Delray Beach and Boca Raton Real Estate and Homes for Sale

Watch as Jeff and Dave, the founders of YourDelrayBoca.com, give you their take on the local real estate market:

There is no more dynamic real estate market in the U.S. than Boca-Delray.

From oceanfront mansions and historic homes to picturesque country clubs and subdivisions the market is vibrant, the choices are endless and the neighborhoods varied depending on age range, price and taste. The area features everything from old Florida to the most modern downtown condo’s and townhomes.

You are sure to find exactly what you want in these two world-class cities.

Buying or selling in the Delray-Boca area and need a recommendation? We can help. Learn more here.

The G Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manage but don’t stifle.

Encourage ideas.

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

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

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

Better Boulder Inspires A Better Delray

We used to be the city that went across the country sharing our story and inspiring others.

Some cities came here…from across Florida and the south—Greencove Springs, Cape Coral, Punta Gorda, Miami Lakes, the Smart Growth Partnership of Broward County, the Urban Land Institute, business leaders from Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Michigan and others—because they saw Delray as a progressive and innovative laboratory on topics ranging from events and festivals to housing, downtown revitalization and smart growth.

And we went out across America to tell our story too—visiting places like Tucson, Greenville, Carmel, New York, Reno, Baltimore, Kansas City and Bellevue, Washington– to share best practices and learn from others as well.

That thought crossed my mind last week when we hosted a group of community leaders from Boulder, Colorado who have created a movement that is sparking others across the nation to say Yes in My Backyard—to jobs, a clean environment, good schools, economic opportunity, smart land use, transportation and housing for all. Indeed Better Boulder (www.betterboulder.com) hosted the first ever YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard) conference in North America last year attracting interest from across the country and as far away as Helsinki, Finland.

Better Boulder is a coalition of young and old, business leaders, environmentalists, parents, educators, housing advocates united in a belief that when it comes to policy—there is more that binds us than divides us in our communities.

They believe in education, infill development, building cities for people (not cars), a healthy environment and housing for all. Those shared values have allowed business leaders and “enviros” to find common ground and build relationships that enable Boulder citizens to work together on a range of issues.

John Tayer is president of the Boulder Chamber and he is passionate about the importance of economic interests. He believes in the chamber’s advocacy role but he has found a lot in common with former Boulder Mayor Will Toor, a noted environmentalist who likewise understands the dangers of sprawl, the importance of jobs and the need to create a sustainable city for all.

Molly Tayer—John’s wife—has done a lot of advocacy work on a range of land use, transportation and housing issues and the other member of the coalition Ken Hotard is the VP of the Boulder Board of Realtors, which strongly advocates for housing and quality infill projects.

All have learned about the need to reach out and build coalitions around common objectives and aspirations. Boulder is a community—like ours—that is wrestling with some weighty issues. But they have found a way to unite and a way to value relationships even though sometimes they might not see eye to eye on every issue. It’s an important and inspiring message at a critical time.

We live in an increasingly polarized society—fueled by bathrobe pundits on social media—who seek to label, divide and stir the pot.

Terms like “special interests”, “greedy developers”, “chamber types”, “renters” and “slick lobbyists/consultants” are thrown around to disparage, minimize and divide people. That’s the price we pay to live in a free society and truth be told it’s a bargain. But….

It’s not healthy.

It doesn’t build community.

And it doesn’t solve problems.

Divisiveness also doesn’t enable us to seize opportunities. It does however, dampen spirits, dissuade volunteers and deter investment—and over time that is death to a community’s spirit.

The biggest asset of most cities is the excitement and vision for their hometown that stakeholders are able to share with the world. Civic pride and a sense of mission drives excitement and compels people to get to work building good things.

When you love something, you commit. And when you commit, magic happens.

Other cities have beaches and main streets, but our main street and side streets and historic neighborhoods and cultural amenities are special, important and have created a tremendous amount of value—both real (property values) and intangible (quality of life). Our friends from Boulder were impressed—so are many others and we should take pride in our accomplishments.

But they also know that none of what has worked would have been possible without teamwork and a collaborative culture. Community work—even politics—should be fun, was a big part of their message. Many people don’t feel that it’s fun anymore to volunteer in Delray, or work here or run for office or seek approval for a business venture.

Unlike others, I will never pretend to speak for anyone or everyone. But I’m sharing an observation that I hear in every room I enter these days across a range of activities and endeavors. Those voices of discontent can be dismissed, labeled, disparaged or even bullied. But they shouldn’t be ignored and pretending they don’t exist doesn’t make them go away. These same people are also firm in their conviction that more needs to be done–more opportunities, more good jobs, better housing options, more culture, more civility, more preservation and yes more smart development.

A group of us reached out to Better Boulder because of these voices and because we love and cherish Delray Beach. We want to see a Better Delray for our children, for our families and for the causes and organizations we are passionate about. That’s the special interest…that’s the agenda, not hidden but available to all in plain sight.

