Restaurants and Nightlife in Delray Beach and Boca Raton

When it comes to restaurants and nightlife few cities can compare to Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

Delray Beach was recently named the “Most Fun Town” in America by the Travel Channel and Rand McNally as a result of its incredible restaurant scene and vibrant downtown night life.

Atlantic Avenue has to be experienced to be believed. Very few streets in America have block after block of amazing restaurants, shops, galleries and nightclubs that appeal to all ages. Safe, with ample parking, downtown Delray ends at the ocean and is considered one of the finest Main Streets in America.

Boca Raton is also home to scores of incredible restaurants and has its own vibrant nightlife along Palmetto Park Road and in its renowned Mizner Park.

When Building a Vibrant City Each Thread Counts

Editor’s Note: Please keep a close watch on Hurricane Irma. Be vigilant and be prepared.

“There’s an energy New York pulls out of people. Nowhere else has this kind of energy. It always feels like there is something going on that you want to be a part of.” Gregory Zamfotis, founder Gregory’s Coffee.

When it comes to building great cities and great places, energy and vibrancy is the holy grail.
It feels good to be in a place where something desirable is going on.
Sure there are times when we seek solitude and great places offer that as well.
But you need both. You need energy and a place to renew.

Although I haven’t traveled as widely as I once hoped, I find myself gravitating to places that offer energy and solitude.
Asheville has a vibrant downtown  but in minutes you can be in the mountains.
Portland, Maine feels like a big little city but in minutes you can find peace along the beautiful Coast.
Boulder, Colorado offers an amazing downtown ringed by golden mountains.

Delray Beach is similarly blessed.
We have energy. It seems like a fun and vibrant place. There’s a lot going on.
But if you want to hide,  there are spots on the beach and in Lake Ida Park and out west at the Morikami or the Wakadohatchee where you can disappear and find a quiet place to walk, read and think.
We are truly blessed.

But it takes vision and effort and planning and investment to create an energetic city. And once created you have to tend to your city, like a garden.
You need the right scale, the right mix of businesses to make it work. You also need art and music and culture and great parks too.
It needs to be walkable, safe, clean and authentic.

You need festivals and restaurants and sidewalk cafes and you need the intangibles too.  The intangibles make all the difference.
Strong local leadership, a shared community vision, creative problem-solving, and ideally an inclusive economy. You also need cross sector collaboration and a set of civic values.
Sound hokey? Well, try building a great place without those things.

You simply can’t.

The Greening of Delray

Community Greening has a simple but important mission.

We went to a fundraiser earlier this week at the new farm to table bar Death or Glory to raise funds and awareness for Community Greening, a Delray Beach non-profit that is beginning to make its mark in Delray Beach.

 

Community Greening provides eligible groups and neighborhoods free native trees. They do it all: from delivery and site selection to permits and tools for planting. The organization also invests in the environment by creating or maintaining sustainable green spaces, supplying the project management, native plants, art, volunteers, and maintenance needed to create great public spaces. They are also committed to educating kids on trees and plants.

That last piece is extremely important in our high-tech society. Community Greening believes it’s important to connect children to the natural environment. You don’t take care of things you don’t relate too and with our planet in a fragile state we need to seed the future with people who care.

The group has planted hundreds of trees and has quickly gained a strong reputation in the community.

Co-founders Mark Cassini and Matt Shipley have recruited an all-star board that includes Vice Mayor Jim Chard and emerging leaders like Emanuel Dupree Jackson Jr., Jason McCobb, owner of Farmer Jay Pure Organics and noted landscape architect Carolyn Pendleton-Parker among others.

Board member Sgt. Daniela Quinn of the Delray Beach Police Department likes the community building aspects of the organization.

“CG is important because it brings the community together to learn about our Delray Beach ecosystem and how to take more of a proactive stance in helping sustain it. CG seeks to clean up and bring life back to neglected spaces and it gives everyone a chance to plant a tree, leaving their legacy for generations to come. In an area where new development seems to be at the forefront, CG allows us to be reminded of the history of our natural habitat and bring back some native plants to our community to keep it green and beautiful.”

That sums it up, doesn’t it?

Personally, I was moved by the humble passion of those involved in the organization that I had a chance to meet this week.

