Blinded By The Light

Blinded By The Light is based on a true story.

If you haven’t seen the movie “Blinded By The Light” do yourself and your mood a favor and see it on the big screen.

Make sure the theater has a good sound system because the music is sublime and the story makes you want to conquer the world.

We caught the movie recently at iPic and it exceeded my already high expectations.

For me, the movie ticked a lot of boxes:

I love a good coming of age story.

I love stories about fathers and sons.

I love movies that take place in the 1980s—because I remember the 80s. (It’s a little fuzzy but MTV actually played music videos and there was a lot of big hair).

Oh and it features the story of a teenage boy who tackles life’s challenges inspired by the music of Bruce Springsteen.

I like Bruce. A lot.

So while I expected to enjoy a light hearted story powered by Springsteen’s music I discovered that the movie had so many other layers.

It’s not a “Mamma Mia” type movie (as good as that was) it’s more socially conscious and raises issues that we are dealing with today namely race, class, inequality and our unique human ability to hate others simply because they look or worship differently than we do.

Of course, the film’s worldview is balanced by the strength of friendship, love, family, romance and some amazing lyrics from a poet who emerged from Asbury Park, New Jersey and was able to touch people all over the world with a message of hope despite how hard life can be.

“Blow away the dreams that tear you apart

Blow away the dreams that break your heart

Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted.”

Bruce Springsteen, The Promised Land.

It’s a message I think we all need to hear. Because this world can be harsh—political division, mass shootings, opioid abuse, racism, misogyny, environmental degradation, homelessness, hacking and hostility. It’s a lot to digest.

And to quote Bruce, it can leave you lost and broken-hearted.

We’re not immune here in affluent Boca and #alwaysavillage Delray.

Nope.

There’s crime, drug abuse, violence, tension and division.

I’ve long contended that Delray is America in 16 square miles. The diversity is what makes our city a fascinating place.

We are a city of contrasts—great wealth and deep poverty. We are diverse and yet deeply segregated.

People in our community struggle mightily. Some struggle to stay, others struggle to get out and still others long to be here.

In the movie, our hero Javid, is a Pakistani teenager regularly bullied by his English neighbors.

The National Front marches in his town of Luton and attacks his family. His Pakistani neighbors suffer from degrading and demoralizing vandalism.

The local auto plant lays off half of its workforce and jobs are scarce.

America is also wrestling with some of these issues as hate, job insecurity and violence are unfortunately a part of our daily lives and discourse.

But often answers –or at least some respite —can be found in art, in this case music.

Great lyrics can inspire and motivate. Words matter. They can be used to harm people by telling them to “go back home” or they can heal by offering a way out or a way forward.

As Bruce says…

“The highway’s jammed with broken heroes

On a last chance power drive

Everybody’s out on the run tonight

But there’s no place left to hide

Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness

I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul

Oh, someday, girl, I don’t know when

We’re gonna get to that place

Where we really wanna go and we’ll walk in the sun

But ’til then, tramps like us

Baby, we were born to run.”

Check out Blinded By the Light it’s the feel good movie of the summer.

Assessing iPic

The story of iPic in Delray is a long and complicated one.

So let’s sit for a spell and unpack a little of it because it’s important to try and understand.

The CRA board chose iPic over three other proposals in August 2013. That was six years ago.

Ipic’s winning bid promised a theater and office space on land that once housed the library and the Chamber of Commerce.

But the history of that RFP goes back even further than 2013.

I was on the commission in the early 2000s when we moved forward with a complicated transaction to move the chamber and library and free up the land for redevelopment. The goal was to give the chamber and library new and better facilities replacing what had become dilapidated buildings.

Both of those goals were achieved—with the chamber occupying beautiful space under the Old School Square Parking Garage and the library occupying larger space on West Atlantic Avenue. The library’s board believed that the library would better serve the needs of the community on West Atlantic.

We agreed.

It was not an easy decision and it was not without controversy either.

I remember hearing from residents who didn’t want the library to move to the West Atlantic corridor. One citizen put it bluntly: “why would you put the library out there with those people?”

Yep, that was said.

It just made us want to move it more.

Still, the transaction was a complicated one since the Chamber had a lot of years left on a very sweet lease and there were a lot of moving parts and entities involved.

But it got done, because that was an era where people were able to work together. I sure miss those days.

Once the deal was struck,  an RFP was issued and awarded to a group that envisioned a mixed use project and a hotel. But the Great Recession hit and the deal never got off the ground. Eventually, the CRA issued a new RFP and that led to the iPic deal.

It should be noted that CRA staff liked the iPic bid, but did not rank it first. There was another theater concept—an European style theater if I remember correctly—that they ranked ahead of iPic.

But once the Boca-based iPic was chosen, the CRA staff embraced the concept and worked to make it happen.

The proposal sparked controversy—as so many projects do—over concerns about traffic, design and parking. Those are the usual bugaboos—all understandable.

Mix in personalities, ancient feuds, politics, misinformation and the difficulty of getting things done and it took nearly six years from awarding the RFP to opening night. When iPic won the deal the expected opening date was 2016—it took twice that long.

It seems like the entire town showed up for the grand opening party which may have been the best party Delray has ever seen.

The reviews were mostly glowing—the building was next level beautiful, with living walls of plants, striking art work and plush seating.