At dinner with our new friends from Colorado, we shared that whatever success that was achieved was hard fought and far from certain.

It took a village. A great many people working together—black and white, rich and poor, young and old to build what we think is a pretty special place. But there’s more to do—jobs to create, neighborhoods to fix, people to help, problems to solve and opportunities to seize.

We aspire.

We are not complacent.

There is too much at stake.

We believe that the best is yet to come.

But only if we work together and remain focused on building a better future.

We need you to get involved…now more than ever.

 

 

Better Boulder Comes To Delray

On Tuesday night, four community leaders from Boulder, Colorado will be in Delray Beach to share their story.
At 6:30 pm at Old School Square’s Crest Theatre,  representatives from Better Boulder (www.betterboulder.com) will give a free presentation on their efforts to build a sustainable city based on respect for the environment, sensible growth and housing policies that are inclusive. We hope to see you there. It’s important that you attend.
Better Boulder’s work has helped to both spark and further a growing movement of people who are proudly calling themselves YIMBY’s for Yes in My Backyard, a counter to NIMBYism which has often stopped smart growth projects that provide jobs, expand the tax base, add vibrancy and provide needed housing in communities.
Across the nation, there is a growing backlash to NIMBYs led by people who want cities and regions to make room for them too.
In the super expensive Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle and elsewhere YIMBY movements consisting of environmentalists, urban planners, young people and employers are banding together to push back against those who consistently say no to even reasonable development.
Particularly galling to many in the YIMBY camp is that NIMBYs often claim the moral high ground citing their desire to protect neighborhoods and cities. Others view their opposition in a vastly different light; more of a  “I’m in the boat pull up the ladder” mentality that shuts off opportunities for others.
Many times  it’s not that black and white.
Traffic, noise, parking and design are important considerations in any city.
But they must be balanced against property rights, the need to provide jobs and housing and the very real need to grow your tax base or risk losing services or raising taxes for existing residents.
Saying yes to reasonable, planned and intelligent growth does not mean anything goes.
Indeed, it should mean the opposite.
Cities should plan–and those plans should be based on a vision of the future . And visions should come from a wide variety of stakeholders in a community, not just those with the loudest voices and the time to protest.
A premium amount of attention should be spent on design, compatibility, desirable uses and how projects function in terms of parking and circulation.
Community input throughout the process is critical but it’s also important that elected officials and key city staff engage with development teams early to discuss local goals, sensitivities and sensibilities.
Some cities employ “town” architects who work with developers and designers to ensure good projects. If you seek to work with developers and they don’t listen, give them the boot. But if you don’t engage with them, you are forcing them to guess and setting all sides up for failure, stress, strife and suits of the legal kind. It doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s so much better when our civic discourse makes us smarter not angrier. 

We’ll end with this post with quote from Jane Jacobs, perhaps the most influential thinker and writer on what makes cities work.
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created, by everybody.”
It’s hard to argue with Ms. Jacobs. But I’d add that cities work for everybody only when they consider everybody. And sometimes that means making room for others. 
See you tomorrow night at the Crest.
Wishing my Daughter a Happy Birthday
My little girl turned 27 yesterday.
It’s hard to believe because it seems like only yesterday when we were dropping her off at Little Friends in Delray and later at Poinciana Elementary School.
Now she’s teaching school. In Tampa. And I miss her.
I’m also very proud of her.
I have great respect for teachers and especially ESE (exceptional student education) teachers who make such a difference in the lives of children. That’s the path my daughter has chosen.
Samantha has what it takes to succeed as a teacher: passion for kids, boundless patience, a sense of humor and a heart as big as Florida.
When Sam was a little girl she had a series of ear infections. It seemed like we were always battling one painful episode after another.
It finally passed, but the battles left her with something called auditory processing disorder. As a result, she had a hard time learning how to read.
When we finally discovered the cause she was able to address the issue through an arduous series of exercises. Hours and hours of wearing headphones while completing computer programs designed to rewire how her brain heard and processed sounds.
It was hard work. Done after she had already put in a full day of school.
It was a lot for a little girl.
She never ever complained.
I remember telling her that she was special and that people like her succeeded because they had to work hard for their success. And the perseverance and resilience she learned would serve her well in life.
It did.
Nothing came easy for her. But she had a deep appreciation for every milestone achieved.
She graduated Atlantic High School went to Palm Beach State College and then to the University of South Florida where she excelled academically and with extra curricular activities.
To say we’re proud of her would be an understatement. There are just no words to adequately express how we feel about the young woman she has become.
My only beef– and it’s a small one– is somehow she and her younger brother became Patriots fans when their dad bleeds Giants blue.
I have several friends whose kids are having grandkids and I can’t wait for that to happen to us as well.
All I know is that it goes so fast.
The days of taking her to Old School Square as a small child to see an art exhibit, the ice cream cones at Doc’s and Kilwins, soccer at Miller Field, softball with her coach Dr. Grubb (his daughter whose Sam’s age is now Dr. Molly a veterinarian like her dad in Delrat), Girl Scouts, K-9 exhibitions to earn Brownie points, Safety Patrol, summer camp at Trinity, story hours at the old Delray Library. Arts and Jazz on the Avenue, high school, dates, driving and nights you slept with one eye open until your heard her come in the door.
And then they are grown.
Oh she still needs her dad. I know that. I hope that never ends but it’s a fast ride. Savor every moment.
Happy birthday Sam.  

