9/11 We Will Never Forget

9/11 will always be a somber day for our country.

It’s hard to imagine that 18 years have passed since that fateful day when terrorists killed  nearly 3,000 Americans with strikes on the Twin Towers, The Pentagon and United Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA.
I think all Americans who were alive that day have personal memories of 9/11.

As a native New Yorker it stung badly to see the Twin Towers fall. We had gone there on a school field trip, visited the Windows on the World restaurant and I had known some people who worked in the iconic buildings.

I would later learn that a childhood friend, Mike Boyle, an off duty New York City firefighter would perish in the towers. He sped to the scene when he saw what was happening. I would later find his name at the memorial and I think of him often as I am sure others do. He was a special guy.

We lost lots of special people that horrible day.

I watched the Towers get hit while in the newsroom at the old Boca News. I had sold my publication to the News two years before and they kept me on board.
September 11 fell on a Tuesday. I was on the City Commission for a little over a year at the time. At first, we did not grasp the enormity of the day and I remember we held a meeting or a workshop—as if life could go on as normal. We had no conception of how much life would change.

As the days and weeks unfolded so much had changed.
We discovered that many of the terrorist plotters had lived in our community. At the Hamlet and Laver’s…working out at World Gym, going to Huber Drugs, conducting research at the old city library.
I had friends who had encounters with what they now realized were strange men, murderers. We had police officers who stopped them for traffic violations and one who responded to calls of a dog bite where they saw the men who were plotting. Nobody knew  that  they brushed up against pure evil. These were the days before national databases so there was no way to cross check or to know.

When it was revealed that the plotters lived In Delray the media swarmed. Our mayor Dave Schmidt appeared on national morning shows. The rest of us were contacted by national media as well.
The theory was that South Florida and Delray were chosen because the terrorists felt they could blend in here with our diversity.

At the office, we watched with fear when one of our neighboring buildings which housed AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer was sealed off when anthrax was sent through the mail killing a photographer.
Suddenly, our mail room became a source of concern. It was surreal.

It was as if the world was tilted off its axis.

When catastrophe strikes, you strive for normalcy but it’s elusive.

Back in those days, our Fire Chief Kerry Koen had started a wonderful tradition at Halloween.
Commissioners were assigned to fire trucks and we drove through neighborhoods giving treats to children who swarmed the big red trucks with excitement and joy. It was tremendous fun and a wildly popular activity.
On the Halloween after 9/11, we were on trucks that began to respond to calls from parents who feared that their children had brought anthrax back in their candy carriers.
The powder that they suspected turned out to be sugar. And in one case, a frightened man thought he was a victim when he found what turned out to be sand in his apartment.
Things had changed.

We sent firefighters to Ground Zero and I wonder and worry about their health as a result. Experts estimate that more people will end up dying from exposure to toxins after the attack than died that day.
I met someone recently vacationing in Delray who was battling cancer caused by the exposure. That’s why it was so important for Congress to fully fund health benefits for victims.

If you visit our fire headquarters on West Atlantic Avenue you will see a piece of artwork dedicated to the memory of the 343 firefighters who perished that day.
It’s worth a visit.

When I remember those days, I recall how we gathered to meet and pray at Old School Square and the Community Center and how on subsequent anniversaries we lit candles and remembered those lost that day on the front lawn of Old School Square.

I think of how we as a community and we as a nation were united by tragedy. How we grew closer, at least for awhile.
And I wonder if we will ever feel that way again and why it takes a tragedy of indescribable horror to bring us together.
And I remember my childhood friend Mike Boyle who was the fastest kid in our class and how he raced up the stairs into the fire when everyone else was fleeing.

 

The Joys & Benefits Of Optimism

We all know the type….the glass is always half empty.

The rain clouds are always coming.

Failure is around every corner.

Pessimism is a trait that is especially acute during stressful times, such when we watched incessant news coverage of Hurricane Dorian as it threated South Florida before turning north.

I know folks who predicted Armageddon and they are not crazy—we dodged a bullet and the footage that we see from The Bahamas could have easily been us. I get it and I’m grateful.

But these folks were sure—rock solid sure—- of the hurricane track even when the experts weren’t and so to my mind they lean toward the pessimistic side. They are lovable. They are well-meaning and they are caring. But if you lived with them you would need intravenous Xanax.

The sky is always falling, your ideas are always full of holes and they are always there to poke a hole in your enthusiasm.

If you are an entrepreneur, these folks—within reason—are needed and necessary. They keep you sharp, they force you to answer questions and think through solutions to the weaknesses in your ideas.

But you can’t be a pessimist and succeed.

There’s no progress without risk.

In fact, I would argue that the key to success can be found in the following sentence: “do what everyone else is not doing and be right.”

If you scratch under the surface of every business you will often stumble across the notion that nobody thinks (fill in the blank) will work.

