Cultural Attractions in Delray Beach and Boca Raton

Boca Raton and Delray Beach punch well above their weight class when it comes to culture. Both cities are home to museums, world class libraries, art exhibits, concerts, dance, theater and more.

Most of the time you won’t have to leave home, but if you do the greater South Florida area features some of the best cultural venues and opportunities in the world.

A Matter Of Trust

A rare gem named Pearl.

I just finished a book called “Thank You For Being Late” by Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times.

It’s a fascinating read that seeks to explain the changes happening in our world as technology accelerates and Mother Nature reacts.

But the book really takes off when Friedman returns home to St. Louis Park, Minnesota to describe an idyllic childhood in a middle-class community where people looked out for each other and trusted their leaders and their institutions.

Trust.

Now that’s a powerful word; loaded with meaning and importance.

When you think about it, trust is our most valuable commodity.

When you earn trust—and it must be earned—you can leverage that trust to do big and important things.

Friedman relates a story about the mayor of St. Louis Park backing a solar Wi-Fi program that cost the city $1.7 million. Then winter came and the technology didn’t work. It was a complete loss.

The mayor went to the Chamber of Commerce stood up at a breakfast and told a packed room that he was “the idiot” that voted for the plan. He owned the mistake. His honesty built trust.

And when he walked around the community he was greeted with empathy.

“Too bad that didn’t work,” citizens would say. “What’s the city going to try next?”

That message wasn’t delivered with cynicism or snark. There was no “gotcha” expressed, just a genuine desire to say “hey, you messed up, you owned it, we appreciate that, and we hope you’ll try new things in the future.”

Can you imagine that happening in Washington D.C.?

Can you imagine that happening in Delray Beach?

Recently, a former city water inspector filed a whistle blower lawsuit alleging that she was fired without notice for speaking out about issues relating to water.

The city denies the allegations. In fact, the city denies that she was fired at all. She was merely written out of the budget. P.S. Her son was let go as well.

A few days after the suit was filed, Rob Long, a member of the city’s Planning and Zoning Board, was on Channel 12 saying he could relate to the plight of the whistleblower. There was an attempt to remove him from the planning board because he expressed an opinion about the water that didn’t adhere to the city’s party line.

That’s chilling.

And wrong.

The politics of retribution doesn’t breed a culture of trust—in fact the opposite occurs. A toxic culture creates a climate of fear where maybe the next inspector will think twice about expressing an opinion that could affect public health.

Confident and competent leaders at all levels welcome debate. They see it as healthy and serving the larger purpose of getting to a better place.

In the Friedman book, he finds that the culture of St. Louis Park has remained intact to this day despite decades of change including dramatically altered demographics.

That’s a testament to the community and their strong desire to hold onto important values.

Yes, we live in an era of rapid change, but some things need to stand the test of time. Some values need to be preserved.

One of the things that resonated for me in the Friedman book was the ethos of dialogue and compromise that’s apparently prevalent in Minnesota politics.

I cherish both of those things. And I think they’re missing in our society today.

Dialogue allows citizens to engage, share ideas and build relationships. Dialogue enables trust. It is hard to demonize someone that you know.

Today, the “sides” talk past each other and exist to score points not to serve the nation or the community but to get back at their opponents.

One side exists to “own” the other in an endless back and forth that produces exactly nothing.

As for compromise, well has anybody seen compromise recently? It seems to have vanished without a trace.

Instead, we are seeing the powerful say: ‘why should I compromise I’ve got the power to do what I want? And those out of power saying, ‘how can I compromise? we’re getting bulldozed so I need to stick to my guns’.

This kind of thinking leads to very bad outcomes. It leads to Old School Square being terminated without a conversation or a plan at a cost of millions to the taxpayer. It leads to confusion versus solutions when it comes to water issues.

A twin word to trust is decency.

We don’t hear much of that word these days.

It’s not quite missing like compromise seems to be, but it is rare —like finding a good parking spot on Atlantic Avenue or seeing an albino alligator (see photo above, her name is Pearl, and she made her home at the Gatorland preserve in Orlando).

How do you show decency?

You start by being empathetic, courteous, and benevolent. It doesn’t cost you anything and it buys you everything.

According to Friedman, there really is something to the term “Minnesota Nice.”

Sure, there are problems. Lots of problems. There’s racism, education gaps and affordability issues. George Floyd was killed by police in Minnesota. So it is far from perfect.