The office space—still in the process of being leased—is also beautiful and much needed in our downtown to complement and diversify our abundance of food and beverage options.

Since then, I’ve been to iPic twice. Most of my friends have gone as well— a time or two.

We tend to agree—it’s a good experience but very expensive and not something we see ourselves doing regularly and many of us are movie fans who go frequently.

That said, I supported iPic and hoped the concept would succeed creating a new use downtown and adding jobs to our city since there were promises—albeit sometimes vague ones– to move their corporate headquarters here. It’s important for cities to be business friendly and to have good economies. That doesn’t mean compromising your ethics, selling your soul or offering back breaking incentives. But it does mean hanging an “open for business” sign at your City Hall and being reasonable. It also means welcoming debate.

That said,  I and many others were disappointed in the tone of the debate surrounding iPic.

And while I sympathized with the views and concerns of opponents, I thought more than a few crossed the line with personal attacks on those who supported the project. I also thought some elected officials pushed it by supporting the use but adding costly conditions (outside the scope of the RFP) making it more difficult to succeed.

I felt so bad about the treatment, that I invited iPic CEO Hamid Hashemi to lunch to tell him that despite the vitriol Delray was a nice place and many people wished him and his company success.

So when the news broke last week that iPic missed an interest payment on over $200 million in debt and may have to consider bankruptcy it stirred a lot of emotions. This week, bankruptcy became the path and iPic will operate as usual until it either restructures or is sold.

There was the usual chorus of “I told you so’s” and a slew of people wishing the company ill will which I think is wrong.

Do we really want to see a company fail? Do we want to see an empty building in the heart of our downtown? Do we want to see iPic staff lose their jobs because management loaded the company up with debt?

I don’t think so.

You know who should be mad?
iPic shareholders who have seen their stock plummet.

The retired teachers who depend on their Alabama pension fund also have a right to be angry and concerned since they funded a large chunk of that debt.

And yes, citizens of Delray are justified in feeling disappointed. Our downtown’s real estate is precious. It’s not a good feeling to see a high profile project threatened.

The initial financial blogs quoted iPic as saying sales dipped as a result of the government shut down earlier this year. That really doesn’t pass the smell test.

Round two explanations made more sense: iPic was a trendsetter but other chains are loading up on the luxury too—often at lower ticket prices. So there’s competition in an industry being disrupted by streaming services. Add crushing debt to that equation and all the innovation in the world or the biggest rooftop bar won’t save you.

Still, many people in this community supported the downtown iPic. I did.

While pricey, we liked the idea of another use in the downtown and we liked the idea of Class A office space and a corporate headquarters too.

We liked that iPic offered corporate event space, special events and unique programming through partnerships with entities such as Netflix. We trusted their projections and studies that showed that this market could support an iPic so close to the Mizner Park location.

We liked that business publications were featuring the company and that it was able to go public and was considered an innovator in its space.

So seeing it fall into bankruptcy is no reason to celebrate.

This is where strong communities come together and make lemonade out of lemons. I hope and trust we will do just that.

So what can we learn from this?

iPic Delray has not struggled because of parking or traffic woes.

The local theater was not challenged because downtown Delray isn’t strong enough to support the use.

Clearly, the business model is deeply flawed.

But other chains are managing to figure it out.

Living Room Theater at FAU regularly sells out offering offbeat, independent and foreign fare.

Alamo Drafthouse and other innovative chains seem to be doing well and drawing crowds.

I hope iPic finds a good strong buyer with solid vision and a healthy balance sheet. I also hope the Alabama teachers don’t get crushed in the process. That one might be tough…

It would be great if the Class A office space that was built gets leased and brings much needed jobs to our city.

Regardless, whatever happens we should find ways to work together to pick up the pieces and make this a success somehow, someway. That’s what strong towns do.

What a concept, huh?

 

 

 

Forever Young…

The Franchise

It’s hard when your childhood heroes are leveled by life.

I don’t know why, but for some reason the heroes of our childhood remain vibrant, young and strong in our mind’s eye.
We remember their primes and often don’t “age” them in our memories.

So when I think of Tom Seaver, I still see a powerful young pitcher rearing back and dragging his knee on the mound firing fastball after fastball past the best hitters of his era.
But those days are long gone.

Today, “Tom Terrific” is 74 and last week his family announced his retreat from public life as a result of dementia.

For those of us of a certain age and a certain geography, Tom Seaver is an icon. He’s the best New York Met ever. A legend and one of the best pitchers ever.

I saw him pitch once at the old Shea Stadium and watched many other times on WOR Channel 9. When he pitched it was an event and even when we watched we looked the next day at the box score in Newsday because seeing his pitching “line” was also a  thing of beauty.
He was that great.
Truth is, I hadn’t thought of Tom Seaver in quite some time but I was still floored by the news.

Dementia?
Seaver was always an analytical pitcher, who despite his physical gifts was cerebral on the mound. He mentored younger pitchers and they hung on his every word.
74?
That doesn’t seem right. And then I realized that all of us kids who followed him are eligible to receive AARP magazine every month.

The decades have flown by.

I read a lot about Tom Seaver over the past week. By all accounts, he lives a peaceful and happy life tending to his family’s vineyard in California.
While he will fade from public view, I’m confident he will never fade from our memories.

The truly great ones never do. Their accomplishments live on. They change the world in their own distinct way and they change us too.

