Peace, Love & Understanding

Delray’s Pride Intersection was vandalized in June.

Back in my newspaper days, we were trained to look for trends.

The first time something happened it was news.
The second time something happened we were told keep a close eye.
The third time something happened my editor called it a trend and we were tasked with trying to explain what was happening.
Well, by that definition we may want to pay attention to a troubling series of recent events. Let’s hope it doesn’t portend a trend.
In recent weeks, we saw the Pride  intersection in downtown Delray vandalized. The perpetrator is looking at a hate crime charge. In June, a group of teenage boys were said to be wreaking havoc in downtown Delray Beach, destroying property and harassing people.

There have been reports of the kids, some on bikes, some in ski masks, vandalizing storefronts, and screaming vulgar expletives at folks walking downtown in the middle of the day.

Ugh.

Then last week, a few yards away from the Pride Intersection,  the owner of the Ramen Noodle factory, was accosted by foul-mouthed idiots after being told politely that the restaurant was closing and they would have to eat their pizza—bought elsewhere—somewhere else.
I first saw a video of the incident when a friend sent me a link to Tik Tok. It nauseated me.
I then saw some newspaper coverage and was told the restaurant owner who videotaped the encounter on his phone had posted it on the restaurant’s Instagram page.
The post elicited hundreds and hundreds of messages of support , which was heartening to see. There are still many more good people than hate filled clowns. Thank goodness.
But still, such incidents leave a mark.
Seeing hatred up close is never easy. And seeing it unfold in your own community rattles you to your core.
The thugs in this particular video seemed to be middle aged and one appeared to be grossly inebriated slurring his speech. The other was coolly nasty, which was even more disturbing in my view.
The restaurant manager stood his ground and kept his cool. He remained polite despite a vicious barrage of stupid insults.
I found myself growing anxious watching the video because these seem to be the type of confrontations that can  spiral into senseless violence. Luckily, this time, it didn’t. But words sting and leave marks as well.
Let’s hope this isn’t a trend. But it does feel like something is wrong in our society these days.
There’s an awful lot of anger, hatred and violence in our world.
It’s scary and it’s alarming.
These “things” tend to build and accelerate.
Only love can drive out hate.
It’s time we summon our better angels before the haters in our midst ruin our community and our world.
We have the power, on the local level, to make our communities kinder and therefore better places.
The time is now and the tools are there for us to use.

History & The Human Touch

Old School Square

Sometimes buildings stand for so much more than bricks and mortar.

Historic buildings contain stories. So many stories.

They tell the tales of their towns.  If only the walls could talk.

In Delray Beach, Old School Square has the best stories.

Stories of civic renewal.

Stories of healing after tragedy.

And stories of celebration after civic achievements.

So many important moments in the history of our town have happened within the walls  or on the grounds of Old School Square.

That should mean something. That does mean something.

I thought about that fact last week as I was watching a debate unfold over the future of the organization.

I think the conversation is long overdue.

But the tone of the conversation distressed me greatly. And it ought to worry you too if you care about this community and this institution’s role in our past, present and future.

The best “tough” conversations come from a place of love, where all parties understand that while there may be disappointments, grievances, hurt, questions and hard feelings— at the end of the day there is love and respect. For tough conversations to yield the most value, there needs to be a foundation in place.

Historic buildings are important, and they are often beautiful, but it is the people who inhabit and care for those buildings that make the difference. They animate our buildings and they make or break our community.

I would argue that the people who have supported Old School Square over the past 35 years are some of the best people you can find here or anywhere.

They aren’t perfect. They have made mistakes. But they have also done amazing things—transformational things that have had an outsize importance to our city.

But before we talk about some of those amazing feats, here a few particulars:

  • The three buildings on the campus are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  •  The oldest, which used to be a two-story story public school, was built in 1913.
  • The second building, once a high school, was built in 1926 and enlarged in 1937.
  •  The third building, a charming gymnasium, was built in ’26.

The second and third buildings were designed by Sam Ogren Sr., a legendary Delray architect. They were lovingly restored under the watchful eye of another beloved local architect, Bob Currie, who passed away a few years back.

Both are gone but not forgotten—at least that’s the hope and how it should be. Special contributors should never be forgotten. Want to know if your community is healthy? Ask yourself whether the elders  are held in esteem or if they have been put out with the garbage?  It’s a fool proof test. But I digress.

Back in 1988, when the buildings made the National Register, the block was surrounded by a chain link fence and a non-descript concrete sidewalk—no paver bricks in those days. To the west, there was a whole lot of blight, crime and despair. To the east, there was vacancy. Downtown wasn’t quite on life support, but it was close.

My friends, vacancy and blight are not recipes for charm.

But if you study history, you will understand that towns go through cycles. When you’re up, you can’t imagine being down. And sometimes when you’re down, you have a hard time imagining how things could ever turn around. “Ya gotta believe”, as Mets fans used to say.

When the original buildings were built in ’13 and ’26 things were looking up in Delray.

The Delray High School cost $12,000 to build in 1913. And when it opened on November 28 of that year the entire town was in attendance, according to the narrative you can find on the National Register of Historic Places website. Now I’m sure somebody stayed home, but you get the picture, the opening of the school was considered one of the most important events in the history of the town.

But time passes and by the 80s, the buildings and the campus were a mess. Can you imagine a rusty chain link fence at main and main?

And that’s where we pick up our story when a visionary named Frances Bourque looked at those sad buildings and saw something else—a brighter future. She rallied the community and before you knew it, the eyesore on Atlantic and Swinton became a source of civic pride and inspiration.

