Our Frances: A Most Distinguished Citizen

Frances Bourque is a legend…and we love her.

One of Delray’s heroes received much deserved recognition recently and I can’t let the opportunity to write about Frances Bourque pass me by.

Frances—the founder of Old School Square and the inspiration behind so much good in Delray Beach—was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award by the University of Florida. It’s a rare honor and truly a “big deal” as they say.

The award recognizes exceptional achievement and leadership that merits the special recognition of the University. While a committee on honorary degrees vets the nominees, winners have to be personally approved by the University of Florida’s President. Dr. Kent Fuchs knows talent when he sees it and I’m sure when the president reviewed Frances’ materials it was an easy decision to bestow the honor.

The effort to recognize the force behind Delray’s signature civic achievement was launched by Frances’ sister Judy who reached out to several of Frances’ friends, colleagues and admirers (which is just about everyone) to help write the application. I was honored to be included in the effort and it was truly a pleasure to write about Frances’ influence on the city we love.

Old School Square is the rare project that addresses our past, present and future. Its genius lies in the fact that it touches so many aspects of community building: historic preservation, adaptive reuse of buildings, art, culture, education and so much more. But perhaps its greatest value is that Old School Square gives us a place to gather as a community.

And you can’t put a price on that simple gift.

Old School Square is where we headed after 9/11. It was where we met to discuss the Jerrod Miller shooting in 2005 and where we gather for Town Hall meetings, special performances, speeches, art exhibits and scores of festivals.

It sits at main and main on Atlantic and Swinton—if you had to design a better location you couldn’t.

And yet….

And yet before Frances nobody saw the potential. They saw a rusted chain link fence, crumbling buildings and blight. But Frances saw potential and beauty. Some saw the need for new office buildings. Others saw the need for a downtown anchor store. Frances saw a place to gather and celebrate the arts—the best of humanity.

Pretty soon, everyone shared the vision. That’s Frances’ magic. She makes you see, she makes you believe and while you may have to work hard to get there you don’t mind the journey because she makes every step of the way fun.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the 100th anniversary of Plastridge Insurance and the leadership contributions of Tom Lynch and his family. Frances is yet another example of how a community can be blessed when an extraordinary individual decides to fall in love with a place and commit to a vision.

Back in November, when Frances received word of the award she wrote a few of us an email. She had just driven 12 hours from Highlands, N.C. and was tired. When she got home and saw the letter from President Fuchs she immediately reached out—and immediately sought to share credit. She was clearly elated, but she quoted Thomas Merton who said “no man is an island” and said the recognition belonged to “ALL (her caps) of us!”

Typical Frances.

The truly great ones are humble. They seek to share credit.

People like Frances don’t do what they do for the awards. But it is important to recognize them and to celebrate their achievements so that we too may learn, appreciate and be inspired to get to work ourselves.

For 32 years, I have hung on her every word. She remains an inspiration to all who are blessed to have crossed her path.

 

 

Things We Loved In November

Frances Bourque is a legend…and we love her.

Things we loved In November
Great to see children’s advocate and all around good guy Jack Levine featured as an “Icon” In November’s Florida Trend.
I got to know Jack thanks to our mutual involvement in Leadership Florida. He’s a frequent visitor to Boca and Delray and we’ve had some memorable dinners on the Avenue.
Jack is a prolific writer and shares his essays via email. He’s the founder of the 4Gen Institute which studies how our society now features four generations: children, parents, grandparents and great grandparents.
Being featured as an Icon is a fitting honor.

Also in Florida Trend, Delray’s own Felicia Hatcher who is featured in an article spotlighting women leaders.
Felicia is the founder of Code Fever, Black Tech Week and is a gifted entrepreneur.

The Boys

Dinner with my sister in law in Delray’s Country Manors. I love Country Manors. Something about it.
I also love my sister in law’s pasta and meatballs from The Boys.

Congratulations to George Elmore the 2018 American Free Enterprise Medalist. The nationally recognized medal is awarded by Palm Beach Atlantic University on American Free Enterprise Day which is Nov. 8.
Well done.

Happy birthday to a special friend

Happy birthday and thank you to Debbie Smith Stackhouse.
We enjoyed attending your party at the lovely Seagate Yacht Club but mostly we love having you in our lives.

The Kominsky Method and The Bodyguard on Netflix make us marvel at the quality of TV these days. BRAVÒ.

Don’t miss Bohemian Rhapsody and make sure to see it on the big screen.
The music is outstanding and the performances are amazing.
We saw it at Frank’s Theatre at the Delray Marketplace and the sound was excellent.