Tom Seaver brought a generation of fans tremendous joy.

He gave us lasting memories of endless summers watching baseball with our friends. Only the summers weren’t endless. They fade into fall and then winter. If we remember that, we will cherish the seasons all the more.

iPic Opens

A quick note about last week’s grand opening of iPic Delray.

In a word, it was amazing. A great party, a great night and most important the new theater and office complex is terrific. Truly, a new level.

IPic CEO Hamid Hashemi and his development team are to be commended for their vision and execution. They should be thanked for their belief in Delray and their willingness to make a colossal investment and create 250 jobs.

During the needlessly brutal approval process, the iPic team were called amateurs by a former elected official. It was a nasty comment and unbecoming of Delray. It’s possible to oppose a project without belittling those seeking to invest in your city.

Take a trip to the new Ipic and you’ll see firsthand that Mr. Hashemi and his company are far from amateurs. They are innovators and we are lucky to have iPic’s corporate headquarters in our city.

The Pipeline Is Intriguing

Boynton Beach Town Square looking southwest.

So on Monday, I told you that I went to a Business Development Board breakfast in Palm Beach that focused on three landmark real estate projects: iPic, the redevelopment of the Old Office Depot site and a unique public private partnership in Boynton Beach called “Town Square”.

Sadly, I was too tired to actually write about it, but I’ve recovered enough from my whirlwind week to share a few thoughts on these projects which were warmly received by about 150 business leaders at the breakfast.

Let’s start with the iPic.

Now that the dust has settled on the development battle, it’s time to focus on what’s happening to the old Delray library site.

iPic will be moving its corporate headquarters into the project along with its conventional theater offerings. There’s roughly another 23,000 plus square feet of Class A office space left to rent.

Local firm Avison Young is spearheading the marketing drive and they are well positioned to bring solid corporate tenants to downtown Delray.

Downtown office space has been a longtime aspiration for Delray civic leaders.

Cities that are sustainable have to create places where people want to live, work, learn and play.

Delray has done a good job with downtown housing—although I worry about the lack of affordability caused by some very ill-conceived changes to our code. Having residents living downtown makes for a safer city (more eyes on the street) and helps to support downtown businesses.

We’ve done a good job on the ‘play’ aspects of downtown—with festivals and special events, some open space, activities like the CRA Green Market and some cultural amenities like Old School Square, the Arts Garage and the Arts Warehouse. It would be nice if we can finally do something at the Old School Square Park, which remains a major opportunity.

The learning component is a work in progress—some of our cultural amenities have education at its core but there’s room for more learning opportunities.

That leaves work….

Creating downtown office space isn’t easy. The office market is changing, the economics are difficult and parking and access are always a concern. But I’m excited about the office component of the iPic project as well as the offices being planned at Atlantic Crossing.

So I will be anxious to see what Avison Young turns up at the iPic site and wish them well. It’s a great location.

The Boynton Beach Town Square project is also exciting.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Mark Hefferin and his team at E2L Holdings and review the plans and vision for downtown Boynton Beach along Seacrest Boulevard. It’s very cool.

The City Hall, library and Police Department have been bulldozed and will make way for a 21st Century City Hall/library with incubator space, an event venue that can accommodate 6,500 people and a restored old school with a 500 seat theater and restaurant. Downtown commercial uses are also planned. It’s a 16 acre project with open spaces, a hotel and other uses that should really make a difference in eastern Boynton Beach.

It’s an ambitious project and it looks amazing. Boynton Beach is clearly going for it as they say. If they succeed, and I think they will, the project will be transformational for Boynton Beach’s brand and its future.

The city is making a big bet on the deal—to the tune of $118 million, plus private equity.

As for the redevelopment of the Old Depot site, I’ll have more later on this deal as it evolves. But the plans call for a mix of uses and some programming to catalyze the corridor.

The site has sat vacant for over a decade since Office Depot moved its corporate headquarters to Boca Raton. The goal now is to re-energize the site and the corridor with apartments, for sale townhomes, a revitalized Arbors office building and commercial uses.

Stay tuned, this is an exciting time in Southern Palm Beach County.

Sometimes Life’s A Whirlwind

Do you ever feel caught in a vortex over a whirlwind?

Did you ever have one of those weeks?

You know the type, just a whirlwind of activity, commitments, travel, deadlines and pressure mixed with a few surprises that make you scratch your head and say “why does this have to happen this week of all weeks, I’m so busy!”

 

Mix in the holidays with its mix of fun and stress and you have a recipe for exhaustion.

I know you can relate. We’ve all been there.

So I wanted to post about this amazing breakfast I attended last week at the gorgeous and historic Colony Hotel in Palm Beach. The breakfast was sponsored by the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, an organization that I admire and one that I’ve been on the board of a few times over the years. The BDB—as it is widely known—is Palm Beach County’s economic development organization responsible for recruiting, retaining and growing business in our beautiful community.

Their “Upper Level Breakfast” attracts about 150 CEOS and senior level business leaders so the audience is time pressed, smart and the kind of people who make things happen. At this particular breakfast, they welcomed Palm Beach County’s newest relocation, Mueller Industries, a $2.3 billion a year company with 4,500 employees that does business all over the globe. Pretty cool. And I got to sit at the same table with their top local exec which was also pretty cool.