Pride and inspiration are two things that should never be given short shrift in a city. Civic pride enables belief and belief creates trust which helps you to get things done.

Trust means you can go to the voters with a bond issue and ask them to go into debt and raise their taxes because there is a need to beautify your town, fix your parks and pave your streets.

Trust means they will vote ‘yes’ in resounding numbers. But if you don’t have pride, if you don’t trust your local government to deliver, you won’t be able to pass that bond or turn that blight into Old School Square.

Inspiration is also critically important.

Old School Square’s renovation was a catalyst for downtown Delray Beach.  It inspired others to believe in the future of the central business district.

And because the downtown is the heart of our community when it came back to life so did Delray. I would argue that Old School Square is the singular civic achievement in modern day Delray history. It sent a message to everyone who cared to listen: this town is serious about bettering itself. This town is aspirational. And aspiration is the best economic development strategy you can ever deploy.

Frances Bourque’s dream (disclaimer: I adore her) was brilliant because it addressed our past, our present and our future. Very few ideas touch on all three, but Old School Square celebrates our history, informs our present and has the promise to educate, entertain and inspire future generations.

When the fence came down and the buildings were restored our civic pride came back. We were no longer “Dullray”—we were a city on the move with vision, dreams, hopes and a bright future. What a gift the project that is Old School Square has been to all of us. Some of that gift is intangible–for instance the value of having a place to convene cannot  be measured, but it’s important nonetheless.

Look around South Florida and you will see that very few communities have a place to gather. Old School Square is our place to gather.

It has been an important convening space since it was restored. It is where we’ve hosted Town Hall meetings, it’s where we gathered to welcome the New Year, to celebrate All America City victories and talk about the future of our city during our famous charettes. On the stage, we have seen music, dance and even ice skating. In the beautiful Crest Theatre we have welcomed foreign leaders, authors, thinkers, historians and even a Supreme Court Justice.

Old School Square is also where we gathered to grieve and talk to each other after 9/11 , the Parkland horror and the tragic shooting of Jerrod Miller in 2005.

The beautiful spaces inside the buildings are where we held race relations meetings, where we had tough but important conversations and where we have seen 30 years’ worth of performances and art that has moved us. Yes, if only the walls could talk.

But luckily people do.

I have met local children who were inspired by performances and exhibitions at Old School Square. Some went to art school and one special young woman became a professional photographer after taking courses at the venue. This community came together and gave that young woman a scholarship—that’s what community is all about and it doesn’t happen without a place to gather.

A few months ago—in the wake of the gloom and stress of Covid– Jimmy Buffett—the legend himself– chose Old School Square’s amphitheater to re-launch his live music career. People loved it. They needed what Jimmy brought to us over four magical nights under the stars. Not everyone got tickets, but there were only 1,200 available. But he was here and some of the shows were broadcast on the radio. As Commissioner Adam Frankel noted last week that was a gift to all of Delray.

In a few months, Delray resident Max Weinberg, a member of the E Street Band and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, will host a concert and exhibit at Old School Square because he has fallen in love, like many of us have, with this town and our cultural arts center. Max, like many of us, has been inspired to serve and to give back.

Service and charity are what drives great cities.

You need good people to show up, roll up their sleeves and get to work. But those people need to feel supported and appreciated for their efforts. If they don’t feel supported, they will stay home or take their talents elsewhere. It’s just that simple.

Again, Old School Square is not perfect.

But it’s important to this town.

Old School Square has suffered, like every other arts organization, because of Covid. It needs our help and support now more than ever.

There is no doubt that many of Old School’s Square’s challenges pre-dated Covid and those challenges include funding, turnover among staff and board members and other organizational and financial issues. Some of those issues are really serious—nobody denies that.

As much as has been accomplished—and an awful lot has been accomplished—I think most agree that Old School Square can and should be even more. That’s not a knock on the organization, just an acknowledgement of its vast potential.

Last week, I heard some CRA officials bemoan the cost of Old School Square.

And it is expensive. No doubt about it.

But what about the return on that investment? That’s a good conversation to have and maybe that return can be better so let’s talk about that. But communities make mistakes when they only focus on costs not benefits.

Regardless, it’s important that the institution survive. Having a non-profit that raises private dollars and give citizens a place to volunteer and serve is a good thing. Can that non-profit improve? Absolutely.

It needs to.

Because if Old School Square thrives, Delray is a better place.

So it’s important for us to support the institution and to work together to fix its problems and realize it’s vast potential. Without giving you chapter and verse, the organization has hit a rough patch—rough enough that the powers that be realize the need for a broad conversation about the future.

The opportunity here is a huge one. It’s an opportunity to re-invent, re-set and build something even better. It is also an opportunity to improve how we handle things in this community when problems arise.

A long time ago, I sat on a dais with other elected officials.

For four of my seven years in office, I sat in the middle of that dais with a gavel and a nameplate that said mayor. It was a privilege and an honor and a responsibility. We saw ourselves as stewards. If a key segment of the community or a key organization had a problem, then we had a problem. We were in this together.

The people who have served this city have always viewed Old School Square as a treasured civic asset. They also viewed the relationship as a partnership and a collaboration. When things went right, we celebrated. When things got off track, we worked together to fix things to the best of our ability.

But we never lost the script, we were faithful to the basics. Healthy cities need places to gather. We were fortunate to have a great place to gather. Old School Square’s campus is beautiful, the buildings lovingly restored, the classrooms brim with possibility and the conversations that could be had within those walls are critical to our future.

Those are the basics, and they are awfully special.