But that’s not the point—every place has its problems. It is how you address those challenges that distinguish the winning communities from those that languish.

In Minnesota, they have something called the Itasca Project.

Itasca is a business led civic alliance focused on expanding prosperity and tackling big issues.

It has no staff, is project based, but has produced a ton of results. The organization is data driven and its values center on igniting cross-sector collaboration to take near term actions to solve long term challenges.

Check it out: https://itascaproject.org/

We need one of these organizations in Boca-Delray.

Audience B. Goode

Colin Hay is a master storyteller.

 

We went to see Colin Hay in concert recently. He was a revelation; just a special, special talent.We bought the tickets a few years ago and thanks to Covid we couldn’t see the former “Men at Work” frontman until now.Since his 1980s heyday, Mr. Hay has carved out a nice solo career. His acoustic music is beautiful and I much prefer it to his better known and much better selling 80s material. In short, he’s a master songwriter and storyteller.He tells humorous tales  in between songs and his voice is so clear you can really appreciate the lyrics—that is if you don’t happen to be sitting near a rude patron.Unfortunately, Diane and I are magnets for the stereotypical rude concert goer.  We attract them just about everywhere we venture.

You know the type: sings badly (to every song), cracks their plastic cup during quiet songs, shakes his ice in his cup so you can’t hear the lyrics and talks incessantly with zero regard for anyone else.Yes, we’ve been exposed to a boorish greatest hits.

The litany of rude is long and sorrowful.Drunks at a David Byrne show, a wack job who threatened a woman seated next to me at an Eagles show, a guy who streamed a college football game during a concert, yet another guy who pointed a light at a performer and was admonished from the stage and various other rude behaviors.

We’ve also noticed—so have the performers—that a slew of people spend their time taping shows on their phones. Very few people seem to be actually present. In a large venue, I may take some video, but I’ve learned to save my photos for the end when the lights go up and the performer is taking a bow.Now mind you we are not going to shows that attract young people who may still be learning to temper their enthusiasm. We are going to many farewell shows that tend to draw fans who were young when Nixon was president.You would think the older set would know better. They don’t. Yeah, I know I sound cranky.

But I’m really not the equivalent of the fun police. I love to laugh and have a good time but I also know that my fellow attendees do not attend concerts to hear me talk, play with my ice or sing poorly to every single song. We get that your a fan, but please –FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY– let us listen to the artist.Whew…that felt better.I should let you know that at the Colin Hay show the guy sitting next to me erupted at the two rude women sitting behind us who were participating in at least a half dozen obnoxious and distracting behaviors.

He did it toward the end of the show after fuming most of the evening. I was too…in the past I’ve said things to the boors but in the back of my mind you worry that some loon will take you out. Did you hear about the idiot who shot a guy for walking his dog on the Kings Point golf course? Wouldn’t it be ironic to survive a horrendous bout with Covid only to be taken out by someone making noise during a song about vegamite sandwiches?Anyway, my row mate’s admonishment got their attention for about half a song. They recovered, started talking and laughing again and then  mercifully disappeared before the encore which was sensational by the way.So where does this leave us?I know, when I share my experiences, that I am not alone. Many of my friends say they have had the same experiences with boorish concert goers or sports fans. As for me, I’ve thought of quitting. No more concerts.

After all, I’ve had a good run. I’ve seen two Beatles, the Boss, The Band and Buffett. I’ve seen the Rocket Man and the Rolling Stones. I’ve seen The Who, U2 and Dylan. Not too bad.But..I’m not going to let the boors slow my roll.I love music too much. Plus, my hunch is the E Street Band will be back on the road in ‘23.And Springsteen fans are the best.

There’s Something Happening Here….

 

I don’t mean to brag, but just like The Beach Boys sing: I get around.

Mind you, not as much as I used to—my tank is half full these days, but I compensate by reading, surfing the web and listening to podcasts. We live in a wonderful world of content that resides at our fingertips.

If I see a movie or read a book I like, chances are I can find a podcast featuring the writer or a website that includes links to their work so I can go deeper.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about Florida real estate, especially South Florida real estate and what’s happening to our market.

If you’ve lived in Florida long enough, you’ve seen the booms and you’ve seen the busts. You’ve marveled at the prices paid for homes and buildings only to see those jaw dropping deals look like bargains a few years later. But this time it feels different. This time it feels like the very nature of our region is changing.

As I write this, our market is red hot. We are seeing prices that defy description. Land in downtown Delray is trading at $6 million an acre. Homes that a few years ago were selling in the high $200s are selling for four times that price today.