Delray is a tennis town

It was nice to see Delray’s Kevin Anderson playing in the year end ATP World Tour Finals consisting of the world’s best players.
A past Delray Open champ, Anderson held his own with the likes of Federer and Nadal reaching the semifinals. Very cool.
Speaking of the Delray Open connection long time tournament participants Jack Sock and Mike Bryan won the doubles event cementing their claim on being the top doubles duo in the world.

On a sad note, we mark the passing of Linda Lieberman.
Linda was a devoted volunteer and gave a lot to junior tennis in Delray.
I will always remember Linda for her work with the Delray Tennis Patrons and for always being there to greet fans at the Delray Open where she could be found every year selling programs.
She was a bright light who will be missed.

We were happy to welcome back Fran Marincola and Kim Thomas after their 78 day adventure traveling across the United States in an RV.
We missed you guys but loved the daily updates on social media.

Captain Fantastic

Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour was sensational.
Glad we saw the legend at BB&T before he retires from the road.
It’s also cool to see that our young friends (Lyle and Marisa) appreciate the music of the baby boomer generation. It makes us old folks feel good.

Congratulations Frances Bourque

Maybe the best news we received all month was when we got a letter from University of Florida President Kent Fuchs naming our very own Frances Bourque as a winner of the “Distinguished Achievement Award.”
The award is one of the most prestigious given by UF and honors people for exceptional leadership.
We can’t think of anyone more deserving. For those who don’t know, Frances founded Old School Square and is largely responsible for a whole lot of good in Delray.  A group of Frances’ biggest fans wrote letters of recommendation after prompting by Frances’ sister.
It was nice to see the effort pay off.
She will receive her award at a future commencement.
So cool!

See you next month! Thanks for reading and enjoy the holiday season.

Decision Time

Well…we did it again.

We managed to go through an election season without a substantive debate on the issues or a respectful discussion of ideas.

We did however manage to lie, label, disrespect, disparage and sling vitriol at each other with great fervor. And we wonder why people won’t run for public office…

Still, there are some emerging trends we should pay attention too if our goal is to be a stronger community.  One in particular that I think we ought to pay closer attention to are the attacks on a candidate’s supporters and their motives.

This year it has been open season on those who endorse or contribute financially to campaigns. But what if your goal is not to corrupt, but to support someone you believe in? What if your motive is good government? Are we that cynical that we preclude those motives as a possibility. As for economic interests, are we that myopic to label donors selfish just because they may wish to invest in our community and they support candidates that they believe will be reasonable or at least follow the local rules?

That said, I want to share with you a list of some (NOT ALL) of my civic heroes. Many of whom were subject to cynical remarks on social media this  cycle by people– who for the most part–  we’ve never seen serve our community. If they weren’t attacked,  many were dismissed as being unimportant as if endorsements and support don’t matter. I disagree. Here’s why:

Frances Bourque-words can’t describe Frances’ impact on Delray Beach. The founder of Old School Square, lifetime achievement award winner, historic preservation icon. Her vision gave us a place to gather and with it a sense of community.

Tom Lynch—three term mayor, School Board Chair, founding chairman of the CRA, lifetime achievement award winner, accomplished businessman and visionary. We recovered our civic pride as a result of his leadership.  Delray won its first All America City Award and was named the “Best Run Town in Florida” on his watch.

Doak Campbell-former mayor and commissioner. The Atlantic Avenue Task Force, Visions 2000, the creation of the CRA and the establishment of the first historic districts happened during Doak’s era.

Jay Alperin-former mayor and commissioner. 10 plus years service on the city commission. Past chair of Old School Square and the Chamber.

David Schmidt—former mayor and commissioner, president of Sister Cities, long time contributor to the Morikami Museum and someone who I sat next to on the commission for three years. David was a terrific mayor with a model temperament.

Yvonne Odom—civic icon who was the first African American to attend Atlantic High. Mentor to hundreds of young people for decades.

Rita Ellis—my successor as mayor. Past Chamber Chair, past chair of the Downtown Development Authority, longtime Beach Property Owners Association leader and successful business owner.

Bill Branning-two time chair of Old School Square, one of the best CRA commissioners ever, Vice chair of the Chamber, successful businessman and dedicated volunteer. Bill is devoted to all things Delray.

Cathy Balestriere– Past chair of the chamber, CRA commissioner, driving force behind Crane’s Beach House and growing Delray as a “destination.” Active in scores of Delray non-profits.

Scott Porten—a dreaded developer, who took a drive through car wash and gave us Citywalk with places like Brule and took a troubled area of town and gave us The Estuary. Scott is a devoted volunteer serving on City boards, chairing Old School Square and the Chamber and helping to lead the Beach Property Owners for years. He loves this city and gives back constantly. You WANT developers with Scott’s level of concern and passion for the city. Because they care about what they build.

