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.

Shop and Support Friends of Gumbo Limbo

There are many ways to enjoy and support the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton.

Editor’s Note: Our partnership with Goodshop allows you to shop at your favorite stores and support local non-profits.

Shopfunding for Delray/Boca — This week’s cause:  Friends of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center

 

Since 1984, the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center has been a local beacon for research, education and conservation. Encompassing 20 acres of protected land, it provides a refuge for thousands of plants and animals, many of which are threatened or endangered. Programs they offer include school day/field trips, turtle conservation volunteer opportunities and cooperative research with Florida Atlantic University.

 

The mainstay of the Center’s cause is the experience visitors have when they visit the center. Hosting more than 190,000 guests annually, this thriving Boca Raton staple offers relaxation and learning opportunities to tourists and locals alike.

 

We’d like to honor the work the Nature Center is doing this week, and raise free funds while saving at thousands of online stores. You can join our shopfunding campaign, where a percentage of what you spend will go back to the Center. Here are some of the savings you can find:

 

Strawberries.com: 10% off any order, and 5% goes back to the Center.

 

Tilly’s: 20% off one item, and 3% will go to help the turtle conservation.

 

Wolferman’s: 30% off and 3.5% will go to preserve the animal refuge.

 

Petco:  40% off aquarium supplies, and 4% is donated to protect endangered land.

 

 

Better Boulder Inspires A Better Delray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not healthy.

It doesn’t build community.

And it doesn’t solve problems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We aspire.

We are not complacent.

There is too much at stake.

We believe that the best is yet to come.

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

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

 

 

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.

Cash 4 Canines

A while back, we had lunch with JJ Ramberg.

If that name sounds familiar it’s because she’s the long time  host of MSNBC’s Your Business (my favorite show).

JJ is a founder and managing director of a cool company called GoodShop which allows you to shop and support your favorite causes. It’s an amazing company. Check it out at www.goodshop.com. There’s also an app that’s easy to use.

We’re going to focus on local Florida causes. Here’s the latest “shopfunding” campaign which supports a cause close to our hearts: rescues.

Please consider helping this great cause, which serves Florida’s east coast and has roots in Delray.
This week’s cause: Cash 4 Canines
Last July , Jennifer Sorrentino had a moment when she knew she had made the right decision to launch Cash 4 Canines. She looked into the eyes of an 11 year old German Shepherd named Sasha who was one day away from being euthanized. For 11 years Sasha been in good shape other than some arthritis. Within two weeks, Jennifer and her co-founder Tracy had found Sascha a loving forever home in the Melbourne Beach area of Florida.
Just one month later they saved yet another dog who was just hours away from being euthanized. They were told that Dr. House (who they renamed to Jake) was five years old and had a broken leg. Upon saving Jake, they took him to Affiliate Veterinary Specialists in Daytona Beach where they learned he was just 10 months old. The next morning the vets performed surgery to repair Jake’s leg and after an eight week recovery, he was adopted by a loving family in Cocoa Beach.
Jennifer and Tracy work tirelessly to help Jane, Sascha and other animals who without their care would not be with us today. Cash 4 Canines supplies all the food and the funds for all the medical care.
This week, we are highlighting the work they do. Please help these animals in need by joining their shopfunding campaign on Goodshop. Here are some of the stores offering deals and donating a portion of what you spend back to help Cash 4 Canines:
Horchow coupons — Find everything you need for your home and 4% will go back to the cause.
LL Bean deals – Get your outdoor gear and 2% will go back to the cause
Snapfish promo codes – Print out your holiday photos and up to 7% will go to Cash 4 Canines.

The Past Can Inform Our Future If…

 

Park Avenue in Winter Park.

Park Avenue in Winter Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

LA Story

The Salt and The Straw in Larchmont Village

The Salt and The Straw in Larchmont Village

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

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

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

In Pursuit of the Breakthrough Brand

Sound advice...from a wise post it note.