The focus of the breakfast program were three significant—I would argue potentially transformational real estate projects—two of which happen to be under way in Delray Beach with the third in Boynton Beach. Those projects are iPic, Town Square in Boynton Beach and the redevelopment of the former Office Depot site on Congress Avenue. Since my company is involved in the Office Depot project I was asked to speak.

Now, I’d like to tell you more about those other projects and I will. In another blog post, hopefully this week.

But truth be told, last week was such a blur that I couldn’t tell you much. It was my goal to simply get through it—and I did. But my recall of the details is less than stellar.

So here’s how it played out.

We had a major hearing on the Office Depot project on Tuesday and a lot of pressure because of timing etc. So we have been consumed with a slew of details and questions.

Now I know there are people who can’t stand developers and this is not a call for sympathy, but trust me when I say that the field is not for the faint of heart or those who can’t handle endless curveballs and hundreds and hundreds of details that if missed can sink the project and take a huge bite out of your check book.

Since I am not a developer but work for a company that invests in real estate (and many, many other things) a lot of this is new to me and it’s like drinking from a fire hose of complexity on issues ranging from the law and sewage (not the same thing despite rumors to the contrary) to design and engineering.

I thought I knew a lot—and I do—for a layman. But there is no substitute for sticks and bricks experience and so I’ve surrounded myself with people who have been there, done that and know enough not to make the same mistakes— although there is always the chance to make new ones.

But I digress.

We got through the hearing with a nice vote of support from our City Commission and an ongoing pledge to work with the community. But it was late at night and I found it hard to sleep.

The next day I was up at 4 a.m. to catch a flight to Asheville, where we have invested in a really cool start-up. We wanted to meet the team, assess progress and talk about future needs. It was a great day, but also a long one since I had to fly back the same day in order to get up early again and drive to Palm Beach for the breakfast.

I was honored to speak because I respect the BDB and it was a good opportunity to access a slew of top business leaders and put our site on their radar. You never know when the next Mueller Industries may want to come to our beautiful city and we have a very special site.

But even after more than 20 years of public speaking I still get nervous before each and every speech I give. You’d think I’d be able to draw on experience or draw inspiration from past talks that went OK but I still sweat it… every… single…time.

Adding to my stress for this particular speech was my lack of sleep, my lack of preparation (because I’ve been running around) and my inability to connect with Tim Tracy, my BDB contact who was the keeper of the format, timing etc. Tim tried. I tried. We just couldn’t get each other on the phone. Ugh.

When Tim learned I was in Asheville the day before, he freaked out a little and was sending texts early on the morning of the breakfast to make sure I got back to Palm Beach County.

Of course I did and I made sure to be at the breakfast at 7 a.m. 30 minutes before the start so I could exhale and work on my prepared remarks which I inexplicably discarded when I got up to speak.

I’m not sure what I said…but it seemed to go OK. There was applause (a few laughs, I hope it was laughing with me not at me) and I met a lot of nice people after the program who expressed interest in our project. The other guys did great too….I just wish I could remember what they said. I was just relieved it was over.

I treated myself to a leisurely ride back to the office along A1A. I caught up on calls and soaked up the coastal scenery.

The rest of the day was a blur of meetings and emails and day dreams of my couch and hanging with my dogs—Randy and Teddy. But I was reminded by my wife that we had a party to go to that night at the Delray Hideaway, a neat little bar on East Atlantic.

Ugh…

Now, I like parties and I like people. And I really like the host of the party the amazing Delray Beach Community Land Trust and the incredible people who make that organization so cool.

But for one night only, I liked my couch more.

When my wife got a screw in her tire and texted me from XpertTech I replied that I was sorry and I guess we couldn’t go to the party. “Nice try” was the response from a woman who is always supportive, tolerant and sympathetic to my emotions. We were going.

And so we went and had a great time.

I’d like to tell you more about the Land Trust and someday I will. Just as  soon as I recover.

 

 

Remembering The Oldies, Celebrating The New

A classic…

Last week, I found an old menu on Facebook from Tom’s Place, an iconic culinary mecca in Boca Raton.

And I mean mecca, because people made pilgrimages to Tom’s Place to worship at the altar of bbq ribs.

The Boca Historical Society shared the post and it got a big reaction on their page.
Aside from the really low prices ($1.50 chicken sandwiches!) it struck a chord of nostalgia in those of us lucky to have experienced Tom’s amazing food.

I remember taking my dad to Tom’s many years ago. It was at Tom’s that we witnessed someone going up to the take out window  and ordering brisket which was met with a quizzical look. We talked about that experience for years.
But I digress.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. We tend to remember the good stuff and disregard the rest. So we remember Tom’s  but tend to forget that we weren’t exactly awash in restaurants back in the 80s. Of course, there were some great places—the Arcade Tap Room, Boston’s on the Beach, Scarlett O’Haras, Ken and Hazel’s, Damiano’s, Pineapple Grille, Splendid Blendeds, LaVielle Maison, Arturo’s, Caffe Luna Rosa and there is more.
But…
As good as the old giants were and are (here’s looking at you CLR), it seems like we are living in a golden age of restaurants.
Everywhere you look, even in nondescript locations, there exists some great restaurants.

Innovative menus, knowledgeable servers, gifted chefs, interesting interior designs, exciting craft cocktails and beers, world class wine lists, unique concepts. We are living in a special era. And the arms race seems to be just beginning.

