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.

Public Leadership (Doesn’t Have To Be An Oxymoron)

Former Mayor Nancy Graham.

I’m a big fan of ULI, the Urban Land Institute, a global organization that promotes sustainable land use and good design.
So when I was asked to appear on a panel on public leadership with two mayors I admire—West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and former West Palm Mayor Nancy Graham– I jumped at the opportunity.
My son lives in downtown West Palm Beach and so I visit more often than usual these days. I think the city has  some great things going on including start up incubators, some interesting restaurants and the new and exciting Grandview Public Market which has invigorated the Warehouse District.
Mayor Muoio, Mayor Graham and the citizens of West Palm have a lot to be proud of.

Mayor Graham was a transformational leader who put together the groundbreaking deal for City Place and brought walkability expert Jeff Speck to the city years ago to promote vibrant mixed use and pedestrian friendly development.
We’ve  been friends for years and it was good to see her back in West Palm after years in California. She lives in North Florida these days and remains a very vocal advocate for city’s and her beliefs.
We spoke to a group of young leaders who work in land use, planning, architecture, transportation, development, housing and other important disciplines.

Takeaways included the need to have political courage, the need to engage the public around development issues, the importance of having a vision and sticking with it in the face of opposition and the critical need for mayors to always be learning, evolving and leading.

After all, a bright future is not guaranteed. It  needs to be earned and it requires work, vigilance and determination.
Mayors are uniquely positioned to drive positive change. Local government is perhaps the last bastion of progress and possibilities.
Washington D.C. and state capitals tend to be partisan and therefore prone to gridlock and obstruction.
Cities and counties have unique opportunities to effectuate change and think long term.

But only if they choose to do so. I’ve seen many cities seize opportunities and make miraculous progress.
Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and an array of rust belt cities have managed to come back to life through reinvention, strategic investment and political will.
I enjoy reading stories about Detroit and other cities that are finding ways to reverse decades of decay.  It’s inspiring and gives you faith that problems can be solved.

Locally, Delray Beach, Lake Worth, Pompano Beach, West Palm and Fort Lauderdale are interesting examples of cities that have employed vision, investment and public engagement to forge promising futures.
Each city was wise to choose its own strategy and “style”.

Delray’s scale and emphasis on the arts, culture, sports and diversity proved to be a winning formula that has paved the way to attract creative industries.  If we stay the course, market our amenities and add to the vision we can have more progress and solve our ongoing challenges.

Pompano Beach is pursuing an innovation district as an anchor offering. The city has made impressive strides in recent years.

West Palm seems to be embracing its role as the county seat and has aspirations to be an important city and not just a ‘hallway’ to the airport, Palm Beach and county government as the mayor noted.
BRAVÒ!
I love cities that aspire. I respect cities that have ambitions, plan for the future and honor the past.
Forward thinking. Political will. Vision. Engagement. Strategic investment. That’s the formula.
I’m glad to see ULI embracing the next generation of leadership. It was a joy to be in the room with energetic leaders who want to build anew and take our cities to the next level.
We have a bright future as a result of these efforts.

Mayor Muio.

Things We Love: December Edition

Things we loved in December

December was a blur for many of us. But we didn’t want to let the month pass without pointing out some gems.

We enjoyed a great dinner with close friends at Fries to Caviar in Boca. The intimate spot which features a nice bar, great outdoor space and a varied menu has a sister restaurant in Delray, the excellent Jimmy’s Bistro. We highly recommend both places.

Speaking of great meals, we had a terrific “wine” dinner at Caffe Luna Rosa in December with special guest Max Weinberg of the legendary E Street Band. For me, that’s like having dinner with a Beatle.
I mention this because Max is playing a benefit show at the Arts Garage February 17.
Max Weinberg’s Jukebox has been playing several venues to big crowds and rave reviews. If you love great music from the 60s, 70s and 80s, don’t miss this show. And it benefits a great cause —our Arts Garage.

If you haven’t been to Beer Trade Company you really should give it a try.
This cool little spot on 4th Avenue is a nice locals spot with a vast array of craft beers and cider and the world’s best risotto balls.
There’s a companion location in Boca as well.