We Can Do This

I live in what I would consider to be a  safe neighborhood.

We’ve lived in Delray Lakes for almost 14 years and we absolutely love it. We have wonderful neighbors and our location puts us minutes to downtown and minutes to I-95. We love living here and I often recommend—and will continue to recommend—to friends and acquaintances that they take a look at Delray Lakes if they are considering a move and want to live in a warm, friendly and convenient neighborhood.

It has been a great neighborhood to raise kids and now it’s a great neighborhood to be (almost) empty-nesters.

But in recent weeks, there have been a series of thefts out of cars. It is unsettling and it has rattled our happy little spot.

It’s a horrible feeling to be victimized. It’s a violation and it spurs both fear and anger.

My neighborhood is not alone.

Unfortunately, crime—especially property crime is an issue in our city.

According to a semi-annual report released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Delray experienced a 17.5 percent increase in the number of property thefts in the first six months of 2016 compared to 2015. There was an 8 percent increase in burglaries and a 24 percent increase in stolen vehicles, according to the stats.

In June 2016 alone, the city logged 108 auto burglaries, long time police officers can’t remember the last time they even came close to 100.

So clearly, there’s an issue. That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news.

Fortunately, this city has experience in dealing with all sorts of challenges and we should be confident in our ability to overcome any and all difficulties.

We have a terrific police department.

We have had one for a long time now and it has made a profound difference in our city’s fortunes and quality of life. It starts with leadership and the team that our chief has built. Rest assured, he is steeped in how to diagnose a problem and deploy resources to mitigate whatever is thrown our way. Here’s how I know and why I have confidence.

I’ve known Chief Jeff Goldman ever since he was a very young police officer. When I was a young reporter, I often rode with Chief Goldman who was assigned to the “tact team” in the late 80s. The tact team was an elite group of officers who were tasked with fighting a raging crack cocaine epidemic that was sweeping the nation and our city at that time. Parts of our city were literally open air drug markets and people lived in fear.

When you’re wrong and impressionable, there are images that you see that simply won’t leave you. I was 22-23 when I first started riding along with our officers and I followed them into houses that were taken over by drug dealers, addicts and prostitutes. It was the era of AIDS and HIV and we saw people who were literally wasting away from drugs and addiction. We also saw senior citizens and others shaking in fear at the conditions on their block and more than a few whose homes were literally invaded by unwanted people who lived there and just took things under threats of violence.

The department did a great job dealing with those challenges in the late 80s and 90s.

But they didn’t do it alone. It was a team effort and the community was a part of the battle. MAD DADS formed and began doing drug vigils and walks through neighborhoods alongside officers confronting drug dealers and customers many of whom would drive into neighborhoods from other cities to buy drugs.

Community policing took root encouraging officers to get out of their cars and engage with the people they were sworn to protect and serve. The effort paid dividends—relationships formed, trust was built and as a result more information was shared enabling law enforcement to be more effective.

All of this was combined with stellar investigative work and specialty (sometimes multiagency) task forces that removed a lot of bad players from the community.

Citizen police academies were held, inviting the community inside to learn how the department functioned and graduates were funneled into a variety of citizen volunteer patrols that added more eyes and ears to the department.

At its height, over 1,200 volunteers were active, a whopping total in a city that was much smaller back then in terms of population. Delaire and The Hamlet stepped up and held fundraising golf tournaments every year to pay for non-budgeted equipment for police and firefighters. They donated literally hundreds of thousands of dollars over time and it made a big difference.

At City Hall, code enforcement, planning, the building department, parks, the CRA and other entities were involved supporting efforts to fix blight, crack down on nuisance properties, organize neighborhoods and encourage investment which does a lot to make a city safer. They worked together. A lively, active city tends to be a safer city. It really does take a village.

And it really, truly, seriously begins with safety. Jeff Goldman and his officers know this.

If people don’t feel safe in your city—they will not want to live there, work there or spend their leisure time in your community. They won’t want to invest either. Investment and belief run side by side. You can’t have one without the other and people need to believe in your city’s future if they are going to make a bet on your town.

So what can we do to make Delray Beach safer?