In a follow-up conversation with Mr. Cassini, I learned about an effort to “green” and plant trees at Catherine Strong Park in the southwest section of Delray. That park has a special meaning for me. The voters approved a bond issue when I was on the commission that funded the splash park, which was the first park in that neighborhood’s history. It’s also named after the first female mayor in Delray history who was known for her big heart and her desire to improve race relations.

A celebration of Community Greening’s efforts will be held from 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16 at Catherine Strong Park.

I hope you visit and most of all, we hope you get involved and support CG in its important mission.

To learn more visit http://communitygreening.org/. Next month, there will be a fundraiser at Pizza Rustica and then a Delivery Dudes fundraising effort.

Meanwhile, Death or Glory is just great. Don’t miss the fried chickpeas (and the Tommy Margarita is pretty good too!). We wish them well and salute their community involvement.

 

 

 

10 Things We Loved in August

Tequila & Tacos was a highlight of the summer craft cocktail series at Old School Square.

Editor’s note: Our hearts are heavy this morning thinking of those suffering from the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

We in South Florida and in Delray Beach and Boca Raton can relate to the disruption that hurricanes cause. Please consider donating what you can to relief organizations that are on the scene in the Houston area. And please be vigilant with your hurricane preparations. We are entering the height of the hurricane season.

 

“I can’t believe the news today..

Oh, I can’t close my eyes
And make it go away”– U2 Sunday Bloody Sunday
 
No we can’t make it go away. 
But we can inject a little positivity into our lives can’t we?
And so we will. 
Here’s 10 things we liked this month. 
1. Kudos to Old School Square for its social media tsunami and uplifting videos designed to remind one and all how special Delray’s cultural arts center is and how important it is to the life of our community. 
2. Festival Management Group, the producers of the Garlic Festival and Delray Affair among other signature everts, spent more than a year being bullied by short sighted politicians. But it didn’t dissuade the team. They re-tooled and reinvented and came up with a terrific series of summer events at The Fieldhouse at Old School Square. We attended a few and loved them all. Great events, great cocktails and robust ticket sales brightened our summer. We loved the integration with local restaurants and discovered a few new places as a result. Kudos Nancy, John and Sarah.  
3. Louie Bossi is a welcome addition to downtown Boca. Brilliant concept, big menu and wonderful food equals a great time. 
4. We had a chance to meet with Campbell Creative, a new addition to our entrepreneurial scene. We predict you will be hearing more about this innovative agency. 
5. We are thrilled to hear about the continued success of Modernizing Medicine which raised a whopping $231 million in investment and continues to hire and blaze new trails. CEO Dan Cane is a brilliant business visionary and a nice guy too. Kudos to the FAU Research Park for nurturing scores of great businesses.
6. We had a chance to hang with Boca Mayor Susan Haynie and former Councilwoman Constance Scott at a recent Palm Beach County League of Cities meeting and it was fun. Mayor Haynie recently completed a stint as president of the Florida League, a great honor. Cities are under siege in this state by some short sighted state leaders. Good to see our local officials stand up for home rule. 
7. We were thrilled to see Pame Williams receive recognition (and celebrate in her own way) her 30 years of service to the taxpayers of Delray Beach. We just adore her. 
8. Also good to see the late Lamar Shuler’s legacy celebrated at the S.D. Spady Museum. 
9. Nice to see dirt moving at the iPic Theatre four years after the CRA chose the project after an RFP process. 
10. We were thrilled to see Creative Mornings Palm Beach visit the Arts Garage.
All in all, August was a very fine month.

Those Great Good Places

She’s a beauty, a great good, place.

I moved to Florida 30 years ago this summer.
Time flies when you’re having fun.
Back then, there weren’t too many places to dine in Delray.

Nope, we weren’t a foodie destination unless of course you thought Burger Chin or Jawoppy at the old Delray Mall were fine dining. (Confession: I did).
We did have the Arcade Tap Room, the Annex, Las Hadas and of course Boston’s on the Beach but we were far from a happening spot.

I spent a lot of time in those days at Tom Sawyer’s in Boca, Dirty Moe’s, Rosie’s Raw Bar and the wonderful Ken and Hazel’s.
We shot pool at the Phoenix on A1A (where Burger Fi now resides) and on rare occasions visited Marie Callender’s in Boynton Beach. Morrison’s cafeteria was a  treat and we all loved a place called Coasters in Atlantic Plaza.

