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.

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.

A Fitting Tribute, a Bronze Star & The Arts

Random Thoughts on a Monday…

A Moving Tribute to a memorable officer

It was gratifying to see an overflow crowd at Officer Christine Braswell’s Memorial Service Sunday at Atlantic High School.

Officers from all over the area, Delray police retirees, residents and our own bravest and finest were there for a moving tribute to an Officer who touched many lives.

From Explorers who respected her as a drill instructor to SWAT team members who were in awe of her skills, Officer Braswell’s influence was palpable and lasting.

She connected with everyone. From homeless people who considered her a friend to business leaders who put out all the stops to honor her after her tragic passing April 9 at the too young age of 40.

Chief Jeff Goldman did a great job of leading the memorial and capturing Christine’s spirit and dedication to her job. It was also touching to hear from Christine’s father– a former officer– who recounted his daughter’s toughness and resolve to be a police officer despite his concerns over the physical and mental toll of the job.

Delray Citizens for Delray Police once again rose to the occasion coordinating volunteers and donations to make this difficult time just a little easier.

I thought I’d share a portion of a prayer from a memorial card handed out at the service.

“Lord I ask for courage

Courage to face and

Conquer my own fears…

Courage to take me

Where others will not go…

I ask for strength

Strength of body

To protect others…

I ask for dedication

Dedication to my job

to do it well.

Dedication to my community

To Keep it safe.”

Christine did all of those things for us and others. She will not be forgotten. May she rest in peace.

Bronze Star Ceremony You’re Invited
Tomorrow is a special day in Delray.
Retired Delray Beach Police Officer Skip Brown and his lovely wife Cheryl, a former PD volunteer, will be at the Crest Theatre at Old School Square at 4 pm to receive a Bronze Star for heroism. The medal ceremony, open and free to the public, comes 45 years after Skip’s heroic service in Vietnam.
It’s a fascinating story. I won’t ruin it for you right now because I’m hoping your can come and see a rare ceremony.
Skip is a special guy. This is a special occasion. Hope to see you at the Crest.

Sons & Daughters Farm and Winery
We visited Sons & Daughters on Saturday west of Lake Worth and it was terrific.
Sons & Daughters is a 17 acre organic farm where you can drink homegrown wine and kombucha, tour the farm and interact with an array of animals from donkeys and pigs to chickens and roosters.
It’s worth a visit. Friday night’s feature music, food trucks and a fire pit. It’s a cool place.
And…I couldn’t help but think this is what the ag reserve could have been.
Working farms with retail attached, Agri-tourism amenities, healthy and unique places to hang out.
Alas, it wasn’t to be.
I’m a believer in Eastward Ho..let your downtowns be downtowns tight, compact and walkable but out west..well let’s say it could have been done differently.

Wood and Fire
We gave this cool new place a whirl over the weekend and it was really good.
Delray’s own Castle Construction did the build out and it’s wonderful.
A nice interior, large bar, a wood fired oven, outdoor dining options and a nice menu with reasonable prices.
We had the veggie panini (guess who had that one) and a Margherita pizza with charred zucchini and meatballs.
There’s a good craft beer menu too.
It’s nice to see west Delray add some great gathering spots. The restaurant is on West Atlantic just west of Military Trail.
Check it out.

Speaking of craft beer
We visited Saltwater Brewery recently and chatted briefly with Chris Gove one of the young entrepreneurs behind the growing brand.
I’ve known Chris’ dad Leigh for years. And so it’s really great to see his son have his father’s creative energy and vision.
Saltwater is now distributed all the way to Jacksonville. It just feels like a breakout brand in a crowded space.
Not only is the beer terrific (try the Passion Pit) but the branding is spot on. The brewery is also oozing cool and very popular.
We ran into former Planning Director Paul Dorling and it was nice to catch up with him as well.
Delray needs more than one district that performs so it’s nice to see the nooks and crannies filling up with activity and cool uses.

Kudos to Old School Square
The new summer booklet of classes at Old School Square is out and once again it’s really well done.
The School of Creative Arts is a great asset to Delray and if you have any interest in art, writing or photography you should check it out.
I’m a big admirer of the arts and artists but have zero talent.
I might, however check out the Thursday night readings where writers share their work.

See, I have this idea for a novel about a dashing middle aged blogger who strikes it rich…it’s clearly fiction.

 

The Human Touch Is Essential

Theo Epstein’s leadership created world champions in Chicago and Boston.

Fortune Magazine released its list of the world’s 50 best leaders recently,.