Sound advice…from a wise post it note.

I haven’t had a soda for over 300 days.
Prior to my streak I would drink 2-3 Diet Cokes a day. I did this for at least 25 years and prior to that it was Diet Pepsi during my newsroom days.
No more.
No more aspartame. No more high fructose corn syrup. No more sugary soft drinks.
For me, it’s Celsius, Diet Snapple, Bai and water.  (And the occasional happy hour indulgence).
Celsius is a Delray born and now Boca based beverage that I have been involved with for several years. I’m a proud shareholder and work for a firm that has a major stake and emotional investment in the brand.
We believe in Celsius and have for years.
Why?
Because the brand is right on trend: a healthy fitness drink that has no sugar, aspartame or corn syrup.
It’s also clinically proven to burn calories and fat and provides a nice burst of energy without a crash or jitters.
I’m proud of the company and the progress the team have made over the years.
It’s hard to build a brand. Very hard. But that’s where the value is…you want to be a brand not a low cost commodity. (Same for cities). Breaking through in a noisy world is a colossal challenge.

And the beverage business is ultra competitive, capital intensive and complex.
But then you see the headline…and you remember just how cool the business can be.
Bai–one of my favorite brands–was  snapped up by Doctor Pepper Snapple Group (DPSG) for $1.7 billion last week. Breathtaking..
DPSG– along with Coke and Pepsi –are on the hunt for companies offering healthy options. Sales for their legacy brands are flat (pun intended) and while volumes are huge, there is little to no growth and consumers are moving away dramatically from calorie laden and sugary beverages.
This shift is not a fad, but a trend. I don’t think it will go back.
And so our bet on this local company may prove prescient after all.
We have always believed. And that’s important in the world of entrepreneurship because there will be ups and there will be downs.
The Bai deals gives you hope. But…while the money is nice and how you keep score in business, for those who are entrepreneurs there’s always more. In our case, it’s a belief in the brand and what it does for people. It helps them “live fit” as we say.
Over the years, I’ve heard from many people who have made Celsius a part of their lives. They enjoy it and it’s helped them achieve health and fitness goals–which is the point of a “functional” beverage.
We often read about “disruption” in the world of technology. But it’s happening in food and beverages too.
Healthy products— clinically proven– is a great place to be these days.

And there are several other local brands that are making it happen too. I met with a great one last week–Fro Pro, a delicious and healthy bar/meal replacement run by two very cool and very passionate people. I’ll share their story in a future post.
We have high hopes that our pioneering brand will be the next breakthrough. (And we have a few more in the pipeline too).
Until then, it’s back to the daily grind/joy of building something you believe in.

 

Housing is the Killer App

Housing is a hot button issue

Housing is a hot button issue

I saw a poll last month and the numbers were clear: affordable housing is a priority in the hearts and minds of American voters.

Nearly 60 percent said that housing affordability was a key issue, and 74 percent said that they would be more likely to support a candidate who made housing affordability a focus of their campaign and a priority in government. Predictably, the issue weighed most heavily with the groups both major party candidates are seeking to win over: millennials (ages 18 to 35), those earning less than $50,000 a year, and those with children living at home.

We are the parents of four millennials; one of whom lives at home, two rent and one is off at college and living off campus in rental housing. So this issue is meaningful to this baby boomer and millions of baby boomers across the land who would like to see their kids move out—(even though we love them dearly).

In hot spots across the country, affordable housing is rapidly becoming a burning issue.

A planning commissioner in super expensive Palo Alto, California recently saw her resignation letter go viral when she lamented the high cost of housing in that tech hot bed which has prompted her to relocate. According to the Palo Alto Forward, the median home price in that city is $2 million. San Jose recently became the first MSA to surpass a $1 million median home price.

Civic leaders in Austin, Texas, another tech hot spot, sees an opportunity to better compete for companies and young talent with Silicon Valley: the high cost of housing.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent Austin, based blog: “The bureaucratic ordeal in getting a new software development project started at a large company is legendary, but pales in comparison to getting a land development project off the ground in Silicon Valley.