Do you really think someone is going to rent a room from a stranger? (AIRBNB)

Do you think someone is going to hail a ride from a stranger and abandon taxis? (Lyft, Uber).

Blockbuster will be here forever, every American visits it once a week to rent a video. You think you are going to compete by mailing DVD’s? (Netflix, before streaming).

Delray is Dull Ray. It will never turn around. (Delray Beach)

Boca will never survive IBM leaving, Big Blue built that town. (Boca Raton)

Doing something that nobody thinks is right or possible is the beginning of every success story.

Pessimists make the definitive statements.

Optimists defy the naysayers.

And guess what, there is a reward for optimism and now it’s scientifically proven.

That reward is longevity.

That’s right. Optimists live longer.

But before we delve briefly into the science, what is optimism?

Optimism is a psychological attribute characterized as the general expectation that good things will happen, or the belief that the future will be favorable because one can control important outcomes.

Previous scientific studies reported that more optimistic individuals are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases and die prematurely. But new results further suggest that optimism is specifically related to an 11 percent to 15 percent longer life span, on average, and to greater odds of achieving “exceptional longevity,” that is, living to the age of 85 or beyond. These relations were independent of socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration, and health behaviors (e.g., smoking, diet, and alcohol use).

Hey, I didn’t make that up. That info comes from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

So bottom line: try to be optimistic. And if you have any trouble deciphering which side of the optimist/pessimist divide you might fall on try answering this simple question.

What’s the difference between a pessimist and an optimist?

A pessimist says “things can’t get any worse”

And optimist says “sure they can!”

We’re kidding with that one of course. A pessimist would say we did that on purpose, an optimist would see the humor in the line and forward this blog to everyone they know.

 

Hurricane Relief Efforts Underway

After a major hurricane, there is an overwhelming desire to do something to help those who were most impacted by the event.

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, there is a great need to help our neighbors in The Bahamas.

There are a lot of efforts being organized and it can be confusing if you want to donate.

While there are scores of reputable organizations rushing to meet the needs of The Bahamas, I can safely recommend BahamasStrong.org because I know many of its principals including Kirsten Stevens, Danny Alberttis and Sarah Crane. All three and have extensive non-profit experience, deep community ties and big hearts.

Using their long established community connections in The Bahamas, Bahamas Strong will coordinate the receipt, storage and distribution of donated supplies. Through their fiscal sponsor, Enterprise Palm Beach, a registered 501(C)(3), they are able to collect funds and distribute them directly to the agencies on the ground.

Bahamas Strong is leading an awareness campaign to drive donations of hard goods to collection points. This includes supplies of food, water, first aid, and construction materials. They are also collecting funds to be distributed to agencies who are conducting relief operations. Another focus will be organizing the Florida boating and aviation communities to coordinate safe transportation of goods collected.

Visit Bahamasstrong.org for a wish list of items and drop off locations. The Delray drop off is at the Chamber of Commerce at 140 NE First Street.

You can also donate by texting Dorian to 21000.

Again, there are many fine efforts underway, this is just one that I know will do a great job.

Stay safe and remain vigilant, there’s plenty of the hurricane season left.

 

Things We Loved In August

Things We Loved in August

Hawkers
Good to see a new restaurant coming to the long vacated space that used to house Sonoma on East Atlantic Avenue.
Hawkers, which features southeast Asian street food, looks awfully  interesting. Can’t wait to try it.
Coco Part 1
Some great photos on social media of Delray tennis sensation Coco Gauff and her family meeting Michelle Obama.
The meeting occurred after Coco competed in the Citi Open in Washington D.C. She won the doubles title with Caty McNally. Her first WTA title.  Pretty impressive. Oh and she made the cover of Teen Vogue too. Not to mention a cover story in USA Today and an appearance on Good Morning America. And a first grand slam singles win on the stadium court  at the U.S. Open.
 Not a bad month.
Mazel Tov
Congratulations to Dupree and Janay Jackson on their wedding. We wish this special couple health and happiness now and forever. They are doing great things in Delray.
Movies around town
We saw “Echo in The Canyon” at the Living Room Theater and it was in a word: wonderful.
The documentary , starring and executive produced by Jakob Dylan, is a loving look back at the amazing music produced by denizens of Laurel Canyon in Southern California in the 60s.
The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Beach Boys, Mamas and The Papas, The Association and Crosby Still Nash are among the musical giants celebrated in the film.
Interviews with Michelle Phillips, Brian Wilson, Tom Petty, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Lou Adler and Eric Clapton add color to the timeless music covered by Dylan, Fiona Apple, Jade, Norah Jones, Beck and others.
It’s truly terrific. A can’t miss if you love classic rock.
Another cant miss is David Crosby: Remember My Name also at the Living Room.
Produced by Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) Remember My Name is an unflinching look at Crosby’s life, loves, addictions and broken friendships. It’s powerful and honest but leaves you with more questions than answers.
We also saw The Art of Racing in the Rain. It was wonderful. But bring a box of tissues. You will need it. A must see for dog lovers and those who cherish a good story, well told.
Also outstanding: Blinded By The Light. The feel good movie of the summer.
Caridad
Kudos to the Caridad Center. The nonprofit’s “Back to School Bash” provided 1,000 Deserving Children with Much-Needed School Supplies.
Well done.
A Promising Debut & Other Restaurant Doings
We checked out the new Elisabetta’s on Atlantic Avenue and it was worth the wait.
Located in the former space occupied by the classic 32 East, Elisabetta’s is an Italian restaurant with a huge menu, two bars, a gorgeous terrace, great pasta and truly special pizza.
The restaurant is very beautiful, the build out is really something to see.
We continue to be impressed by the Driftwood on US 1 in Boynton Beach.
Excellent service and an innovative menu makes for a very good experience.
The short rib is as good as I’ve ever had.
Check it out. Don’t miss the yuca tots, they are delicious.
 