It’s a diverse list—from a variety of professions—and includes 25 women among the top leaders, which is very cool.

Topping the list is Theo Epstein– the architect of the Chicago Cubs’ World Series win–which broke a 108 year “curse”/ drought for Cubs fans. Epstein was also at the helm when the Red Sox ended their decades long curse in 2004 with a World Series win.

The profile of Epstein was fascinating to read.

Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Tom Verducci describes the evolution of a man whose understanding of important human qualities among his players—the character, discipline and chemistry that turn skilled athletes into leaders—enabled him to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history.

It’s an important message in an era where it seems like we are being overwhelmed by technological change all of which seems to be displacing humans. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, data analytics, augmented reality, automated driving, robotics—all have some wonderful attributes but you can’t help but feel that people may be rendered obsolete by all these “advancements.” As Bruce Springsteen sings:  “I just want something to hold on to…and a little of that Human Touch.”

A tech blogger recently surveyed Silicon Valley “disruptors” to determine where they see all this going. The prevailing sentiment is that we will become a society in which a few amazing minds will render everyone else unemployable through technology that replaces jobs. Nice.

These tech geniuses—said to be benevolent—will make enormous sums of money and governments will be forced to tax them heavily to pay for the rest of us to sit around and consume. Next time you have a moment; search Google for “universal basic income” and you’ll learn more. You may not sleep again, but at least you’ll be informed.

This is why it’s great to see that leaders like Theo Epstein succeed by valuing what makes us human.

Sure, he has numbers crunchers looking at how players perform with two strikes, a man on base, in humid conditions on the road against southpaws who throw wicked curveballs. But Epstein also values character, chemistry and discipline.

From the Fortune piece:

“A few weeks before spring training of 2012, in the ballroom of a budget hotel in Mesa, Ariz., Theo Epstein stood before nearly every person connected with the baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs and told them how the Cubs were going to win the World Series.

Epstein devoted the first three days of the session to on-field strategy: hitting philosophy, pitching philosophy, defense, and baserunning. But the entire last day was devoted to character. The Cubs, Epstein insisted, would acquire only players with outstanding makeup. Even Epstein realized himself how far he had evolved since he put so much faith in numbers when he began as general manager of the Red Sox. Now character did not just matter. It was essential to Epstein’s blueprint to win the World Series.

There was a reason character loomed so large in Epstein’s thinking, a reason that helped explain why Epstein was spending spring training in Arizona with the Cubs and not in Florida with the Red Sox. Epstein’s devotion to a Moneyball ­approach—data-driven analysis that helped teams identify and accumulate players with little-noticed but crucial strengths—had succeeded inestimably in Boston, where he steered the team to six playoff appearances and two World Series titles in nine seasons as general manager, helping the team break its own 86-year-old championship drought along the way.

But character and chemistry were strengths that a “quant” approach couldn’t capture, and in 2011, in what turned out to be Epstein’s final season in Boston, their absence was painfully clear as the team underwent a late-season collapse. The more the team lost, the more it broke apart from within. Players ­feuded with one another. The egos that had created cracks in the clubhouse while they were winning caused deep fissures as they lost.”

This story resonated with me on a deep level.

We’ve all been part of winning organizations that soured under the weight of ego and hubris (fatal arrogance).

As Delray Beach was making its ascent, former City Manager David Harden would warn that the biggest challenge would be “surviving success.”

I have to admit, I didn’t understand that sentiment, until I saw it play out.

When businesses, organizations, agencies and cities reach a certain level of “success” there’s a tendency for one or more of the following afflictions to crop up: complacency, arrogance, egomania, fear.

The worst thing to assume is to think you’re bullet proof or that the cash register will always ring because it happens to be ringing now.

Despite our sometimes heated discussions—that always end amicably and usually with laughter—I have learned a lot from Fran Marincola, who owns Caffe Luna Rosa. Fran is part owner– with me and three others –of Four Story Media Group which publishes the Delray and Boca Newspaper. As he might put it, he owns enough to have a voice, but not enough to insist that something he suggests actually gets done. But despite his lack of voting power, he has influence. Why?

Because he makes sense and because he has succeeded in a very tough business over a long period of time.

Fran sweats the details and he’s constantly trying to get better. Paper or cloth for the tables, how much do the forks weigh (seriously), menu tweaks, where photos are hung in the place and on and on and on. No detail is too small, because Fran believes it all counts and it does. He’s the opposite of complacent and that’s why he’s successful.

I’m sure there are analytics and data out there that you can purchase to try and build a successful restaurant. But there’s just no substitute for judgment and experience. The human touch…

It has worked for the Cubs…it works for cities, schools, non-profits and for just about any sustainable business or organization you can find.