There was a place below Linton Towers–the name escapes me–but I remember paying big bucks to watch Mike Tyson knock out Michael Spinks in mere seconds during a pay per view fight. The people in the buffet line weren’t pleased. We blinked and we missed the fight.
Delray was sure different in those days.

I thought about these old time places when I read that 32 East may be exiting the scene after a long and glorious run so that Louie Bossi can take its place.
If it comes to pass, I will miss 32 East; one of the first truly great restaurants on Atlantic Avenue.

Owner Butch Johnson has done a great job since opening in 1996  and I will miss seeing my fellow Oswego alumni John Fitzpatrick behind the bar where he is the consummate spiritual advisor, with the emphasis on the spirits.
32 East earned its place in the firmament of great local places alongside Dakotah, Damiano’s, Bennardo’s, Splendid Blendeds, Louie Louie Too, the Twilight Cafe, Gleason Street Cafe, Pineapple Grille, The Patio Delray, D & B Seafood, Busch’s, Atlantic Station, Luna’s and Vittorios. So many more I’m sure.
Thinking about them all gives me a warm and nostalgic feeling.

It’s not just the places we miss, but the people associated with them. I remember watching the All Star Game at Louie Louie’s with Diane and the late Lamar Shuler one year and taking my parents to the Gleason Street Café when they visited Delray to see the grandkids. I remember election night 1990 at the Arcade Tap Room and seeing the town’s fathers at their old table at the Green Owl.

Ray Oldenburg, a University of West Florida Professor wrote a great book some years ago called “The Great Good Place.”
The book talked about those “third” places beyond home and the office that become a part of the community fabric.
We miss them all. We cherish the memories. But inevitably we move on to discover new places too.
And so it goes.
I miss happy hours at Dirty Moe’s, I miss seeing Officer Vinny Mintus at The Annex for lunch and I wish I could have one more breakfast with Mr. and Mrs. Pompey at the old IHOP on North Federal.
Memories…

What’s Not Going to Change

I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time.” — Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

 
I’m not quite sure I’m a fan of Jeff Bezos.
But I sure do respect him.
He knows how to scale a business and disrupt industries as well as or better than anyone.
Just ask Walmart or any legacy retailer, bookseller or even cloud storage companies. 
I’ve been thinking about Amazon lately and what it’s impact and the impact of ecommerce may mean for cities and real estate.  But that post is for another day. 
The quote above made me think about something else. I think Bezos is right.  And while entrepreneurs always seek to skate where the puck is heading, the quote is also relevant to cities. 
A loud and active group of people seem to lament change in cities and I get it, we don’t want to lose the soul of our communities but change is inevitable and so the discussion should focus on how to best manage and steer the inevitable.
But what about thinking about what won’t change? What will still be needed in 10 years and beyond?
There are –as Bezos instructs –opportunities in what won’t be going away.
 