Food halls, green markets, secret suppers, farm to table concepts, craft breweries, food tours, food trucks it’s extraordinary. Even convenience stores are turning into foodie havens, with artisanal sandwiches, kale salads and specialty breads.

We are also living in a great age of creativity.
To combat e-commerce and to stand out in the crowd, retailers, theater owners, hoteliers and even office developers are stepping up their games. (Boutique hotels, co-working, pop-up concepts etc).
For retail it’s all about the experience.
Movie theaters have added food, plush seating, film clubs and cocktails—a far cry from sticky floors, popcorn loaded with transfats and jujubes (remember those odd fruit chews?). While the changes are rapid and ongoing (please save the raisinet) the outcomes are pretty cool. Some local examples are iPic and the Living Room Theater at FAU. Both have raised the bar on the movie going experience and both seem to be doing well in the era of streaming and binge watching Netflix.
Sometimes the changes and the speed of change seems overwhelming. So yes, I miss the good old days.
But isn’t today and tomorrow exciting?

 

Replace the Hamster Wheel; Get Things Done

“Coffee is for closers” – Glengarry Glen Ross

I’m about to write an amazing sentence.

Ready?

Here it is….

At 35—a Methuselah like age for tennis– Roger Federer may be better than ever.

He won the prestigious Miami Open April 2 easily swatting away Rafael Nadal, whose game once bedeviled Fed and has notched a 19-1 record for the year including a perfect 7-0 against top ten opponents.

In February, 39-year-old Patriots QB Tom Brady led his team to another Super Bowl win which also happened to be the greatest comeback many fans had ever seen.

He has told teammates that he can see playing for another 5-7 years.

Charo is killing it on Dancing With the Stars at an advanced age—ok that’s stretching it— but you get the point.

Age is not a barrier to achieving great things. In fact, it may be an advantage. Maturity certainly is a huge edge.

Federer has talked about playing with a joy and a looseness that has enabled him to get great results.

Samantha Bee, a late night TV comedian, says the key to her success is that she and her team have entered the “I don’t care what you think about me” years. As a result, they are just going to hang it out there.

I find it all inspiring.

Especially as my friend and I  approach my so-called dotage (hmmm…perhaps we can change that word from dotage to do-age, i.e. the age in which we apply our hard earned experience and get things done).

Yes the millennials are here and they are awesome–I’ve raised a few–and they are changing the world but don’t write off the boomers just yet.

Delray just elected two energetic boomers and one could argue that they–not the young (er) ones on the dais–are the ones brimming with ideas and ambition; the ones willing to try new things and new approaches to government and leadership.

Bravo!

An open mind is the key to progress in just about any endeavor including building great places to live and work. When leaders are willing to make some strategic bets and create a culture of learning good things happen. You kick off a virtuous cycle and attract talent.

Consequently, when you don’t make decisions and you slam experiments, you inhibit risk and you snuff out innovation. In a world that’s increasingly driven by speed and has become hypercompetitive you simply can’t afford complacency and rust.

In Delray Beach, the recent election turned on openness to new ideas and the need to change what more and more people are recognizing as a negative culture that has bred indecision, instability and frustration. The symptoms are unmistakable: lawsuits, staff turnover and issues that go on and on and on and on draining the community of investment and enthusiasm.

The ‘let’s get things done’ message resonated with voters who want to go move forward not back. Those candidates won by margins of two to one. That’s a mandate: a mandate to move forward, stop kvetching, seize opportunities and fix problems. It is not a mandate to throw out the rules and overdevelop. But it is a strong directive to fill the done box and stop the nonsense.

As a result, there’s an interesting relationship that can potentially take shape between elected officials like Shirley Johnson and Jim Chard and open minded creatives of all ages who seek to do radical things like create jobs, grow the tax base, bring new industries to Delray and create vibrancy and a sense of place and community.

There are a slew of entrepreneurs and a lot of energy in Delray these days and it’s very exciting. They have been attracted as a result of the work done over decades by scores of civic entrepreneurs. We should have a lot of civic pride in what’s been achieved and more importantly what’s in front of us if we loosen up and go for it—like Roger Federer crushing a backhand down the line. He doesn’t always make the shot, but he always takes it. As Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

I’m fortunate that my life’s work has enabled me to get to know some of these emerging leaders who are finding inspiration in Delray Beach. They are excited by the new leadership and hopeful for the future.

They see Vice Mayor Chard and Deputy Vice Mayor Johnson as open-minded change agents, willing to listen and learn.

The best elected officials are community builders who see possibilities. The worst are hand wringers who manufacture controversy, douse ambition and see a bogeyman behind every idea.

If you take offense at that statement; I’m sorry I don’t mean to offend you but perhaps you ought to look in the mirror and do some self-examination. Do it quick though, because time waits for no one—(sang Mick Jagger still rocking and having babies in his 70s) and the one thing you can count on in life –other than death and taxes– is change.

Delray was built on risk taking.

Flexible codes that allowed a downtown with a human scale to take root

Conditional use that enabled infill development and adaptive reuse

And;

Public private partnerships that have given us projects like Old School Square, the Arts Garage, the Community Land Trust and yes even iPic.

Yep, we’re still talking about iPic a third of the way through 2017. The topic has been kicking around since the  original Hunger Games opened and was screened at the Boca iPic (there have been two sequels since)– but still no theater in Delray. Sigh..