First, it’s a mindset.

The Police Department can’t do it alone. They need volunteers and vigilant citizens to be additional eyes and ears.

Second, we need to look at the issue of crime and safety holistically. We all know there are factors driving property crime that are very difficult to deal with.

Heroin and substance abuse disorder is a national scourge and Delray is suffering more than its fair share of problems associated with this very tragic plague. Its acute here; a very big issue.

Our officers and paramedics are dealing with a lot these days—literally fishing bodies out of bushes and having to resuscitate people who have overdosed. It takes a toll.

I’m happy to see the department invest in a social workers position to assist with what has become a serious humanitarian crisis.

But I think the investment will need to be even greater if we are to truly figure out how to mitigate the crisis. I was hoping—as were many others—that the city would find a way to hire someone to run what has become a highly effective Drug Task Force. Yes, I know it’s an expense. But there are certain things you can’t afford not to do. (Take a look at the city’s expenses for consultants and you’ll see where the money could come from).

The Drug Task Force, run by volunteers has done a great job of bringing most if not all of the players together so they can share intelligence, tactics, conditions on the ground and frankly so they can give each other some moral support because dealing with this epidemic is like drinking from a fire hose. And for every hard fought victory there is a tidal wave of tough news.

I’ve had the good fortune to attend meetings of the Task Force and I see cities, businesses, responsible providers, hospitals, prosecutors and legislators at the table. There’s value in that—and you can literally see collaboration flower in the room.

They are making a difference on our most pressing issue.

Obviously, the issue of heroin and the presence of irresponsible operators in our community create serious safety and exploitation issues.

The recent “joint” letter from the departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development was celebrated as a breakthrough by area politicians. But I’ve seen some other opinions that question whether it will actually give cities the ability to clean up the situation. Many believe it will lead to litigation—we’ll see soon enough.

So we have work cut out for us. I think we can learn a lesson from the days of blight and crack cocaine—a combination of traditional and community policing, code enforcement, voluntarism, neighborhood engagement, private sector investment, urban design and collaboration can and will turn the tide over time. But it takes time, money and effort. It’s a commitment. We have an opportunity to set an example for the nation by raising the level of conversation on the issue, recognizing the seriousness of the problem but also exhibiting some compassion for the people suffering and the good operators trying to save their lives. As for the bad operators—crack down and crack down hard. Lives are at stake. So is our city.

We’ve been there before with crack cocaine and saw conditions improve dramatically. We can do it again.

We have to.

The Past Can Inform Our Future If…

 

Park Avenue in Winter Park.

Park Avenue in Winter Park.

In October 2014 I had the privilege of participating in a Urban Land Institute panel focusing on Winter Park.
ULI’s TAP program (Technical Assistance Program) brings outside help to communities seeking advice on how to seize an opportunity or address a vexing issue in their city.
It was a great honor to be chosen to participate, because I have long admired Winter Park and I’m a big fan of Bob Rhodes, who is a legend in Florida.

Bob was Chair for the Winter Park TAP and shortly after the exercise he was honored with a much deserved lifetime achievement award from Leadership Florida.

Led by Bob, the panel produced a document aimed at framing some issues that Winter Park was facing relating to downtown development and offering them some solutions to consider.
So it was interesting for me to return to the city two years later to see what was happening downtown.
We spent a day strolling, dining and shopping on Park Avenue over the holiday break.
It was a beautiful day and the street was bustling.
Park Avenue has a similar scale to Atlantic Avenue, mostly two and three story buildings. Winter Park has some distinct architecture and it’s streetscape is immaculate.
Gorgeous planters, attractive signage, cool little side streets and a lineal park that runs alongside Park Ave gives the city remarkable charm.
While Atlantic Avenue is restaurant heavy, Park Avenue is dominated by retail.
There are a fair amount of chain stores and franchises ranging from Gap for Kids and Restoration Hardware to Starbucks and Burger Fi.
But there’s also a decent number of independents—the feel is decidedly upscale but not pretentious.
It’s a vibrant street and just feels good.
What makes Winter Park interesting is it’s able to succeed as a counter to much larger Orlando which sits (looms) next door.
Orlando’s downtown has come a long way in recent years under the leadership of Mayor Buddy Dyer.

As a result, Orlando is now much more than just theme parks and vacation villas.
Still, Winter Park still feels like an oasis in Central Florida.

The city wants to keep that charm and I think it will. ULI was brought to the city as a result of a strong desire for Winter Park to remain special in a sea of sameness, sprawl and traffic.