ER Bradley’s remains a favorite. 
The West Palm Beach staple is always fun and we like that it’s dog friendly. 
The Impossible Burger is on the menu and the pretzel bread is always a treat. 
We wish Rick Jankee smooth sailing upon his retirement from Delray’s legendary Sail Inn.
Rick sold the sail after 30 years of running one of Delray’s favorite local bars.
So many memories. So many good times. Thanks Rick!
Brule is such a special restaurant. Despite the construction across the street, it was crowded when we went to enjoy a recent lunch.
The chicken parm panini, truffle fries, greens and chicken meatballs are just out of this world.
Welcome to the Ave!
The Wine Room opened this month. Haven’t been over there yet, but the photos online look great and they run a great store in Winter Park.
We had a great happy hour/ dinner with friends at the always wonderful Papas Tapas. With construction on The Ray closing off one lane of traffic it’s important we support the businesses affected on Pineapple Grove.
More Coco.
Coco Gauff is not just showing athletic prowess she’s showing class and leadership too.
The budding tennis star surprised students at The Village Academy on the first day of school with an impromptu visit.
Very cool move.
Boca Eco Dev
Boca keeps landing  new business headquarters.
FlexShoppers will expand by 200 jobs as it consolidates locations under one roof.
Jessica Del Vecchio, Boca‘s Economic development director is a rockstar.
Happy Birthday Bill
Finally, happy birthday to Bill Branning.
Bill who chairs our chamber of commerce has been an invaluable contributor to Delray chairing Old School Square, serving on city advisory boards and on the CRA while running a great local business- BSA Corp.
We were thrilled to celebrate his birthday with friends and family.
Have a great month and stay safe during Dorian.

Grateful: For ALL Of It

Today is my birthday.

I’m 55.

Eligible to move to 55 and over communities and edging closer to coveted senior discounts at movies and places like the Old Country Buffet.

I’m already eligible for 10 percent off at Banana Republic and 15 percent off at Bealls Outlet but only on Tuesdays, when I’m working and unable to get to an outlet.

But I digress.

Birthdays with 0’s and 5’s get progressively tougher.

Oh, 20 and 25 are cool.

But 30 and 40 and 50 are really rough. I enjoyed 35—thought that was kind of the perfect age, just the right amount of seasoning. But 45 induced a twinge of mortality and this birthday brings a mix of emotions.

When you hit your 50s you start to feel a little more comfortable with who you are. The little things don’t bother you as much and you learn to avoid toxic people. You learn not to feed negativity.

You also learn to appreciate the good times, the good people and the love in your life.

Good friends become more precious. Good times and laughter more valued.

Experiences take precedence over “things.”

It’s a good time of life.

By the time most people reach their 50s they have experienced a whole lot.

Love, loss, joy, sadness, parenthood, career successes, career setbacks and everything in between.

What makes the 50s so poignant is this feeling that in so many ways you are at the top of your game.

You have perspective, knowledge and hard fought experience. But you can also see the end game.

It sounds morbid and hopefully its decades away, but you realize how life is a blur and how time seems to fly.

My best buddy from childhood texted me some old photos while I was writing this. Some cannot be shared, taken when we were young and somewhat foolish as young men should be (within limits) which we managed to always observe.

Some were from high school graduation and others were from a trip we took to visit his parents in Arizona which dovetailed with my 30th birthday. I blinked and 25 years passed.

Looking at that photo of us standing in 100 degree plus heat at the Pima Air Museum with his dad Mickey brought a smile to my face and a catch to my throat. Mickey is gone and I really loved him. So is my mom and she was the world to all of us. Both were around back then—in fact they were about the age we are now.