December is typically a philanthropic month with successful toy drives, food drives, and last minute charitable donations.
Those who organize and contribute to these efforts deserve our thanks.
Still, let’s try and remember that the immense needs of our community don’t disappear in January. If you are in a position to help, you are needed. It feels good to pay our civic rent.

Finally, we truly enjoyed December and it was gratifying to see Delray and Boca abuzz with people.
We shouldn’t take it for granted. Yes, finding a parking space is a little challenging, but you know what the alternative is; empty streets, vacant stores and not much to do.
We are truly blessed.

We didn’t have a chance to do a year end list but this was the year I put down the phone long enough to start reading books (actual physical books again) and it was great.
I’ve been a lifelong voracious reader: books, magazines, newspapers and later blogs.
But somewhere along the way, books fell by the wayside. This despite having written my own book. I was embarrassed. And I made a conscious effort to get back to reading books.
The effort was worth it. First, I figured out that I had the attention span to finish a book, something that I had begun to doubt.

I really believe that the barrage of media and content coming at us has compromised our ability to focus—at least it has impacted my attention span. But I’m happy to report that with a concentrated effort it’s possible to overcome.
So here’s a list of my 10 favorite books of 2017. In no particular order.
1. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris. Ferris is a best selling author, successful blogger and popular podcaster. Tools is a huge compilation of his podcast interviews and he has talked to a who’s who from every conceivable walk of life. The book is a collection of valuable advice from world class performers.
2. Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris. Tribe is a great companion piece to Tools of Titans featuring more interviews with amazing people who answer questions about their favorite books (Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is a favorite of many), failures and best practices. The big reveal: it seems like nearly everyone who performs at a peak level is meditating.
3. What I found in a Thousand Towns by Dar Williams. We blogged about this book a few months ago. Williams is a folk singer who has travelled the country and has managed to get out of her hotel room to study the cities she plays in. Her insights are spot on and her writing is sublime. She knows what makes towns work. A great primer for those who love cities.
4. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. The Boss’ autobiography is a delight. Beautifully written, bravely revealing and always entertaining this fan came away with even more love and respect for this musical legend.
5. The New Brooklyn by Kay Hymowitz. I’m not from Brooklyn nor have I been lucky enough to live there. But my grandparents, aunt and cousin lived there and I spent a lot of time in the borough in the 70s and 80s. So I have been curious about Brooklyn’s history and how it became synonymous with cool. This book answered those questions. A great read.
6. Within Walking Distance by Philip Langdon. This charming book focuses on several neighborhoods in places as varied as Philadelphia and small town Vermont. It focuses on walkability and community building and the towns that get it right. It made me want to visit Brattleboro, Vt. But not in the wintertime.
7. The Content Trap by Bharat Anand. May be the most insightful business book I’ve read in recent memory. A blurb can’t do it justice but let’s just say the book provides answers for businesses that care about not being disrupted into oblivion.
8. Hooked by Nir Eyal. A sobering look at how technology hooks us.
9. Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday. A terrific book that examines what it takes to create work and art that lasts.
10. The Amazing City by James Hunt. I bought this book after seeing Mr. Hunt speak at a League of Cities luncheon. A former president of the National League of Cities and former City Councilman in a small West Virginia town, Hunt’s book explores the elements that cities need to succeed. It’s a good list. We will share in a future blog.
Tied  for #10. Principles by Ray Dalio. This book (more like a tome) outlines the principles that Dalio used to build Bridgewater Associates into the world’s largest hedge fund. He believes in radical transparency and it worked for Bridgewater—spectacularly. An interesting book that also addresses life.

Catching Up On Ideas

Five years ago, we published a blog post outlining 25 ideas for Delray.

We stumbled upon the post this week and thought we’d take a look to see whether any of these ideas came to life.