We also visited Celebration which is known for its new urban layout and variety of architectural elevations.
Now 20 years old, Celebration looks better with a little age on it. A former Leadership Florida classmate was one of the developers of the landmark project–which has received a huge amount of press over the years– so I had some insight into the thinking that Disney was trying to achieve in Celebration. The goal was to replicate some of the best features of American town planning before cookie cutter design began to proliferate. Critics called it a “Stepford” community, almost too perfect to feel warm and authentic.
I remember visiting some years ago and it felt much more faux than it does today. It has aged well and even my kids–not usually attuned to such things–noticed how different the neighborhoods were in terms of design.
Celebration and Winter Park stick out in a region that is suffering from an acute case of sprawl with all of its attendant illnesses including choking traffic and soulless sameness.
I wish there were more places like Winter Park and our own Delray Beach.
I sense that there’s a large market of people who want a walkable lifestyle, distinct architecture, interesting shopping choices and good local restaurants. Throw in attractive open spaces and large doses of culture and educational opportunities and you have a recipe for enduring success. You also have a recipe for high housing costs, which price many people who would enjoy and contribute to these places out of the market. One answer is density–done well of course–which adds supply and is also better for the environment. But the “D” word is often a third rail in local politics and public officials unwilling to do the hard work of engaging the community in an education effort often abandon the types of development patterns that people long for and create value well beyond a bottom line.
Will cities like Winter Park and Delray change?
No doubt.
But as long as they keep their “bones” and scale intact they will continue to succeed.
We just need more communities to follow their lead. And more public officials willing to push for quality of design rather than simply judging projects based on numbers.

LA Story

The Salt and The Straw in Larchmont Village

The Salt and The Straw in Larchmont Village

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

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

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

Post Thanksgiving and Still Thankful

Still vibrant after all these years.

Still vibrant after all these years.

A friend of mine sent me an old Power Point a few days before Thanksgiving.

They were combing through the archives and came upon a presentation a bunch of us gave in 2003 at a conference called Transforming Local Government.

The Power Point chronicled the city’s efforts to craft a Downtown Master Plan in 2001 and the hard fought efforts that were made to involve the community in the vision.

The old photos brought back a flood of memories—there were many faces I hadn’t seen in a while. Some people have moved away. Some people have passed away. Many are still involved; others were once deeply involved and have now faded from the scene.

Accompanying the email was a note: “I had almost forgotten how far this city has come. I had almost forgotten how much was accomplished.” Indeed.

In the rush of time, in the hectic pace of our lives and the blizzard of “stuff” we have to deal with—we too often sacrifice perspective and appreciation.

We don’t stop to be present, but we also don’t slow down to look back or look ahead.

I think to be a healthy, balanced person we need to do all three: appreciate the moment, be grateful for what we’ve experienced and plan for the future with a hopeful heart.

I think the same goes for communities, businesses and organizations.

It’s wise to appreciate where you are on the journey—this very moment when you just made something happen in your city, when you just inked a sale for your company, booked a great act for your arts organization or hit send on a piece you are about to publish.

As I looked at the power point slide show, I caught a photo of my daughter at age 11. Sam is soon to be 27 and is now teaching special education in Tampa. But in this slide she was still my little girl, ponytails, glasses, peasant dress working at a table with other kids drawing their vision of what they wanted their hometown downtown to look and feel like.

I wonder where some of these young people are today. Are they still in Delray? Did some of them go off to school and come home to start families here? Are we doing enough to make this place their place? Are we thinking about the future? Their future? I saw some photos of some older residents who have passed and I smiled. They were old many years ago and still found it important to participate, to care, to plan for a future they must have known they might not see.

After viewing that long presentation, I took the dogs and took a long walk through a park.

It was a glorious Florida day—perfect temperatures, perfect, peaceful.

Dogs live in the moment and have so much to teach us if we care to look. But I also believe they are clued in to our emotions and moods. My mood was an odd mix of happy and reflective. The dogs were just happy to be out and sniffing around. So was I.

I’m not immune to the headlines—venomous politics, heroin, crime, poverty all of which weighs even heavier (if that’s possible) during the holiday season. But…I also found myself feeling good about where I am and where I live.

I thought about how privileged I was to be given an opportunity to serve a community…my community…this community especially.

It wasn’t easy. And if they tell you it was, they weren’t there.

But wow was it ever good.

That old power point—from a place far, far away and yet right around the block, was a reminder of what can be accomplished when you capture positive energy, ask people to work together and dream of a better tomorrow. Did we get all we dreamt about? No, you never do. Nor should you.

But we did move the needle…

We built something special. More importantly, we had something special. I think it’s called love of community. I think it’s called civic pride, optimism and belief. If you collect those ingredients, I assure you there is nothing you can’t do. If you tolerate the opposite—hatred, blame, negativity and distrust—you put it all at risk.

The beauty of life, business and community is there is always more to do. For that we ought to be thankful. It’s motivation to pursue progress.

I believe the best is yet to come but that statement comes with a big caveat: only if we harness the power of neighbors coming together and working toward a better tomorrow.