Even Google is going to learn that lesson.

Thanks to “programmatic” ad buying by automation, major companies saw their web ads placed on websites next to hate speech including sites promoting the Islamic State—embarrassing the companies and creating revenue for the hate and terrorist groups. It’s shocking and terrible.

So AT&T, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson and others said enough. Take our ads off You Tube and off these sites—we’re done with you Google, until you find humans who can fix  the problem.  Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., will lose tens of millions of dollars as a result and will be forced to address the issue by hiring people—what a concept.

Let’s hope humanity spreads because it’s truly irreplaceable and needed now more than ever.

Said Epstein, “ If we can’t find the next technological breakthrough, well, maybe we can be better than anyone else with how we treat our players and how we connect with players and the relationships we develop and how we put them in positions to succeed. Maybe our environment will be the best in the game, maybe our vibe will be the best in the game, maybe our players will be the loosest, and maybe they’ll have the most fun, and maybe they’ll care the most.”

So where would you rather, play, work, live? A place that values and honors humanity or a cold, purely analytical environment?

 

 

More from the Fortune piece.

What Business Can Learn From the Cubs’ History-Making Win

 

  1. Hire for character

How employees treat one another or cope with adversity can be more important to your success than their sales numbers or skill sets.

  1. See data’s limits

A statistics-driven strategy won’t help you if all your competitors are using similar techniques with similar data. Do you truly have an analytical edge?

  1. Foster connections

Epstein credits the Cubs’ success in part to the years-long relationships among their core players. “People don’t like working in isolation,” he says.

 

 

 

 

Lynn’s MBA in Delray: Only The Beginning

A most welcome addition

Last night was an important one for Delray Beach.

Quietly, before a few guests, the trajectory of our downtown might have changed forever.

That’s a big statement. I may be wrong, but let me try and back it up.

After months of negotiations, Lynn University will launch an MBA in Delray program focusing on entrepreneurship and marketing at the Delray Chamber. The one-year program will be offered at night and tailored to working professionals and entrepreneurs.

The move was announced a few weeks ago, but it felt real last night when a contingent of Lynn staff led by President Kevin Ross and Business School Dean Dr. RT Good told a small gathering of local leaders and entrepreneurs why they chose Delray and what the program will entail.

Folks, we have to make this work. Why?  Because if it does it changes the game and enhances the brand that has been fostered by a slew of Delray Beach visionaries and stakeholders since the mid-80s.

Dr. Ross and Chamber President Karen Granger see the MBA in Delray as an innovative model that chambers and universities can replicate across the country. It enables chambers to get needed revenue, enhance value for their members and grow local economies, while enabling universities to reach into communities and tailor programs to meet local needs and trends.

Dr. Good and the Lynn team have been hard at work designing a “different” kind of curriculum that promises deeper relationships with faculty, classmates and local businesses while focusing on leadership, hands-on projects and case studies.

For the chamber it enables a deeper dive into the world of entrepreneurship, a focus and passion for President Granger who has quietly but persistently nurtured relationships with a growing number of promising local entrepreneurs. Many were there for the Lynn celebration including Brian Niles of Rooster, Eric Bucher of Call Sprout and Project Runway’s Amanda Perna, who runs “House of Perna,” an emerging fashion design brand.

Delray and Boca’s emerging foodie economy was represented as well with catering by fabulous Farmer’s Table restaurant, which I think has enormous potential. (Here’s where I should plug my two food/beverage related brands Tabanero and Celsius, but that would be indulgent no? Wink)

All of this is to say, that this partnership may signal that Delray’s downtown and indeed its economy is expanding beyond food and beverage—and that’s a good thing. A diversified economy is a more resilient and sustainable model.

Many years ago, Delray made a conscious choice to lead with food, beverage, culture and festivals to jumpstart its moribund, dull and dangerous downtown corridor.

It was a smart move, brilliantly executed by many, many important contributors and risk taking entrepreneurs.

And it worked, remarkably well.

We have a vibrant, valuable, cool, and attractive and revenue generating downtown that looks and feels good.

Our restaurant “row” generates crowds, creates jobs and helped to change how people see Delray Beach.

Our cultural and intellectual amenities: Old School Square, the Delray Beach Library, Spady Museum, Sandoway House, Delray Historical Society, Arts Garage and historic districts make us a distinct destination which drives property values, tax base, quality of life and tourism which is another critically important industry.