It all seems…well… it all seems  unreal.

And yet….

A whole lot of value has been built in Delray Beach and Boca Raton.

Yes, there’s traffic.

Yes, there are bad drivers and rude people.

Yes, we tend to complain about those things and a host of other maladies real or imagined.

But…

By just about any measure, this is a great place to live.

As a result, people are willing to pay a premium to live here.

After all, we check a lot of boxes.

Good weather + quality of life+ no income taxes = a robust real estate market.

Add in years of low interest rates, easy credit, and lots of money sloshing into the system and you get inflated values.

Yes, real estate is rising just about everywhere, but something different is happening here.

So, what do I mean?

Ok, a few random thoughts based on “getting around” talking to real estate people, reading articles etc.

  • Big finance is all in on South Florida. West Palm Beach is reeling in the firms, Goldman Sachs etc. So is Boca. And Palm Beach Gardens. Wall Street, anxious to have a post -Covid hedge against being locked down in NYC, sees our area with all its wealth and proximity to Palm Beach as a very attractive option compared to NY, New Jersey and Connecticut.
  • West Palm Beach, under the able leadership of Mayor Keith James, is having a “moment.” I’ve always felt West Palm had potential beyond the ups and downs of Clematis Street or the various iterations of Rosemary Square or whatever it’s called this week. For a while, I thought the condos were going to crowd out the ability to land businesses, but there seems to be room left over for economic development and job creation. No less an authority than the Wall Street Journal is singing the praises of West Palm, noting that it has been “discovered” by many Palm Beach types who once never thought of crossing the bridge to own real estate or open businesses.
    One of the more exciting developments is the vision taking shape at Palm Beach Atlantic University. I had an opportunity to look at a scale model of the campus vision in the beautiful board room of the university. The plans include a major investment in health care on campus, a lifelong learning residential component and a center that will train future leaders while celebrating free enterprise. If it comes to fruition, it will be a big leap for downtown West Palm Beach.
  • The University of Florida is also flexing its muscles in Palm Beach County with plans to partner with some of the life science institutes that have sprouted here. I’m a little wary of how this encroachment affects FAU, but the UF brand and political muscle can’t help but make a difference in our region.
  • Speaking of FAU, I’ve had recent meetings with board members, President Kelly and professors. FAU’s ambitions are impressive. The best is yet to come at FAU. Keep a close eye on their medical school–what they are building there is beyond exciting it’s potentially transformational.
  • Lynn University (Disclosure: I serve on the board of Trustees) also has a grand vision that I am immensely proud of. Covid was a wild ride for educational institutions, and I’m endlessly impressed by the team at Lynn which consistently pivots to ride the waves of change. That’s good news for Boca and the surrounding area because Lynn radiates a whole lot of positives for our community.
  • We are also seeing health care take a major leap. The Baptist network—which runs Bethesda and Boca Community—has taken medicine to a new level. I also remain a strong booster of Delray Medical (Disclosure: I spent seven years on the board) and its sister hospitals owned by Tenet.

Health care has become a major economic driver and is essential in a world impacted by pandemic (s). In order for an area to maintain and grow its value, a good health care system is not an option, it’s table stakes.

  • There’s a lot of money moving into Boca/Delray. Take a drive through Lake Ida or Tropic Isle or La Hacienda (off of North Federal) and you almost can’t believe your eyes. So, here’s what’s happening—no judgment just observation. Older homes are being purchased for big money only to be leveled and replaced by even more expensive homes. In many cases, the new residents are replacing people who have lived here for decades and have decided to cash out and either move out of the area and or downsize. The new residents may only live here a few months a year. They are here to have fun at the beach and on Atlantic Avenue. They may never get involved in the community and they may never vote here. They are here for the amenities (again no judgment, we plan to do this in Maine in years to come so I get it.) Regardless, this changes the flavor of neighborhoods and the community. If I were still a policymaker, I would be keeping a close eye on this dynamic.
  • The wealthy and seasonal demographic moving to our community is also impacting schools. Enrollment in Delray Beach public schools is plummeting. This is a sea change from an earlier era when the School District had to add portables to keep up.
  • All these dynamics puts the squeeze on middle class families and those striving to get to the middle class. I often wonder where people who serve as essential workers will live. It is a huge challenge to create attainable housing when land and construction costs are soaring. Usually, the best way to lower costs is to add supply to meet demand. But long and uncertain entitlement processes and an aversion to density makes it hard to add supply—especially in areas near employment centers. Regardless, it will take a huge effort to provide the housing we need to accommodate those currently frozen out of the market. It isn’t fair to put it all on the development community who simply can’t make the numbers work without significant help from government.