Bill Morris—another developer who chairs Old School Square, supports FAU, the Boys and Girls Club and loves this city with all his heart.

Joe Gillie—longtime president of Old School Square who helped us win all three All America City Awards. Joe is Delray. Period.

Fran Marincola—longtime proprietor of the landmark Caffe Luna Rosa, 19 years on the Parking Management Advisory Board, past chair of the DDA, past chair of the Sandoway House Nature Center and longtime BPOA leader, Fran has a heart of gold. He’s devoted to Delray.

Jestena Boughton—historic preservationist and owner of the historic Colony Hotel, Jestena is a delight who has done so much for our town.

Susan Ruby—former City Attorney, leader in Del Ida and a personal touchstone of mine.

Ann Gannon– Palm Beach County’s Tax Collector, former state legislator, devoted to Delray and good government.

Chuck Halberg– I don’t know anyone who loves Delray more or who gives more than Chuck.

Dave Henninger–gave so much to this community especially the Achievement Center, Chamber, Lake Ida neighborhood etc.

David Randolph—long time city commissioner and mentor to so many.

Zack Staghn–decades of service to the community, mentor to countless leaders and devoted civil rights champion.

The list of people and organizations involved in this year’s campaign goes on and on. Amazing young leaders: Connor Lynch, Craig Spodak, Emanuel Dupree Jackson Jr., Lee Cohen, Sgt. Gary Ferreri, Rob Long, Kate Volman, Jason Bregman, Joe Collard, Rob Posillico, Amanda Perna, Matt Shipley, Steve Mackey and more.  Neighborhood leaders from WARC, the Northwest/Southwest Alliance, Del Ida, Seacrest, etc. etc.  Unions representing Fire, Police, general employees–the people who protect and serve us.  Organizations ranging from the realtors association to the Human Rights Council and more. Stellar long time contributors such as Fred Fetzer, Jon Levinson, Gary Eliopoulos, Nancy Dockerty, Bob Currie, Bill Nix, Zack Straghn, Cathy Weil, Shirl Fields, Mark Sauer, Suzanne Spencer, Joycelyn Patrick, Rick Caster, Christina Morrison, Bruce Bastian, Ingrid Kennemer and more.
Many of these people and organizations have been labeled: special interests, good old boys, the Establishment and worse.
But they are the people and the groups that are Delray. They represent the past, the present and the  future of our city.
They are the volunteers devoted to this community. The ones who give their time, their talents and their treasure to this town.
They back Jim Chard for Mayor. Most of the above also back Ryan Boylston for commissioner. (Fire backed his opponent, Police stayed out).
Can they all be wrong?
I don’t think so.
They know Delray. They care about Delray.
They’re not special interests. They are the backbone of this City.
And like me they want change. Unity not division. Progress not indecision and infighting. Leadership not bullying.
Tomorrow we have a chance to help Delray.
It’s Election Day.
Please vote.

Lifetimes of Achievements

Old School Square founder Frances Bourque gave a moving speech praising Bill Branning’s love for the cultural arts center.

This blog is primarily about leadership, entrepreneurship and community building.

Sometimes you come across people who represent all three of those special traits in a magical way.

Last week, two local heroes were honored for their service to the community—the legendary Vince Canning and a legend in the making—Bill Branning.

Mere words cannot do justice to the special people who decide to get involved and make their corner of the world a better place. These are the people who make things happen. These are the people who make the places we live special.

They are the reason we are passionate about Delray Beach.

They teach us through their deeds, inspire us with their character and set an example through their commitment.

The extra special heroes do this over a long period of time.

They create a body of work that enriches all of us. Their good work and influence tends to last.

The best communities celebrate these people, encourage others to follow their lead and hold fast to their examples. They don’t forget, disrespect, ignore, neglect or disparage these good folks—they appreciate them and that creates a virtuous cycle.

Vincent Valentine Canning was born in born in Indianapolis in 1928. After earning a business degree from the University of Missouri, he enlisted in the US Marines for two years and achieved the rank of Sergeant. After his service in the Marines, he worked for Brown Shoe Company in St. Louis and met his wife Patricia Lyng Canning.

The young couple would soon move to Delray Beach to operate his father’s shoe store at 335 E. Atlantic Avenue. He later expanded his store to Pompano Beach, Boynton Beach and Boca Raton.