Festivals have also played and continue to play a major role. Which is why it was incredibly disappointing to see the debate about their value so mishandled. It’s an opportunity missed because so many cities are building their economies and brands around festivals. It’s something that should be revisited and expanded beyond the myopic debate around cost and inconvenience. I’m not saying that cost and resident convenience isn’t critically important because it is, but most of those issues can be solved with creative planning and by examining the revenue side of the equation and the intrinsic value created by events.

The Delray Marriott, Residence Inn, Seagate Hotel, Hyatt, Fairfield, Crane’s Beach House, Wright by the Sea, Parliament Inn, the historic Colony Hotel, Sundy House and other properties are extremely valuable assets that drive our economy and brand. They don’t stay viable and valuable—if we don’t have a vibrant local economy with many parts working.

The Delray ATP and the many junior events as well as our golf courses and sports facilities are also important assets that can be grown, nurtured, promoted and leveraged to keep our economy sustainable and the Delray value proposition higher than most other cities—especially small cities. We compete for investment and jobs. And we’ve built a powerhouse of a charming little city.

Cities that work have many moving parts that have to work together in concert to create lasting value.

Delray—imperfect as it is, challenged as it is—has done that. Value has been created. Quality of life and place has been created. It is our job and our responsibility to keep it going and to create a city of opportunity for all.

Through my 30 years here, my community involvement and my professional life—I get to meet and work with many talented people who aspire.

Kids from Atlantic High School and Village Academy who want to come back to Delray and make a life here, City staff who went into public service to make a difference, startup founders whom I encourage, informally advise and ask for help myself on my business challenges, educators who care, non-profit leaders who perform miracles, established business owners who volunteer and invest here, retirees who mentor, artists who amaze and parents who want to see their children achieve the American Dream in a world that is increasingly complicated and fraught.

They want a Better Delray—they’ve wanted that for a long time and they’ve made and are making a difference.

So yes the Lynn MBA in Delray is very big news.

I know President Ross. He’s a friend. He’s a visionary. He and his talented team make things happen. So this is just a start.

But it’s an important beginning. A unique and innovative university is working with our Chamber of Commerce in our downtown—and the potential is enormous.

In his remarks last night Dr. Ross noted that he recently began talking to his teenage daughter about life after college (she’s still in high school). Does she want to come back to Florida? Of course, she does.

Where does she want to live?

Delray.

She’s not alone. So take pride. Something very special was built here and the best is yet to come.

Welcome to Delray, Lynn University.

We’re thrilled beyond words.

We’ve wanted you here for a very long time.

Many people have worked very hard to catch your attention and create a place you and your students will want to be.

 

 

First Day of Spring: Odds & Ends

Odds and ends.
When you work the phones for candidates, you hear some very interesting things.
Especially when you ask voters why they prefer a candidate. Here’s a sampling:
1. A certain candidate will immediately close all sober homes on day one.

Me: “How could 30 years of commissioners have missed this?”

Voter:  “Gee, I don’t know. But it’s pretty simple really. Just issue an executive order.”
2. No dogs on beach. No vote.
Me: “Well, what about some other issues?”

Voter: “What other issues?”
3. We are both from the same state.

Me: “But what about the issues and experience?”

Voter: “Who has the time to figure that out.”
4. Jim Chard wants 54 story buildings.

Me: “umm…..you mean 54 feet in height as in our height limit?

Voter:  “No. That’s Not a big deal. But he wants 54 stories and that’s too much.”
5. I like Shirley Johnson.

Me:  “So do I. She worked at IBM for”…interrupted..

Voter: “Laverne & Shirley was my favorite show when I was a child. And I’ve never met an unfriendly Shirley.”

Me: “Good point.”

As you can see from the small sampling above, voters can be interesting and unpredictable.

For instance, Seat 2 candidate Richard Alteus –who never showed up for a debate or filled out a questionnaire– received more votes than Anneze Barthelemy-506 to 488. My guess: his name was first on the ballot.

My daughter the teacher came home from Tampa last week for Spring Break. It’s fun to see the area through her eyes.
Some takeaways:
1. Habit Burger is great.
2. Compared to Tampa there’s no traffic.
3. Rents are really expensive here
4. The new apartments across from Avenue Pilates on North Federal are ideally located. Why? “It’s a cheap Uber ride to downtown and the beach.” Millennials aren’t car centric. They like the apps.
5. The east coast beaches are really amazing.

