Shopping in Delray Beach and Boca Raton

When it comes to shopping you simply can’t beat the options in Boca Raton or Delray Beach.

Boca Raton has several distinct shopping district from the nationally renowned Mizner Park and Fifth Avenue Shops to the Mall at Town Center and West Boca shopping centers there is an endless variety of shopping experiences for all budgets.

Delray is home to vibrant Atlantic Avenue and Pineapple Grove where you’ll find boutiques, shops and galleries for those with an eclectic eye.

Palm Beach’s famed Worth Avenue and Fort Lauderdale’s renowned Las Olas Boulevard are both 30 minutes away to complete your shopping needs.

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.

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. 

Housing For Young People Needed

Delray’s Community Land Trust is an innovative organization supported by the Delray CRA and others.

The headline was a grabber: Are You a Millennial Looking to Buy a Home? It Could Take Up to 32 Years.

Only 32% of the country’s largest generation (which consists of 75 million Americans) own homes. Those that do are flocking to interior markets, which tend to be cheaper and more cost-effective than most coastal markets. In our neck of the woods, that might mean the western fringes which creates sprawl and traffic as workers head east for jobs. But even out west, higher end homes seem to be the order of the day and many of the communities cater to the 55 and over crowd. Redfin recently reported that the 33446 area code (west of Delray)  is pacing the nation in price appreciation.

 

As the front line of millennials enter their mid-30s, financial security is not guaranteed. Instead, the generation is beleaguered with student loan debt (which exceeds car and credit card debt) and salaries that are 20% lower than what their baby boomer parents earned at the same age, according to a report by real estate research site Abodo.

 

The average net worth of a millennial is $10,090, or 56% less than what it was for baby boomers at the same point in life, according to Federal Reserve data.

 

Coupled with rising home prices, it could take decades for a millennial to be able to afford a down payment on a house in places like San Diego or San Francisco. This may be why more millennials live with their parents than any other generation in the last 130 years, according to Bisnow Media.

Millennials living in the country’s biggest cities, including New York City, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles are especially challenged.

 

The average millennial makes $40,500 per year. Using that average, were one to save 15% of her income each year, it would take just over 18 years to save enough for a 20% down payment on a home in Boston. It would take 32 years for a millennial to afford the average $112,000 down payment for a home in Los Angeles. And as the father of a few millennials who are gainfully employed (thank goodness) I have a hard time believing that even the most frugal and disciplined young person can save 15% of their income.

The picture in South Florida is not much different than some of the aforementioned hyper expensive markets.

I remember moving here when I was 22 and thinking that relative to New York and the Northeast, Florida was very affordable. My car insurance was lower, home prices were reasonable, there was no income tax and property taxes were much lower than my native Long Island. Even homeowners insurance was nominal at first—before changing after Hurricane Andrew.

Still, according to researchers at Abodo, Florida as a state remains much more affordable than other parts of the United States. It would take 5-10 years for millennials to save up.

Hence, the desire for developers to build apartments and the willingness of underwriters to finance deals. However, finding sites in built-out and expensive Boca and Delray is challenging. With land prices soaring, rental rents are also rising and the uncertain regulatory environment (costly, lengthy and torturous entitlement processes, toxic politics, NIMBYism and an aversion to density) make it even harder for millennials to strike out on their own.

Another headline in USA Today recently also grabbed me: Where Did All The Starter Homes Go?

The article cited a byzantine maze of zoning, environmental, safety and other requirements that has led to a 35% decrease in housing construction across the country from previous levels. According to economists cited by USA Today, the lack of supply has driven up home prices by 40% over the past five years.

Single family home construction suffers from a lack of available land and a lack of skilled construction workers, according to the National Association of Realtors. Banks are also tougher on borrowers as a result of the housing crash in 2008.

The perfect storm has led the National Association of Home Builders to sound the alarm. The NAHB says that from 2011 to 2016, regulatory costs to build the average house has increased from about $65,000 to $85,000 and now represent 25% of the cost of a home.

Of course, we need regulations as long as they are necessary, fairly priced and serve a public purpose.

Still, the inability of millennials to gain a foothold in our community should be pressing concern for public and private sector leaders.

It’s important for companies to be able to recruit workers in order for the economy to grow. Workers, young families, entrepreneurs and established companies look at housing prices, quality of life, quality of schools and cultural amenities before making a decision on where to put down roots.

Unfortunately, the word density has taken on a bad meaning. But, truth be told, density done well (i.e. properly designed for great buildings and public spaces) is essential for cities such as Boca Raton and Delray Beach. Compact and walkable development is better for the environment than traffic producing sprawl which serves the needs of cars over people. It also allows for young people to form households and become part of the community injecting needed ideas, life, energy, monies and volunteer hours which make cities work.

The recent changes to Delray’s land development regulations for the downtown core which capped density at 30 units to the acre, was a big mistake. It virtually guarantees that millennials—who seek walkable environments and don’t want to be car dependent—can’t live downtown. By limiting the supply, you jack up prices and we end up with an eastern core that’s shut off to all but the very wealthy.

The 2001 Downtown Master Plan, which did much to build on the 1990s Decade of Excellence, was a community wide education effort that encouraged well-designed projects versus a fixation on density numbers. We saw visual examples of ugly low density housing and also saw attractive higher density projects which have the added benefit of increasing your tax base while also adding residents who can support local businesses. That was the guiding rationale behind the push to add downtown housing. We wanted a sustainable, year-round downtown.

The other areas that make sense to add attainable housing for millennials and others is North and South Federal Highway, Congress Avenue and the “four corners” of Atlantic and Military, which has zoning allowing for a mix of uses. The four corners zoning—done over a decade ago—will become increasingly important as we see pressure on the retail landscape increase with big box chain stores being driven out of business by ecommerce.

Delray is ready to offer shopping center developers more options for their properties should they decide to invest and change course.

The best incentives are not monetary—which almost always leads to an arms race you can’t win with companies taking the money until a better offer comes along. Rather, the best incentives are zoning, a tough but fair and timely approval process that emphasizes design and good uses and enough density to give the next generation a chance to access your city.

We were always ahead of the curve—which is why Delray succeeded. It’s important we stay there or we will be left behind. Right now, we’re losing ground.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

This Week’s Goodshop: Unicorn Children’s Foundation

Shopfunding for Delray/Boca — This week’s cause:  Unicorn Children’s Foundation

 

In 1994, Mark Rosenbloom M.D. was told over and over again by fellow doctors that his three-year-old son’s lack of talking was something he would just “grow out of.” But, he didn’t. After a series of one misdiagnosis after another, Mark was so passionate he founded the Unicorn Children’s Foundation.

Focused on children with developmental and communication disorders like ADHD, autism, bipolar, dyslexia and other learning disorders, UCF develops groundbreaking therapies and treatments to help diagnose and assess these issues better. FAU and Nova Southeastern Universities are also involved.

And as a non-profit, every penny counts. That’s why they love Goodshop so much. Through online coupons, supporters of the Unicorn Children’s Foundation have raised hundreds of free dollars, just by shopping online.

Want to help out? To raise free funds for UCF while saving at thousands of online stores, join our shopfunding campaign, where a portion of every purchase will go back to the foundation. Here are some of the deals you can find:

24 Hour Fitness discounts: Free gym pass at any location, and 7.5% will go back to help kids in need.

Best Buy: Up to 35% off tvs, and 0.5% will go back to UCF.

Box Lunch coupon codes: 40% off select tees, and 1.75% will go back to research developmental disorders.

My M&M’s: 20% off and 5% will be donated back to support Mark’s cause.

 

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.