The Valley and San Francisco have their own versions of Microsoft Millionaires: Housing Millionaires. Folks who had the good fortune to own a house in San Francisco years ago and became lucky as their asset skyrocketed in value. Many of these folks have, understandably, become less concerned with making San Francisco a place where a new generation can make their fortune and more interested in protecting what they have. Despite (or perhaps because of) its reputation for innovation, San Francisco’s local politics is dominated more by discussions of the past than the future. Like a company that refuses to release new products out of fear of harming their current cash cow, the city has become extraordinarily conservative in its approach to new development. New developments must first prove that they will harm no existing residents in any way, rather than merely proving they will provide a benefit to new residents.

The results are catastrophic: San Francisco and Silicon Valley are failing at one of the core competencies of any city: providing housing. Tech workers spend enormous fractions of their income to live in poorly maintained homes in the Mission, while those outside tech frequently live far outside the city and commute long distances on congested roads. New housing for tech workers is protested as are buses to transport workers from homes in San Francisco to jobs in Silicon Valley. The city and the region understand that they are in an intractable mess of antagonistic politics, but still cannot do anything to extricate itself. San Francisco and the Silicon Valley are ripe for disruption.”

 

The conclusion: Housing is Austin’s killer app: specifically, walkable, bike friendly, transit-accessible, relatively affordable housing.

It’s an interesting observation and the author concludes by saying that business needs to be deeply engaged in public policy to ensure that local governments facilitate the construction of new units to keep up with the demands and needs of a new generation of workers and families.

Closer to home, the issue of workforce or affordable housing has ebbed and flowed with the strength or weakness of the market. I used to be on the board of the Affordable Housing Coalition of Palm Beach County formed during the previous boom. At the time, the issue was front burner but when the market crashed so did the profile of the issue.

Today, it’s back again.

According to a recent Harvard report, 11.4 million households pay more than half their income for housing, and the number of those who spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing has reached 21.3 million. And affordable housing isn’t just a problem for the working poor. In that recent poll, 47 percent said they have personally struggled to pay their rent or mortgage in the past 12 months, or know someone who has been in that situation.

“There are serious structural inequities in our country and within the housing market that can only be remedied with the private and public sector working together,” says Angela Boyd, managing director of Make Room, a national campaign focused on rising rents in America. (Funders of the effort include the Ford and MacArthur foundations). “About 90 percent of the rental housing market being built right now is for luxury, and a whole segment of the population is being overlooked — recent college grads with high debt, senior citizens with fixed incomes, working-class families. If there isn’t some sort of subsidy to fill the gap, some sort of policy that changes the equations, you will never be able to build decent apartments that people can afford based on the wages being earned right now.”

But even young college grads fortunate enough to earn a good wage are struggling to find housing that doesn’t consume the budget, especially if they have college loans to repay, a car payment, insurance etc., as many do.

And for starting teachers—my daughter for example—the issue is even more acute.

Locally, Delray historically has been active on this issue.

About 11 years ago, we formed one of the area’s first Community Land Trusts, passed a workforce ordinance (imperfect but used as a model by some other cities) and approved some projects that featured workforce housing including Bexley Park and Atlantic Grove (10 units).

While this isn’t a popular idea in some circles, it’s hard to achieve affordable housing without density. When land is expensive and densities are kept low, you just can’t add the product needed to address the issue. The Strong Towns movement also argues that this kind of development cannot be sustained financially because the cost of servicing sprawl outstrips the taxes it generates.

In Delray, the Congress Avenue Task Force, saw workforce housing as one of the key elements to jumpstarting the corridor and ensuring the city’s financial future. By creating a compact, mixed-use, transit oriented environment with amenities and affordable apartments, Congress has an ability to thrive by attracting millennials and others who would also work on the corridor.

