing story.

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering The Oldies, Celebrating The New

A classic…

Last week, I found an old menu on Facebook from Tom’s Place, an iconic culinary mecca in Boca Raton.

And I mean mecca, because people made pilgrimages to Tom’s Place to worship at the altar of bbq ribs.

The Boca Historical Society shared the post and it got a big reaction on their page.
Aside from the really low prices ($1.50 chicken sandwiches!) it struck a chord of nostalgia in those of us lucky to have experienced Tom’s amazing food.

I remember taking my dad to Tom’s many years ago. It was at Tom’s that we witnessed someone going up to the take out window  and ordering brisket which was met with a quizzical look. We talked about that experience for years.
But I digress.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. We tend to remember the good stuff and disregard the rest. So we remember Tom’s  but tend to forget that we weren’t exactly awash in restaurants back in the 80s. Of course, there were some great places—the Arcade Tap Room, Boston’s on the Beach, Scarlett O’Haras, Ken and Hazel’s, Damiano’s, Pineapple Grille, Splendid Blendeds, LaVielle Maison, Arturo’s, Caffe Luna Rosa and there is more.
But…
As good as the old giants were and are (here’s looking at you CLR), it seems like we are living in a golden age of restaurants.
Everywhere you look, even in nondescript locations, there exists some great restaurants.

Innovative menus, knowledgeable servers, gifted chefs, interesting interior designs, exciting craft cocktails and beers, world class wine lists, unique concepts. We are living in a special era. And the arms race seems to be just beginning.

Food halls, green markets, secret suppers, farm to table concepts, craft breweries, food tours, food trucks it’s extraordinary. Even convenience stores are turning into foodie havens, with artisanal sandwiches, kale salads and specialty breads.

We are also living in a great age of creativity.
To combat e-commerce and to stand out in the crowd, retailers, theater owners, hoteliers and even office developers are stepping up their games. (Boutique hotels, co-working, pop-up concepts etc).
For retail it’s all about the experience.
Movie theaters have added food, plush seating, film clubs and cocktails—a far cry from sticky floors, popcorn loaded with transfats and jujubes (remember those odd fruit chews?). While the changes are rapid and ongoing (please save the raisinet) the outcomes are pretty cool. Some local examples are iPic and the Living Room Theater at FAU. Both have raised the bar on the movie going experience and both seem to be doing well in the era of streaming and binge watching Netflix.
Sometimes the changes and the speed of change seems overwhelming. So yes, I miss the good old days.
But isn’t today and tomorrow exciting?

 

Things We Loved In April

True Food Kitchen at the Town Center Mall is a welcome addition.

Things We Loved In April…
The Bombay Café—there’s a reward for trying new cuisine. And I received one when I tagged along for dinner with friends and discovered Indian cuisine. I didn’t go spicy, but I did try a whole bunch of new things, and greatly enjoyed the new flavors. Bombay Café in Boca is terrific.

Grand Luxe blood orange soda. –Grand Luxe is a Town Center staple, but I had never tried their craft soda until recently. Highly recommended.

Springsteen on Broadway—see past blogs— but if you can– don’t miss this show. It would play well at the Crest Theatre, just saying.

Delray Affair, great weather, great times.

The double clucker at Caffe Luna Rosa. Simply the best chicken sandwich imaginable.

White chocolate samples at the Godiva store At Town Center.  Yes, Godiva chocolate makes ice cream and it’s really good.

The top sixty Beatles rock songs on Sirius XM. Hosted by Beatles fan extraordinaire Robin Zander of Cheap Trick the list was welcome background music as we cruised Delray and Boca. The number one song: Helter Skelter.

Honor Bar veggie sandwich. The Honor Bar is in Palm Beach, a nice ride up the coast.

Rediscovering “Feelin Satisfied” by 70s rockers Boston. Great great great song.

Reading Aaron Renn’s views on cities and regions. Always smart, always interesting. If you love cities subscribe to his “Urbanophile” blog.

Eating at the bar at the Gazebo. Great service, wonderful food and a great place for conversation.

Seeing my stepson’s best friend land a dream job with the Boca Police Department.

True Food Kitchen, a welcome addition to the Town Center Mall.  Healthy offerings—don’t miss the charred cauliflower and the Havana Lager.