As much as we love Delivery Dudes we probably will still want to visit a great restaurant because it’s not just about the food it’s about the experience and the ambience. 
As much as we “stream” we may still want to see a great movie on a big screen with other people. We still may value “date night” or a matinee as I did the past two weekends when we went to see “The Big Sick” and “Baby Driver “at Cinemark. 
I love Netflix, but when I’m home I’m distracted. When I’m in a theater I focus and I end up enjoying the movie that much more–provided I don’t nap. 
Ipic is banking on that experience to endure as they build a new theater in Delray. 
I grew up the son of a retailer. My dad owned a retail pharmacy in Smithtown, N.Y., a business model that was disrupted by the likes of Walgreens and CVS. 
Now there are rumblings of Amazon going into the prescription delivery space. It will have an impact I’m sure. But as I watch an independent pharmacy being built on US 1 in Delray which will include an old-fashioned counter and other elements of retro drug stores I wonder if maybe we will leave room for authentic, old fashioned experiences like my dad’s old store. 
Yes AirBNB is all the rage but I think hotels will be around in 10 years. Maybe not the generic kind, but cool independents and boutique brands like Aloft that embrace local aesthetics will make it as will the incredible Crane’s Beach House which offers service, intimacy and strong ties to the local community. 
Big box retail and malls will be severely challenged but independent stores or highly curated chains with unique products and superior services and experiences should find room to survive and thrive. 
Food stores are changing too. 
A news story last week reported on a landmark study that showed consumers shopping for different items in different places. They may grab some items in a local farmers market, buy paper goods at a big box, shop for prepared meals at a local market and hit up a dollar store for staples. The 60,000 item supermarket may find itself struggling or having to reinvent.
So while we should cheer the CRA’s and WARC’s pursuit of a long coveted Publix for West Atlantic we should also recognize that our Green Market, local gardens, ethnic food stores and food halls have a place in our communities. Today’s consumer seems to crave options, authenticity, experience, ambience and value over generic mass. One wonders whether local retailers may mount a comeback: remember when Burdine’s was the Florida store? They didn’t stock sweaters in September because Burdine’s served the Sunshine State not a mass national market?
One of the bigger questions related to what will remain has to do with the future of the car.
Will it remain the same as today? My guess is no. 
There’s too much money being bet by major companies to think that the auto culture won’t be disrupted. 
When autonomous vehicles arrive, it will become the single greatest real estate opportunity of our lifetimes. With so much land and infrastructure given over to the car—i.e. seas of parking lots, garages, lanes and lanes of heat trapping asphalt–think of the opportunity to reinvent cities.
 No, transportation won’t be same. But my guess is the need for people to gather and experience together won’t change–providing great opportunities for cultural institutions, parks, recreation, restaurants and I hope old fashioned town hall democracy to thrive. 
The more technology engulfs our life the more we may crave human interaction and experience; which is the beauty of cities.
Cities are one “invention” that may change but I think they will endure and become more important than ever. 
I sure hope so. 

Things that Work Edition

It’s time for some positivity.
Social media and conventional media are full of bad news these days.
It’s time to take a look at what’s working.
Fortunately, this is by no means a complete list. And please send me some suggestions for future posts, we’d love to spotlight the good in our community.

Delray Beach Initiative –think of this group of committed citizens as a SWAT team for good. Essentially they go where they are needed helping local schools and non profits by raising funds and awareness. Over the weekend, they hosted “Delray’s Got Talent” at the Elks Club which in addition to being a lot of fun raised funds for the Miracle League, a non-profit that works too. To get involved or learn more visit http://delraybeachinitiative.com/

The Delray Beach Historical Society–under the leadership of Winnie Edwards, the Historical Society has new energy and life with lots of activities, exhibits and projects. They have a robust social media presence and have activated their home at the historic Cason Cottage. I like how the Historical Society is conducting interviews with residents who have insights into local history. I’ve longed felt we have neglected to capture the stories of our pioneers and key contributors so future generations may learn about their hometown. To learn more and get involved visit http://www.delraybeachhistory.org/

Boca Economic Development–Jessica Del Vecchio is a force of nature promoting job growth and corporate achievement in Boca Raton. Is there are a lot to talk about? Oh yes. But there’s also a whole lot to admire about how the City of Boca is messaging its successes. The Economic Development office fosters pride by spotlighting the contributions and achievements of local companies and touting the city as a great place to invest and run a business. Here’s a link to the office https://www.myboca.us/470/Economic-Development  

FAU Research Park–Park leader Andrew Duffel is an economic development rock star who was recently recognized for his stellar work. The Park has become a job engine for the region and the home of a lot of innovation. Bravo! The Research Park’s website is a cornucopia of great information that will get you informed and excited about the future of tech innovation in our backyard.

https://www.research-park.org/

The Arts Garage–since taking the helm, Marjorie Waldo has steadied the ship, engaged the community and continued the great programming. Yes! If you haven’t been to the Arts Garage, make sure to catch a show, you won’t regret it. The venue is intimate and easily accessible.  There’s a lot of ways to get involved visit http://artsgarage.org/ to learn how.

Old School Square–President Rob Steele and Board Chair Bill Branning have gotten the tour of political dysfunction in Delray but through it all have managed to stay positive and focused on the big picture which is and has always been serving as a cultural catalyst and community gathering spot. Rob’s ability to reach out to key community partners is refreshing. Bill’s strength as a leader is inspiring. http://oldschoolsquare.org/

Anthony’s Cold Fire Pizza–you can always count on Pedro Andrade, Anthony’s manager in Delray to step up to help the community. Aside from serving amazing wings and ridiculously good pizza, Anthony’s is a great corporate citizen.
There’s more. A whole lot more.
So much to be thankful for in your Delray Boca.