25 Ideas …

1.Brand Delray Beach as a mecca for entrepreneurs—Progress: Delray has attracted a fair amount of interesting entrepreneurs including The Downtowner, Delivery Dudes, House of Perna and Rooster among others. There also several social entrepreneurial efforts including WiseTribe, Space of Mind, One Million Cups, Creative Mornings Palm Beach (not Delray based per se, but active in the city).

2.To accomplish the above, create a business incubator downtown and invite entrepreneurs to grow in Delray. Progress:  Not yet. There are a few co-working efforts—the Kitchn etc., but a true incubator has yet to be established. Perhaps, overlooking the Old School Square Park? Great opportunity.

3.Create a business accelerator in Delray so that once companies are incubated they have someplace to go for the extra needed help. Progress: Not yet.

4.Help existing businesses grow by offering classes and low or no-cost business advice at our own Old School Square. Progress: Not yet.

5.Speaking of Old School Square, offer executive education, certificate and graduate programs in the classrooms. Revenue for Old School Square and another tool for economic development. Progress: Not on the drawing board.

6.Program the Old School Square Park—add shade, music and a few tasteful vendors. Progress: Work has been done to forge a vision for the park, but not yet accomplished. Bond issue establishing the park was passed almost 13 years ago. Lots of discussion around what to fund.

7.At holiday time, create a holiday village at the Old School Square park and allow kiosks and “pop-up” stores to capture crowds heading to the 100 foot tree. Give local retailers a free or reduced stall and charge others for the month—use funds to offset holiday costs. Progress: A new tree, no pop-ups.

8.Creatively partner with the Elev 8 Sports Institute and bring “fantasy camps” to Delray. With the school’s extensive MLB contacts, tourists would come to Delray to play with their childhood heroes and enjoy the downtown after the game is over. Progress: Didn’t happen.

9.Install LED lighting in parking lots and parking garages. It’s green and it saves money. Progress: Several entrepreneurs interested in making it happen.

10.Create a leadership academy to train the next generation of local leaders. Teach the Delray success story. Progress: In 2016, Chamber ran a civics academy. It was well attended. But a follow-up has not yet occurred.

11.Create a local Business Development Corporation enabling local residents to buy “shares” in local businesses and invest in growing our own economy. Progress: Not on the radar.

12.Reinvigorate the Southwest Plan by borrowing a page from Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Empowerment Zone playbook. Seek foundation monies to move beyond infrastructure to developing Delray’s vast human capital. Progress: WARC working on a transformation plan, efforts to rebrand the area as The Set underway.

13.Arm the economic development director with a reasonable budget to market Delray. We have to get in the game and that takes marketing and… Progress: Nope.

14.Public Relations. Delray needs a publicity strategy outside the local papers to attract investment and build awareness of our assets and opportunities. After all, we are the jewel of Palm Beach County. Progress: Downtown Marketing Cooperative, Chamber and Downtown Development Authority do a great job.

15.Tie the new Arts Warehouse to a broader strategy to create an artists and artisans “village within a village” in the Third Avenue area. Progress: Five years later, we just attended the grand opening of the long-awaited warehouse. Better late than never, and it’s fabulous.

16.Help Delray’s Prep and Sports develop a national reputation for elite football training and make the 7 on 7 event one of the premier tournaments in the USA. Progress: Prep and Sports’ founder T.J. Jackson was hired to coach Atlantic High. He took them to the state finals this year.

17.Convene an economic development charrette to discuss our fiscal future and job creation—let the community decide the priorities and tie our spending to those priorities. Progress: Economic development will be a part of the comp plan. Yay!

18.Team up with our neighbors Boca Raton and Boynton wherever possible:  economic development, marketing to save money and leverage our strengths. Progress: An alliance has been discussed around government affairs on regional issues with area chambers.

19.Get serious about jumpstarting investment on Congress Avenue. The vision and zoning is in place, what’s needed is execution and beautification. Progress: Years after handing in a report, the Task Force plan has been largely shelved by the commission. Vice Mayor Chard has kept the flame burning with meetings among property owners and investors. Kaufman Lynn located to Congress, transforming a derelict property into a great new headquarters. Investor interest remains high on the corridor. The city could help by implementing the plan and amending the LDR’s as promised.