Seeing the Animal Rescue Force at Pet Supplies Plus on Linton Boulevard. We got Randy, our feisty chihuahua, 13 years ago from ARF at the Delray Affair. They really do rescue us.
It was fun to introduce Randy to his “alma mater” and the volunteers were happy to see a “graduate”.
We hope you consider a rescue.

Wishing you a safe and great May.

Public Leadership (Doesn’t Have To Be An Oxymoron)

Former Mayor Nancy Graham.

I’m a big fan of ULI, the Urban Land Institute, a global organization that promotes sustainable land use and good design.
So when I was asked to appear on a panel on public leadership with two mayors I admire—West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and former West Palm Mayor Nancy Graham– I jumped at the opportunity.
My son lives in downtown West Palm Beach and so I visit more often than usual these days. I think the city has  some great things going on including start up incubators, some interesting restaurants and the new and exciting Grandview Public Market which has invigorated the Warehouse District.
Mayor Muoio, Mayor Graham and the citizens of West Palm have a lot to be proud of.

Mayor Graham was a transformational leader who put together the groundbreaking deal for City Place and brought walkability expert Jeff Speck to the city years ago to promote vibrant mixed use and pedestrian friendly development.
We’ve  been friends for years and it was good to see her back in West Palm after years in California. She lives in North Florida these days and remains a very vocal advocate for city’s and her beliefs.
We spoke to a group of young leaders who work in land use, planning, architecture, transportation, development, housing and other important disciplines.

Takeaways included the need to have political courage, the need to engage the public around development issues, the importance of having a vision and sticking with it in the face of opposition and the critical need for mayors to always be learning, evolving and leading.

After all, a bright future is not guaranteed. It  needs to be earned and it requires work, vigilance and determination.
Mayors are uniquely positioned to drive positive change. Local government is perhaps the last bastion of progress and possibilities.
Washington D.C. and state capitals tend to be partisan and therefore prone to gridlock and obstruction.
Cities and counties have unique opportunities to effectuate change and think long term.

But only if they choose to do so. I’ve seen many cities seize opportunities and make miraculous progress.
Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and an array of rust belt cities have managed to come back to life through reinvention, strategic investment and political will.
I enjoy reading stories about Detroit and other cities that are finding ways to reverse decades of decay.  It’s inspiring and gives you faith that problems can be solved.

Locally, Delray Beach, Lake Worth, Pompano Beach, West Palm and Fort Lauderdale are interesting examples of cities that have employed vision, investment and public engagement to forge promising futures.
Each city was wise to choose its own strategy and “style”.

Delray’s scale and emphasis on the arts, culture, sports and diversity proved to be a winning formula that has paved the way to attract creative industries.  If we stay the course, market our amenities and add to the vision we can have more progress and solve our ongoing challenges.

Pompano Beach is pursuing an innovation district as an anchor offering. The city has made impressive strides in recent years.

West Palm seems to be embracing its role as the county seat and has aspirations to be an important city and not just a ‘hallway’ to the airport, Palm Beach and county government as the mayor noted.
BRAVÒ!
I love cities that aspire. I respect cities that have ambitions, plan for the future and honor the past.
Forward thinking. Political will. Vision. Engagement. Strategic investment. That’s the formula.
I’m glad to see ULI embracing the next generation of leadership. It was a joy to be in the room with energetic leaders who want to build anew and take our cities to the next level.
We have a bright future as a result of these efforts.

Mayor Muio.

Things We Love: December Edition

Things we loved in December

December was a blur for many of us. But we didn’t want to let the month pass without pointing out some gems.

We enjoyed a great dinner with close friends at Fries to Caviar in Boca. The intimate spot which features a nice bar, great outdoor space and a varied menu has a sister restaurant in Delray, the excellent Jimmy’s Bistro. We highly recommend both places.

Speaking of great meals, we had a terrific “wine” dinner at Caffe Luna Rosa in December with special guest Max Weinberg of the legendary E Street Band. For me, that’s like having dinner with a Beatle.
I mention this because Max is playing a benefit show at the Arts Garage February 17.
Max Weinberg’s Jukebox has been playing several venues to big crowds and rave reviews. If you love great music from the 60s, 70s and 80s, don’t miss this show. And it benefits a great cause —our Arts Garage.

