Delray’s Next Great Street

Delray's Saltwater Brewery is the type of anchor that creates a sense of place.

Delray’s Saltwater Brewery is the type of anchor that creates a sense of place.

Tomorrow night, the Delray Beach City Commission will hear a presentation from a 30 plus member Task Force that spent the last year studying ways to rejuvenate the 4.1 mile Congress Avenue corridor.

I was privileged to serve as the Task Force chairman. It was a gratifying experience to see a large group come together and forge a vision.

The issue is personal to me and many others. It’s a continuation of an effort to get something going on Congress Avenue that dates back a decade to when a commission I served on rezoned and re-imagined the corridor in the wake of an announcement by Office Depot that they were abandoning their Delray Beach headquarters for new digs in Boca Raton.

As I told Lois Solomon of the Sun Sentinel last week http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/palm-beach/delray-beach/fl-delray-congress-avenue-20160303-story.html that’s a call a mayor never wants to get.

But we decided back then to make lemonade out of lemons and worked with the Florida Public Officials Design Institute at FAU to craft a plan for a large portion of the corridor. We moved forward and created a zoning district called MROC, which allowed for a mix of uses, greater densities, the maintaining of light industry and the addition of food, beverage, retail, office and a trolley system to connect workers on the Congress corridor to our downtown.

We were termed out, the Great recession hit and before you knew it a decade passed. This effort is aimed to kick start, update, refine and improve on the vision and subsequent efforts. And thanks to a talented, hardworking and devoted task force with a vast array of skill and experience we think we have something special.

The big ideas are “complete streets”, placemaking, millennial housing, entrepreneurial hubs, connectivity to the downtown, transit oriented development (to take advantage of a nearby Tri Rail station), open space, public art, expedited permitting and brand building to re-position Congress as “Delray’s next great street.”

Delray has a rich history of making key strategic investments in streetscapes that then transform neighborhoods and create value while attracting significant private investment that ends up far outweighing the public’s initial stake. We believe, once the city commits and sends a message that they are serious about attracting investment that the private sector will respond.

Local examples include:

East Atlantic Avenue—a beautification project in the 90s funded by the Decade of Excellence bond spurred the initial revitalization of the central business district. This investment, followed by the 2001 Downtown Master Plan, created one of the finest downtowns in Florida, if not America.

West Atlantic Avenue-The Downtown Master Plan and the CRA’s colossal and ongoing investment and long term focus on the gateway is beginning to bear fruit with projects such as Atlantic Grove, Uptown, the new Fairfield Inn and small business growth on NW/SW 5th Avenue.

US 1—Another result of the Downtown Master Plan which only recently was completed. The beautification and narrowing of US 1 has converted a tired, high speed, unsafe highway into a neighborhood that is aesthetically pleasing with high property values and intriguing business and residential opportunities.

Pineapple Grove—An early 2000s beautification project that was jointly funded by the city, CRA and property owners, Second Avenue has become a beautiful street alive with restaurants, a growing services industry, an emerging fashion industry, food, art and residential uses. The highlight of the street prior was an old tire store and a self-serve car wash.

We believe a similar effort/investment along Congress will yield results in terms of vibrancy, private sector investment, quality of life, tax base, jobs and a sense of place.

In order for cities to be truly successful and to generate the tax base and economic activity needed to

be sustainable, they need multiple districts to perform well.

Delray Beach has been highly successful transforming its downtown into a nationally renowned

destination. The city has also done tremendous work in several neighborhoods and commercial

districts.

But in many ways, Congress Avenue remains the key piece to long term success.

Congress Avenue’s potential for job creation, increased tax base, business incubation, workforce and affordable housing, transit-oriented development and place making should make the 4.1 mile corridor a top priority for public and private sector investment and attention.

The Task Force believes the corridor is a natural complement to the city’s celebrated downtown and in many ways we see a synergistic relationship between our urban core and what we hope will be a dynamic and successful corridor.

Delray Beach has proven time and again, that place making investments yield tangible and intangible returns.

Here’s hoping Congress Avenue becomes the next success story. Our next great street.