Today is the first day of spring, a relative term in South Florida. Here are 10 great spots to enjoy early spring.
1. The back deck at Che
2. Deck 84
3. Beer Trade. Now with a new Boca location.
4. The outdoor deck at Waterstone off A1A in Boca.
5. The A1A promenade in Delray. Thanks to the sea grape trim, you can see the beach. And it’s good for the dunes too.
6. The beautiful newly renovated bar and dining area at the Delray Sands, which is actually located in Highland Beach.
7. 50 South Ocean for lunch.
8. Caffe Luna Rosa for breakfast.
9. Outside at Deli on Rye. Best Black and White cookies between here and Juniors at Mizner Park. Seinfeld was right. It’s the perfect cookie. “Oh look Elaine, the black and white cookie. I love the black and white. Two races of flavor living side by side in harmony. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it?”
10. Lake Ida Park for nice views, big birds and really big iguanas.

Sometimes I think we take living in Florida for granted.
We have been enjoying amazing weather, there is a vast array of interesting things to do and if you can get out on the water you quickly realize how amazing this place is.
This blog is big on gratitude and so we are grateful for being in this magnificent place at this special time.
While I try not to harbor regrets–what’s the point–I do have one thing that irks me.
It seems like another Spring Training is sliding past me. Ugh. I last attended a game six years ago today–Mets vs. Marlins with my son who was heading to college at UF.
There was a time when I was part of a “guys” group that enjoyed Spring Training weekend trips. Three or four games in different locales over a three day weekend.
Those road trips gave way to single games squeezed in at the last minute thanks to crazy schedules, kids etc. As Bob Seger once sang “deadlines and commitments what to leave in, what to leave out.”
Sadly, many times what we leave out is what truly matters; such as good times with good friends.
It’s a near certainty that we won’t remember what we missed the spring training game for, but we will remember the time we spent with friends.
So as another season slips away– without me slipping away– for some meaningless games in the Florida sun, I’m promising myself more time with friends.
If this resonates with you, let’s hold each other accountable. Or better yet let’s catch a game.

Seize the Momentum To Come Together

Local elections are different.

They are up close and personal—almost like trench warfare among neighbors.

So when campaigns end, there is widespread relief– as if a pressure valve is finally released and you can breathe again.

It’s the morning after and it feels good for a few thousand Delray people whose candidates won and won big last night.

For the few dozen who roll up their sleeves and do the campaign grunt work–signs, signatures, phone banking, message development, fundraising, canvassing, social media, sign waving and get out the vote efforts– the feeling of stress gives way to elation if your candidate wins.

Losses sting.

On many levels, those brave enough to enter the arena deserve a measure of credit.

Because it’s no longer safe to run; not that it ever was but it’s much worse than I’ve seen it. And that’s a sad thing for our community.

Of course, we are not alone. Other cities have toxic politics too.

But that’s immaterial? Delray always dared to be different.

Campaigns used to be about ideas. Lately it’s about how Delray has been ruined. Only that’s not true. And finally people said; we’ve had enough.

Enough labeling.

Enough division.

Enough whining.

Enough bullying.

And not enough empathy, collaboration and listening.

And people said enough. Enough negativity. Enough online attacks by people who have contributed little to nothing to what has been a national model for city revitalization.

As I’ve written countless times, we are not a perfect place. We have problems, big challenges and mistakes were made. But…

A great job was done here by many many people over many many years.

And it’s time we say that. It’s ok to feel good about our town. Have pride, you’ve earned it.

We are coming off a very hard fought campaign following what has been a trying time in Delray.

I’ve written often about the need to ensure that the contributors, volunteers and investors in your city are happy. I’ve written often that it is impossible to please everyone. But if you have to make a choice it’s easy. If you’re a Mayor or a city commissioner, the best way to succeed is to please the people that do the work in your town.

A large number of workers and volunteers in our community have not been happy for a long time now.

Many of our major organizations and agencies have been criticized, bullied, dismissed and disparaged.

Some have had to spend their time justifying their very existence and past decisions. You can’t focus on your mission when you’re doing that.

So when I went to Jim Chard’s Election Night Party hosted by a young entrepreneur named Ryan Boylston a lot of thoughts flooded my mind. Ryan is a partner of mine in a local newspaper and media company. He runs a successful creative agency, employees a bunch of people, volunteers an enormous amount of hours, serves on boards, started a business incubator/co-working space and is raising a family here in Delray. His wife is a teacher.

But I’ve seen him ripped to shreds by people doing none of those things. Why? Is it because he has tattoos, ambition, energy, aspirations, and a point of view?

So what?