Is iPic “corporate welfare”?

In a word, no.

Corporate welfare is when a company rings you up and says give me money or we will take our company to another state, county or city.

But when you ask a corporation to go above and beyond your code or the scope of an RFP and they ask for assistance it’s not called welfare (defined as “government-provided support for those unable to support themselves”) it’s called a partnership. And if you think the RFP was “flawed” so be it, time didn’t begin on your watch and it’s easy to be a Monday Morning Quarterback. The facts are the RFP attracted four good bids coming off a crushing recession–and now as a result of a terrific CRA we have a chance to land jobs, downtown entertainment and put a derelict property back on the tax rolls. If you want the deal, you make it happen. You iron out the problems and you drive it. Period. That’s leadership.

Are the terms good? Is the deal fair? Is it a win-win scenario?

All fair questions to ask and answer.

But when “requests” or “demands” are made as a condition of approval, it’s OK for those on the receiving end to counter with an offer. It’s called negotiations.

And folks, if applicants are unable to negotiate then we don’t have a system that enables compromise, progress or finality-we have something else entirely; a place where nobody will want to do business or make investments.

Think that’s an unfair assessment? A stretch?

Guess again.

Because as we have seen on other projects—even when you follow the rules and agree to dozens and dozens of conditions— you can still find yourself delayed, denied and despised.

That’s no way to run a railroad.

So how do we get from Federer and Brady to Delray politics?

Easy.

Maturity.

The veterans who succeed do so because they are seasoned leaders. They don’t panic when they are getting pounded in the first half or when they face Match Points (Match Point, that’s the subject of a future column) they adjust.

And they figure out a way to win not whine.

 

 

 

Moments…Define Leaders

Leaders not only seize the day, they seize the moments.

Leaders not only seize the day, they seize the important moments.

There are so many nuances to leadership that I’m not sure if it’s possible to fully grasp even a fraction of what there is to know about the subject.

But one thing effective leaders seem to grasp is the power of moments.

The best leaders seem to know when to act.

The best leaders seem to know when to compromise.

The best leaders seem to know when it’s the  best time to seize opportunity.

And the best leaders seem to know the precise moment to frame an issue and make a lasting impression.

We have seen it on a national level during moments of crisis when our country seems ready to learn and ready to move.

Today, is just such a moment and I’m hopeful that Washington can overcome partisanship and politics and do something positive in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando. A moment was missed after Newtown, Connecticut and many moments since then. Each time a moment is missed, people lose faith in their leaders.

On a local level, mayors and city council members also are given moments to seize on issues of far less gravity than what occurred in Orlando a few weeks back. But they are moments nonetheless and they aren’t leaders if they don’t recognize them and do something positive with them.

Often they come in the wake of pitched battles, which can be very personal when waged on a local level because we are often debating our neighbors and friends on sensitive issues.

In Delray, the recent iPic showdown provided a moment and so does the immediate battle over special events in Delray and the hiring of a city attorney.

The iPic moment was missed. There was an opportunity  to acknowledge and address the angst over change and development but also to embrace the opportunity to welcome a new company, jobs, investment and the cleaning up of a derelict property. Sadly, it was missed but there’s still a chance to grab an opportunity.

While certain approvals have been granted, it has been reported that a developer agreement that would actually enable the project to proceed remains elusive. Who is helping to make that happen? That’s a moment to be seized and a chance to make a project better by working together. Because once a legislative decision is made, it’s incumbent to make the most of it. Even if you– especially if you– as an individual elected official voted against something. Because unless it’s immoral, dangerous, illegal, discriminatory or unethical– once a decision is made  you are duty bound to accept it if we are to be a society that respects the decisions made by governing bodies. And if we don’t, then those decisions will never be accepted and we will never be able to rely on a governmental action.

As for special events, the city commission made a point. Actually, several: quality is better than quantity, where possible events should be contained and events come with a cost. The event producers get it and they should be credited with stepping up and redesigning and rethinking many long time events. This is the moment where you declare victory, thank people for compromising, credit them for proposing solutions and move on. There are bigger problems to deal with than Garlic Fest, which many would argue does not even constitute a problem.

Like heroin.

I attended a drug task force meeting last week led by the impressive Suzanne Spencer.

It was an extraordinary experience. In the room, were all the major front line players–treatment providers, business leaders, cops, firefighters, code enforcement personnel, hospital officials and legislative aides.

Folks, we are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. People are dying and it’s not just kids it’s middle age people too. Opioid and heroin Abuse is rampant and scary. And it’s here in our community–and elsewhere too as evidenced by the presence of top-level officials from Boynton Beach and Pompano Beach.

While the stats are depressing and terrifying and the stories of exploitation and death horrifying it was heartening to see grassroots leaders working together.

Information and advice is being shared, people on the front lines seem to be cooperating and they appear to be working on the problem on all ends–prevention, treatment and everything in between. They are leaders seizing a moment.

They deserve our prayers, support, hearts, minds and resources. There are opportunities in crisis and the very best leaders recognize the moment and heed the call.

Thankfulness Disrupts Complaining

Says it all.

Says it all.

Wow, the news  has been grim lately.

Terrorism, fear, violence, threats.  We’re seeing it all, aren’t we?