20.Add a Middle School of the Arts at Carver Middle School and tie it into all of our arts activities from Old School Square to the Creative City Collaborative to the new Plumosa School of the Arts. Progress: Hasn’t happened.

21.Bring a branch of a university downtown and one to Congress Avenue. Progress: Lynn University has partnered with the Delray chamber. Stay tuned.

22.Revisit the North Federal Highway Plan and come up with a new vision for the 21st Century. Progress: Hasn’t happened.

23.Host a competition and have our local techies develop some interesting local apps. Progress: Hasn’t happened. The city of Tallahassee and the Florida League of Cities has had success with this approach.

24.Develop a formal, aggressive and powerful Shop Local Campaign. Progress: Small Business Saturday has become a big deal in recent years.

25.Add entrepreneurship academies to Atlantic High and Village Academy. Progress: Hasn’t happened yet.

A Place For Humanity Amidst Change

A vintage Sears catalog.

When I read the news, I look for patterns.

What’s bubbling just under the surface? What trends are starting to emerge? Are there clues out there to tell us where we are going next?
It’s fun to discern what might be happening and it’s also helpful in business to try and see where the world is heading.
What I’m seeing lately are a bunch of stories that indicate angst about technology and a push back against the dominance of our digital society. It seems that we are beginning to really worry about the addictive power of our smart phones, the amount of data tech companies like Facebook and Google have on us, the corrosive impact that social media can have on society and the ubiquitous reach of Amazon.
So this could get interesting.
One of the best trend spotters out there is marketing expert Seth Godin. Here’s what he wrote on Black Friday:
“The buying race is over. Amazon won. The shopping race, though, the struggle to create experiences that are worth paying for, that’s just beginning.”
Godin was lamenting the herd mentality whipped up by media to shop on the day after Thanksgiving.
But while he acknowledged Amazon’s dominance, he also sees opportunity for physical retailers in the “real world” to compete by offering experiences, service, design, fun and community.
We better hope so, because there are a lot of jobs, sales tax for local governments and consequences for Main streets and shopping centers if retailers don’t figure out a way to compete more effectively.
Another go to source for trends is “Redef”, an email newsletter that aggregates great stories from a wide variety of sources.
One recent piece came from the LA Times which talked about the comeback of catalogs. In an era of seemingly endless growth for online shopping, the humble mail order catalog is getting new life as merchants strive to battle email fatigue. 
While nobody is predicting the return of the Sears catalog (or the iconic retail chain) there seems to be growing anxiety over a purely cyber world. 
Don’t get me wrong. Facebook is great in moderation. Amazon is convenient and Netflix is wonderful.  
But it would be sad if we lost face the face interaction we get at a great retail store and the experience of seeing a movie with a group of people. 
While these and other industries are under assault by the threat of mobile and internet technology, there is some evidence that the “analog” world won’t go without a fight. 
The New York Times has experienced a surge in print subscriptions, vinyl records and cassettes are staging a comeback,  physical books and independent bookstores are enjoying a mini renaissance and there are retail districts around the country that are doing very well. 
While AirBnB is thriving, smart Hotel brands like Aloft, Hyatt Place, Canopy, and Ace are also proving to be enduring competitors. Boutique hotels such as Cranes Beach House, historic properties such as the Colony Hotel and larger but stylish options like the Seagate remain desirable for travelers of all ages. 
As for theaters, there seems to be room for Netflix and iPic, Hulu and Alamo Drafthouse. 
While Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has reported on the phenomenon of people “Bowling Alone” which chronicled the struggles of civic groups and bowling leagues—there are a raft of new groups emerging:  One Million Cups, Creative Mornings, WiseTribe, Community Greening, Human Powered Delray and Better Delray carving out community. 
Locally, Rotary, Elks and Kiwanis remain vibrant and vital.
 