In 1994, I was a father to a four year old and a two year old. Now my oldest is turning 30 and is well into a teaching career and my little boy is an accountant who advises me on my taxes.

So there’s a lot of pride at this point in your life—you get to see your kids succeed and your friends do some amazing things in their lives and careers. A buddy of mine just sold his company for a mind blowing number and will be sailing the world and others are climbing the ladder of success or retiring after really making a mark.

But we’ve also lost some classmates and been touched by disease. Happy hour discussions these days range from politics, movies, sports (the usual) to prostate health and various aches and pains. Sometimes we pass mirrors and wonder who the old guy is that’s staring back at us.

But if you look closer you also see wisdom and depth. Hair lines recede but knowledge grows.

A few weeks ago, CNN’s Anderson Cooper did an interview with comedian Stephen Colbert that got quite a bit of attention.

Colbert lost his father and two brothers in an airplane crash when he was 10 years old. It was a crushing life defining loss.

“I was personally shattered,” he says. “And then you reform yourself in this quiet, grieving world that was created in [your] house.”

But as a religious man he found the strength to forge a life making other people laugh.

Cooper, who recently lost his mother, was visibly moved by Colbert’s response.

He asks Colbert, “You [once] said, ‘What punishment of God’s are not gifts?’ Do you really believe that?”

To which Colbert replies, “Yes. It’s a gift to exist and with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that.”

Regarding his losses, Colbert says, “I don’t want it to have happened. I want it to not have happened. But if you’re grateful for your life — and I’m not always — then you have to be grateful for all of it.”

You have to be grateful for all of it. What a wonderful belief.

Loss and the prospect of an end can make you love more deeply. It can help you develop a greater understanding of other people and life itself.

So yes, 0’s and 5’s can be tough if all you think about is aging, loss and your own mortality. But if I have learned one thing in my 55 years it is to be aware of the lessons that life is trying to teach you. The universe or a higher power sends messages all the time if we care to be alert to them.

It could be a cardinal in your backyard or it could be an interview with a comedian you admire who reminds you to be grateful for all of it.

Be grateful for all of it.

And I am.

 

 

Don’t Stop Them Now, They’re Still Having A Good Time

Queen co-founder and guitarist Brian May still rocking in his 70s.

Every generation believes their music is the best that’s ever been made.

In the case of the Baby Boomers though, it’s actually true.

Of course that’s my opinion, but many of my millennial friends agree.  Maybe that’s why I’ve been seeing more than a few 20-somethings singing along to the anthems created by the slew of icons coming through South Florida recently.

Sadly, most of these generation defining stars are on farewell tours but what’s astounding is how good they still sound and how well the music stands up 40 and 50 plus years since it was released.

Queen was the latest classic rock band to come to town.

The British band– which includes two original members guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor– is now fronted by former American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert, a talented performer who somehow pulls off the unenviable task of standing in for the late Freddie Mercury who has been gone but not forgotten since 1991.

It’s not an easy task because Freddie was larger than life. A true icon whose legend only grew after the release of last year’s hit film “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

I attended the show with a group of childhood friends and some of their 20 something kids who came in from Los Angeles, New York and Pittsburgh to experience Queen live and up close.

We got our money’s worth and that’s saying a lot because the tickets weren’t cheap.

Queen followed Paul Simon, David Byrne (Talking Heads), Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel and a few other 60s and 70s legends who have toured these parts recently. Of course, the Rolling Stones are still out there playing to huge crowds and rave reviews.

The movies are also full of classic rock fare these days—”Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Rocketman”, “Echo in the Canyon”, “Remember my Name: David Crosby”, “Yesterday” and the recently released “Blinded by the Light” which celebrates my hero, the boss.

Turn on the TV and you’re sure to run into a Woodstock retrospective, a PBS pledge drive featuring classic rock or an ad for a new drug featuring a song from a bygone era.

Some of this phenomena may be the sheer size of the Baby Boomer generation and their refusal to fade away.

I just finished a book on demography and the Boomers are expected to impact society and industry for many years to come. Florida is poised to feel the impact with a “tsunami (to quote the author) of  Boomers flocking to the Sunshine State eager to flee harsh winters and high taxation in the northeast.

So if that prognosis is correct, we can expect that our neck of the woods will continue to be a great place for classic rockers to perform—at least those who choose not to retire.

Which brings me back to Queen.

I went to the show after receiving a series of texts from my long time buddy Howard Cohn and his sister Linda. You may know Linda as a long time anchor on ESPN’s Sports Center. She’s an icon for female broadcasters, a true pioneer and legend in her field.

I know her as the “cool” slightly older sister who was able to drive me, her brother and our friends Scott and Dave to concerts and amusement parks. If I remember correctly, we made her laugh.