I wish we had more Ryans. My goal—and the goal of many other mayors—was to create an atmosphere where we would attract young entrepreneurs and their families. As the movie “Field of Dreams” taught us, if you build it, they will come. Well, we built it.  And they came here. Let’s be thankful.

And the opposite of that saying is also true: if they come, they will build it–that is take your community in really cool directions and create opportunities we didn’t dream possible.

One of my other partners in the newspaper is my friend Scott Porten. He built CityWalk, the Estuary and Harbor House in Delray and he stopped developing about 10 years ago. He took risks here, he created value and energy in Pineapple Grove and elsewhere where businesses and restaurants create jobs and serve people. I think what he and others did was pretty amazing. He replaced blight with vibrancy.

In the past decade, he has chaired city advisory boards, been heavily involved in the Beach Property Owners Association, he and his wife are raising two terrific kids, they are involved in their children’s school and Scott has chaired our chamber and Old School Square. He is a good and generous man. He loves this city and serves it every single day. I’ve never seen him say no to any person who has asked him for help and or advice. I can say the same for many other developers in town. Have you seen what Rick Caster has done with the 21 Drops Building? It’s indescribably beautiful and houses his wife’s growing business. Have you been to Ziree, the great Thai restaurant? Before New Urban Communities came to town–the area’s highlight was a drive through liquor store.

But some have vilified developers and development; when we should be encouraging good design, respecting property rights and putting trust in our land development regulations which guarantees we won’t look like Boca or Fort Lauderdale.

At Commissioner elect’s Jim Chard’s party, a woman I know came over to me and thanked me for helping Jim and Commissioner elect Johnson. She said “thanks for being fearless.”

Well, the truth is I’ve been anything but.

Yes, I speak my mind but I also pull punches. And that’s wrong. And so another guy I know called me out on it this week and we got loud with each other. And I said, “well, I have my style and you have yours. Let’s see which is more effective.”

But perhaps he’s right. A little bit anyway.

I don’t like bullies and I will and have stood up to them. But I also don’t like to fight and I don’t like politics. I like the work.

But another friend taught me that commissioners own culture in a town. Not the kind of culture we see at Old School Square or the Arts Garage. But culture in the sense of how we feel about our city—whether we have pride, whether we can work together effectively and whether we can disagree without burning down each other’s homes.

And on that measure our commission has failed. Big time.

So that’s why worked I hard for the candidates I backed this cycle—because I liked their maturity and temperament.

I left Jim’s party when Mayor Glickstein began to speak because I hold him accountable for some of the mess the volunteers have been dealing with for the past several years. I care about our Chamber—and it has its challenges because of politics. I love Old School Square—and it struggled to get a lease, lost events and rental income and I watched as two of my heroes Frances Bourque and Joe Gillie were criticized and the board I serve on accused of not being effective and worse. These are good people, our best.

I watched when the BPOA spent 6-8 years working on a Beach Area Master Plan pro bono—only to see the architect Bob Currie–who has been 48 years– get criticized and the leaders of the association feel dismissed.

And I watched a corporate headquarters and movie theater CEO who does business on a global basis be called an “amateur” at a hearing. That remark stung him. And many of us volunteers who love Delray reached out to him to apologize. Not because we’re shills or bought, but because we value people who want to invest here.

It doesn’t matter so much whether you want iPic or not, but it does matter how investors and businesses or anyone is treated when they go before our elected officials. It’s everything and it reflects on all is us.

So…I’m happy this morning. So are many others.

But we have made mistakes in this town that I hope we don’t repeat this time. When we hit a rough spot and we think we correct it, the tendency is to move on and that’s good. But it’s not good to move on before we the people discuss what has happened and why; and how we might avoid problems from recurring.

We have a chance…to mend fences with people who have spent years attacking each other culminating in ugly elections that trash our town and leave marks. But only if we seize this moment.

My hope is we do—this time. Because there is a new positive energy in the city and there is room for everyone—even those who disagree. But only if there is civility and respect. And it starts with the dais.

It always has.

 

Prepping For the Barrage

Promises, Promises.

Its election season in Delray Beach and the knives are out.

Sigh.

Over the next several weeks you will hear the following tired old phrases. So if your new to this or just plain curious, we thought it might be helpful to provide a glossary of terms.

“Special interests.” -anyone with a profit motive or an opinion contrary to those who really know best.

“Developers”–usually described as greedy, corrupting and insensitive to neighbors. You know, bad hombres.

Dark Money”-money given to PACs usually by greedy self -interests.  Of course, it’s OK for the “pure” candidates to hide the sources of their cash.

“Puppets”–corruptible elected officials who are typically weak and told how to vote.