It’s a long way from happening, but progress starts with a vision and if the right policies are in place, private investors will make it happen. There is certainly a need.

But cities, including Boca and Delray, also ought to look at the eastern cores to see if there is a policy tool to incent the creation of units for young professionals. Not only will they enjoy the amenities of living downtown, they will support local businesses year round. If we want to maintain the mom and pop establishments in an expensive environment, we have to do what we can to bring people downtown especially during the slower summer months.

The problem is a knotty one for cities, but there are policy tools available to create more opportunities for new households and young families. Like the Austin blogger notes, it may also prove to be a smart economic development tool. Housing may indeed be the killer app and lack of it may kill you too.

Change

change

You are never FINISHED

“By nature good public spaces that respond to the needs, the opinions and the ongoing changes of the community require attention.  Amenities wear out, needs change and other things happen in an urban environment. Being open to the need for change and having the management flexibility to enact that change is what builds great public spaces and great cities and towns”–Project for Public Spaces 11 principles for creating great community spaces. Note: Founder and President Fred Kent has a home in Delray Beach.

The Project for Public Spaces is spot on, as they always seem to be.

The best part of cities is their changing nature. Cities evolve. Places change. That’s the beauty of an urban environment, it’s never stale. And switched on cities know this, embrace this and seek to shape and ride the waves of change.

We are witnessing tremendous change in Boca Raton these days. Just cruise on over to Palmetto Park Road and you’ll see large scale development taking shape on what I’ve always found to be an interesting but underperforming street.

The nature of the development is not everyone’s idea of healthy growth but there’s no question that Boca is evolving before our eyes. And I’ve talked to many people who love what they’re seeing. Development and change will always be a mixed bag. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder as they say.

On Military Trail, the Moderne Boca is taking shape and its nice to see some attention to design in a western location.

FAU Research Park is booming under the capable leadership of Andrew Duffell.  Both FAU and Lynn are coming of age as innovative institutions of higher learning and the Park at Broken Sound  is sprouting three new residential apartment projects (1,050 units) to go along with office space and new retail in the 700 acre business park. With yoga rooms, pet facilities, a Fresh Market, putting greens and Zen Gardens, the former home of IBM is shaping up to be a true, live, work, play destination.

It’s an interesting time.

And a time when visionary public officials have an opportunity to work with the community and design spaces that can become great public spaces.

In Delray, the opportunities are immense but only if we recognize them and embrace good design and change.

US 1 is looking good these days. And there is tremendous opportunity to extend the downtown north and south along Federal Highway. The idea to narrow the federals and slow down speeding traffic was first broached in 1991 but it took a decade before it became a city goal when it was included in the Downtown Master Plan. It took years to construct, but now that the project is complete, it presents an opportunity to create something special; it’s now a street not a highway. There’s a difference.

The area near Third and Third and South of the Avenue offer great opportunities for infill development.

Congress Avenue also represents an important opportunity for transformation.

My hope is that both Delray and Boca think strategically about placemaking and about what is needed in order to sustain and build on their obvious success.

Any analysis would include honest discussions about what has worked (and how those aspects can be extended and sustained), what’s not working, what can work better (lazy assets) and what’s missing.

Other key discussions should focus on demographics, design, mobility, land uses and how it’s all paid for.

In Delray, that means focusing on what’s important and no more majoring in the minor. (For example, weeks of discussion on a tattoo shop but little or no discussion on how to attract millennials, create more jobs and add middle class housing or how to improve our torturous approval process).

It’s time to move on Congress Avenue, not wait for an outside firm to confirm and codify what 30 plus citizens who studied the corridor for nearly a year already concluded. A sense of urgency is needed to take advantage of the economic cycle.

It’s also time to activate the Old School Park and make it a great public space as was envisioned when voters overwhelmingly passed a bond issue in support of that idea in 2005.