Sounds hokey? Maybe to the cynics, but those of who believe know it works.

 

 

Arts Garage is a Start Up to Bet On

Bob and Linda Schmier and Chuck and Pam Halberg are just a few of the passionate volunteers devoted to Delray's Arts Garage.

Bob and Linda Schmier and Chuck and Pam Halberg are just a few of the passionate volunteers devoted to Delray’s Arts Garage. The couples were honored for their contributions Friday night.

I think of Delray’s Art Garage as an entrepreneurial startup.
Roughly five years old, the Arts Garage has blazed a trail, overcome a few near death experiences and has created a brand in a very crowded and fickle marketplace.
Tomorrow night, the Arts Garage is hoping to land a five year lease from the City Commission. I hope they get it. I’m rooting for the Arts Garage because it’s an important part of Delray Beach and because some really great and passionate people have rolled up their sleeves and opened their check books to keep it alive and thriving.
If you had doubts as to the passion and commitment to the cause, they would have been erased if you saw what I saw Friday night during the Arts Garage’s Tribute Gala.
The sold out event honored Chuck and Pam Halberg and Bob and Linda Schmier for their commitment to the organization.

I was honored to emcee the event and say a few words to celebrate the naming of two theaters at the facility after the Schmier’s and the Halberg’s.
You couldn’t find two more deserving couples. Their commitment, generosity, hard work and belief in the Arts Garage has been unwavering and that’s a good thing because the Arts Garage has had some major challenges in its short life.
First there was an ill advised attempt to challenge the CRA’s ability to provide funding, then there was some strange politics that briefly threatened the organization, followed by fiscal challenges, staffing issues, board turnover, attempts by others to purchase the space and assorted other dramas.
Through it all, the Halberg’s and the Schmier’s were there.
The truth is, cities, startups and non-profits all need people like the Halberg’s and the Schmier’s in order to thrive. They need the true believers, people who just won’t let an endeavor or a mission fail.
Delray has been especially blessed to have these kind of people in a variety of spheres over the years.
When they show up and lead, great things happen, success is ensured and any and all obstacles can and will be overcome. Progress is literally assured.
Smart communities recognize these heroes and heroines and nurture them. These leaders should be appreciated, protected, trusted and supported. Help them if you can or get out of their way. But trust in the outcome. Because success is assured.

These are the type of people who are so talented, so dedicated and so committed that failure is simply not an option.
I have seen the power of this type of leadership and it is remarkable to experience.

Quite simply, it’s magical.

And while it is rare, it is also essential. That’s why I believe our city has been blessed. We have had a bunch of special people who have emerged to achieve incredible success often against long odds.

If you think this type of work is easy, I can assure you it’s anything but. Yet the examples of local success are abundant and that’s made all the difference in Delray Beach.
Frances Bourque and Joe Gillie at Old School Square. Nancy Hurd at the Achievement Center. Lynda Hunter at our library. Perry Don Francisco of Boston’s on the Beach as an exemplar for the business community. And the list goes on.
I have a similar feeling about the Arts Garage thanks to people like Chuck and Pam, Bob and Linda.
The key is to be able replenish the tank when it inevitably empties. People move on. They retire. They pass away. They relocate. They want to try new things.
The Arts Garage is still new. It was launched by a very powerful and visionary force: Alyona Ushe.
I really like the choice of Marjorie Waldo as the new leader. And of course, they have the Halberg’s and Schmier’s.
These are the type of people you trust in… Brian Rosen too.  He’s a real good guy. Ronnie Dunayer: awesome. The other board members–excellent.

The great people on the Guild too..they care.
Give them a lease–they’ve been month to month for 9 months;  a period of time in which they have made strides. Let them experiment; don’t micromanage. Allow them to use the facility to raise money and try new things. Trust in passion. It’s what makes cities magical.

It’s All About the Software

The intangibles make a community a community

The intangibles make a community a community

Seth Godin has a saying: Hardware is sexy, but it’s the software that matters.

Seth is a smart guy—arguably the smartest marketing mind around.

His thinking helps me with the companies we are involved with but his writing is also very apropos for cities and community building.

And that saying just resonates…hardware could refer to buildings in your city and software could serve as a stand in for all the “soft” stuff like “sense of place”, “community” and feeling a part of things.

Hardware is important. Your physical buildings should have character and be well-designed.

But software—that’s what makes a town special.

It’s the intangible things that make you fall in love with a place and when you fall in love you commit and that makes all the difference doesn’t it?

Recently, I attended a “Mayor’s Gala” at the Broward County Convention Center which was a benefit for the United Way. We ended up talking to an array of city officials—and I had a chance to have extended conversations with a Pompano Beach City Commissioner and a soon to be termed out commissioner from that city.

If you haven’t been to Pompano recently you owe it to yourself to visit. The beach area has been transformed. It’s just beautiful and was recently honored with an award from the Urban Land Institute (ULI). (I had a chance to tour the area with a ULI judge and we were impressed).