“Puppeteers”–those who direct the puppets.

 “Overdevelopment”–most anything proposed in the central business district even if it meets the city’s rules, fits into citizen adopted plans and replaces blight or functionally obsolete buildings.

 “Recovery”–refers to the recovery industry includes sober homes.

“Lobbyists”–those who register to advocate for a particular good, service or project.

“Chamber types”-mostly small business people who care about the city. Some live and work here. Some just work here–that’s often not good enough for some despite the fact that some of Delray’s most valuable contributors have actually lived outside city limits. Also referred to as “good old boys.” Reality: step into the Chamber and you’ll see a lot of new faces, (and some older ones) and a whole bunch of smart women running and growing businesses.

“Slick consultants” – usually referring to the political type. If you use them you are not to be trusted. But frankly, trust has nothing to do with consultants. If you can be trusted you can be trusted. If you can’t, it’s usually not because you engaged someone to help you run a campaign.

 “For profit event producers”-those who stage events to make oodles of cash. PS. They typically don’t.

 “Resident taxpayers”—As Tarzan might say: renters no good. It also sometimes implies that business owners who live elsewhere are not qualified to volunteer for City boards even if they care, pay tons of taxes, donate handsomely to local nonprofits and want to serve and have the chops to do so. And sometimes it refers to people who live here and pay taxes.

“Out of control” –usually refers to events, development, spending etc.

You’ll soon be barraged by mail, robocalls and social media messages that will paint a dark picture outlining threats to the Village by the Sea by dark, greedy forces who ignore the people unless of course you vote for the protectors who will magically lower taxes, fight crime, stop overdevelopment, fight special interests and shut down sober homes.

You’ll also hear that while they care and have pure motives their opponents…oh their opponents…well they are just plain evil. Bought and paid for by dark money forces aiming to destroy our way of life.

What you are unlikely to hear is reality or any ideas. Oh they’ll say they have plans but you’ll never see details.

If I sound cynical maybe it’s because I am. Can you be a cynical optimist? I don’t know, but I do see bright skies ahead once the dust settles anyway that’s another blog.

But I would love to be wrong.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if candidates would just level with the voters?

What would that look like?

Well it might include the following:

We have a pretty terrific small city.

Lots of things have gone right.

Lots of value has been created out of a town that could have easily gone the other way.

Like so many other cities have.

But this town had guts. This town had vision. This town had leadership. And a great deal of unity too.

Great things were achieved. But more needs to be done. Too many people and neighborhoods have been left behind. And there are challenges and opportunities galore.

Schools that need attention—and yes the city has a role and there are ways to make a difference.

Too much property crime—if you don’t feel safe in your home and neighborhood nothing else much matters.

Opioids and terrible sober home operators who are exploiting people pose grave problems—but the issue is full of layers and complexities that don’t lend themselves to sound bites. A little empathy for people doing wonderful work in this field would go a long way.

Kids are dying. On our streets. Needles are everywhere. It’s taking a toll on our police officers and firefighter/paramedics. Our city needs great officers and firefighter/paramedics and they need to be supported not just with words (which are important) but with policies that ensure we are competitive and can attract and retain the best talent around.

Rising property values have made commercial rents skyrocket and many treasured mom and pop businesses are threatened as a result. This is a blend of “irrational exuberance” (and 1031 money sloshing around) and market acknowledgement that investors see great value in Delray Beach. But if we think the downtown is bullet proof, guess again. In order to remain sustainable, we need a mix of uses and more good jobs to complement a food and beverage based economy. Tourism is critical, but so is finding space for businesses, young entrepreneurs, family entertainment etc. We have to be concerned about demographics and keep our central business district attractive to people of all ages.

We lack middle class housing and need a passionate commitment to attract millennials  and jobs that will bring back our children after college. I’m seeing talented young people bypass coming here because they can’t get traction in our market. And yet we capped density where young professionals might want to live limiting supply and driving up already high prices. It’s about design folks—not some artificial number. We learned that lesson in the early 2000s, we need to learn it again.

Our community is divided–by personalities, history, perceptions, rumors, innuendo, social media, armchair critics, racial lines and even whether we like festivals or not.

You get the picture.

There are answers to all of those challenges or at least ways to make things better.

But an honest candidate would tell you that it’s hard to impact anything if your divided, focused on the wrong things and too busy labeling others to enjoy the good things in our community while working together on alleviating the bad and uniting against the ugly.

This March please vote. But kindly insist on honesty and experience in the candidates you ultimately choose to support. Seek candidates who have rolled up their sleeves and done something FOR this community.

