A Congress That Actually Works: Possible in Delray


Building a sustainable place is not a zero sum game.

It’s not a choice between neighborhoods or your downtown or between focusing on residents or business. You can and should focus on it all. It’s a lot of work but it can be done. Check that it must be done.

Cities are complicated places. There are threads that can create magic if knit together and there can be danger when you mess with success—especially if you don’t know how cities work or have any regard for the principles that produced results.

I watched with great pride as a task force I chaired gave a brilliant presentation to the Delray City Commission on a new future we’ve envisioned for the Congress Avenue corridor. (For the record Mayor Glickstein I didn’t “bail” on the task force, I did my job and stepped aside for the presentation so key contributors could shine. It’s called leadership. I’ll get you a copy of my book).

The presentation was led by Anuj Grover, who made a major investment on the corridor by purchasing and reinvigorating with his partner Mark Corlew, the former Arbors Buildings on Congress south of Linton Boulevard.

Joan Goodrich, the city’s economic development director, was the key city staffer who marshaled a lot of resources and did a fine job collating the task force’s 9 months of work into a 309-page report, with a 16 page executive summary. The report should be available on the city’s website: www.mydelraybeach.com.

Veteran commercial real estate professional Christina Morrison who works and sells the neighborhood every day and Abbey Delray resident Shirl Fields also contributed to the presentation giving their perspectives on what is needed and what it will take to make Congress “Delray’s next great street.”

I was pleased to see universal acknowledgement of the task force’s excellent work. Some commissioners expressed surprise—but they shouldn’t have been. We know how to do this kind of work in Delray; it’s why we have Delray. It’s in our civic DNA.

I read an interesting stat in a Sun Sentinel editorial endorsement in the Boynton Beach Mayoral race: despite being a slightly larger city in terms of population, Boynton Beach’s assessed value is half of Delray’s. The editorial attributed that gap to superior leadership in Delray over the years and while I would agree, I would broaden the definition of leadership to include excellent work by city staff, the CRA (best in the state) and our public safety departments which made it safe for people to invest. At our best, we are civic entrepreneurs. Craft a vision, let the staff innovate and watch places transform.

As task force chairman, it was gratifying to see the work of over 30 volunteers receive recognition from the dais. It’s also important that elected officials do so—because their words matter. They can inspire or they can deflate. They can stoke optimism and achievement or they quell progress by being pessimistic.

In that regard and in others, elected officials have a lot of power. Power to make lasting progress or power to kill momentum. By definition, you cannot be a pessimistic leader.

The task force believes in its work. They believe in the vision and if empowered they will make things happen and be evangelists for positive change. I saw it happen with the Downtown Master Plan, Pineapple Grove Main Street, Visions 2000, Visions 2005 and many other efforts large and small that have created billions in value and a quality of life that is pretty good compared to most cities in America.

But I would respectfully caution about breaking a cardinal rule of how cities work and that is declaring that you are done or finished. If you understand anything about cities or about downtowns, you must understand that you are never done and you don’t want to be. Emphasis may shift elsewhere, priorities and dollars too, but you can never declare victory or get complacent. You also have to implement—relentlessly.

Downtown Delray Beach is a great place, not a perfect place and not without flaws but a pretty good downtown nonetheless. But we never ever envisioned stopping with food and beverage. In order to be sustainable and in order for Congress Avenue to work, we need downtown Delray to thrive and continue to build Delray’s brand. The downtown needs office and employment to complete the picture and keep the heart healthy. If we create a sense of place along Congress, we will leverage downtown’s strength and progress will happen quickly. The task force understands that and if given resources magic will happen. Once more.



  1. arthur m beckerman says


    • Ken MacNamee says

      Former Mayor Perlman:

      Re your statement above “… definition of leadership to include excellent work by city staff”. Please read page 38 of your book, “Adventures in Local Politics”. There you “fall on your sword” and painfully admit how staff withheld from you $40M in cost overruns and backed the Commission into approving it immediately– and NO ONE was held ACCOUNTABLE! You close on pg. 38 with “The truth is there is no excuse for not insisting on accountability” and yet that is seldom or ever done by any Commission. The CM and CA always seem to get a “Pass” no matter how egregious their (lack of) action.

      You were “gamed” by staff then and they still employ the same ICMA tactics now. Please refrain from ever mentioning “excellent staff” and limit your compliments to a specific action. I have detailed and memorialized far too many breakdowns, gaffes, dunderhead staff actions over the years for their overall performance to be rated anything near “excellent”. At best, they are a “challenged” group.

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