Five years ago, when we turned 50, she arranged for a sports weekend celebration in NYC. We went to the U.S. Open, a Mets game and roamed the sidelines at a Giants vs. Patriots pre-season game thanks to her connections in the world of sports. We created lifelong memories. We just made another.

This weekend, we recalled seeing a bunch of other shows together—Billy Joel, The Doobie Brothers, Styx, Foreigner and Beatlemania on Broadway.

It was nice to continue the old tradition and to add some family members—another sister and Linda’s kids who love the classics.

I was also thrilled that my friend Marisa Herman and her husband Lyle found a way to get last minute tickets. Marisa runs the Delray Newspaper and Boca Newspaper and while still very young she is what I would consider an old soul. We saw Paul Simon and Elton John together and she has also attended Jimmy Buffett, Billy Joel and Eagles concerts. I know she loves the Bee Gees and Beatles too.

One could say she has odd tastes for a 20-something. But I just think she gets great music.

And that makes this old guy happy, because it means the music will live on and on. As it should.

 

 

 

The Art & Importance Of Stories

Stories are leadership tools and build community.

“Everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”–Patrick Rothfuss, author

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” — Sue Monk Kidd, author

“Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.”–Dr. Howard Gardner, professor Harvard University.

 

I really like those three quotes about storytelling.

I think there is a lot of truth in all three.

The story inside our heads does have a lot to do with our identity. I think the same goes for cities. The stories cities tell about themselves create an identity and paint a portrait of that community in our minds.

For example:

Dayton Strong and Boston Strong.

Hershey, PA the “sweetest place on earth.”

And maybe my favorite: Cleveland Rocks which is sure better than ‘the mistake by the lake.’

What stories do we tell about our communities?

Do we tell good stories about Delray Beach and Boca Raton?

It’s important to know those stories because they define us and we do “build ourselves” out of the stories we tell.

As for Sue Monk Kidd’s quote—well it’s very true. And it’s one of the reasons I write this blog which is a small (very small) effort to keep some of the old stories alive. I figure if you live here and really care, you ought to know about some of the special people and events that brought us to the present day.

Newspapers used to fulfill this important mission and our newspaper (Delray Newspaper and Boca Newspaper)  does yeoman’s work with limited resources. But the community water cooler is long gone or maybe it has moved to social media; which can be a very challenging place to try and find the truth. It can however, be a great source of misinformation, half-truths, conspiracy theories and vitriol.

But I use it anyway—to stay in touch with old friends and distant relatives. Oh and to post innumerable photos of my pets and view others pets. I think that’s what Facebook is best for.

But I digress.

This post is about storytelling and the importance of storytelling if you are leader. (See the third quote by Howard Gardner).

There’s a new book out by Paul Smith, a former Procter & Gamble executive, about the 10 types of stories leaders tell and how important they are.

While Smith focuses on business, his list translates to community work.

For reference, here they are:

ONE: Where we came from (our founding story) – Nobody ever quit their job and started a company for a boring reason. Find that reason for your company’s founder and tell that story. It will infect everyone with the same sense of purpose and passion. Same goes for our communities and the key initiatives and projects that make our cities different and distinct. Knowing where you come from is critical.

 

TWO: Why we can’t stay here (a case-for-change story) – Human beings are creatures of habit. Change is an unwelcome visitor. This story provides the rationale for why change is needed and a real human reason to care. Good civic leaders frame the important issues facing their cities and make the case for change.

 

THREE: Where we’re going (a vision story) – A vision is a picture of the future so compelling, people want to go there with you. And the best way to paint that picture is with a story about what that future will look like when you achieve it.

 

FOUR: How we’re going to get there (a strategy story) – Strategy is how you’ll get from where you are now to where you want to be. In other words, strategy is a journey. And what better way to describe a journey than a story? Think about our local journey, how we went from Dull Ray to the most fun city in America is an interesting strategy story.

 

FIVE: What we believe (a corporate-values story) – Values are only words on a piece of paper until they’re tested. This is a story of one of those awkward or uncomfortable moments when one of your company values was put to the test. Cities have values too. What do we stand for? What do we want to be? What do we value?

 

SIX: Who we serve (a customer story) – There’s no substitute for getting out of the office and meeting your customer face-to-face. A great mantra for those in public service. Citizens, businesses and other stakeholders are a city’s customers. City officials need to be visible, accessible and transparent.

 

SEVEN: What we do for our customers (a sales story) – A story about what you did for one of your customers that’s so impressive other people will want to buy what you’re selling as well.

What;s our unique value proposition as a community? If you move here, how will you feel? What will happen? What will you experience?