As for me, I don’t see technology retreating. I think we will see autonomous cars within the next 10 years, streaming services will grow and groceries will be delivered to our homes. But I do think that smart retailers who create experiences and relationships will thrive. Great restaurants will continue to draw crowds and while golf courses will continue to close— options like Top Golf (food, fun, night golfing) will fill the gap. 
I think the key will be placemaking. 
The cities that create vibrant, safe, walkable places will draw crowds and investment. Fred Kent, a part time Delray resident and founder of the Project for Public Spaces (www.pps.org), has reported on the “power of 10” –the need for communities to create at least 10 activities in order for places to thrive.  PPS is right. 
We will look up from our phones–if there’s something compelling and active to draw us in.
 We will want to gather for concerts at Old School Square and Mizner Park. We may want to take a class or two online but there will also be a desire to interact in person with other students and a desire to go to happy hour even though you can order beer, wine and spirits online. 
I think a backlash is brewing. We will bend technology just enough to allow us to remain human. 
At least that’s my hope. 

Rankings, Ratings & Quality of Life

Leawood, Kansas seems like a great place but…

The personal-finance website WalletHub has released its report on 2017’s Best Small Cities in America.

It’s interesting and provocative.

Boca Raton scored high on most measurements, but the analysis revealed some areas of concern. And Delray Beach—despite being the great city we know it to be—has some work to do if you believe the indicators.

First the highlights:

WalletHub’s analysts compared more than 1,200 U.S. cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000 across 33 key indicators of livability. They range from housing costs to school-system quality to restaurants per capita.

 

Top 20 Small Cities in America    

  1. Princeton, NJ   11. Newton, MA
  2. Lexington, MA   12. Melrose, MA
  3. Leawood, KS   13. Brookfield, WI
  4. Milton, MA   14. Sammamish, WA
  5. Brentwood, TN   15. Kirkland, WA

6 .Los Altos, CA   16. Saratoga, CA

  1. Carmel, IN   17. Dublin, OH
  2. Needham, MA   18. Palo Alto, CA
  3. Holly Springs, NC   19. Westfield, NJ
  4. Littleton, CO   20. Fishers, IN

 

Best vs. Worst

  • The Villages, Florida, has the highest homeownership rate, 96.25 percent, which is 108.1 times higher than in Fort Hood, Texas, the city with the lowest at 0.89 percent.

 

  • Plainfield, Illinois, has the lowest share of the population living below poverty level, 1.90 percent, which is 27.5 times lower than in Statesboro, Georgia, the city with the highest at 52.3 percent.

 

  • Fort Hood, Texas, has the shortest average commute time, 11.2 minutes, which is 3.9 times shorter than in Lake Elsinore, California, the city with the longest at 43.6 minutes.

 

  • East Lansing, Michigan, has the fewest average hours worked per week, 28.2, which is 1.7 times fewer than in Fort Hood, Texas, the city with the most at 49.1.

I would suspect that many of us who live in Delray and Boca wouldn’t trade living here for anywhere else—especially now that the good weather has kicked in. I don’t think there are too many people who would look at the rankings and sell their home in Lake Ida or Woodfield Country Club for a home in number 3 ranked Leawood, Kansas either. (No offense to Leawood, we’re sure it’s wonderful).

So where do we rank?

Delray ranked in the 60th percentile—the top cities were in the 99th percentile. Boca ranked in the 98th percentile.

Delray’s overall score of 57.62, trailed Boca which scored a 66.01. Number one ranked Princeton scored a 73.36.

Delray ranked 870th on affordability—not a surprise considering the run-up in home prices and the lack of new product on the market. Boca ranked 733rd on affordability.

Delray’s economic health ranked 436th with Boca coming in at 224—hard to imagine that there are that many cities healthier than Boca which seems to rake in companies and jobs by the truckloads. On the education and health measurement Delray ranked 728 and Boca 520.

Delray scored an impressive number 51 on the all-important quality of life ranking with Boca an even more impressive number 14. Interestingly, my guess is that residents of each city wouldn’t trade places—both cities are appealing for different reasons. Sarasota ranked number one in quality of life—and if you’ve visited lately you’ll see why.

On safety, Delray scored number 924 and Boca 543.