We need to think about how we treat that place. And we also need to think about how we treat the volunteers who keep that place going with their time, money and talents.

There’s no doubt that we need accountability, there’s no compromising on that measure when public and donor dollars are at stake.  But we need sensitivity as well.

We need to remember that we are in this together. It is always better to help than condemn.

There is a great opportunity right now to re-invent and create a brighter future together.

 

The Spark Of Inspiration

Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of the special people featured on the Apple Plus series.

Have you seen the TV series “Dear…” on Apple Plus?

If you haven’t, I highly recommend it.
But even if you don’t have Apple +, the premise is worth discussing.
“Dear…”  is inspired by the “Dear Apple” advertising campaign, where customers share stories about how Apple products have changed their lives. In the same vein, this docuseries features celebrities reading letters by people “whose lives have been changed through their work.” Each episode focuses on one celebrity.
So far, I’ve seen episodes featuring film director Spike Lee and Broadway impresario Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stevie Wonder, Gloria Steinem, gymnast Aly Raisman and Oprah Winfrey.
The premise is at once simple and beautiful:  Our life’s’ work creates ripples. 
Sometimes we see those ripples. Often times we don’t. 
But the important part is to recognize that we all matter and what we put out into the world may impact  people in profound ways. 
If we are lucky, we hear from those we affect.
Those messages sustain us.
Those messages inspire us.
Those messages encourage more art and more creation. As a result, we have a chance to be better and do better and move forward. Those ripples we create matter. They matter a lot. They can and do create waves. 
Exactly a year ago, I got Covid. I don’t know where I got the virus, but for me it was almost a lethal dose. 
The virus that almost took my life, changed my life. As it has changed lives across the globe. 
We are fragile beings; here today, gone tomorrow. 
So today really matters. Our work matters. Our art matters and that art should be broadly defined. 
Your art can be music, writing, teaching, running a business, volunteering or being the consummate friend, father, brother, mother, wife, leader. 
There are opportunities every single day to make a difference. We can inspire or we can deflate, we can encourage or bully, we can love or hate. 
Years ago, I chose to love. There are times where I have been able to do so and there are times when I have fallen woefully short. 
But Covid, that dreaded virus ended up giving me a wonderful gift.
Let me explain. 
From an early age, I was attracted to public service. My first expression of that art was journalism. I enjoyed telling the stories of the people in my community which was and still is Delray Beach. 
I wrote about police officers and firefighters. I wrote about musicians and entrepreneurs. I wrote about community organizers and about people who dreamed about building a better community. 
That work changed me.
Telling stories made me want to make my own stories and apply some of the ideas I had seen from a vast array of special people. 
So I went into local politics with a few simple goals: leave the town better than I found it and support the people in my town doing good work. 
I would judge my success or lack thereof by a single metric: at the end of my term in office– knowing I couldn’t please everyone–if I could look in the mirror and feel I had earned and kept the support of those doing good work in the community I would feel that I achieved my goal. If I lost the support of those investing, volunteering, building, connecting, protecting and educating I would have considered my term a failure.
  
The Dear…series celebrates people doing what I tried to do on a scale I can’t begin to fathom. The series celebrates inspiration. 
Isn’t that wonderful? 
Inspiration and aspiration is the oxygen of the world. If we aspire and inspire we can progress. 
We need progress.
Progress is more than an app. It’s more than a viral Tik Tok video or a social media post that gets scores of likes. 
All those things are fine but progress is writing a Broadway show that inspires young people to learn about our founding fathers.
Progress is a young Black director making movies that depict the Black experience in America and prompts us to ask questions and think about our beliefs. Progress is an Olympic gymnast whose courage in the face of abuse inspires others to speak out and raise awareness. 
Each story in Dear honors those who inspire, but just as important the docuseries shines a light on those who found inspiration and made their own mark on the world. 
Maya Angelou once said our legacy is what we do to inspire others. People will forget what we did, but they won’t forget how we made them feel. We can choose to make them feel good and we certainly have the power to damage them as well. 
We all have the power to create a legacy, to inspire, motivate and empower others. It’s a choice. One we can make every day. 

All Healing Is Local

Happy birthday America.
I’m worried about you.
I don’t think I’m alone.
A lot of people love you— but that’s why we worry. We have a lot to lose if you are not healthy. You mean everything to us.
But there’s a path forward.
There’s a road we can go down. But it requires a choice and a lot of effort. We are up for it. We must be.

America, I’ve noticed a bit of a change since Covid came about in the way we treat each another.
On a national level, we demonize and brutalize each other. I mean it is plain ugly.