Vince believes strongly in service. He is a past President of the Delray Beach Chamber, Kiwanis Noontime Club, and the Atlantic Avenue Association. He also did stints on the boards of the Delray Library, Delray Beach Playhouse, the Boca Raton Chamber, the Boynton Beach Chamber, the Achievement Center, Old School Square, CROS Ministries and the Migrant Association.

A spiritual man, Vince has also been deeply involved at St. Vincent Ferrer Church and the St. Vincent DePaul Society where he was a founding member in 1967.

To generations of Delray children (including my own), Mr. Canning was perhaps best known as the leader of the Delray Beach Halloween Parade, which brings a little Norman Rockwell to the downtown area with hundreds of children able to  trick or treat safely on their town’s main street.

But in addition to his decades of service and an impressive list of awards including an official proclamation at the City Commission last week, Vince Canning mentored and influenced generations of Delray Beach leaders; a literal who’s who in government, public safety, business, non-profits etc.

I’ve known many of these people and all of them absolutely adore Vince Canning. He’s just a great guy who cares, gets involved, makes things happen and helps those who are doing ‘good in the neighborhood’ as they say.

People like Vince Canning are essential to communities. We have been blessed to have Vince and others like him.

Which leads me to my friend Bill Branning, who was also honored last week after stepping down as chair of the board of Old School Square.

What you can say about Bill Branning—a man whose passion and commitment to Delray knows no bounds.

Somehow, while running his successful contracting firm (BSA Corporation) he has managed to create a major impact with a decade of service on the CRA, a big commitment to the Chamber of Commerce, service on other city advisory boards and a dedication to Old School Square that started at the center’s inception 30 years ago when he worked closely with Frances Bourque as young man starting his career in construction.

He fell in love with Old School Square and like many of us fell under the spell of Frances. Warning: it’s a spell you won’t be able to break—but you’ll be happier for the experience.

I literally got chills listening to Frances celebrate Bill’s accomplishments at Old School Square during last week’s annual meeting of what I still think is Delray’s signature civic achievement/project.

Bill has chaired the board before—during peace time. His most recent stint was a little more challenging to put it diplomatically.

The organization wrestled with the city over a lease, over events, over funding and over a parks plan. None of these issues were easy. But they brought us closer together and Bill’s leadership was stellar even if our collective patience was tested. He’s smart, passionate, prepared, experienced and mature. And we are thankful for those qualities and more.

During his most recent tenure, we said goodbye to longtime President and CEO Joe Gillie (record holder for most goodbye celebrations) and hello to new President and CEO Rob Steele. Bill bridged the transition beautifully and for that any many other things we are thankful.

Whenever you get tested in life, I recommend that you look for a sign—they are always there if you look hard enough.

For me, Frances and Bill were those beacons in the night. Just when you thought all was lost and you wanted to walk away, I’d heard Frances speak and I’d get energized again or I’d get a message from Bill that gave me hope that the best was yet to come and together all of us could continue to build a proud legacy at Old School Square and beyond.

Vince Canning has been that beacon for many people too. And I spoke to a few this week who felt blessed that he was in their lives looking after them, inspiring them and encouraging them to put service over self.

Bill Branning and Vince Canning—the names rhyme.

Their collective service will stand the test of time.

 

10 Things We Liked About October

 

Matthew Farmer serenaded Lifetime Achievement Award winner Frances Bourque and hearts swooned.

10 Things we liked in October.
1. Bat Mitzvahs. Especially Bat Mitzvahs at Boca Pointe. Especially Bat Mitzvahs that include blackberry mojitos and chocolate fountains. Oh and a great young woman and great people too. That we love.
2. Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” in Pittsburgh. We know lots of Pittsburghers in Delray and Boca and we like them all.
3. The Matzo Ball soup at Deli On Rye in Boca.
4. Sitting at the bar for lunch at the Gazebo in Boca, a local classic. Elegant and delicious.
5. Frances Bourque being recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Delray Chamber. The founder of Old School Square is quite simply a local heroine. She made it all possible.
6. We loved seeing good guy Pedro Andrade recognized by the Chamber as Business Person of Year. The GM of Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza is terrific. Period.
7. Congrats to the Conde Center for Chiropractic Neurology for also winning an award from the Chamber for their business success and growth. Founder Dr. John Conde also finds time to give back.
8. Margaret and Robert Blume stepping up to lead the effort to rethink the Cornell Museum at Old School Square.
9. The pork chops at 5th Avenue Grill. We knew they had great steaks, but the pork chops are magnificent as well.
10. Believe it or not– but I’m told by a well known deli maven that Caffe Luna Rosa serves a great pastrami sandwich. Maybe the best.
See you in November a month devoted to giving thanks.