If you haven’t been to Beer Trade Company you really should give it a try.
This cool little spot on 4th Avenue is a nice locals spot with a vast array of craft beers and cider and the world’s best risotto balls.
There’s a companion location in Boca as well.

December is typically a philanthropic month with successful toy drives, food drives, and last minute charitable donations.
Those who organize and contribute to these efforts deserve our thanks.
Still, let’s try and remember that the immense needs of our community don’t disappear in January. If you are in a position to help, you are needed. It feels good to pay our civic rent.

Finally, we truly enjoyed December and it was gratifying to see Delray and Boca abuzz with people.
We shouldn’t take it for granted. Yes, finding a parking space is a little challenging, but you know what the alternative is; empty streets, vacant stores and not much to do.
We are truly blessed.

We didn’t have a chance to do a year end list but this was the year I put down the phone long enough to start reading books (actual physical books again) and it was great.
I’ve been a lifelong voracious reader: books, magazines, newspapers and later blogs.
But somewhere along the way, books fell by the wayside. This despite having written my own book. I was embarrassed. And I made a conscious effort to get back to reading books.
The effort was worth it. First, I figured out that I had the attention span to finish a book, something that I had begun to doubt.

I really believe that the barrage of media and content coming at us has compromised our ability to focus—at least it has impacted my attention span. But I’m happy to report that with a concentrated effort it’s possible to overcome.
So here’s a list of my 10 favorite books of 2017. In no particular order.
1. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris. Ferris is a best selling author, successful blogger and popular podcaster. Tools is a huge compilation of his podcast interviews and he has talked to a who’s who from every conceivable walk of life. The book is a collection of valuable advice from world class performers.
2. Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris. Tribe is a great companion piece to Tools of Titans featuring more interviews with amazing people who answer questions about their favorite books (Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is a favorite of many), failures and best practices. The big reveal: it seems like nearly everyone who performs at a peak level is meditating.
3. What I found in a Thousand Towns by Dar Williams. We blogged about this book a few months ago. Williams is a folk singer who has travelled the country and has managed to get out of her hotel room to study the cities she plays in. Her insights are spot on and her writing is sublime. She knows what makes towns work. A great primer for those who love cities.
4. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. The Boss’ autobiography is a delight. Beautifully written, bravely revealing and always entertaining this fan came away with even more love and respect for this musical legend.
5. The New Brooklyn by Kay Hymowitz. I’m not from Brooklyn nor have I been lucky enough to live there. But my grandparents, aunt and cousin lived there and I spent a lot of time in the borough in the 70s and 80s. So I have been curious about Brooklyn’s history and how it became synonymous with cool. This book answered those questions. A great read.
6. Within Walking Distance by Philip Langdon. This charming book focuses on several neighborhoods in places as varied as Philadelphia and small town Vermont. It focuses on walkability and community building and the towns that get it right. It made me want to visit Brattleboro, Vt. But not in the wintertime.
7. The Content Trap by Bharat Anand. May be the most insightful business book I’ve read in recent memory. A blurb can’t do it justice but let’s just say the book provides answers for businesses that care about not being disrupted into oblivion.
8. Hooked by Nir Eyal. A sobering look at how technology hooks us.
9. Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday. A terrific book that examines what it takes to create work and art that lasts.
10. The Amazing City by James Hunt. I bought this book after seeing Mr. Hunt speak at a League of Cities luncheon. A former president of the National League of Cities and former City Councilman in a small West Virginia town, Hunt’s book explores the elements that cities need to succeed. It’s a good list. We will share in a future blog.
Tied  for #10. Principles by Ray Dalio. This book (more like a tome) outlines the principles that Dalio used to build Bridgewater Associates into the world’s largest hedge fund. He believes in radical transparency and it worked for Bridgewater—spectacularly. An interesting book that also addresses life.

Catching Up On Ideas

Five years ago, we published a blog post outlining 25 ideas for Delray.

We stumbled upon the post this week and thought we’d take a look to see whether any of these ideas came to life.

25 Ideas …

1.Brand Delray Beach as a mecca for entrepreneurs—Progress: Delray has attracted a fair amount of interesting entrepreneurs including The Downtowner, Delivery Dudes, House of Perna and Rooster among others. There also several social entrepreneurial efforts including WiseTribe, Space of Mind, One Million Cups, Creative Mornings Palm Beach (not Delray based per se, but active in the city).