But on the personal  level, I am seeing more kindness, at least among people who know each other well.
I think the nastiness we are seeing has a lot to do with the impersonal nature of our national discourse. It is easy to label, disparage and judge people we don’t know. The vitriol is fueled by partisan “personalities” who traffic in snark and misinformation. They are effective at what they do so the level of anger is approaching tilt.
It’s scary because the constant fear mongering has one logical conclusion and that’s violence and estrangement.
The left views the right as an existential threat and the right views the left the same way.
It’s scary. Really scary.
As my friend pointed out last week, neither side possesses a mirror. Therefore, they have no ability to look at their own blemishes. And the truth is, both sides of the divide have a lot of explaining to do.
But I’m noticing that at the same time we are demonizing strangers, we are growing closer to the people we actually know.
That’s a good thing and may actually provide us a template for avoiding a costly and violent split.
Let me explain.
I firmly believe that if we remain on the course we are on, we will unravel as a nation.
If we continue to view each other as threats, it’s only natural that we will continue to pull apart and continue to talk past each other not too each other.
That’s not only dangerous, it is a recipe for destruction.
It’s apparent that we will not be able to count on our so-called leaders to mend our nation. In short, they are the problem and they are far from leaders. Leaders don’t divide. Leaders don’t lie.
Our leaders are failing us. They are failing us miserably. It’s shameful.
It will be up to ‘we the people’ to change things.
And again, the template can be found in the personal relationships we enjoy.
So let me share what I am seeing and experiencing. It can be expressed in two words: love and empathy.
The solutions to all of our domestic problems can be found in those two words.
I know it sounds trite.
I know it sounds sappy.
But tell me one challenge we have that can’t be made infinitely better with more love and more empathy.
With the advent of Covid,  I’m finding that my circle—which has always been nice—is even nicer.
There’s more appreciation. There’s more kindness and compliments. There’s more sharing and there is a lot more concern for each other’s well being. It’s fantastic.
Some of these people are left leaning and others lean right. But  they all put their relationships before their ideologies. I don’t think anyone feels they are sacrificing their principles they are just taking the time to hear and understand each other’s viewpoints.
They are listening.
What a concept.
And they see each other as people first not “libtards” or “Trumpers”. Imagine that.
There are times when I’ve seen some tension, but the tension always loses out to the affection shared by people who are true friends.
And that’s where the opportunity lies.
If communities across America designed places where people can meet and have safe, productive conversations we can get someplace in America and in our hometowns as well.
It won’t happen/can’t happen on social media.
It has to happen face to face.
Years ago, we did a lot of this work in Delray Beach through race relations initiatives, visioning exercises and other community projects that brought people from all walks of life together. Community dinners, neighborhood paint-ups—anything that brings people together and builds relationships is a step in the right direction. A step toward love and empathy.
If we care for each other, we will seek to understand each other. If we do that, division we are experiencing will be replaced by unity. And together we will move mountains.

Surfside And The Power Of Empathy

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava is meeting the moment with professionalism and heart.

I got choked up last week watching Miami- Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine  Cava  do a masterful job at a press conference in the wake of the tragic condo collapse in Surfside.

Daniella is a friend of mine and I can only imagine the stress and pressure she is feeling as she leads her community in the wake of an unfathomable disaster.

Mayor Levine Cava was my Leadership Florida classmate many years ago. I was the mayor of Delray Beach at the time navigating a series of hurricanes that disrupted our class schedule.

Just when we bonded as a class, we were knocked back by a series of major hurricanes that knocked us off our schedule and off our games. The  storms were ferocious and scary.

But we made it through, and in some ways the challenge of that year made us stronger and closer as a group.

Leadership Florida is a statewide program that seeks to bring a diverse set of leaders together for training and education. The goal is to build better leaders, create a statewide network and to get members to care passionately about Florida. It’s a life changing program. And if you engage it will make you a better leader.

Daniella was an earnest student. She was deeply engaged.

I remember her constantly typing away on a laptop taking notes at every one of our sessions with a series of experts who came to teach.

At the time, Daniella was involved in social services. But when the class ended, she reached out and asked to meet.

Daniella was considering entering local politics and she wanted a primer.

We arranged to meet “halfway” at the Bass Pro Shops in Hollywood.

She peppered me with questions and if I remember, she took more notes.

I left telling her that I hoped that someday she would run.

That someday came a few years later when she won a seat on the Dade County Commission. In 2020, she ran an amazing campaign and got elected to a really big job—Mayor of Miami- Dade County.

I have one word to describe how her Leadership Florida classmates felt when she won and that was “wow”!

Personally, I thought  that Daniella would be a great mayor because she has all the smarts, toughness and intellectual curiosity that the great ones possess. But she also has something else that is absolutely necessary to succeed, to be more than just another elected official who comes and goes and barely leaves a mark. That something is empathy.

Empathy is the fuel for success. You have to love the people you serve. You can’t be a real leader if you lack love and empathy.

I saw Mayor Levine-Cava’s empathy shining through during her many press conferences last week. Her facility in two languages, the care and concern in her words, the warmth of her personality just burst through the screen.

A friend from Utah texted me in the wake of the tragedy saying that he knew these kind of events affected people like me because we were “city people” who feel these things.

Truth is, we all do. We all feel the fragility of people and communities.

But maybe mayors, police officers, firefighters and other city people feel it a little deeper.

Because when tragedies strike: murders, violent crimes, hurricanes, fires, accidents etc. we are (or were) tasked with picking up the pieces. It’s a leader’s responsibility to provide information, context and perspective when the world goes berserk as it does with some regularity these days.

My former classmate voiced all of these essentials and more during her interactions with the press.

She made a point to describe the remarkable dedication and bravery of the rescue personnel on site. How they wanted to keep working and how their dedication was breathtaking. They worked at risk of their lives, with debris falling, high winds that made that debris even more dangerous, rain, heat and fire. They worked in a structurally unsound building focused on their task: to save lives. For these brave men and women, it’s more than a job, it’s a mission. Great leaders like Daniella shine in these circumstances because their humanity becomes paramount to that mission and to the eventual healing that will be needed.

Watching her on TV I thought of that word again: Wow.

We often give short shrift to the soft skills but they make all the difference.  Empathy is everything. So is love for people and community.

We often see criticism of local government fed by cynicism and snark.

But we need local government. We need good, local government.

And we need great leaders at all levels of government.

Tragedy reveals character.

Last week, we saw the character of local rescue workers and the character of a local mayor.

Our hearts break, but we can take comfort that there are still some special public servants who meet the moment with love, dedication and empathy.