Honoring A Local Legend

Frances Bourque: A Lifetime of Achievement.

Editor’s Note: We received a few requests for the speech honoring the Delray Chamber’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Frances Bourque. Frances was honored Friday night at the Delray Marriott. It was a memorable evening and her speech was sensational. Video coverage of the awards ceremony can be viewed on the Facebook page of the Delray Newspaper.  Here’s the transcript of the intro…

Well, what can you say about our honoree…Frances Bourque?

This tribute can be six words…I love you. We love you.

I truly believe that none of us would be sitting here in a beautiful beachfront hotel… in a vibrant downtown…if Frances Bourque had stayed in the Glades or set her sights on Boca Raton or West Palm Beach. We were forever blessed when she came to Delray.

Old School Square started it all…It was the catalyst…you were the catalyst… and because you brought your beautiful spirit, vision and brilliance to our town…we—all of us— have reaped the rewards…You are so special…and we are so grateful for all that you have given us.

Because as you taught me… it’s all about people—people who lead with love, boldness, aspiration, care and concern. People who motivate us to join the mission. Frances, your heart is so big and so generous…your vision is so compelling…there was no way we could fail. You lead with love.

That’s our Frances…she is spellbinding and irresistible.

The first time I met her, when I was 23 years old, I was struck by her spirit and her unique worldview. She just had a great way of seeing things… I’ve been enthralled ever since…

Frances and I have laughed together and we’ve shed a few tears too…she has been our rock, the champion of our city’s vision, and she has been the go-to person for so many great people….inspiring them to be involved, give back and make a difference in Delray.

For thirty years—she has taught me…and so many others…what it takes to build and sustain a great city.

Because none of this…none of what we saw in the video… happened by accident. All of the things we love and cherish about Delray Beach is a result of people working together through good times and bad.

None of this could have happened without people like Frances leading the way and teaching us that anything and everything is possible if we dare to dream and dare to try.

 

Great leaders are inspiring, they make you feel good about the mission, they lift people up and they show us the way. They make you believe that your dreams can come true—and when they do —they graciously give others the credit. That’s our Frances…

 

Frances Bourque is my hero and a hero to so many of us in Delray Beach. Where others saw a desolate and blighted downtown, Frances saw boundless potential.

Where others saw a broken down old school, Frances envisioned a cultural arts center that would transform our community by giving us a place to gather—so we could actually be a community. She gave us the biggest gift of all—community.

Old School Square is a brilliant idea… it honors our past, enhances our present and addresses our future. It’s where we gather to celebrate, it’s where we go to dream and it’s where we go to console each other during tough times….it belongs to all of us and it’s an asset—a gift— that we must treasure.

Frances made this happen.

Oh, she had help—but it was her boundless energy, passion, skill and love for Delray that drove the vision. Her optimism is contagious and once we were exposed to the Frances Bourque magic—there was no way we could ever fail.

Great leaders attract people to the cause…and they make us feel that we can move mountains and change our corner of the world.

Frances has been this city’s muse and champion for decades…Old School Square was the catalyst for our revitalization. It created an economy out of blight, breathed life, music and art into a once desolate downtown—and gave us pride of place.

We were no longer “Dullray Beach”…we were Delray Beach…an All America City, a place of possibility, achievement and innovation.

Frances is a most deserving Lifetime Achievement Award winner…she’s a brilliant star…a beautiful spirit…she has gifted us a world of possibility and she has never wavered or gone away… thank goodness.

On behalf of the Greater Delray Beach of Commerce and a grateful community: Thank you. We love you very, very much. Ladies and gentleman…your 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award winner…Frances Bourque.

 

 

A Lifetime of Achievement: Honoring Contributors

Frances Bourque: A Lifetime of Achievement.

On Friday night, the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce will honor three special people at its annual Luminary Gala at the Delray Marriott.

The Conde Center, founded by Dr. John Conde, will be named Business of the Year.
Pedro Andrade, GM of Anthony’s Coal Fire Pizza, will be honored as Business Person of the Year.
And Frances Bourque–the extraordinary Frances– will win a much deserved “Lifetime Achievement Award”.
All three represent the best of Delray Beach, people whose work in the community make them invaluable.
I’m glad that after a years break, the Chamber has restored its awards program. It’s important to recognize good people, say thanks and hopefully inspire others to strive.

To be honest, I don’t think we say thanks enough to the special people who give their time, talents and treasure to our community. If we fail to show gratitude and recognize service, we miss an opportunity to educate newcomers and our children. And we risk that important and noteworthy contributions will be missed–and as a result, the history of our city risks being incomplete.