2.To accomplish the above, create a business incubator downtown and invite entrepreneurs to grow in Delray. Progress:  Not yet. There are a few co-working efforts—the Kitchn etc., but a true incubator has yet to be established. Perhaps, overlooking the Old School Square Park? Great opportunity.

3.Create a business accelerator in Delray so that once companies are incubated they have someplace to go for the extra needed help. Progress: Not yet.

4.Help existing businesses grow by offering classes and low or no-cost business advice at our own Old School Square. Progress: Not yet.

5.Speaking of Old School Square, offer executive education, certificate and graduate programs in the classrooms. Revenue for Old School Square and another tool for economic development. Progress: Not on the drawing board.

6.Program the Old School Square Park—add shade, music and a few tasteful vendors. Progress: Work has been done to forge a vision for the park, but not yet accomplished. Bond issue establishing the park was passed almost 13 years ago. Lots of discussion around what to fund.

7.At holiday time, create a holiday village at the Old School Square park and allow kiosks and “pop-up” stores to capture crowds heading to the 100 foot tree. Give local retailers a free or reduced stall and charge others for the month—use funds to offset holiday costs. Progress: A new tree, no pop-ups.

8.Creatively partner with the Elev 8 Sports Institute and bring “fantasy camps” to Delray. With the school’s extensive MLB contacts, tourists would come to Delray to play with their childhood heroes and enjoy the downtown after the game is over. Progress: Didn’t happen.

9.Install LED lighting in parking lots and parking garages. It’s green and it saves money. Progress: Several entrepreneurs interested in making it happen.

10.Create a leadership academy to train the next generation of local leaders. Teach the Delray success story. Progress: In 2016, Chamber ran a civics academy. It was well attended. But a follow-up has not yet occurred.

11.Create a local Business Development Corporation enabling local residents to buy “shares” in local businesses and invest in growing our own economy. Progress: Not on the radar.

12.Reinvigorate the Southwest Plan by borrowing a page from Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Empowerment Zone playbook. Seek foundation monies to move beyond infrastructure to developing Delray’s vast human capital. Progress: WARC working on a transformation plan, efforts to rebrand the area as The Set underway.

13.Arm the economic development director with a reasonable budget to market Delray. We have to get in the game and that takes marketing and… Progress: Nope.

14.Public Relations. Delray needs a publicity strategy outside the local papers to attract investment and build awareness of our assets and opportunities. After all, we are the jewel of Palm Beach County. Progress: Downtown Marketing Cooperative, Chamber and Downtown Development Authority do a great job.

15.Tie the new Arts Warehouse to a broader strategy to create an artists and artisans “village within a village” in the Third Avenue area. Progress: Five years later, we just attended the grand opening of the long-awaited warehouse. Better late than never, and it’s fabulous.

16.Help Delray’s Prep and Sports develop a national reputation for elite football training and make the 7 on 7 event one of the premier tournaments in the USA. Progress: Prep and Sports’ founder T.J. Jackson was hired to coach Atlantic High. He took them to the state finals this year.

17.Convene an economic development charrette to discuss our fiscal future and job creation—let the community decide the priorities and tie our spending to those priorities. Progress: Economic development will be a part of the comp plan. Yay!

18.Team up with our neighbors Boca Raton and Boynton wherever possible:  economic development, marketing to save money and leverage our strengths. Progress: An alliance has been discussed around government affairs on regional issues with area chambers.

19.Get serious about jumpstarting investment on Congress Avenue. The vision and zoning is in place, what’s needed is execution and beautification. Progress: Years after handing in a report, the Task Force plan has been largely shelved by the commission. Vice Mayor Chard has kept the flame burning with meetings among property owners and investors. Kaufman Lynn located to Congress, transforming a derelict property into a great new headquarters. Investor interest remains high on the corridor. The city could help by implementing the plan and amending the LDR’s as promised.

20.Add a Middle School of the Arts at Carver Middle School and tie it into all of our arts activities from Old School Square to the Creative City Collaborative to the new Plumosa School of the Arts. Progress: Hasn’t happened.