Lots to chew on certainly.

Rankings, awards, contests etc., are fun to debate, but in the end they are just numbers and things. It’s hard to measure a community’s spirit, aspirations, closeness, friendliness or ambience.

Still, they can be used to benchmark so that cities can strive to do better. Some cities—like Santa Monica—try to measure happiness. Delray used to survey residents on a range of issues and topics and policymakers at the time found the findings interesting and helpful. Cities can be noisy places—especially with the advent of social media—and sometimes (often) the squeaky wheels don’t represent the majority opinion on a given issue.

As for the Wallet Hub findings—I think we should take another survey in January and see if Boca /Delray would score somewhat higher than Princeton, N.J. as the place to be.

 

Growing Our Own

No bigger game than Amazon.

November is National Entrepreneurship Month.

I didn’t know that, but as far as I’m concerned we ought to be spotlighting and helping entrepreneurs 12 months a year.

Since 2008, there has been a net decline in new business creation in the U.S. One of the contributing factors appears to be a growing aversion to risk for young adults who grew up during the Great Recession.

 

A new survey by Junior Achievement shows that 9-out-of-10 parents would support their kids starting a business as adults, but only 1-in-3 teens say they would consider becoming an entrepreneur, identifying “risk” as one of the top reasons for not striking out on their own.

We need to reverse that trend—it’s not an overstatement to say that if we don’t we will lose our edge as a nation.

America was built by entrepreneurs: people in business, government, science, education and the non-profit world who took risks because they saw opportunity.

Entrepreneurs are the people who solve problems, build, create, sustain and design successful societies.

We’ve all been reading lately about the efforts of close to 250 cities and regions to lure a second Amazon headquarters and its promise of 50,000 jobs. It’s a big opportunity—no doubt a game changer for the lucky winner who will have to put up billions in incentives to make it happen. South Florida, including our own Business Development Board, is playing the game and to some extent I guess you have too.

But personally, I would rather make an investment in seeding a new generation of entrepreneurs than throwing money at an already wealthy company like Amazon. I prefer what they call “economic gardening” (growing your own) to chasing smoke stacks or the modern digital version.

Fortunately, there is a lot beginning to happen on the gardening front: FAU and Lynn University have good business schools, Tech Runway at FAU has potential and the business community in Palm Beach County is relatively strong. Boca Raton’s economic development efforts are impressive, West Palm Beach is coming of age and Boynton Beach has some very exciting projects under consideration. Northern Palm Beach County has a very strong business community anchored by a progressive Chamber of Commerce (shout out to our friend Chamber president Beth Kigel) and Lake Worth has tremendous potential especially in the energy sector.

As a two time board member of our BDB, I can attest that we have a solid economic development organization that in my opinion has been a little starved of resources by the county over the years (relative to budgets in Broward, Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties).

I’m especially intrigued and excited by some of the emerging groups of young creative entrepreneurs that we are seeing pop up: Creative Mornings Palm Beach, Palm Beach Tech and One Million Cups are just a few of the groups emerging filled with energy, ambition and community building potential.

There are also some real interesting co-working spaces popping up.

I’m especially happy to see the growth and excitement behind Palm Beach Entrepreneur Week Nov. 10-18. (Like The Beatles song, that’s actually an 8 day week).

Highlights include a meetup at the Social House in Lake Worth, a Creative Morning at Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach, a pitch competition in West Palm Beach, a Florida Venture Forum showcase at FAU’s Tech Runway and more… Check out the website for a full schedule: https://eweekpb.com/#landing-events

All this is really cool to see. But we need more.

More angel investors, more mentors, more venture capital, more news about entrepreneurs and more outreach into schools. The Boca Chamber’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy is a great start. We also need more affordable space in key downtowns like Delray—not easy to do based on market forces and high prices.

We sit in a great location—close enough to Miami (an international city and a gateway to the Americas), close to an emerging Fort Lauderdale and within a county that offers a great quality of life.

If we reach our potential—the Amazon’s of the world will be asking to move here and ideally the next Amazon will be born here.

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.