They built a beautiful parking garage, which sounds like it would be an oxymoron (beautiful garage? Really?!!) but it is. And so their hardware is improving.

pompanogarage

But the most important thing that’s changed in Pompano is the software. This is a city that aspires. This is a community that is gaining confidence and momentum. This has become a place where people are excited about their present and thrilled about their future potential.

The retiring commissioner had the happy but tired look of someone who has served and sees the light at the end of the tunnel. I can relate to that feeling. Public service is a privilege and a very special honor. It is also exhausting if you care enough to put your heart into it and want to move a community forward, solve problems, meet challenges and seize opportunities. The soon to be termed out commissioner was tired but happy—he was confident his city was moving in the right direction.

Chatting with him reminded me of another quote I love: “the community will give back what you give to it.”

I heard that from some speaker years ago and committed that line to memory. And yes it is so true.

The soon to be termed out commissioner had two weeks left in office and then he was off to Hawaii for some rest. But he was proud of what had transpired during his term.

His colleague has an election on Nov. 8 and is working hard to stay on the commission because he is excited about all that’s happening in his city.

The best economic development is momentum and community “software” that drives progress and enables you to overcome inertia or any challenge that are thrown your way—be it hurricanes or crime or drugs or nasty characters who get up at meetings and throw bricks. It even inoculates you against the trolls, most of whom sit back in judgment but few who actually roll up their sleeves and try themselves.

Nothing great can be accomplished without enthusiasm, calculated risk and a large dose of inspiration.

Leaders either fill the reservoir with hope or drain it with negativity.

There’s another saying that I just love and it’s this: “There is a difference between leadership and ambition. Leaders have the courage to be unpopular with those that disagree with them. The ambitious want to befriend as many people as possible.”
We need more leadership and less ambition.

But we also need more aspiration and more emotional intelligence. Hardware is important. Hardware is indeed sexy. But software is heart. Software is love. Software is empathy and its gratitude.

Software is what matters.

 

 

Tails And Dogs And Nietzsche Too

Blazing interpretations

Blazing interpretations

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger,” said Mel Brooks. “Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

“To err is human, to blame shows management potential”—Anonymous.

Ahh…perspective.

Was it Nietzsche who said there are no facts, only interpretations? It’s been 30 years since my philosophy class in college so I don’t remember much, but here is my interpretation of an important topic: City/CRA relations.

After nearly two years of trying to figure out what to do with the Delray CRA—arguably the most accomplished in the state—it seems that there might be a détente between the city and the agency.

By détente—I mean an uneasy peace. Because when one entity is all powerful and shows a fundamental gratitude gap it’s hard to rest easy if you are the weaker player. In this case, the big bad CRA– with all its money, awards, track record of achievement and vision– is far weaker than the city—even if the city is wheezing, which it is. (My interpretation).

I am not an unbiased observer of this drama. My wife ran the agency for many years and I have been a fan of the CRA since moving to Delray in the 80s. If you feel this disclosure disqualifies my opinion or interpretation—jump off here because I’d like to share some thoughts.

If I had to make a list of the things I like most about Delray—and I am passionate about this city—I would be hard pressed to name something that our CRA hasn’t at least touched. From our downtown and Old School Square to our library and our attractive streetscape the CRA has played an integral role in creating value and quality of life in our community.

So if you love Delray it makes sense that you would appreciate the role the CRA has played over the past 30 years in helping transform Delray from blighted to pretty special—not perfect but pretty damn good. Now I get that there are people who don’t like what happened here and their views are legitimate and understandable. But I would bet that most people like or even love Delray Beach.  Regardless, our CRA has been a big player in the city’s evolution for 30 years.

When he was first elected, Mayor Glickstein referred to the CRA as the “New York Yankees”—and as a Yankee fan I interpreted that as a compliment. After all, no franchise has won more World Series than the Bronx Bombers.

But to some, the Yankees are the Darth Vader of sports, the evil empire loaded with big bucks and an ability to land prized free agent talent with the stroke of a check. Maybe to some– the Delray CRA by virtue of its large budget and sizable impact –is seen as a threat or a competitor.

I have heard senior city staff and a few elected officials complain about all the money the CRA has and I even watched a comical/sad financial presentation that laid out a dire budget picture for the city, despite rising property values, healthy reserves, untapped revenue opportunities and a strong bond rating.

But of course, the clouds turn into a sunny day if (only) we didn’t have a CRA that sucked up all the money that could flow into the city’s coffers—because we all know how wisely and efficiently the city spends money (see consultants and outside attorneys). The city is certainly smarter and more efficient than the CRA right?

Well, not exactly. And that’s not on a knock on my city.

I love my city. I truly do. In fact, I love it enough to criticize it.