21.Bring a branch of a university downtown and one to Congress Avenue. Progress: Lynn University has partnered with the Delray chamber. Stay tuned.

22.Revisit the North Federal Highway Plan and come up with a new vision for the 21st Century. Progress: Hasn’t happened.

23.Host a competition and have our local techies develop some interesting local apps. Progress: Hasn’t happened. The city of Tallahassee and the Florida League of Cities has had success with this approach.

24.Develop a formal, aggressive and powerful Shop Local Campaign. Progress: Small Business Saturday has become a big deal in recent years.

25.Add entrepreneurship academies to Atlantic High and Village Academy. Progress: Hasn’t happened yet.

A Place For Humanity Amidst Change

A vintage Sears catalog.

When I read the news, I look for patterns.

What’s bubbling just under the surface? What trends are starting to emerge? Are there clues out there to tell us where we are going next?
It’s fun to discern what might be happening and it’s also helpful in business to try and see where the world is heading.
What I’m seeing lately are a bunch of stories that indicate angst about technology and a push back against the dominance of our digital society. It seems that we are beginning to really worry about the addictive power of our smart phones, the amount of data tech companies like Facebook and Google have on us, the corrosive impact that social media can have on society and the ubiquitous reach of Amazon.
So this could get interesting.
One of the best trend spotters out there is marketing expert Seth Godin. Here’s what he wrote on Black Friday:
“The buying race is over. Amazon won. The shopping race, though, the struggle to create experiences that are worth paying for, that’s just beginning.”
Godin was lamenting the herd mentality whipped up by media to shop on the day after Thanksgiving.
But while he acknowledged Amazon’s dominance, he also sees opportunity for physical retailers in the “real world” to compete by offering experiences, service, design, fun and community.
We better hope so, because there are a lot of jobs, sales tax for local governments and consequences for Main streets and shopping centers if retailers don’t figure out a way to compete more effectively.
Another go to source for trends is “Redef”, an email newsletter that aggregates great stories from a wide variety of sources.
One recent piece came from the LA Times which talked about the comeback of catalogs. In an era of seemingly endless growth for online shopping, the humble mail order catalog is getting new life as merchants strive to battle email fatigue. 
While nobody is predicting the return of the Sears catalog (or the iconic retail chain) there seems to be growing anxiety over a purely cyber world. 
Don’t get me wrong. Facebook is great in moderation. Amazon is convenient and Netflix is wonderful.  
But it would be sad if we lost face the face interaction we get at a great retail store and the experience of seeing a movie with a group of people. 
While these and other industries are under assault by the threat of mobile and internet technology, there is some evidence that the “analog” world won’t go without a fight. 
The New York Times has experienced a surge in print subscriptions, vinyl records and cassettes are staging a comeback,  physical books and independent bookstores are enjoying a mini renaissance and there are retail districts around the country that are doing very well. 
While AirBnB is thriving, smart Hotel brands like Aloft, Hyatt Place, Canopy, and Ace are also proving to be enduring competitors. Boutique hotels such as Cranes Beach House, historic properties such as the Colony Hotel and larger but stylish options like the Seagate remain desirable for travelers of all ages. 
As for theaters, there seems to be room for Netflix and iPic, Hulu and Alamo Drafthouse. 
While Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has reported on the phenomenon of people “Bowling Alone” which chronicled the struggles of civic groups and bowling leagues—there are a raft of new groups emerging:  One Million Cups, Creative Mornings, WiseTribe, Community Greening, Human Powered Delray and Better Delray carving out community. 
Locally, Rotary, Elks and Kiwanis remain vibrant and vital.
 
As for me, I don’t see technology retreating. I think we will see autonomous cars within the next 10 years, streaming services will grow and groceries will be delivered to our homes. But I do think that smart retailers who create experiences and relationships will thrive. Great restaurants will continue to draw crowds and while golf courses will continue to close— options like Top Golf (food, fun, night golfing) will fill the gap. 
I think the key will be placemaking. 
The cities that create vibrant, safe, walkable places will draw crowds and investment. Fred Kent, a part time Delray resident and founder of the Project for Public Spaces (www.pps.org), has reported on the “power of 10” –the need for communities to create at least 10 activities in order for places to thrive.  PPS is right. 
We will look up from our phones–if there’s something compelling and active to draw us in.
 We will want to gather for concerts at Old School Square and Mizner Park. We may want to take a class or two online but there will also be a desire to interact in person with other students and a desire to go to happy hour even though you can order beer, wine and spirits online. 
I think a backlash is brewing. We will bend technology just enough to allow us to remain human. 
At least that’s my hope. 

