Success Is Never Final

Downtown Delray wasn’t quite this bad, but it wasn’t too vibrant in the 80s.

I was following an interesting “thread” on social media recently regarding the closing of a retail store on Atlantic Avenue and U.S. 1.

Those commenting were lamenting the closing and the high rents that they blame for pushing out “mom and pop” retailers.

There were a few folks who were concerned that Atlantic Avenue was endangered by what some call “high rent blight”—the phenomenon of vacancies in a hot area caused by landlords asking for very high rents.

There were calls for more promotion of the downtown, rent controls and action from government.

It was a really interesting read.

A short time ago, I read other postings calling for an end to events and for the abolishment of agencies and entities that promote the downtown. Why waste the money, the argument went. Downtown Delray is successful, the job is done.

Well…folks, here’s an adage to remember. Success is never final and therefore your downtown is never “done.”

I moved to Florida 31 years ago this month. And it was a vastly different place.

The 1980s were not kind to downtown Delray Beach. We were not alone. Those were the days when malls and suburban shopping centers ruled the roost. Big box stores such as Walmart were killing main streets across the land.

Downtowns were left for dead and Delray was no exception.

In the mid to late 80s, downtown Delray had a roughly 40 percent vacancy rate, there was very little pedestrian or vehicular traffic, hardly any place to eat and you could have gone bowling at 5 p.m. on Atlantic Avenue without fear of hitting anything. Our brand was “Dull Ray.”

But things change.

Committed citizens, visionary entrepreneurs, bold elected officials and creative city staff began working together to change the fortunes of our downtown. Similar stories, with varying degrees of success, happened across America.

Once downtown Delray began to gain traction, leaders in the community developed a mantra. It went something like this: the downtown will never be ‘done’—it is the heart of the community and you can’t have a healthy community without a healthy heart. Complacency is a killer, we are competing with other cities for investment, residents, businesses and consumer spending and we have to constantly re-invent.

That was the philosophy that I grew up with in this town and one that I adopted when I was given the privilege of serving on the City Commission. I served with an interesting collection of people: Pat Archer, Bob Costin, Fred Fetzer, Bill Schwartz, Jon Levinson, David Schmidt, Brenda Montague, Alberta McCarthy and Rita Ellis. We were very different people—different ages, different religions, different races, different political parties and we had very different life experiences. But we managed to find common ground, even if, especially if, we had heated debate. We’d always find our center or “true north”—which was what we felt was best for the long term good of the city.

We weren’t always right. We didn’t always see with 20/20 vision what was around the bend, but we understood fundamentally that current conditions didn’t necessarily indicate future performance.

So if a part of town was broken, we assumed it could be fixed. And if a part of town was working, we assumed it could break. We knew success would require a commitment. We knew success wasn’t final and that success itself would pose additional challenges (hello traffic and high rents).

Which is why when times are good you don’t declare victory, you keep working and you wake up a little bit scared because you know that complacency is a killer. And when times get tough, you look at your assets—your agencies, your entities, your institutions, your ‘bones’ (as planners like to refer to our grid) and you sharpen them. You ask them to reinvent—to do more, be more, create more, grow and lead.

But if you kill or neglect those institutions, agencies and entities those tools will be gone or damaged. If you declare victory and take your eyes off the prize—well you just might find that you’ve been left in the dust.

Just remember, other cities always have their eyes on your assets.

 

 

Comments

  1. Hi Jeff:

    My name is Michael Hudak and I’m running for Commissioner in Deerfield Beach and would love to talk about Delray’s successes and challenges over the past years. I see your city as a path to success for Deerfield and would like to know more about how you changed Delray.

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Hi Michael
      We have a mutual friend Todd Wolf. In fact, Todd and I had together today. I’d be glad to help. Wishing you well on your endeavors.

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