So it’s understandable if we might be approaching the holidays with some trepidation this year.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving we offer our annual list of things and people who make us thankful.

This list is by no means complete, which is something else to be thankful for. But it’s offered in the spirit of trying to lift your spirit. We hope you enjoy and begin to think about all the things in our community that make us happy.
1. Friday Night Concert Series at The Old School Square Pavilion:

Where else can you sit under the stars for a suggested three dollar donation and hear great music week after week in the midst of the best downtown around? Last week, we caught the B Street Band, a Springsteen tribute band of great renown (they’ve been at it since 1980) and marveled at the age mix and happy faces of people dancing. If you are downtown next Friday at 7:30 make sure to catch a tribute to Tina Turner. Fabulous series, fabulous venue.
2. Delivery Dudes and The Downtowner:

Between these companies and services like Uber,  we now have amazing options for transit and food. We remember when the only option was Domino’s but Delivery Dudes brings the best restaurants in Boca and Delray straight to our doors. The Downtowner is also a cool way to avoid driving. Great concept.
3. Mizner Park:

Sometimes derided as contrived, we like the place and we love the music and restaurants. And based on the crowds, so do many others.
4. The Living Room Theater and Ipic:

There’s still nothing like seeing a movie with others. As great as VOD can be, a movie experience is still better in a theater. Ipic has taken luxury movie going to a new level and Living Room’s programming is spectacular.

5. Lake Ida Park:

A jewel of a park that doesn’t get a whole lot of publicity. But Lake Ida Park has trails, loads of wildlife, great fishing, boating, picnic facilities and a wonderful dog park. Bravo!
6. Evelyn Dobson:

The long time director of Delray’s pioneering and innovative Community Land Trust has done a terrific job building high quality housing in Delray’s northwest and southwest neighborhoods. As the CLT celebrates its 10th anniversary we are grateful for its tremendous work and anxious to see it continue. And we are thankful for Evelyn’s rock solid leadership.
7. Local Rescue Organizations:

We love animals. We really love dogs. And we are so thankful for local rescue organizations. Dezzies Second Chance, Tri County and ARF are just a few of the great organizations serving our community. Personally, we are forever grateful to Kelli Freeman for connecting us with Linda’s Goldens so we were able to adopt Teddy. He has enriched our lives immeasurably.
8. Leaders Who Care:

Cathy Balestriere and Bill Branning are two community leaders who have given a huge amount to Delray. Both serve on Delray’s extraordinary CRA with distinction but that’s only the beginning. Bill chairs Old School Square, supports Delray charities and runs BSA Corporation, one of the area’s leading contractors. He’s a great guy too. Cathy is a brave and outspoken leader who has done a tremendous amount to build Delray’s brand in the world of tourism and hospitality a key industry through her long time involvement with Crane’s Beach House, a unique property. She and her team have found a way to thrive among giants, competing ably with large hotel brands. She has also done a huge amount for local charities through her events at Crane’s. For that and more we are thankful.
9. The staff at Old School Square is lean and awfully effective. They work hard and are dedicated beyond words. We are grateful. It does not go unnoticed.
10. Congress Avenue Task Force:

Personally I am thankful for the 35 plus members who have devoted the better part of the year to envisioning a brighter future for the key corridor.
You couldn’t wish for a better team.
Finally, thanks to you for reading YourDelrayBoca. The blog is a labor of love and we appreciate your support and comments. Have a great Thanksgiving.

A Better Way

Bullhorns_620

Last week was exhausting and you could see the divisions in Delray writ large.

But what is often lost when emotions run hot are the commonalities.

In this city, there is one common thread that trumps (sorry for the word trump) everything else.

People love Delray Beach. And that’s a good thing.

Some like a vibrant growing Delray; some might prefer it a tad or a whole lot quieter. But the concern is there, so is the passion.

No “side” is right and no side is wrong.

It’s a debate that plays out in towns and cities throughout the country. But many people I know long for a more intelligent, fact-based debate in which all stakeholders can feel like they’ve been heard and respected. We should have a process that doesn’t feel so bruising and nasty.

But we don’t have that yet, not by a long shot. Here’s what we have as illustrated by the recent iPic debate.

Project comes to town.

Economic development fans get excited.

Jobs! Tax base! Cleaning up a blighted property! Yay!

But they’re not allowed to get excited or to enjoy the moment for longer than a nanosecond. And heaven forbid if we give the economic development team a pat on the back for bringing the opportunity to town.

See, unless the new project or company is being built on acres of virgin land nowhere near anything or anybody —they can expect opposition.

Why? Because inevitably they will “need” something; two feet more of land, a liberal interpretation of some requirement—something. And inevitably, there will be impacts associated with the proposal (and benefits as well).

And then all hell breaks loose.

No exceptions!

What are they trying to pull?!!

Suddenly, the company or developer becomes the “deep pocketed” corruptive force sent here to pillage and take advantage of the helpless resident/taxpayers.

Sigh….

Then the misinformation and accusations begin to fly. The developer is greedy and disingenuous. The city staff is in their pockets or incompetent. They won’t “compromise”.

Meanwhile, as the developer or company seeks to build support they make the rounds of the usual suspects and they are asked to do certain things such as contribute funds to a cause or build certain facilities. Some make sense, but others feel a little strange, words like extortion get thrown around.

