Innovation & Aspiration in Pompano

Pompano’s brand new cultural center makes a statement: We are serious.

Last week, we attended a meeting of the Urban Land Institute at Pompano Beach’s gleaming new cultural center.

For me, it was a case of déjà vu—because what I’m seeing in Pompano is the mindset I saw in Delray Beach in the late 80s and early 90s—a time of dreaming, aspiration, visioning and planning.

If you’re a city wonk like me, there’s nothing more inspiring than a city that sends out the message of “come on down, we are open for business and striving for greatness.”

And consequently no more depressing experience than to see a city that says “go home and get lost, we are done.”

Of course, no city comes out and says it quite that way. They all talk about jobs, investment, smart growth, sustainability and every other buzzword you can trot out, but the cities that are sincere actually seek it out and if investment comes to them they work hard to land the deal.

The most compelling incentives are never financial—they are always emotional. Investors bringing jobs and projects don’t expect you to compromise the rules or aesthetics—but they do expect you to have some flexibility and predictability and a sense of urgency to get things done.

One of the speakers at the ULI Pompano event warned those in the audience to avoid two labels:

  1. Don’t be the city where someone has to spend $500,000 beating their heads against the wall before leaving for friendlier towns. Capital goes where it is welcome.
  2. Don’t be the city that is perpetually the next “it” town, but never quite gets there.  I think that’s good advice.

Let’s explore warning number one—the city that develops a reputation for being impossible to work with will begin to attract bottom feeder developers—not the best in class that cities should be looking to lure.

The best developers and business owners aren’t averse to high standards or tough criteria; many of the best welcome a high bar. But they are wary of unpredictability, dysfunction and frankly stupidity. They don’t like corruption either.

They also don’t like an environment in which the rules are fungible—so that even if you follow them you aren’t assured of a fair hearing.

As for the second warning…we all know the label and can name a few cities that fit the moniker. After a while you become like the talented draft pick who never quite reaches his potential. We all know the term that’s used for those types: bust.

What’s also bad is to be known as the city that climbs all the way up the mountain and then before reaching the summit, gives it all away. They call that being “meshuga”: Google it.

Anyway, Pompano is pushing an innovation district just east of I-95 and spanning over 170 acres. They envision jobs, manufacturing, start-ups, restaurants, apartments and open space.

They built a magnificent cultural arts center, redid their beach front, landed the 26 Degree brewery on Atlantic Boulevard, and approved the mixed use Pompano Fishing Village, the sharply designed Koi Residences and a few more signature projects in their eastern core. Even the long troubled Hammondville Road corridor is seeing investment.

Several Delray Beach investor/development companies including Grover Corlew (invaluable contributors to the Congress Avenue Task Force) and New Urban Communities (Atlantic Grove among other projects) are investing in Pompano. Both see parallels between where Delray Beach was and where Pompano is today—solid leadership, a great CRA, talented staff and an aspirational “get it done” mindset.

ULI and Pompano brought Mitchell Weiss from Harvard Business School to the event. Weiss was chief of staff to the late Boston Mayor Tom Menino when that mayor envisioned an innovation district along Boston Harbor that became a national model for job creation and placemaking.

Weiss said cities should stick to their vision—insist on doing something special, invest in education, partner with universities, market their city and take extra care to make sure things happen so that traction and momentum can take root.

Words to live by or ignore.

Live by it and see things happen. Ignore it, and watch other cities eat your breakfast, lunch, dinner and sadly your future.

 

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