The three Chamber honorees this year are truly deserving and very special.

The Conde Center enjoys a stellar reputation for advancing the health and wellness of its clientele.
Founded in 2006 by Dr. John Conde, the Conde Center for Chiropractic Neurology is known for its state of the art equipment and caring staff.
As a result, the Center has grown in size and now employs 10 people.
Despite a fast growing practice, Dr. Conde serves on several non profit boards and the city’s Downtown Development Authority. He’s involved in the community and finds many ways to support Delray. Over the years, I’ve quietly referred several people to the center.

One of my best friends is a chiropractic physician in California and I’ve learned to appreciate the difference these practitioners can make in people’s lives. I’ve never had anyone complain after visiting the Conde Center. I do hear a lot of raving reviews.

Mr. Andrade is another individual who finds myriad ways to support the community.
Quite simply, he’s a go-to person in Delray. If there’s a good cause, you know Pedro will be there.
He’s just a terrific guy and it feels good to see him honored.
I remember when we approved the restaurant way back when. I had received a letter from a neighbor concerned about “coal emissions” a reference to Anthony’s pizza cooking method.
That’s how new coal fired pizza was back then. Not to worry, all Anthony’s does is make amazing pizza and the best wings imaginable. No smoke stacks.

Which leads me to Frances.
What can one say about Frances Bourque?
She’s my personal heroine. And she serves that role for many many others.
The founder of Old School Square is truly an historic figure in our community. Her work has impacted a generation and will continue to impact Delray forever. There’s not too many people you can say that about.
She continues to be a leadership force in our community teaching us, focusing us and inspiring us.
In short, she’s a treasure.
To see her receive a lifetime achievement award will be a thrill for so many.
Because in so many ways, she personifies the best of Delray: visionary, aspirational, inspirational, historic, formidable, complex, loving and smart.
See you at the Gala…three special  honorees recognized by an important community anchor: our Chamber.

Old School Square Makes Us A Village

The anchor is a beacon.

We went to a great party Sunday afternoon to celebrate a generous donation to Old School Square.

And we were reminded about how art builds community.

Margaret and Robert Blume stepped up to make the transformation of the Cornell Museum possible.
When the newly renovated museum re-opens in November, we predict that visitors to the space will be amazed.

As Old School Square CEO Rob Steele puts it: the museum will become an important community asset for Delray Beach with profound and enduring benefits.
That’s exactly what it should be. Community museums and art centers are meant to be treasured assets valued by residents, tourists and artists.

None of this would be possible without the generosity of donors like the Blume’s, dedicated staff (and Old School Square has a terrific staff), a committed board, volunteers and a supportive city.
It really does take a village.

The Blume’s were taken by Old School Square’s story and it’s importance to the community and stepped up as a result.
Let’s face it, when it comes to philanthropic dollars there is enormous competition. You have to have a compelling mission and an ability to deliver in order to stand a chance with so many worthy causes to choose from.

Those of us who are board members and fans of Old School Square are hopeful that others will be inspired to step up and help Old School Square in its important mission. Rob and his dedicated team have created naming rights and other opportunities for philanthropy and involvement.

Here’s hoping that many seize the opportunity to shape the future. Old School Square is a special place and plays a central role in our community.

I’m reading a great book by musician Dar Williams called “What I Found in a Thousand Towns” which is devoted to the observations of an artist who has spent a life on the road.
Ms. Williams is a self taught urban anthropologist and her eyes have been trained to see what works in towns she visits that thrive.
In her book, she notes a concept she calls “positive proximity” —or the creation of spaces where people can gather, meet, talk, experience music, art and community.
Sound familiar?

That was the genius of Frances Bourque’s idea when she looked at a dilapidated old school sitting on the very best real estate in town.
She saw a place that could be the focal point of our city. A place that could build community.

Over the years, Old School Square has delivered.

It’s where we practiced for our All America City awards, where we gathered to light the Christmas tree and Menorah, where we thanked volunteers, where we held a vigil after 9/11 and where we met as neighbors to discuss race relations.
It’s also where we met to discuss our downtown master plan, where we have lit unity candles on MLK Day and where we attended weddings and other important personal celebrations.
In its classrooms, we have seen artists of all ages learn and explore their passions. On its stages, we have experienced magic.

Old School Square is our most important asset. It belongs to everyone. It honors our past, informs our present and speaks to our future.
And it needs our help. Now more than ever.

We need to complete our parks plan, reinvent for the future and make the most of the amphitheater.
If we fulfill its promise, we will remain a strong community. In  a world that’s increasingly polarized and growing more remote thanks to technology (and fear of one another) we risk losing “positive proximity.”
That’s a loss we may never recover from and will be sure to regret.
Old School Square was the key to Delray’s revitalization three decades ago. It’s even more important to our future.