Most play the game, to a point. But they start to wonder are they doing the right thing? When will the requests end? Where exactly is this going? Is this ethical?

Some decide to fight misinformation with PR. Big mistake; at least in the minds of opponents.

See we told you so, they say. The deep-pocketed developer is spending big bucks on mail, robocalls, ads, email blasts etc., seeking to overwhelm the poor resident/taxpayer.

Meanwhile, if you happen to be one of these resident taxpayers, or just a lowly renter or even a business owner who would like to support something you start to draw some heat.

“What’s in it for you,” you might be asked if you have the nerve to express support for something (it’s always OK to be against something, just don’t dare support something).

I was asked that last week, because I came out in favor of bringing 400 jobs, a corporate headquarters and family entertainment to downtown Delray.

What’s in it for me?

Let me answer that question: See above. I want to see 400 jobs; a corporate headquarters and family entertainment come to downtown Delray Beach. Shame on me.

But for me and for many others it goes beyond that. I’ve been working, alongside many others, on trying to create something in Delray since the 80s. I left office in 2007, after what I felt was a very productive 7 year run.

Am I bragging? Just a little.

But it was a team effort and I am proud of the team that I was on and the commission’s that came before us. I even like many of the people on the city staff…shocking, I know.

I live here. I care about this place. I think it’s smart for us to diversify beyond food and beverage and I want our children to be able to come home and work in Delray.

I’m a resident/taxpayer too. If I see something I like I want to be able to support it without being accused of being paid off. I think others feel the same way.

And by the way, we respect the legitimate concerns of opponents. I don’t relish traffic. But I understand tradeoffs. And I’m willing to live with inconveniences if there are compelling benefits. To me, there is no more compelling benefit than jobs. But I get the angst and I know it comes from a place of concern and love for Delray. Still, I am biased in favor or jobs and opportunity.

I am the co-founder of a non-profit called Dare 2 Be Great. Our mission is to provide scholarships and mentoring to some of the incredible kids who live in Delray Beach. We are investing in the next generation of leaders with the hope that some will come back here and make a positive impact on our community. The kids we help love this city and would like to come back. It is our responsibility to do what we can to provide them opportunities to do so.

We have a big job in front of us and a long, long way to go.

I don’t accuse opponents of ulterior motives so I don’t think it’s fair for them to do so to others just because there is an honest disagreement on a vision for Delray.

If I like something, it’s because I think it’s good for the city. If I don’t like something, it’s because I think it’s bad for the city. Pretty simple.

Most projects have good and bad elements…benefits and impacts. But if it’s a close call, I’ll always support progress and jobs, even if there is a tradeoff.

I think opponents are sincere in their love of Delray Beach. Others love the city just as much.

But I think our city slogan should be “How Can We Make It Work?” Some projects just don’t work. I voted down many projects during the biggest real estate boom imaginable. But the good ones, I wanted to see built—Mallory Square, CityWalk, Marina Bay, Ocean City Lofts, Atlantic Grove, a new library on West Atlantic, the Seagate Hotel and others. All of them required the team to say “how can we make it work?”

And we did.

And this town is great as a result.

We love this town too. It’s worth saying over and over.

So does our CRA and our Chamber and our DDA and our DBMC and the people who bring you festivals from Garlic to Delray Affair.

Are we perfect? Nope.

Did we get it all right? Not by a long shot.

Are we done? Not on your life.

Once upon a time, we worked together.

We became a national model for smart growth and great (not good, but great) urban planning and redevelopment.

We didn’t do all of this by talking past each other. We did it by saying “how do we make it work.” Change is going to come, whether we like it or not. We have to shape it and manage it.

It will work better if we figure out a way to talk respectfully on these issues. We need standards and high quality development, but we also need to understand that sometimes you have to give a little to get a lot.

Collaboration not confrontation; was a phrase we used in regards to our labor unions. It works.

The concerns are legitimate. But the people who back projects like the iPic are not blind, callous or in the pockets of developers.

Delray has been built on three pillars: scale, vibrancy and uniqueness. The LDR’s safeguard scale, we will never have high rises downtown. Uniqueness is in jeopardy right now as a result of very high land costs fueling what I think are unsustainable rents for independent retailers and restauranteurs.

We are vibrant, for 4-5 blocks anyway. But there is clearly more to do to help local businesses weather a long, hot and slow summer. And we need more jobs and industry beyond food and beverage. We did not aspire to be a seasonal resort town.

So what can we do to raise the level of discourse?

  • Continue the Mayor’s Lecture Series, but make them more interactive and take action on some of the advice we have been given.
  • Restore the Town Hall meeting, but to increase dialogue create smaller discussion groups.
  • Explore Community Engagement Platforms; town hall formats are great and so are public hearings, but if you have kids and a job it’s hard to be at a meeting from 6 p.m. to past midnight. As a result, important voices are left out. Technology is available to equip stakeholders with facts and allow their voices to be heard. CoUrbanize is just one I have seen. http://courbanize.com/ I’m sure there are others.
  • Open a design studio as mentioned in last week’s column.
  • Don’t allow any one group to speak for all, either pro or con. Effective leaders seek to engage all stakeholders, but the business community in this town has been labeled a special interest. They are not, they are stakeholders and their voices are important as well.
  • Have a fact based and ongoing conversation about traffic, parking and density.

We can make it work and still be friends and neighbors.