Delray’s Next Great Street

Delray's Saltwater Brewery is the type of anchor that creates a sense of place.

Delray’s Saltwater Brewery is the type of anchor that creates a sense of place.

Tomorrow night, the Delray Beach City Commission will hear a presentation from a 30 plus member Task Force that spent the last year studying ways to rejuvenate the 4.1 mile Congress Avenue corridor.

I was privileged to serve as the Task Force chairman. It was a gratifying experience to see a large group come together and forge a vision.

The issue is personal to me and many others. It’s a continuation of an effort to get something going on Congress Avenue that dates back a decade to when a commission I served on rezoned and re-imagined the corridor in the wake of an announcement by Office Depot that they were abandoning their Delray Beach headquarters for new digs in Boca Raton.

As I told Lois Solomon of the Sun Sentinel last week http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/palm-beach/delray-beach/fl-delray-congress-avenue-20160303-story.html that’s a call a mayor never wants to get.

But we decided back then to make lemonade out of lemons and worked with the Florida Public Officials Design Institute at FAU to craft a plan for a large portion of the corridor. We moved forward and created a zoning district called MROC, which allowed for a mix of uses, greater densities, the maintaining of light industry and the addition of food, beverage, retail, office and a trolley system to connect workers on the Congress corridor to our downtown.

We were termed out, the Great recession hit and before you knew it a decade passed. This effort is aimed to kick start, update, refine and improve on the vision and subsequent efforts. And thanks to a talented, hardworking and devoted task force with a vast array of skill and experience we think we have something special.

The big ideas are “complete streets”, placemaking, millennial housing, entrepreneurial hubs, connectivity to the downtown, transit oriented development (to take advantage of a nearby Tri Rail station), open space, public art, expedited permitting and brand building to re-position Congress as “Delray’s next great street.”

Delray has a rich history of making key strategic investments in streetscapes that then transform neighborhoods and create value while attracting significant private investment that ends up far outweighing the public’s initial stake. We believe, once the city commits and sends a message that they are serious about attracting investment that the private sector will respond.

Local examples include:

East Atlantic Avenue—a beautification project in the 90s funded by the Decade of Excellence bond spurred the initial revitalization of the central business district. This investment, followed by the 2001 Downtown Master Plan, created one of the finest downtowns in Florida, if not America.

West Atlantic Avenue-The Downtown Master Plan and the CRA’s colossal and ongoing investment and long term focus on the gateway is beginning to bear fruit with projects such as Atlantic Grove, Uptown, the new Fairfield Inn and small business growth on NW/SW 5th Avenue.

US 1—Another result of the Downtown Master Plan which only recently was completed. The beautification and narrowing of US 1 has converted a tired, high speed, unsafe highway into a neighborhood that is aesthetically pleasing with high property values and intriguing business and residential opportunities.

Pineapple Grove—An early 2000s beautification project that was jointly funded by the city, CRA and property owners, Second Avenue has become a beautiful street alive with restaurants, a growing services industry, an emerging fashion industry, food, art and residential uses. The highlight of the street prior was an old tire store and a self-serve car wash.

We believe a similar effort/investment along Congress will yield results in terms of vibrancy, private sector investment, quality of life, tax base, jobs and a sense of place.

In order for cities to be truly successful and to generate the tax base and economic activity needed to

be sustainable, they need multiple districts to perform well.

Delray Beach has been highly successful transforming its downtown into a nationally renowned

destination. The city has also done tremendous work in several neighborhoods and commercial

districts.

But in many ways, Congress Avenue remains the key piece to long term success.

Congress Avenue’s potential for job creation, increased tax base, business incubation, workforce and affordable housing, transit-oriented development and place making should make the 4.1 mile corridor a top priority for public and private sector investment and attention.

The Task Force believes the corridor is a natural complement to the city’s celebrated downtown and in many ways we see a synergistic relationship between our urban core and what we hope will be a dynamic and successful corridor.

Delray Beach has proven time and again, that place making investments yield tangible and intangible returns.

Here’s hoping Congress Avenue becomes the next success story. Our next great street.