Complacency is a Killer

Wynwood Yards—wow!

Recently, Bisnow Media convened a panel devoted to the remarkable rise of Wynwood, a super cool neighborhood in Miami.

The panel consisted of developers, investors and others who have been instrumental in the revitalization of a tired neighborhood into a hip, tourist draw and arts center.

Their conclusion: zoning was the key to the neighborhood’s success.

According to Bisnow: “Fortis Design+Build Managing partner David Polinsky said when Wynwood started becoming a hot neighborhood with galleries and street art, he had looked at a tract behind Panther Coffee and bought it the next day — only to find there was nothing he could build on it.

 In 2013, he helped write a white paper that laid out three planning and zoning goals: relaxed parking requirements, zoning that would permit flexible uses such as residential and office and increased density for residential development.

 The Wynwood Business Improvement District, which represents more than 400 property owners, worked with the city of Miami and planning firm PlusUrbia and, in 2015, developed a Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, which called for 10-foot-wide sidewalks, the development of studio apartments under 650 SF and the establishment of a design review committee that would consider future projects. Eventually, the city passed eight ordinances that incorporated the changes.”

The changes created value that didn’t exist before. And the magic of those zoning changes is that the value didn’t cost the taxpayers a fortune. Unlike expensive incentives and tax abatements, increasing flexibility (especially for urban infill sites) is the best tool cities have to create value, attract investment and transform neighborhoods. Zoning beats costly incentives my friends.

But success has its challenges too.

While Wynwood has won international acclaim, rents have soared squeezing out the eclectic array of small businesses that made the neighborhood attractive to begin with. Rents are now said to be between $40 and $100 per square foot, that’s very pricey for independents. On nearby Lincoln Road which started losing independents in 1999 rents can be as high as $330 a square foot.

Locally, we have experienced a similar phenomenon.

When I moved to Delray in the late 80s, Atlantic Avenue rents were $6-8 a square foot. Adjusted for inflation that would be the equivalent of $13-$17 a square foot in 2018 numbers. But today rents are $50 to over $100 a square foot downtown. That’s a challenge. Fortunately, the Downtown Development Authority recognizes that there are issues and has engaged Robert Gibbs, a noted expert, to help navigate. The city would be wise to listen to Gibbs’ 43 page analysis which is available on the DDA website. I don’t agree with it all, but it’s fascinating reading.

Urban redevelopment is often the tale of revitalization and then hyper gentrification which ultimately squeezes the charm out of a place. While change is inevitable (even Charleston, S.C. has chain stores up and down its main drag) it doesn’t always have to mean doom and gloom. There are tools—rental assistance (which can be controversial), pop-up store opportunities to test ideas, retail incubators and small liner shops that can help promote authentic and independent uses.

But it isn’t easy. And you’re never done.

That was a mantra back when Atlantic Avenue was making the turn from “Dull Ray” to “America’s Most Fun Town.”

There’s always a chorus of people who will be saying it’s time move on and concentrate elsewhere once you find some success.

 But city building is never a zero sum binary game.

You can do many things at once—and you should: each part of your city deserves its own strategy and investment plan—but you’ll never be totally done. Success is never final and with it comes challenges; many unexpected.

Wynwood is at an inflection point. I would argue that downtown Delray Beach and east Boca is as well. Mind you, these are good problems to have. They certainly beat the alternative which is our “town is dead, what do we do?”

I drove Atlantic Avenue with my dogs on a recent Sunday evening. It was a hot steamy off season night and it was nice to see crowds of pedestrians and diners—people of all ages enjoying the avenue. I noticed some vacancy and I also noticed that our streets could be cleaner. But I also saw vibrancy, hard fought, hard to get and harder to keep vibrancy.

The dogs stuck their heads out the window to check it out and soak it in. It felt good and it’s something we should cherish and work together to keep.

The challenges are not unique, but the opportunities are very unique. Consider me grateful. There’s something cool about never being done. It allows all of us to be part of an ongoing story.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s Something Happening Here

Ready for lift off.

Ready for lift off.

It feels good to be in on the ground floor of an opportunity.

I’m one of those types who prefer building to maintaining or worse yet protecting a lead.

I was fortunate to move to Delray in the 80s, when the city felt like a start-up and to serve on the City Commission from 2000-07, when the Decade of Excellence had been completed and we had a blank canvas to pursue a continuation of the vision—one that built on and complemented the excellent work that had been done before our group got elected.

So I was intrigued when I was asked to serve on the advisory board for Tech Runway, a new initiative at Florida Atlantic University that is seeking to build something special.

Tech Runway is nestled next to the runway at Boca Airport on FAU’s campus. The space—vast and teeming with possibility—houses start-up companies and events. It seeks to be a leading part of a growing ecosystem for entrepreneurship and technology taking root in South Florida.

When it comes to the entrepreneurial space you can feel the ground shifting in our region. Miami is on fire, with maker space, co-working, tech companies, VC’s and innovation in everything from augmented reality and finance to food and the arts.

Fort Lauderdale is also experiencing somewhat of a renaissance downtown, with condo projects, office space and a wonderful entrepreneurial hub named Thesis (http://www.thes.is/).

In Palm Beach County, downtown Boca Raton seems on the verge and the Arvida Park of Commerce has new energy and new policies to drive investment. FAU and Lynn are gaining momentum and the county’s chief economic development office, The Business Development Board of Palm Beach County is focusing efforts and energy on entrepreneurship and retention. FAU’s Research Park, under the very capable leadership of Andrew Duffel, is also a player to be watched as it celebrates its 30th anniversary.

The county’ public school system also has bright spots including Boca High’s STEM program, Atlantic’s vaunted IB program and Spanish River High School’s entrepreneurship academy.

Hopefully, we can find a way to keep our young talent home, even if many might go away for college.

As Scooter Willis of FAU’s Tech Garage (also an amazing asset) puts it “find a way to get as many smart people here as possible and good things will happen.”

Amen.

Headwinds? We have a few.

A lack of VC’s. A lack of angels. A lack of seed funders. The Gold Coast Venture Capital Association is making amazing strides and should be applauded, but we need more capital willing to get in the game. Talented engineers and entrepreneurs will follow the money which historically has been in places like Austin, Boulder, Boston, the Valley and NY. We are going to need to get in the game soon and in a big way…a way that makes a splash, hits all the blogs and is covered in Inc., and Fast Company.

The dollars are here, what’s missing is the monomaniac on a mission who either can write the check or find the check and build the funding mechanism around it.

Manny Medina and others are doing it in Miami. A visionary developer is doing it in Wynwood and another in Miami’s design district.

While it definitely takes a village to build an ecosystem it doesn’t hurt to have a leader.

Think about companies: Amazon is Bezos. Virgin is Branson. Tesla is Musk. Facebook is Zuckerberg.

Same with local areas that make the leap: Fred Wilson in NYC, Brad Feld in Boulder are but two examples.

In South Florida, the Knight Foundation is playing a catalytic role but there is room in Palm Beach County—room in Boca Raton and Delray Beach for leadership, vision and drive.

The talent is here, if we can keep it home. The lifestyle is here. The moment is here, if we seize it.

Tech Runway will be a major driver, but the beauty of building an ecosystem is it’s not a zero sum game. The rising tide does lift all boats. There’s room for many to take the ride.