 

EIGHT: How we’re different from our competitors (a marketing story) – You probably have a list of reasons why your product or service is better than your competition. Well, guess what? Nobody remembers your list. But they will remember the story you tell them that shows them those differences as they play out in a story. A great economic development philosophy. What makes Boca and Delray different than West Palm, Fort Lauderdale, Pompano and Lake Worth Beach?

 

 

NINE: Why I lead the way I do (a leadership-philosophy story) – No series of buzzwords on a piece of paper could ever articulate the subtle, human, and complex nature of your personal leadership philosophy. If you want people to understand how to expect you to lead, you need to tell them a story about what shaped the leader you’ve become.

 

TEN: Why you should want to work here (a recruiting story) – Every company claims they offer competitive pay and benefits, challenging work, and great advancement opportunities. If you really want to attract the best talent, you need real stories about why it’s so awesome to work there.

Good advice for Delray’s next City Manager.

 

 

Many Soulful Miles

Yulia at Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park.

“Never underestimate your dreams. If there is a will, there is a way to get anything you want in life.” –Yulia

 

Did you ever want to chuck it all?
Start fresh.

Pick up and go.

Are you intrigued by adventure?

Do you admire the risk takers, the ‘go for it’ segment of our society who just seem to know how to live, really live?

I think it’s a feeling many if not most of us have experienced and while we may fantasize or even dip our toes into something different, the ties that bind tend to keep us in our place.

Not so for my friend Yulia Konovnitsyna.

She’s on a grand adventure as I write this. Or maybe that’s not the right word. Because an adventure implies a beginning, a middle and an end. My friend Yulia has changed her life and has adopted a new way of living.  I’m living vicariously through her travels with her dog Milo across our great country.

I’m having a great time doing so. Even if sometimes her posts stir a longing deep in my soul for change and transformation.

The Grand Tetons, Zion National Park, Antelope Canyon, Arches National Park and many, many stops along the way.

Yulia shares her photos and thoughts on social media—and they are sensational. She is a digital marketing entrepreneur and somehow she is managing to grow her business, serve her clients and live a life of adventure.

She’s sharing under the name “Many Soulful Miles” and I find that moniker fitting. Yulia is a soulful person and very much an old soul.

While she’s young in age, she positively oozes wisdom.

I started to hear about her a few years back through my friend Karen Granger, then the president of the Delray Chamber of Commerce.
“You’ve got to meet Yulia,” Karen would gush. “She’s amazing.”
Knowing Karen’s keen sense of people and her ability to spot talent I was intrigued.

So Yulia and I met at The Coffee District and I was very impressed.

My three passions are community, entrepreneurship and leadership—and Yulia ticked all three boxes. She was building a community through Creative Mornings Palm Beach,  she was clearly a leader of that movement and she was an entrepreneur with an inspiring immigration story.

We became friends. She asked me to speak to Creative Mornings (which was an honor and a thrill) and I was happy when she announced that she was hitting the road with her adorable dog Milo.

I look forward to her posts—the photos and videos are magnificent. But it’s the occasional long form posts that I relish. Her thoughts on travel, on work, solitude, narcissism, friendship, self-reliance and the beauty of the places she visits are just wonderful. Soulful too…and we all need a little more soul these days.

As I stare down my 55th birthday in a few weeks, chances are I will never quite replicate what Yulia is doing but who knows? Maybe, just maybe Diane and I will steal away with our rescue dogs for an adventure. But right now, it’s August and I’m still trying to plan a vacation.

I have a strong hunch that this is more than an adventure for Yulia. She may have found a way to live her best life, yet another reason to admire her.

Who knows where the road will lead? Nobody really does. But if you make them soulful miles, well then maybe, just maybe you’ll discover the answers to a lot of life’s mysteries.

 

 

Unsung But Never Forgotten

Delray PD “Tactical Team” circa 1990. Sgt. Don West, future Chief Jeff Goldman, Officer Phil Dorfman, Sgt. Toby Rubin and Lt. Allan Thompson.

It’s hard to believe that’s been almost 18 years since 9/11.

Children have been born and have reached adulthood since that tragic day.

So much of our daily lives have changed that I have a feeling we don’t even realize just how much life is different as a result.

I saw a stat the other day that struck me.

Deaths from 9/11 related illnesses will soon pass those lost on the day of the attack.

They are dying of cancer and other 9/11 related disorders as we were reminded during recent Congressional testimony that finally led to more funding for victims and first responders.

That reminder was made personal recently when I dropped by a Delray Beach family reunion of a retired firefighter who lost a sister in law on 9/11 and has watched his brother fight cancer as a result of being near the site of the attack in lower Manhattan.

Families are continuing to suffer emotionally and physically. Some nightmares never quite end and that’s sobering. Those who devote their lives to public safety know that in their bones, but they sign up for that life anyway.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for public safety professionals—police officers, firefighters, paramedics and those who serve on our beach patrol. It seems that a lot of people gripe about pensions and benefits and there is no doubt that public safety is an expensive proposition. I would suspect that it will get more so as our society deals with challenges ranging from active shooters and opioid addicts to mental illness and extreme weather events.