 

Father’s Day Vibes

I’m not ready to leave Father’s Day just yet.

So indulge me, if you will.

It’s an important day and deserves more than 24 hours.

Close readers of this blog know of my deep regard for my father.

Simply said, he’s my hero; has been, always will be.

As an avid reader of biography, I’m keenly aware of how lucky I am to have a good father. So many people either don’t have a father or the one that they do have is deeply flawed or in the worst cases abusive or absent.

I may be lacking in lots of areas, but in the dad department I won the lottery.

My dad checks every box:

Good provider, always there for us, good husband to my mother, attentive father, solid, reliable, loving, honest and generous. The list of his positive attributes goes on forever and at age 83 I’m still discovering new traits to admire about my father.

I’m so lucky have him around playing a prominent role in my life and the lives of my children.

As for me, I’m 56, with 35 years of professional experience and at this point a whole lot of life experience too.

So you would think I could go it alone. And the truth is I can.

But why go it alone when you have a dad who is so smart and so pure in his intentions.  He just wants the best for his son and everyone in our family. There’s still not a big decision I would make without his input.  And not because I need his advice but because I want it and because it’s always so good.

Yes, I am a lucky man.

So many of my friends have lost their dads by now. I knew these men and they were good people, so those losses loom large. I think you always need your parents and if they do a good job and impart the right stuff you’ll always be able to summon those lessons even when they’re gone.

In this Covid era, I can’t help but think of all the children who have lost parents to the virus in 2020-21. And obviously it’s not just Covid, but the usual culprits too and the not so usual reasons such as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is too much violence in our world today.

I ache for those experiencing a painful Father’s Day.

So while obvious, it’s important to say it: savor the moments.

The special moments. The ordinary moments. The great conversations and the pedestrian ones as well.

Take long walks.

Meet for lunch and dinner.

Share books and articles and jokes and greeting cards and weekend trips if you are able.

Hit some golf balls. Watch a ball game. And for goodness sakes tell them how you feel.

Don’t leave things unsaid.

Today is a blessing. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

 

Note: Delray Beach lost a wonderful community leader last week. Shirley Israel passed away in Los Angeles where she was living after moving from Delray a few years ago.

She was a long time leader at the Pines of Delray back when western condo presidents wielded a lot of political power in our town.

Shirley was a key advisor to a slew of mayors and commissioners who valued her support, advice and friendship. It was always given generously with the best of intentions for Delray Beach at its heart.

Back in the days when Shirley was out front leading,  the western communities were very active  raising money for charity, supporting police and fire and volunteering for worthy causes and projects.

I miss those days. Those lions and lionesses were never replaced and we are a poorer community as a result.

Once upon a time, we had a whole lot of heartfelt civic engagement. It went beyond complaining on social media and included volunteering for the Citizen Roving Patrols, Community Emergency Response Teams to help out during disasters, fundraising for police and fire and reading to children in our schools.

Shirley was one of those people and she was passionate about Delray and her community at the Pines.

Two quick stories that I will always remember.

The Pines is located across from our wastewater treatment plant. And back in the day, when the wind blew in a certain direction, you could smell that plant from miles away. The odor was especially strong in the Pines of Delray. As city commissioners we had the honor of serving on the board of the plant along with city commissioners from Boynton Beach.

Shirley lobbied us to do something about the odor. Eventually, we did. But to make sure we understood what was at stake she organized a big group to greet us at a board meeting. A few of the people got heated at the meeting and went after the supervisor of the plant who was a wonderful guy but he didn’t like to be pushed. I remember walking into the meeting, wading through the crowd of angry people and catching Shirley’s eye. She smiled, shrugged and winked as if to say “we like you commissioners, but we mean business. Will you help us?”

Of course we will.  And we did.

Later, when Shirley was sworn into another term as president of the Pines she invited me and my colleague Vice Mayor Jon Levinson to the swearing in festivities at Benvenuto restaurant. We went, thinking we would be there for the ceremony, say a quick hello to our friends in the Pines and go back to our busy lives. Well…we spent the whole day dancing, schmoozing and celebrating with a banquet hall full of people who were thrilled to be a part of Delray. How could we leave?

Shirley and her husband Herman kept in touch when we left office with Hanukkah cards and occasional emails. Over time, the cards stopped and my emails to the Israel’s were sent without receiving a reply. I read a few of the emails early this morning. Shirley’s funeral is later today. They were a mix of inquiries about my children and observations about Delray. They were filled with warm sentiment and genuine love for this community.

I don’t how many people are still around who will remember Shirley Israel and the many other leaders who made a big difference in this town.

They supported bond issues to improve older neighborhoods, attended visioning conferences and goal setting sessions, backed good candidates, wore uniforms and patrolled our shopping centers and helped us after so many hurricanes.

I will remember them. Always. Shirley was very, very special.

 

 

 

Making A Dent In The Universe

Coco at the Delray Beach Tennis Stadium.

The New York Times ran a fascinating interview with Martina Navratilova recently.

The tennis hall of famer is 64 now, living in Fort Lauderdale and enjoying life.

Martina was a landmark athlete—she changed both the men’s and women’s games, but she’s also an influential cultural figure paving the way for female athletes while being outspoken on a range of topics ranging from LGBTQ rights to animal welfare and a lot in between.

Martina matters.

Like Billie Jean King, Jim Brown, LeBron James and Muhammad Ali, Martina is an athlete who transcended sport to leave a large mark on the world.

Those of us who live in Delray Beach and love tennis have been following Coco Gauff’s burgeoning career and wondering whether she will follow in those large footsteps.