A Return To Bay Street

Greetings from The Bahamas.
About a dozen years ago, I was part of a small group that got invited to The Bahamas to meet business and political leaders looking to improve downtown Nassau.
I was thinking about that trip and a follow up visit by Bahamian officials to Delray this week as I returned to Paradise Island and made a trip to Bay Street.
U.S. Ambassador Ned Siegel asked former Mayor Tom Lynch and I to visit and talk about what we learned from the revitalization of downtown Delray Beach. We were joined by Boca Chamber President Troy McLellan and Kelly Smallridge, the president of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.
It was a memorable trip. And thanks to Ned, we met a who’s who in the Bahamian business world and government.
What struck us was the lack of local government so that the “little things” that mean so much –stuff like potholes and traffic flow –were left to the national government to deal with.
One of the issues at the time for Bay Street business leaders was the magnetic pull of cruise passengers and tourists to Atlantis, the massive resort that kind of has it all from magnificent pools and restaurants, to stores, aquariums and of course a casino.
We were asked to make some recommendations and we did and we later hosted a delegation in Delray, Boca and Palm Beach County.
I’m still in touch with a few of the Bahamians from that trip, mostly on social media.
So it was interesting to go back and ask as many people as I could how downtown was doing.
Of course, when you ask you get the gamut of responses: Bay Street was “thriving”, “struggling”, doing “awesome” and “so-so.”
When we were there we saw four cruise ships and the streets and stores were busy.
Side streets looked the same as a dozen years ago–still in need of some TLC. And parts of Bay Street were doing well and parts were marked by empty stores and blight.
So it goes…but it’s a beautiful place, with nice people, vibrant color, tropical weather, good food and happy music. And the residents…they love it here. Lots and lots of pride.
One thing was notable. Everywhere we went, people seemed to still know and miss Ambassador Siegel. That’s pretty cool. He left a mark here.
I hope he knows that.

 

High Rent Blight

Bleecker Street in the historic Noho District of NYC may be resembling bleak street these days.

The New York Times touched on an interesting topic last week: high rent blight.
They used the phrase to describe Bleecker Street in New York City which saw rents soar to $800 a square foot before retailers cried uncle and shut their doors. Now the once red hot street suffers from vacancy; hence high end blight which is considered late stage gentrification.
Which begs the question: can this happen to Atlantic Avenue?
Palmetto Park Road? Pineapple Grove?
When I moved here in 1987, we had conventional low rent blight. Rents were $5-$8 per square foot and vacancy rates downtown were about 40 percent.
Today, some restaurants are paying in excess of $100 per square foot–far from Bleecker Street numbers but still very high for our market.
Rents in Pineapple Grove are $30-$35 per square foot for prime space–(solid rents no doubt) and hardly imaginable back when Norman Radin conceived the district; but still not ridiculous.
But ….
high rents are coming.
They have hit the avenue and the  Grove is next.
Why?
Because we’ve had some incredibly high purchase prices on and off the avenue.

If you talk to veteran commercial real estate brokers, they are wrestling with the challenge of making rents jibe with high land prices.
It’s a conundrum.
If you believe in a free market–and I do–rising prices are driven by the market and represent good news for long time landlords who have weathered good cycles and horrible cycles.
But if you want to see a diverse mix of businesses downtown and if you value independent operators–as I do–the high prices are a major challenge.
As the son of an independent pharmacist I have a little insight into the challenges of making a small business work in a competitive environment.

Today, the challenges are bigger than ever. The internet, Amazon, the very difficult retail environment etc etc., all make it very hard to build and sustain a business. Even well- heeled chains are finding it hard to survive. Throw in high rents, a seasonal economy, high insurance, a tough labor market, competition for people’s time and complicated marketing channels and you can appreciate how hard it is to make it today. You can also appreciate the need to support local businesses and to shop local.

The Downtown Development Authority is wrestling with these issues in a smart way.
They are working with Robert Gibbs, a noted retail and downtown expert who has some familiarity with Delray having worked here during the creation of the Downtown Master Plan.
But no doubt about it, this is a challenging environment. And we need to be cognizant of  that. We also need to be aware of our downtown mix and our demographics too.