It’s time to bring back discussion of a bonus program for our CBD to jumpstart housing for young professionals who are attracted to downtown living. The best way to support our mom and pop businesses is to encourage people to live downtown. Study after study show that downtown residents strongly support local businesses. As rents soar –threatening to crowd out independents –this is needed more than ever.

Downtown office space is also critical. Every conversation I’ve witnessed with and about entrepreneurs laments the lack of office space in the urban core. This isn’t necessarily a call for class A space, but rather creative space, co-working space and incubator space. It’s nice to see The Kitchn open inside the offices of Woo Creative and Delray Newspaper, but more is needed.

The aim of past citizen driven visions was to build on food, beverage and culture and create a sustainable city driven by creative industries. Delray’s vibrant, urban feel is hugely appealing to entrepreneurs but a lack of space hinders the sectors ability to gain traction in our central business district.

An important caveat to note: the key words are “build on” not jettison or replace. So it would be folly to lose events or culture or our robust food scene, we need an additive attitude because community building is not a zero sum game.

Finally, both Delray and Boca are blessed with abundant human capital. A strategy to retain graduating college students and bring home locals who go off to college while also attracting the best and brightest from other locales will go a long way toward diversifying our economy and growing opportunities. Again, placemaking is at the core but so is opportunity making. We need to create cities of opportunity.

We also need to tap into the incredible knowledge base of our boomer and senior population many of whom long to be creative, active and involved as they age.

Cultivating our human capital is the best economic development strategy we can ever hope to conceive.

When I survey the region, it’s hard not to get excited by the possibilities. Sure there are big problems and challenges. Every single place in America has them. But few regions have our upside potential.

Miami is rapidly taking its place as among the world’s most exciting cities. Fort Lauderdale is making some interesting strides and several other cities in Broward, notably Pompano Beach are well positioned for a renaissance.

Boca is attracting industry and further north Boynton Beach is making some noise with several growing breweries, Hacklab, young leaders, eastern investment and some really cool restaurants (Bond and Smolders, Sweetwater and The Living Room among them) and keep your eyes on 22-year-old Ariana Peters who is quietly accumulating key properties in Lake Worth. Northern Palm Beach County cities, led by dynamic business leaders such as Chamber President Beth Kigel, are working well together on branding and industry recruitment efforts.

It’s an exciting time. Cities can’t rest on their laurels and they can’t succumb to those who want to freeze progress and stop change.

You can do the former but you can’t do the latter. And if you freeze progress you can be sure that the change you’ll see won’t be pleasant. Not at all. It will be ruinous.

As General Eric Shinsecki once said: “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

 

A Trip to Naples, Yields Some Lessons

Upscale and stylish today, 5th Avenue in Naples also had some hard times.

Upscale and stylish today, 5th Avenue in Naples also had some hard times.

Fifth Avenue in Naples is an elegant main street.

It features some great restaurants, a boutique hotel and a nice array of retail stores.

At night, the street is vibrant, filled with boomers who seem to enjoy a lively but decidedly upscale vibe.

It doesn’t feel like a late night place, but that’s OK. For me late is 10 p.m. these days.

We had a chance to spend a day and night in Naples recently when we attended a Florida Redevelopment Association meeting focused on Business Improvement Districts (BID); particularly Naples successful model which includes a partnership between downtown property owners, city government, the chamber and CRA.

My wife Diane is president of the FRA this year and I spent a few years on the board many years back so it felt good to reconnect with an association that has done a great job advocating for CRA’s, DDA’s and BID’s over the years.

The focus of the day was the history, present and future of Naples’ much loved main street, 5th Avenue South, which like many Florida main streets has reinvented itself over the years through good times and bad.

In December 2010, in an effort to jumpstart the avenue, a group of civic, business and city leaders got together and formed a Business Improvement District that levies a tax on property owners that is then reinvested into beautification, events and marketing.

The Naples BID is a good model for other aspiring streets and may serve as inspiration for places such as Palmetto Park Road in Boca and Congress Avenue in Delray.