There is no doubt that she is a special talent.

Her results as a teenager have been astonishing. Like other greats, she shows no fear on the court and actually seems to thrive on pressure.

But there’s something else about her that shines through—at least to me anyway. She seems to understand that she has power off the court, and she seems intent on using that power to make a difference.

We saw it when she spoke out at a local Black Lives Matter protest in Delray Beach shortly after the murder of George Floyd. And we saw it last week when she made a generous donation to the Achievement Centers for Children and Families in Delray Beach.

Teaming up with Microsoft, Coco is helping to refresh the main computer lab and build two additional labs at the Achievement Center, a wonderful non-profit that has served this community’s most vulnerable children for over 50 years.

Here’s what the Achievement Center had to say in making the announcement:

“As a professional tennis player and full-time remote student, Coco Gauff saw firsthand the ways that technology could benefit education. While completing classes alongside her rigorous training schedule, she was inspired to provide some of the same tools to students in Delray Beach, where she and her parents grew up.

“This community has given me a lot, so it’s definitely important to give back,” she said

Coco thrilled the kids at the center recently with a virtual appearance and coaching session.

Due to COVID-19 limitations, Coco used Microsoft Teams to surprise the kids. During the event, Coco helped students complete a coding workshop, where they learned about game design. The kids were also able to ask Coco questions  including how she became a professional tennis player and what her favorite subject is in school.

 

“Maybe this can give a kid the opportunity to find their own passions,” Coco said before offering advice to the students. “Make your dreams as big as possible, because you never know how far they will go.”

 

It’s hard to quantify how important it is for our children to see someone from their community succeed on a worldwide stage. Children need to be encouraged to dream big and they need to be given the tools necessary to achieve those dreams.

The Achievement Centers for Children and Families is a model non-profit that has done just that for half a century and in process the organization has done a lot to break the cycle of poverty.

To see Coco giving back is not a surprise to me.

While I don’t know Coco, I do know her family.

Her grandmother, Yvonne Odom, is one of my heroes, her grandfather Red is a wonderful man who has coached generations of local kids and her parents Candi and Corey are really special and caring people. The Gauff/Odom family are committed to Delray Beach, especially our children.

Coco had a big week professionally reaching the quarterfinals at the French Open, one of the the cathedrals of the sport. She’s still only 17 years old. She has a game as big as any prospect since the Williams sisters, who also have ties to Delray Beach.

But beyond sports, she seems to be a young woman of compassion and substance. She has a platform, and she appears willing and able to use it—like Martina, Billie Jean, Venus and Serena before her.

Coco’s grandmother Yvonne was a groundbreaker in her day too. Fifty years ago this September she became the first Black to attend Seacrest High which later  became Atlantic High. Three years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 7 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, Yvonne Lee Odom integrated Delray’s high school. To this day, she remains brave, outspoken and respected. She’s a treasure.

I have a feeling her granddaughter is going to leave a mark far, far beyond tennis. She sure has had some great role models.

 

Big Dreams & Big Bets

The Delray Beach Market

The Delray Beach Market is the talk of the town.

As well it should be.

At 150,000 square feet, the market is said to be the largest food hall in Florida.

It’s big, bold and brave.

It also represents a colossal investment in the future of Delray Beach so it’s audacious too. I like the audacious part. We cheer big, bold and brave bets on this blog. Small bets too. We like people who try. It’s the risk takers who leave a legacy.

Basically, the market is a food incubator enabling chef/entrepreneurs to pioneer concepts at what’s probably a reasonable cost of entry.

Downtown Delray Beach has become a foodie haven but with that success, the barrier to entry has gotten very expensive. Rents of $100 a square foot are common, build out costs can be exorbitant and competition is fierce. Atlantic Avenue has become its own ecosystem with eye popping statistics accompanying the buzz. Hand’s Stationers just sold for a whopping $1,100 a foot. That’s an astonishing number especially considering the limitations of what you can and can’t do with a building in the downtown. Let’s just say you’d have to sell an awful lot of number two pencils to make those numbers work.

Meanwhile, the new food hall allows entrepreneurs to get into business for much less than the cost of opening a full-service restaurant. It also enables them to gain exposure to the hordes of people flocking downtown these days without having to consult the Forbes Billionaires List to find investors.

I’m sure the model hopes for the vendor’s to succeed so that they can launch traditional restaurants and allow for other fresh concepts to come into the market.

We went to the grand opening party a few weeks back and couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t floored by the sheer scale of the ambition behind this project. It’s a big bet.

Subsequently, I’ve heard a range of opinions (mostly positive) but a few who are questioning how or whether this $60 million investment will work. Speculating on a business model is above my pay grade. I’ve been involved with can’t miss deals that fizzled and have also been involved with impossible dreams that turned into wild success stories including one multibillion dollar brand (Celsius) that was left for dead on several occasions and now has a market cap of $5 billion plus. Go figure.

Personally, I wouldn’t bet against Craig Menin—the developer behind the market and several other huge bets in Delray Beach including the Ray Hotel and The Linton. There’s a strategy unfolding here and it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

I’ve had the pleasure of spending a little time with Mr. Menin and he’s a fascinating man. A visionary with a lot of courage.

My advice is to never bet against the innovators. Not every bet lands you in the winner’s circle and you have to have the cash to play, but the big winners in business are those who find the courage to roll the dice and think big.

What I’m seeing is a company that believes in distinctive architecture, luxury amenities and the power of food and beverage to drive value and community.

Anyway, we sure have seen a lot in Delray over the years.

Leaving the party that Friday night, I found myself experiencing a bunch of different emotions.