When rents get high, restaurants tend to push alcohol–a high margin item. And if we morph from a food destination to a nightclub scene that has consequences ranging from our brand and who hangs out here to public safety concerns and whether we become more of a late night destination than an all hours downtown.

Big topics. Great stuff to chew on.
But what we don’t want to see is high rent blight.

So how do cities address this issue without infringing on property rights or the free market?

My theory is a good offense is a good defense.
So here are a few thoughts.

Successful cities need multiple districts/neighborhoods to perform. If they do, businesses have options on where to locate.
So efforts must be made to transform The Set (and those efforts are being made), but also Congress Avenue, South Federal Highway, North Federal Highway and eventually the “four corners:” of Atlantic Avenue and Military Trail which was rezoned and reimagined a dozen years ago.
You can and should be working on multiple fronts both for practical reasons and market based ones.

The notion that cities can only do one thing at a time is plain wrong.

For example, the players for Congress and The Set are different. The areas don’t compete, they complement. Some investors will want West Atlantic. Some will prefer Congress or South Federal. Some will be interested in all of the above. Your “open for business” sign has to be open for all commercial districts while the economy is good.

One thing we know for sure, the cycle will end, so it’s important to get traction while you can. Development standards can and should be high. But you have to make hay when the sun shines as they say. And you don’t have to offer incentives–just attractive zoning and a smooth and predictable approval process. Be tough, but fair.

In previous down cycles– including the great recession– Delray Beach was the last to city to experience issues and the first to emerge from the doldrums. That was a result of a good planning,  a business friendly environment, a solid brand and a City Hall that knew how to execute.
Those are “hidden” but very real assets. So it’s just as critical that we rebuild capacity at City Hall.
How does this all address high rent blight?
Well..it doesn’t lower rents, or increase availability of affordable housing or commercial spaces overnight but it does spark competition so that if the market skews there are now options in our city. If we don’t create multiple options, people, business and investment will go elsewhere.
Hopefully over time the power of the market will modulate prices to better reflect what’s possible and desirable. That’s the bet, it’s not easy. But it’s doable. One thing for sure, doing nothing guarantees trouble.

In Praise of Volunteers

Have you driven by Delray’s municipal beach lately?
It’s going to be a bit of a mess for awhile but when the dust clears the A1A “promenade” should look great.
Which is a good excuse to say thanks to the Beach Property Owners Association better known as the BPOA.
If my recollection is correct, the BPOA worked on the Beach Master Plan for the better part of 8 years. That’s a long time. Lots and lots of volunteer hours.
Architect Bob Currie donated his time and talents to the effort and so did the board led by President Bob Victorin–one of the truly great people who live in Delray.
It’s the volunteers who make our city so immensely special.
Their love of Delray is palpable and can be seen in every corner of our community.
Dedicated citizens bring energy and resources that can’t  be measured to the effort of building a great community.
It really does take a village.
Recently, I had the occasion to have dinner with three all time Delray greats at 50 Ocean.
While two of the three–former Police Chief Rick Overman and retired Officer Skip Brown–were city employees, their success was driven in part by their ability to attract and effectively deploy a slew of volunteers. The third gentleman was the one and only Perry Don Francisco, former owner of Bostons on the Beach, who became legendary for his community service over the years. In fact, Perry is still working for the community through Delray Citizens for Delray Police. In addition to a sensational banquet honoring longtime police employees (held last weekend) he’s still deeply involved in the holiday toy drive and when the chips are down –as they have been recently –you can always count on Perry to be there.
It’s here that I will note that while his wife grew up in Delray, Perry has always lived just down the street in another city. So for those city commissioners who cavalierly suggest that only residents should be able to serve/volunteer on city boards I respectfully disagree. Take a measure of where someone’s heart resides. If it lives here, it doesn’t matter where the head hits the pillow.
But I digress.