The Unsung Heroes Make All The Difference

Marc Stevens was surprised by Old School Square CEO Rob Steele.

There’s beauty and power in the everyday.
There’s gold in the things we take for granted. There’s value in every member of the team– even though we often focus on the star quarterback.
The board of Old School Square was reminded of these profound truths at its recent annual meeting when President Rob Steele recognized Marc Stevens for 19 years of hard work and stellar performance.
If you’ve been to Old School Square any time during the past two decades chances are you’ve seen Marc or at least benefitted from his work.
Marc is a quiet guy who shuns the spotlight but he’s been a vital piece of Delray’s cultural center for a very long time.
Marc is always quick with a smile and a wave when you see him. And it seems like he’s always working at Old School Square…days, nights, weekends, holidays. He’s a constant.
And because he’s a constant,  it might be easy to forget just how important his work has been.
But Rob Steele is an extraordinary leader–just like Joe Gillie was– for so many years. And the best leaders recognize their team and build them up. Rob gets that and it’s genuine. He truly appreciates his team and it’s wonderful to see. It makes all the difference.
So at the end of the recent annual meeting, which was a celebration of accomplishments, a thank you to departing board members and a hello to new members, Rob and his team honored Marc for his work.
He was surprised and deeply moved.
Marusca Gatto, who runs the Cornell Museum, mentioned how artists love how Marc hangs their work often mentioning that their art has never looked as good as when it’s displayed and lit by Marc.
Wow. Isn’t that cool?
Others talked of his selfless hard work, his dedication and his deep knowledge of how to run so much of what makes Old School Square magical.
It was a warm and fitting ending to a great annual meeting.
Old School Square is a community treasure. There’s no doubt.

It’s historic buildings are beautiful and it’s activities and offerings are hugely beneficial to our city.
But I was reminded that the true heat and soul of the organization are the people who dedicate themselves to Old School Square’s success.
Founder Frances Bourque–my hero… Delray’s hero… who knew all those years ago that those dilapidated old buildings could be the source of our revival, board chair Bill Branning who has been there from the beginning and felt something special about the place and has never left, vice chair Bill Morris, a caring gentleman whose heart is dedicated to this town, Scott Porten, a former chair who dives in to projects with passion and smarts, Melissa Carter for 18 years the super marketer of Delray’s arts and on and on it goes. From Jay in the box office and Liane in education to the hardworking finance, museum and lighting team–it’s the people who make the organization so incredibly special and vital.
Board member and artist Patricia McGuire painted a beautiful picture of Marc. You could tell it was a labor of love.
And that’s the best description I can give of Old School Square..a labor of love. Which is why it works so well.

In appreciation…

 

History Must Be Used & Experienced

 

Vin Nolan has experience and can sing karaoke.

Vin Nolan has experience and can sing karaoke.

Editor’s Note: We are taking a break and will be back after Labor Day. Thanks for reading and for your feedback. Be safe and keep an eye on the tropics.

Last week, we wrote about the launch of a civic boot camp at the Delray Chamber of Commerce.

The four week class is designed to engage and inform people who are interested in running for public office or serving on a board.

This is the first time the chamber has done such a class. This effort is different than Leadership Delray, because it is more focused on politics and public policy.

Since it is designed by the chamber, the content of the class is notably and unapologetically “pro-business” and emphasizes the importance of economic development. Tonight, former Delray Economic Development Director Vin Nolan will be the guest speaker.

Vin has what they call in the biz “chops.”

He’s a certified economic developer with lots of real world experience. He is currently heading up efforts at the Small Business Development Center at Palm Beach State College and also has background as an elected official in Connecticut. So he brings a broad range of experience and understanding to the process. He knows what works and he knows what doesn’t.

I’ve learned a lot from Vin about economic development and one key concept sticks out: the need to take advantage of good business cycles and the importance of doing what you can to minimize the damage from down economies. Imagine economic development as climbing a mountain. In good times you can reach decent heights, but inevitably the cycle ends and you slip a little. The key, Vin has taught me, is not to allow yourself to plummet off a cliff. There’s no guarantee you’ll be able to make the climb again.

Probably, the best way to hedge against a free fall is to land investments during good times that build on the strengths of your community and create lasting value.