I thought about how much we have changed since I came to Delray in the summer of ’87.

I thought about how when we did the Downtown Master Plan in 2001, we were dreaming big. Those dreams matched or maybe even exceeded the ambitions that were attached to Visions 2000, the landmark charrette process that led to the Decade of Excellence in the 1990s. Yes, my friends, we were swinging for the fences.

Back then, we were trying to get on the map and build something sustainable—something of value.

We can and we do argue over whether what’s happened here has been good or bad. And I can argue and empathize with both sides of the growth/change divide.

But…here’s one thing I think is immutable. Change is a constant. It’s inevitable.

We can and have sought to “shape” the growth with height limits and other tools designed to maintain our scale.

Despite the rhetoric of the last election cycle, we will never be another Fort Lauderdale. We won’t even be another Boynton Beach. Both cities —and Boca too— allow much taller buildings. We will always be a three and four story town.

But I can see why some people lament the congestion and activity and what they see as the loss of the laid back “village by the sea” aesthetic, although I would argue that you can still find quiet places to enjoy.

I can also see why others are cheering what’s happening.

They like the activity.

They appreciation the vibrancy and they benefit from the value being created.

If you own a home in east Delray, your property values—often a family’s largest asset—have appreciated substantially since the days when downtown Delray was rife with vacancies. If we lived adjacent to a dead and decaying downtown, it’s doubtful we would be seeing the real estate prices we are seeing.

I get it, it doesn’t matter unless you’re selling and it stinks if you want to buy in at this high level, but I think increasing values sure beats the alternative.

Choices.

Change.

The march of time….

Cities evolve.

We can and should do our best to shape that change—incentivize behaviors we want to see, restrict those we don’t wish to experience.

But market and societal forces are strong and it might be better to recognize that and adjust accordingly. It makes for a happier village and it also enables us to exert more control.

Change is going to happen. We are going to like some things and not like others.

You can’t shape what you don’t understand. You have a shot if you meet the world where it’s heading.

 

 

Oldies But Goodies

Phil Mickelson, a champion at 50.

Let’s hear it for the old folks.

Maybe they’re not so old after all.

Or maybe age and experience is an advantage and not a liability.

Look no further than Phil Mickelson who just won the 103rd PGA Championship at the ripe age of 50. Or Tom Brady who won yet another Super Bowl at the age of 44.

Or President Biden who became leader of the free world at age 78.

Other examples abound in every field you can imagine: Dr. Tony Fauci is 80 and has been at the forefront of the fight against Covid, Queen Elizabeth is still reigning at age 95 and Warren Buffett remains an investing legend at 90. His partner, Charlie Munger, is 97 and still at it.

I have a rooting interest in the continuing viability of the older set. I’ll be 57 in August. Granted that’s a long way from 90 but it’s comforting to know that there’s life after a certain age.

I have found the 50s to be a poignant decade.

In many ways we are better than ever. We’ve got patience, experience, history, perspective and savvy that can only come with age and hard won experience.

We’ve also got more than a few miles on us so we are a wee bit tired at times and we know how fast time passes. We’ll blink and be 80 if we’re fortunate to survive. And that’s the poignant part.

Just when we get good, we get old.

But the Mickelson’s and the Brady’s of the world inspire us. It’s getting dark, but it ain’t over yet as the song says.

Still despite these inspiring examples we are very much a youth obsessed culture.

We adore the prodigy, laud the next big thing and remain obsessed with appearing youthful.

But I’m finding the seasoned players in this world have a lot to give and even more to impart.

I think we “old timers” can learn a thing or two from Phil and other folks who are crushing it as they age.

The first lesson is we can stay in the game if we choose. We might have to compensate for being a step slower than we used to be. We might not hit the ball as far as the youngsters or zip a football with the same velocity, but we’ve experienced a whole lot and that’s an advantage.

We can take comfort in the fact that we’ve seen most situations before and we know how to make the odds work for us.

It’s called being seasoned.

If you are a smart young person, you should seek out the elders in your community. You should hear their stories, soak up their experiences and listen to the wisdom you are assured of receiving if you just take the time to ask some simple questions.

What was it like?

Why did you make the decisions you made?

What did you learn? How did you get past your mistakes?

How did you run your company, build your business, raise your family, serve your community?

There is so much to learn. The best school there is right in front of us. All we have to do is ask others to share.

Whatever success I’ve had in anything I’ve ever done—-business, politics, love and family life is a direct result of asking for advice from people I’ve admired. Most of them were my elders. My grandparents, my parents.

At Delray City Hall, I was mentored by an extraordinary array of department heads and staff who took the time to explain issues to me, teach me about urban planning, police work, the work of the fire department and how municipal law and redevelopment can be applied to build something special.

After a while you leave– in my case due to term limits—but I never left those relationships behind. I treasure them and regularly draw on the lessons I learned.

But as magical as those teachers were, I learned just as much from some predecessors who served on the City Commission and a bunch more from a slew of community leaders who built this city. From Old School Square and Pineapple Grove to the Spady Museum and local schools these special people did special things. They made a lasting difference and left us lessons— but only if we choose to look and to ask for guidance.

The same lessons apply in business which is changing so fast that it can feel overwhelming to keep up with technology and trends. But there are fundamentals that never change: how you treat partners. employees, customers and the communities in which you work. The seasoned veterans have learned these lessons and I have found that most are happy to share if you take the time to ask for advice.

In business, I have been so fortunate to learn from a series of older mentors including one gentleman who has helped to build two multi billion dollar companies.