Rankings, Ratings & Quality of Life

Leawood, Kansas seems like a great place but…

The personal-finance website WalletHub has released its report on 2017’s Best Small Cities in America.

It’s interesting and provocative.

Boca Raton scored high on most measurements, but the analysis revealed some areas of concern. And Delray Beach—despite being the great city we know it to be—has some work to do if you believe the indicators.

First the highlights:

WalletHub’s analysts compared more than 1,200 U.S. cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000 across 33 key indicators of livability. They range from housing costs to school-system quality to restaurants per capita.

 

Top 20 Small Cities in America    

  1. Princeton, NJ   11. Newton, MA
  2. Lexington, MA   12. Melrose, MA
  3. Leawood, KS   13. Brookfield, WI
  4. Milton, MA   14. Sammamish, WA
  5. Brentwood, TN   15. Kirkland, WA

6 .Los Altos, CA   16. Saratoga, CA

  1. Carmel, IN   17. Dublin, OH
  2. Needham, MA   18. Palo Alto, CA
  3. Holly Springs, NC   19. Westfield, NJ
  4. Littleton, CO   20. Fishers, IN

 

Best vs. Worst

  • The Villages, Florida, has the highest homeownership rate, 96.25 percent, which is 108.1 times higher than in Fort Hood, Texas, the city with the lowest at 0.89 percent.

 

  • Plainfield, Illinois, has the lowest share of the population living below poverty level, 1.90 percent, which is 27.5 times lower than in Statesboro, Georgia, the city with the highest at 52.3 percent.

 

  • Fort Hood, Texas, has the shortest average commute time, 11.2 minutes, which is 3.9 times shorter than in Lake Elsinore, California, the city with the longest at 43.6 minutes.

 

  • East Lansing, Michigan, has the fewest average hours worked per week, 28.2, which is 1.7 times fewer than in Fort Hood, Texas, the city with the most at 49.1.

I would suspect that many of us who live in Delray and Boca wouldn’t trade living here for anywhere else—especially now that the good weather has kicked in. I don’t think there are too many people who would look at the rankings and sell their home in Lake Ida or Woodfield Country Club for a home in number 3 ranked Leawood, Kansas either. (No offense to Leawood, we’re sure it’s wonderful).

So where do we rank?

Delray ranked in the 60th percentile—the top cities were in the 99th percentile. Boca ranked in the 98th percentile.

Delray’s overall score of 57.62, trailed Boca which scored a 66.01. Number one ranked Princeton scored a 73.36.

Delray ranked 870th on affordability—not a surprise considering the run-up in home prices and the lack of new product on the market. Boca ranked 733rd on affordability.

Delray’s economic health ranked 436th with Boca coming in at 224—hard to imagine that there are that many cities healthier than Boca which seems to rake in companies and jobs by the truckloads. On the education and health measurement Delray ranked 728 and Boca 520.

Delray scored an impressive number 51 on the all-important quality of life ranking with Boca an even more impressive number 14. Interestingly, my guess is that residents of each city wouldn’t trade places—both cities are appealing for different reasons. Sarasota ranked number one in quality of life—and if you’ve visited lately you’ll see why.

On safety, Delray scored number 924 and Boca 543.

Lots to chew on certainly.

Rankings, awards, contests etc., are fun to debate, but in the end they are just numbers and things. It’s hard to measure a community’s spirit, aspirations, closeness, friendliness or ambience.

Still, they can be used to benchmark so that cities can strive to do better. Some cities—like Santa Monica—try to measure happiness. Delray used to survey residents on a range of issues and topics and policymakers at the time found the findings interesting and helpful. Cities can be noisy places—especially with the advent of social media—and sometimes (often) the squeaky wheels don’t represent the majority opinion on a given issue.

As for the Wallet Hub findings—I think we should take another survey in January and see if Boca /Delray would score somewhat higher than Princeton, N.J. as the place to be.