But for those who complain about the cost, imagine how expensive it would be without it.

In Delray Beach, police and fire are half of your city budget—at least that’s what it used to be and I suspect that’s still true.

But I have always believed that the unsung heroes of Delray have been the men and women who have served on police and fire rescue departments.

There would be no downtown without them because we would not have been able to attract investment had we remained an unsafe city, which we were for a period of time back in the day before two generations of police officers and firefighters came to work every day and turned things around.

How bad was it?

Well in the 80s, they were pelted with rocks and bottles after responding to fights outside of bars on West Atlantic Avenue, the gateway to our city. Some neighborhoods were so hostile to police officers that I once saw the severed heads of pigs impaled on street signs as a warning for law enforcement to stay away. They didn’t—they just persisted. Thank goodness these officers did. Because they saved Delray Beach.

 

I was privileged at the time to do frequent “ride alongs” and saw some amazing officers do their best to disrupt street level drug sales. Entire parts of Delray Beach were open air drug markets with cars coming in off the Interstate to buy crack cocaine from dealers who used  little children as look-outs at all hours of the night.

I remember, as a young reporter, interviewing then Chief Rick Overman who promised to chase the dealers off the avenue. He predicted that the drug sales would first migrate into the neighborhoods where it would be more difficult to track but he asked for more resources and for the community to be both patient and to play a role in helping make their neighborhoods safer.

MAD DADS was formed and groups of men— most from the neighborhood but a few volunteers from other parts of the city—would confront dealers on the street corners and ask them to stop selling the drugs that hurt so many people and kept residents inside their homes quaking with fear.

Police and fire were partners in that effort and other efforts to make Delray Beach a safer community, one where it would be possible to build something of value.

Over the years I became close with many of the men and women who served. I looked up to them. I admired their dedication, commitment and bravery. They taught me so much.

It’s important to mention them because cities have these unsung heroes and heroines that often get lost. But if they didn’t exist, places such as Delray would be a whole lot different.

My list is a long one and this is by no means complete but let’s just say Delray would have been vastly different and I believe worse off if people such as Adam Rosenthal, Vinnie Mintus, Jim Tabeek, Rich Murphy, Chief Overman, Chief Kerry Koen, Johnny Pun, Fred Glass, Robert Stevens, Toby Rubin, Mike Swigert, Brian Bollan, Dwayne Fernandes, Craig Hartmann, John Battiloro, Mike Wise,  John Palermo, Wayne Yoder, Russ Accardi, Mike Wigderson, John Tomaszewski, Eddie Robinson, Tom Whatley, Paul Shersty, Tom Quinlan, Chuck Jeroloman, John Evans and many others went to work elsewhere or if we failed to remain competitive and let them go elsewhere.

I wish there was a way to formally honor these unsung heroes—people who went the extra mile, accomplished the nearly impossible and made a true and lasting difference.

If you want a special village—you need to create an environment in which people can flourish and reach their potential.

Like everything, it begins and ends with leadership that empowers, encourages and builds trust and relationships. From those essential elements you get accountability and performance. Innovation occurs and excellence flourishes in an environment where people feel safe to grow and are motivated to achieve.

It’s magical when it happens.

We were lucky to see it, but even if we came later, we are here because of the work of these unsung men and women. I hope and trust we will never forget that.

 

 

 

Assessing iPic

The story of iPic in Delray is a long and complicated one.

So let’s sit for a spell and unpack a little of it because it’s important to try and understand.

The CRA board chose iPic over three other proposals in August 2013. That was six years ago.

Ipic’s winning bid promised a theater and office space on land that once housed the library and the Chamber of Commerce.

But the history of that RFP goes back even further than 2013.

I was on the commission in the early 2000s when we moved forward with a complicated transaction to move the chamber and library and free up the land for redevelopment. The goal was to give the chamber and library new and better facilities replacing what had become dilapidated buildings.

Both of those goals were achieved—with the chamber occupying beautiful space under the Old School Square Parking Garage and the library occupying larger space on West Atlantic Avenue. The library’s board believed that the library would better serve the needs of the community on West Atlantic.

We agreed.

It was not an easy decision and it was not without controversy either.

I remember hearing from residents who didn’t want the library to move to the West Atlantic corridor. One citizen put it bluntly: “why would you put the library out there with those people?”

Yep, that was said.

It just made us want to move it more.

Still, the transaction was a complicated one since the Chamber had a lot of years left on a very sweet lease and there were a lot of moving parts and entities involved.

But it got done, because that was an era where people were able to work together. I sure miss those days.