Let’s just say that Perry’s been invaluable to countless lives in our community. Mine included.
Chief Overman and Skip have also been invaluable.
Rick was a force of nature who came to Delray and created a department that became a farm system for future chiefs and legendary officers who made it possible for Delray to succeed.
Without a great PD there would be no Delray as we know it. It’s just that simple.
To quote someone in this story who shall remain nameless: Delray was circling the bowl before it made the turn.
My contention is it doesn’t make that turn without a great Police Department and some terrific city staff and yes volunteers and business leadership.
So as we enjoyed the ocean view from a restaurant once owned by Perry and swapped old stories I sat there in awe of three local legends.
And realized that all three employed volunteers to help them succeed. Rick and Skip and a few others launched and managed a remarkable volunteer effort at the department. An effort that earned national and international accolades.
But it wasn’t just PR. No, the accomplishments were real and lasting.
MAD DADS led by Chuck Ridley and Ben Bryant helped a great set of cops decimate the drug trade in Delray.
Skip’s volunteers–1,300 at its height–were something to behold. They still are.
And Perry set a standard for involvement for all other business leaders that may never be matched. Right up there with him are people like Frank Wheat, Bill Branning and Cathy Balestriere—contributors who give and give. P.S. those three don’t live here either. But we don’t have the Delray we know without them.
What a legacy.
Which brings me to The BPOA.
The association has a long history of engagement and advocacy.
While they are chartered to look after the barrier island, in my experience they have always pushed for the the betterment of the entirety of Delray Beach.
I’m glad to see dirt finally being moved on the Beach Master Plan. It’s been a long slog. It didn’t have to be, but that’s the subject of another column or my next book. Maybe both. Let’s just say the improvements don’t happen without them.
The volunteers work hard. They care.
And that makes all the difference.

Rituals & Happy Hours

City Oyster on Atlantic Avenue is one of many good spots to start a lunch group.

I’m noticing a new trend.
At least I think it’s a trend.
I can’t speak for my female friends (and unlike Harry Met Sally, I do think men and women can be friends) but the guys I know are forming tribes around breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour.
Aside from the caloric risks, I think this is a healthy activity.
There’s a group of guys who meet for Friday breakfast, a Thursday lunch group, a Friday happy hour bunch and a semi-regular group that heads for the Sail Inn whenever their “captain” sends out an email enlisting his fellow ‘sailors’.
It’s a great tradition.
Not only do you get camaraderie and fellowship, but you get to experience the insults, humor and gentle reminders leading up to the event.
These rituals that I know about happen at Ellie’s Diner, The House of Pancakes, Donnie’s, J Alexander’s, Caffe Luna Rosa, Christina’s, Tom Sawyer, Farmer’s Table, City Oyster,  the Cuban Café, Tap 42, Rocco’s Taco’s, Latitudes and the aforementioned Sail Inn.

It’s a nice array of Delray and Boca restaurants–so these activities benefit local businesses while also building friendship and community.

My schedule doesn’t allow me to  attend every group activity every week but it’s comforting to know you can tap into these regularly scheduled get togethers and get plugged in.
I’ve seen how a few of these rituals develop and it’s quite simple really.
It often happens when someone calls a few friends to gather for a a meal or a drink. The key is to add a new element. Someone new or a different combination of people than the usual lunch bunch. If the outing goes well it becomes a “thing.”
On Friday, I went to a lunch at City Oyster with Tom Block, a former JP Morgan executive who retired to Juno Beach a few years back after a long and fascinating career in Washington. He’s a childhood friend of Jon Levinson, a former City Commissioner and I’ve tagged along at several of their get togethers over the years to talk national politics. Tommy knows everyone and for a political buff like me it’s just fascinating to get the inside scoop about Congress.
For this outing in Delray, Tommy arranged to bring his winter neighbor John DeStefano, a long time mayor of New Haven, CT and a former president of the National League of Cities who now teaches political science at Yale.
At the last minute, I got an email from former Delray Mayor Tom Lynch asking if I had lunch plans so I called Tom and asked him to join us. What followed was 90 minutes of great conversation about cities, local politics and the difference between Florida and Connecticut and Delray and New Haven (roughly the same size geographically but with twice the population).
It was great.

And I hope it becomes a semi-regular thing.

Why? Because I want to learn more and these guys have done a whole lot in politics, business, education and the non-profit world.
They also happen to be nice, smart, opinionated and funny.
Mayor DeStefano seemed to enjoy Delray.
And a day later he emailed us all–thanking everyone for a nice lunch, good conversation and asking if we could do it again someday soon.
And so a tradition begins.
I highly recommend you join or start a group–it’s the spice of life as they say.