Comments

  1. Christine Romines says:

    Too congested. Can’t find parking. Then you’re going to put a movie theatre in the middle of it? Somewhere in that section north of Atlantic off Federal would have been a better location for the theatre or, since there are plans to develop the Congress corridor, put it there.
    I’m glad to see you didn’t call it the Village by the Sea in this article. I grew up in England so I know what a village is and this isn’t it. I still love Delray but it’s a fine line between attracting people and driving them out. I have friends who live in east Delray as I do but won’t go downtown to eat bease of the pArlington issue. I realize the City is driven by the commerce and doesn’t care who brings in the money but it’s the residents who vote them in or out of office.

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Dear Ms. Romines
      While I appreciate your comments, I don’t agree.
      Do we have traffic? Yes.
      The city worked 20 plus years to get traffic, it sure beats empty streets and vacant stores.
      Does the traffic move? Yes. If you use the bypass system, exercise some patience and realize that for four months a year we have lots of tourists and seasonal residents and that’s when our independents make a living, I think it’s a small price to pay and bearable.
      Parking? Abundant for most of the year, a little challenging during the season in prime time and you may have to walk a block or two, but again a small price to pay in my opinion and that of many others who seem to “brave” the situation every day.
      As for iPic, I can’t wait for it. It will add corporate jobs, much needed and long awaited office space and an entertainment option that will give people a reason to come downtown year round, including the hot, muggy, wet summer months.
      You can’t just “stick it out there”…sorry but life doesn’t work like that. Businesses will go where they feel they have the best chance of success and we invited iPic and others to apply for that particular spot. Hopefully, someday soon Congress will be attractive enough to attract a mix of businesses and investment too. That’s the goal.
      As for voting people in and out office based whether they support commerce, I will remind you and others that downtown Delray developed as a result of a citizen driven vision and I think it’s a wondrous place. So please vote against those who you disagree with, but also understand that many many people support what has occurred and worked hard to get it. I’ve been here for 30 years, there was nothing charming about blight, crime and vacancy. I much prefer the Delray of today. I don’t think I’m alone.
      A village can be vibrant and certainly four story buildings are not big city like, or even like Boca, Boynton, West Palm etc. A village is how we treat each other.
      Thanks for writing and sorry we disagree.
      Best, Jeff.

  2. Patrick Ross says:

    While I share some of Ms. Romine’s concerns, especially about downtown parking (where for the garages, I believe Delray residents should receive free parking permits), and also agree about the location of the Ipic, I do feel your response was generally well stated with very reasonable explanations for the present and future of Delray.

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Dear Mr. Ross.
      Hopefully sometime very soon, Congress will be appealing to a range of businesses.
      The arts and culture are key elements and it wouldn’t surprise me to see artists and creative flocking to the corridor.
      Best, Jeff. Thanks for writing!

  3. The neighborhood roads are TERRIBLE (NE 2nd Ave, Swinton & everything in between); we need better neighborhood lighting; we need speedbumps. Sure, let’s devote time and money to retail, Alcohol, and parking lots to attract more overpopulated tourism. Tourists who could care road manners (blocking intersections, running red lights, speaking though neighborhood streets) or crosswalk laws. Getting a little greedy folks. Your local residents tax payers should be heard first before building on a road that houses strip malls and marble/tile businesses.

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Hi Heather:
      I agree regarding Seacrest (which I think is scheduled for a redo) and better lighting is needed everywhere.
      But city business is not a zero sum game, you can do both….improve all areas and use the money generated by visitors to fund improvements for residents.

  4. Pat Scanlon Sciarillo says:

    While I agree with our downtown area, I too think the area where the new IPIC theater will go is not a good choice…I live west of Congress so it would be nice to build up that area, but not go overboard…we have a huge primarily empty mall on military and Atlantic where social security and the drivers license used to be..empty buildings now for years. We were told years ago a new publix was coming, now finally I hear it will be coming. But we could sure use some other venues, nice restaurants instead of fast food..all we seem to get here on military are banks and drugstores…keeping my fingers crossed area will be changing..traffic will always be a problem, especially in season, but I think you did a great job as Mayor and love Delray.

  5. Patricia Sciarillo says:

    I just saw that another little mall the esplanade downtown was sold…I fear we are losing our “little city by the sea”.deal by deal…while you cannot stop progress. I don’t want to see our city lose its small town appeal…and greedy landlords….time will tell…just hope we can hang on to our charm…

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