It’s easy to discern those who are genuine and real from posers who divide and label in order to amass power.

Ask them what they will do with the power if they get it. Ask them how they plan to solve problems and seize opportunities if they divide, judge and label.

The truth is they can’t.

Because it really does take a village.

 

 

 

An Early Valentine

Delray Beach City Clerk has been a bright spot for years at City Hall.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.
As a hopeless (OK some might say helpless) romantic I thought I would send an early Valentine to Delray and Boca.
Bear with me, it might get mushy.
Five things we love about Boca.
1. As a friend recently told me, “Boca has depth.” By depth he meant strength. Great neighborhoods, high achieving schools, a couple of universities, office parks filled with jobs, tons of shopping options, glorious parks–you get the picture. And we could go on.
2. An airport with a Tilted Kilt restaurant. There really is no more to add.
3. Barrel of Monks Brewing. The beer is delicious and different from other craft breweries. It’s the way they brew. Check it out. And if you can take a tour. The brewery is a homage to Belgian brewing and it’s wonderful.
4. The Wold…Lynn University’s world class theater. Plush, beautiful, elegant and comfortable.
5. The Waterstone. What a great spot…water, views, a nice restaurant. Treat your loved one to a romantic evening on the Intracoastal–you don’t have to check in to indulge.
Now for Delray…
1. For another 11 days, City Clerk Chevelle Nubin  Chevelle is the epitome of a public servant. Kind, competent, conscientious and calm–I was so fortunate to work with her. We all were. She’s leaving us for Wellington at the end of the month, but she will be long remembered for her kindness, skill and grace under pressure. I was fortunate to see her grow under the capable guidance of Clerk Barbara Garito and when Barbara retired we had a smooth transition. She became a leader among clerks in Palm Beach County and Florida-while balancing a busy life with beautiful children. We wish her well.
2. Lake Ida Park–there’s so many birds, dogs are welcome, it’s active, large and beautiful.
3. Saltwater Brewery–we can’t give a shout out to Barrel of Monks without mentioning Saltwater. Have you had their watermelon beer? The only drink that compares is the Blueberry vodka and lemonade at Olio.
4. The Achievement Center, Space of Mind, Milagro Center, Old School Square, Delray Students First, The Arts Garage and all the other schools, non-profits, day cares and organizations devoted to children. Which means they care about and are seeding our future. What’s not to love about that?
5. Good citizens. We are a city of people who rally to help others when they need it. A city that reaches out to each other. A city that is not afraid to innovate. The kind of place that when police officers  reach out to a trusted citizen to help a single mom whose child was a victim of a sad and heinous crime, money and gifts were gathered in lightning fashion.
Now that’s community.
Happy Valentines Day.

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.

A Bountiful Harvest

harvest_logo-220We finally had a chance to visit Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar a few weeks back.

Over the weekend, we went back and happily saw many people we knew and one we recognized, former tennis champion Jim Courier.

Harvest is the new restaurant at Delray Place and it’s been on my to do list ever since I met the GM at the Chamber’s holiday party.
She seemed nice and she handed me a voucher for a free flatbread. She had me at flatbread.
Still, it took a couple of weeks to make it to Harvest.
It was worth the wait.
The restaurant is beautiful and warm with fireplaces and dark wood.
The menu is full of healthy low calorie choices sourced from local farms and producers like Old School Bakery, Heritage Farms, Saltwater Brewery and Barrel of Monks.
Delray Place elicits a lot of comments among people I know.
There’s not enough parking…
It’s weird looking…
It’s a great looking …
I love Trader Joe’s…
What’s up with Trader Joe’s…
You get the picture.
But here’s what I thought as we walked around after dinner and read a sign for a new business called “Local Greens”: how cool is this?
I also had this thought. I’ve lived here nearly 30 years and never before have we had so many great places to visit.
So many great local businesses here and in Boca too.
Top notch restaurants, great hotels, nice shops, terrific grocery store options, really cool arts venues and nice parks and recreational facilities. It wasn’t always this way.
Which brings me back to Harvest.
As a noun, harvest means the time of year when crops are ripe and ready to be gathered. The picked crop is also called a harvest: a bumper crop is a plentiful harvest, and a poor harvest is when things didn’t grow as well as expected.
I think we grew up to be a nice place. I would label it a bumper crop. 
We can focus on what we don’t have –which I tell my kids is a recipe for unhappiness– or we can appreciate the gifts we’ve been given or those that we’ve earned. 
Gratitude is so important. 
We have an awful lot to be thankful for.