The goal of the Naples effort was to re-establish 5th Avenue South as “the place to go” in Naples.

An active board of directors, a small but entrepreneurial staff along with a strong core of merchants and downtown evangelists has restored 5th Avenue’s luster and importance in the wake of competition from nearby lifestyle centers and shopping districts.

We heard from Mayor Bill Barnett, BID President Michael Wynn (whose family has owned property on the avenue since the 40s), BID Director Lise Sundria and Naples CRA Director Roger Reinke on how they work together on branding and marketing efforts.

Mayor “Bill” as he is affectionately known has been an elected official for 24 years with some time off between terms. His historic perspective and involvement has proven invaluable as he recalled efforts in the 80s to transform the look and feel of what had become a tired downtown.

“It took people with vision,” he said. “And the changes were not without controversy,” he said. “Downtown is the heart of Naples and the heart was broken.”
Two early catalysts were the conversion of a suburban style Nationsbank building into the Inn on 5th, an attractive hotel that has become an important economic engine for the district and the hiring of new urbanist town planner Andres Duany whose team came to Naples with a slew of ideas.

It took political will and some time to add the design elements needed to rejuvenate 5th Avenue and BID President Wynn said Mayor Bill has been a champion of that vision.

“The mayor’s warmth is an asset,” Wynn said. “It makes a difference to have a mayor who believes and who is engaged along with us. We’re fortunate.”

The Duany plan drew upon Naples historic strengths as a hub for tourists, fishing and commerce.

Leaders also wanted to remind people that 5th Avenue led directly to a beautiful beach, a fact that was somehow lost as Naples bled tourists to other popular west coast beach communities.

The Wynn family has more than 70 years of history in Naples and as president, Mike Wynn has a unique perspective of how the city has boomed and busted through the decades. The city got its first traffic light in 1949 and thrived through the 50s before being hit by Hurricane Dennis, a category 5 storm that devastated downtown Naples.

Along with many other cities—Delray included—5th Avenue was hard hit by suburban flight and the rise of the mall in the 70s and 80s, with vacancy rates hitting as high as 40 percent. Former Delray CRA Director Chris Brown, who was at the Naples meeting, can relate.

“When I came to Delray in 1991, I closed my office door at 5 p.m. and nothing was moving on Atlantic Avenue,” he said. “There was roughly 1 million square feet of commercial space and 500,000 of it was vacant. I thought…’what did I get myself into’ here.”

The situation was similar in Naples and the retail that was left was marginal at best. There was even an adult bookstore on the avenue, hard to imagine given today’s upscale vibe. Office vacancy downtown was also 50 percent, Wynn said.

“Like many cities, we came together,” said Wynn. “We realized we needed to act and act fast. We also realized that for the avenue to have life, we actually needed to have people coming downtown.”

Not a revolutionary concept, but hard to pull off because it requires a tremendous amount of promotion and hard work.

The BID was formed in part to compete with competition from other shopping districts. Key strategies include beautification, relentless marketing and promotion and 12 street festivals. The BID, a non-profit, also organizes block captains, provides business counseling and also offers local businesses an array of marketing services. Money for the BID is raised via assessment and the BID also does some fundraisers that ultimately raises over $400,000 annually.

Wynn said the BID takes to heart the wisdom of the great placemaker Willliam H. Whyte who said: “what attracts people most, is other people.”

Wynn said the BID hopes to compete by embracing the arts, retail, office, tourism, events and a vibrant food scene.

Rod Castan, VP of the BID and a property owner from the Courtelis Companies, said 5th Avenue won’t rest on its laurels because of competition and an ever changing commercial landscape. On his wish list: more chain stores which he says drive retail traffic that also supports mom and pops, a small boutique theater and a need for more housing near the downtown, which appears to be under way.

“When the avenue suffers, the whole city suffers,” says Wynn who also serves as president of his family’s chain of Ace Hardware stores.

How true.