Once the deal was struck,  an RFP was issued and awarded to a group that envisioned a mixed use project and a hotel. But the Great Recession hit and the deal never got off the ground. Eventually, the CRA issued a new RFP and that led to the iPic deal.

It should be noted that CRA staff liked the iPic bid, but did not rank it first. There was another theater concept—an European style theater if I remember correctly—that they ranked ahead of iPic.

But once the Boca-based iPic was chosen, the CRA staff embraced the concept and worked to make it happen.

The proposal sparked controversy—as so many projects do—over concerns about traffic, design and parking. Those are the usual bugaboos—all understandable.

Mix in personalities, ancient feuds, politics, misinformation and the difficulty of getting things done and it took nearly six years from awarding the RFP to opening night. When iPic won the deal the expected opening date was 2016—it took twice that long.

It seems like the entire town showed up for the grand opening party which may have been the best party Delray has ever seen.

The reviews were mostly glowing—the building was next level beautiful, with living walls of plants, striking art work and plush seating.

The office space—still in the process of being leased—is also beautiful and much needed in our downtown to complement and diversify our abundance of food and beverage options.

Since then, I’ve been to iPic twice. Most of my friends have gone as well— a time or two.

We tend to agree—it’s a good experience but very expensive and not something we see ourselves doing regularly and many of us are movie fans who go frequently.

That said, I supported iPic and hoped the concept would succeed creating a new use downtown and adding jobs to our city since there were promises—albeit sometimes vague ones– to move their corporate headquarters here. It’s important for cities to be business friendly and to have good economies. That doesn’t mean compromising your ethics, selling your soul or offering back breaking incentives. But it does mean hanging an “open for business” sign at your City Hall and being reasonable. It also means welcoming debate.

That said,  I and many others were disappointed in the tone of the debate surrounding iPic.

And while I sympathized with the views and concerns of opponents, I thought more than a few crossed the line with personal attacks on those who supported the project. I also thought some elected officials pushed it by supporting the use but adding costly conditions (outside the scope of the RFP) making it more difficult to succeed.

I felt so bad about the treatment, that I invited iPic CEO Hamid Hashemi to lunch to tell him that despite the vitriol Delray was a nice place and many people wished him and his company success.

So when the news broke last week that iPic missed an interest payment on over $200 million in debt and may have to consider bankruptcy it stirred a lot of emotions. This week, bankruptcy became the path and iPic will operate as usual until it either restructures or is sold.

There was the usual chorus of “I told you so’s” and a slew of people wishing the company ill will which I think is wrong.

Do we really want to see a company fail? Do we want to see an empty building in the heart of our downtown? Do we want to see iPic staff lose their jobs because management loaded the company up with debt?

I don’t think so.

You know who should be mad?
iPic shareholders who have seen their stock plummet.

The retired teachers who depend on their Alabama pension fund also have a right to be angry and concerned since they funded a large chunk of that debt.

And yes, citizens of Delray are justified in feeling disappointed. Our downtown’s real estate is precious. It’s not a good feeling to see a high profile project threatened.

The initial financial blogs quoted iPic as saying sales dipped as a result of the government shut down earlier this year. That really doesn’t pass the smell test.

Round two explanations made more sense: iPic was a trendsetter but other chains are loading up on the luxury too—often at lower ticket prices. So there’s competition in an industry being disrupted by streaming services. Add crushing debt to that equation and all the innovation in the world or the biggest rooftop bar won’t save you.

Still, many people in this community supported the downtown iPic. I did.

While pricey, we liked the idea of another use in the downtown and we liked the idea of Class A office space and a corporate headquarters too.

We liked that iPic offered corporate event space, special events and unique programming through partnerships with entities such as Netflix. We trusted their projections and studies that showed that this market could support an iPic so close to the Mizner Park location.

We liked that business publications were featuring the company and that it was able to go public and was considered an innovator in its space.

So seeing it fall into bankruptcy is no reason to celebrate.

This is where strong communities come together and make lemonade out of lemons. I hope and trust we will do just that.

So what can we learn from this?

iPic Delray has not struggled because of parking or traffic woes.

The local theater was not challenged because downtown Delray isn’t strong enough to support the use.

Clearly, the business model is deeply flawed.

But other chains are managing to figure it out.

Living Room Theater at FAU regularly sells out offering offbeat, independent and foreign fare.

Alamo Drafthouse and other innovative chains seem to be doing well and drawing crowds.

I hope iPic finds a good strong buyer with solid vision and a healthy balance sheet. I also hope the Alabama teachers don’t get crushed in the process. That one might be tough…

It would be great if the Class A office space that was built gets leased and brings much needed jobs to our city.

Regardless, whatever happens we should find ways to work together to pick up the pieces and make this a success somehow, someway. That’s what strong towns do.

What a concept, huh?