Recently, a friend told me about the Halftime Institute, a non-profit built on a belief that the second half of life can be better than the first. I plan to explore a few of their programs and read their literature.

Yes, life in your 50s and beyond can be both meaningful and fun.

Sure those knees creak, that back aches and your hair may be gone (on your head at least) but there’s life in those bones and wisdom too. There’s also time to grab a few more brass rings (or Super Bowl rings). Thanks Mr. Mickelson for reminding us.

 

 

 

 

 

More Than Margaritaville

 

Miami and South Florida have been the talk of the tech world in recent months.

While high taxes and a panoply of problems plague tech hubs such as San Francisco, New York and Boston; low tax, great weather South Florida seems to be on every tech titan’s radar.

It’s a great story driven by the media, economic development professionals and Miami’s tech friendly Mayor Francis X. Suarez who is using Twitter to court Silicon Valley CEOS.

Star venture capitalists, billionaire financiers  and tech CEOS are coming to the Magic City and the Sunshine State and that’s a good thing. We need to diversify beyond tourism, paving the Ag Reserve and serving as a retirement haven.

But not everyone is on the Miami/South Florida bandwagon and there are some headwinds to overcome as well.

One of the doubters is influential blogger Tyler Cowen.

Cowen is an economist.

He is also a professor at George Mason University, where he holds the Holbert L. Harris chair in the economics department. So he’s got credibility.

But a large part of his influence stems from his blog “Marginal Revolution” which is eagerly followed by a lot of deep thinkers in the business and tech worlds.

Here’s what Professor Cowen had to say recently on his blog about Florida.

“In Miami and Miami Beach I had a wonderful time. But I don’t see the area as a new and budding tech center. Many tech entrepreneurs moved there during earlier phases of the pandemic, but many have since left. Perhaps the region is more of a place to spend tech money than to earn tech money.

 

The positives for southern Florida are clear: It is a major crossroads with significant connections to Latin America and the Caribbean, it is a fun place to live, Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez is pro-tech, and there is no state income tax.

 

Yet that is not enough. Miami does not have a top-tier university, and the city does not have much of what I would call “nerd culture.” The city’s first language is arguably Spanish, but the tech world is mostly English, and its current ties to Asia are more important than possible future connections to Latin America.

 

Renowned venture capitalist Keith Rabois is in Miami and is a staunch advocate for the city. It would not be surprising if Miami developed a few significant tech companies due to his influence. Miami could also become more of a center for crypto wealth. If you’ve earned a billion dollars through Bitcoin, and live part of the year in Puerto Rico to avoid capital gains taxes, is there anywhere better to hang out and spend your wealth than Miami?

 

All that said, I do not see Miami as a serious contender to be a major tech center.”

Ouch!

First, the University of Miami may take exception to not being considered  a “top-tier” institution. A few other local universities may also be chafed as well. Yes Dr. Cowen is right—we don’t have Stanford but we do have several institutions that are rapidly gaining steam and prestige. FAU has made strides, Lynn University is renowned for being innovative, Nova Southeastern is doing some cool things and so is FIU.

We are getting there—fast.

We have some terrific—although in the case of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County underfunded—economic development organizations that consistently punch above their weight and some local Eco Dev rock stars such as Boca’s Jessica Del Vecchio. I’m also pleased that Delray finally hired an economic development director—it’s needed and long overdue. Let’s hope the office gets some adequate resources and freedom to innovate.

In addition, Florida has some great CRA’s—if local and state politicians would give them some room to do their thing— which is build great places that attract investment.

But there are headwinds too.

At a recent meeting of economic stakeholders in Palm Beach County, there was good news and challenging news as well.

Here’s a summary of a recent Economic Forum call:

According to Kelly Smallridge, President and CEO of the Business Development Board of PBC:

  • A Task Force at the BDB asks the question “Are We Ready” with respect to infrastructure – not only physical infrastructure, but also support systems for employees.
  • The BDB is finding that there are no homes available for mid-level managers or support staff.
  • There are no openings in private schools.
  • The Task Force will make a presentation to the County Commissioners in the near future to outline the opportunities and the challenges facing the county.

 

Development Trends:

  • Many of the office buildings in West Palm Beach are fully leased. (Can this be true? If so, bravo considering Covid etc.)
  • Developers are snapping up infill property in the downtown core.
  • Zoning changes are needed to support quality infill development.
  • There are difficulties in obtaining building permits— especially in the county. There are quite a number of open positions in this department. Palm Beach Gardens and Boca seem to have zoning down “perfectly” according to the participants on the forum.

 

From our friends at the Housing Leadership Council:

 

  • There is a need to change the zoning for the old one story shopping centers on Congress Avenue and Military Trail and re-zone for multi-story housing.
  • The Council is trying to get a study done on this concept.
  • They are also working on a $200 million Housing Bond. The business community needs to come out in favor of this.

 

So as you can see there are opportunities and challenges.

As for me, for what it’s worth, I’m bullish.

A friend of mine is wired into Silicon Valley’s tech scene and he says the valley’s supremacy is here to stay. I agree.

But he also says that world class venture capitalists are finding their way to South Florida. That’s a great sign for the future.

As for talent– remote work and technology will enable Florida based companies to attract engineers from the region and all over the world. Many of the most gifted founders will end up living here at least for part of the year. My guess is that Boca and Delray will snag their fair share of the next generation’s stars if they put out a welcome mat.

The lifestyle is too good, the value proposition too compelling.

Are we ready?
We need to be because the switched on cities in the region will find the next decade to be a golden age. The places who can solve the problems of housing and schools will win. The places that don’t will be left in the dust.