I think City Hall is struggling right now. And I think it has been struggling for a while.

It doesn’t bring me joy to write that sentence. But pretending that all is well doesn’t make it so.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t outstanding people at all levels who work for our city—because there are and many of them have shared with me their frustration. I believe them. And I believe in them. Always have, always will.

It also doesn’t mean that everything is broken—because it’s not. But there are issues my friends. There is tension, instability, silos and a fundamental disconnect between the city and some key volunteer leadership in this town.

There are long time stakeholders and many newcomers who feel estranged from their city government. There are many who feel that there is a lack of alignment and true dialogue with key institutions, a lack of transparency surrounding some key decisions and perhaps different goals and visions.

I’m sure that sentence will rub some the wrong way. That’s Ok; I’m willing to state what others are whispering or talking about behind closed doors. We can pretend or we can be real. There is no currency in pretense but there is opportunity in candor. Opportunity to heal; opportunity to empathize, opportunity to compromise and find solutions.

Let’s stick with the example of the CRA for a little while longer.

Over the past two years the CRA spent money on consultants and studies to justify its existence—despite 30 years of accomplishment that should be plain for all to see.

  • A vibrant, nationally renowned downtown
  • A thriving Pineapple Grove district
  • Investment south of the avenue
  • More than $60 million invested on the West Atlantic Corridor and the northwest and southwest neighborhoods
  • A  beautified Federal Highway (landscaping needs to be looked at for better sightlines) but it looks and feels better.
  • A Community Land Trust and other housing initiatives that have upgraded neighborhoods and given families a decent place to live.
  • A beautified Northwest and Southwest 5th Avenue

Private investment ranging from Atlantic Grove and the Fairfield Inn to the proposed iPic and Uptown Delray projects.

And the list goes on and on and on.

Getting rid of the CRA or messing around with its boundaries would risk $6.5 to $7 million of county money that flows to Delray every year; funds that would go elsewhere if we didn’t have a CRA. We could have saved both time and money on consultants and studies if we had just understood that pretty basic fact.

Since its inception in 1985, just about every mayor and city commissioner viewed the CRA as a partner, a teammate. They saw the CRA’s success as a point of civic pride. They saw their money as another wallet in the same pair of pants. After all, the CRA doesn’t collect TIF monies and spend it in Boynton or Boca —nope they spend it in our city. Now, you may not like or agree with where or how the money was spent. But it wasn’t spent in a vacuum. It was spent in service to a vision, a citizen driven vision.

For most of its tenure, the CRA has worked to implement a plan—crafted by their board and in service to community driven plans adopted by the city. Therefore, the agency was considered a valuable tool—not a competitor starving the city for money and glory, but rather a partner and a trusted one at that.

But that somehow changed and that’s sad in more ways that I can enumerate. So I guess I am glad to see that CRA Director Jeff Costello and City Manager Don Cooper have figured out a way to pay for the CRA to pay for more city projects and expenses—just like they always have, maybe even more so going forward.

But I was puzzled when I read in the online Boca Magazine that the Manager felt that past spending was “piecemeal”—I’m not sure what that means exactly. But it intimates that maybe the CRA was just spending “willy nilly”—after all some synonyms for piecemeal are fragmented, spasmodic, disconnected and haphazard.

Maybe the manager misspoke because the spending was anything but. Now again,  you may not like what the money was spent on—the gateway feature, Old School Square, the Eagles Nest project with Atlantic High, Carolyn Holder Court (an affordable senior housing project) or the tennis tournament. But others liked those projects and most of them came out of community plans or public input; including the tennis tournament. The radical thinking was if you have a stadium you ought to put something in it.

Just because you weren’t around doesn’t mean the projects were piecemeal.

The same piece quoted the Mayor on the long term relationship between the City and CRA. Here’s what he reportedly said: “the CRA tail had been wagging the city dog. Now, the city is guiding the CRA.”

Guiding or dictating, I guess it’s all semantics or optics. Not sure which.

But I happen to disagree with the tail wagging analogy.

Since its inception the city and citizens have guided the CRA—but it’s been a partnership, a collaboration and a successful one at that.

As mentioned before, the CRA is a tool and has been used effectively to fund and implement citizen driven visions and plans. But it’s also been a quasi- independent agency—with smart board members who focus solely on redevelopment. As such, they sometimes have an independent idea and that’s usually a good thing.

The city can always object, call a foul or walk across the street and ask questions if they see something they don’t like or understand. It’s a relationship—relationships require communication and good relationships require agreement on goals and objectives. They also require mutual trust and respect. It’s also OK to disagree here and there.

This relationship –starting under Mayor Campbell –has worked pretty well. Take a look around, we’ve come a long way.

It’s been peaceful, not piece meal.

And wagging tails aside, it’s been a great tale indeed. At least that’s my interpretation.