I think Delray Beach and Boca Raton have done a good job with that in years past. It was proven during the great recession when despite deep and considerable pain—foreclosures, job loss, a dead real estate market—the cities survived relatively intact. Atlantic Avenue may not have seen much in the way of new business, but it didn’t suffer vacancy or desolation either. The same can be said for Mizner Park and downtown Boca’s eastern “spine.” Good planning, solid vision and bold implementation got us through the historic downturn. We survived.

I think that’s a good indication that our community has created value and some degree of economic resiliency. But that strength—which would be the envy of many cities nationwide—does not mean we can afford to grow complacent or smug. After all, success is never final. We must always be thinking about ways to solidify our gains and add new sources of investment and healthy growth to our cities.

When those in leadership positions fail to understand that dynamic, they risk our success. In other words, you can screw up a good thing.

Last week’s kick-off also featured an inspiring speech by the great Frances Bourque, the visionary behind Old School Square. Frances shared her journey with the class, most of who are relatively new to Delray and probably didn’t know that the cultural center was once a blighted, abandoned school surrounded by a chain link fence in the heart of the downtown.

Frances is such a powerful speaker it’s hard not to get swept up in her passion for the arts, history and community. But out of a thousand lessons she can impart, one rang especially true for me after listening to her talk last week: in order for history to be appreciated and loved, it needs to be experienced and used.

So…Frances told the group that while historic sites need to be maintained they also need to embrace the public by providing access. They need to be used and enjoyed in order to be loved and protected. And that’s the mission of Old School Square; to be a gathering place for the community. Listening to Frances tell the story, reminds us all of how fortunate we are to have a facility such as Old School Square and to have had visionaries like Frances who saw what that old abandoned school could be.

These types of lessons and information are so vital and they need to be shared in order for a community to keep progressing. In the end, we are all stewards (if we choose to be) and our responsibility is to leave a place better than we found it. Sometimes that means the place will be different, that’s inevitable. But it’s always helpful to glean lessons from the past, because they do inform your future if you are willing to listen and learn.

A Word About Congress Avenue

Found this in my inbox this morning from Jim Smith, chairman of SAFE, Safety as Floridians Expect, and a member of the Congress Avenue Task Force.

Thank you Christina Morrison and SAFE Director of Community Outreach Director Carol Anderson for your comments supporting the Delray Congress Avenue Task Team recommendations.

 In case you missed it, during the City Commission Meeting, Christina said that the Commission should approve the Task Force’s recommendations, not just “accept and file” If you’ll recall, “accept and file” was the same action taken by a different City Commission re the 2010 Vision report that effectively buried the report in a City file cabinet. (Editor’s note: many of the same commissioners were around to “accept and file” that visions report or participated in the charrette which led to the report).

 Carol Anderson made a similar comment of support.

 There may have been other public comments supporting the task force that I missed. So, if any of you supported, I apologize for not hearing it.

 Here’s what Carol Anderson said:

 Regarding Item 7G, the Congress Ave task force report:

The Commission should not just “accept and file” but should endorse the vision by “adopting and approving” all the task force’s recommendations and direct staff to draft both a new Master Plan and the LDRs to implement it. The manager can report back and recommend contracted expertise if staff can’t handle this.

I had the privilege of chairing the Task Force that delivered what we thought was a very solid report in February outlining a series of recommendations to jumpstart economic activity and transform Congress Avenue from an underperforming corridor into “Delray’s next great street.”

More than 30 people volunteered for close to a year to craft a new updated plan building on an existing vision developed over a decade ago in reaction to the loss of Office Depot, which left a 40 acre hole in Delray.

The Task Force experience was awesome and the work they produced was excellent. One of our key recommendations was not to let the report sit and gather dust, but to immediately begin implementing the recommendations to take advantage of the economic cycle and to get traction for the updated vision. Specifically, we recommended that the Task Force morph into an implementation group, like was done in the early 2000s to ensure that the Downtown Master Plan would be more than just an exercise in talking.

In other words, here’s the report, get moving, get things done.

Once you start to see progress, you build momentum. You send a message to the private sector that you are serious about progress, not just flapping your gums.

So it’s disappointing to see that six months later, the report is being “filed and accepted”—whatever that means. I sure hope we didn’t waste the valuable time of the volunteers. I’ve heard that the city is issuing an RFP and budgeting big bucks for an outside firm to write the master plan.

Like Ms. Anderson said: why not save the money and get your Planning Department to do it? Again, this effort is not creating something entirely new. We are talking about building on zoning and codes already adopted over a decade ago. Why not update the LDR’s with the new thinking of the task force, clean up the language that no longer makes sense and get moving?

It will save money and time. The Task Force did the heavy lifting—pro bono out of a love for Delray and a belief in the vision. Let our planners do the rest and then let’s start marketing the corridor.