Every study I’ve read lately is calling on government to step up with financing tools to bridge the gap but that will require political will, a willingness to take some risks to ensure housing opportunities and some policy innovation that frankly, to date. we haven’t had.

There’s more but that’s enough to chew on for now.

It will take a village to re-imagine our future. It’s coming whether we prepare for it or not, but it will be better if we prep.

Let’s just say that Florida seems to be the new “golden state”—as the bloom fades on “California Dreaming” “Here comes the Sun(shine)” state.

 

 

 

Opportunities….

We have a year.

Actually, a little less than a year.

In March 2023, voters in Delray Beach will vote for two commission seats. Close readers of this blog know where I stand. In case you may have missed how I feel (I am very, very subtle) I believe we need change–wholesale change.

A discussion of what kind of change will have to wait for another day. But let’s just say we need deep transformative change. I hope that is subtle enough.

But for now, I think it’s important to think about how we choose our leaders and why we vote the way we do, or in some cases why we don’t vote at all.

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and talking to friends about.

All of us seem to have an opinion on the political process and the quality (or lack thereof) of candidates. But I couldn’t seem to find anyone who really had new ideas about how to improve the process or increase the quality of the talent pool.

So, I went looking and I ended up where I frequently do—with the writings of Otis White.

Otis (I can call him that because we know each other) is a respected urban affairs writer who used to cover cities for Governing Magazine. He has a great website full of ideas based on his experience as a journalist and consultant working for cities large and small. Here’s a link www.otiswhite.com

I got to know Otis when he did a few pieces on Delray Beach.

He’s a great guy, a wonderful writer and his articles plumb the depths of his subjects where insights often hide. I must approach his website with caution though, because if I’m not careful, I will get lost for days.

Anyway, Otis did a piece on finding a better way of judging candidates.

He recommends a Consumer Reports type process in which voters can rate candidates based on a set of criteria they value.

Otis argues that this method could encourage voters to think about what makes a good candidate for local office. The process would also be fairer because everyone is judged against a set of reasonable criteria.

But what’s the criteria?

Easy: political positions and personal qualities.

Positions aren’t hard to figure out.

Tell us where you stand on things like taxes, infrastructure, and growth. Candidates can also be judged on their general qualifications (vision, experience, and ability to get things done.) They can also be rated on their understanding/commitment to key issues.

But personal qualities are harder to define.

In Otis’ example, gleaned from his experience in Atlanta, citizens may want to look at three attributes:

Does the candidate have a vision for the city and a personal vision of what he or she can accomplish in a three-year term?

Does the candidate have a set of experiences and qualifications that could make them effective as an elected official?

Can he or she accomplish the things they want to do? In other words, once in office, do they have the skills to drive the vision?

I think this is a solid start.

But you also need a vehicle to get the message to the voters. And that’s the hard part.

Is there an organization that most people trust? Or will that organization be labeled as yet another special interest?

In my opinion, there is an opportunity—a market niche and a need—to create a non-partisan civic organization that can stand for good government, strong values, civility, and progress. Not everyone would embrace it, but if it is seen over time as an organization that stands for the things that many of us embrace (and long for), then it’s messages and endorsements would mean something to other like-minded people.

A Consumer Reports type report card from such an organization might just break through the clutter of negative mail and ridiculous Facebook posts we all seem to loathe.

A hard task?

No doubt.

But a guy can dream right?

And if such an organization were to form, I would join (if they would have me) and I’d bring a bunch of people who know we can do a whole lot better.

Living The 4 S’s

For more information visit www.4kids.us

We just went to a great event celebrating the important work of 4 Kids, a non-profit whose mission is to help children in crisis find a safe place to live.

I’ve been impressed with the leadership of the organization for quite some time and I owe my friend Karen Granger a debt of gratitude for introducing me to the world of 4Kids. We have a lot of children in our community who desperately need our help.

Karen, who used to serve as the president of the Delray Chamber, works for 4 Kids. She’s been a wonderful ambassador for the organization and has convinced several of my friends to get involved.

My company, CDS International Holdings, helped 4 Kids find office space in Delray and we are so proud of the work they are doing which has made it easier for families in southern Palm Beach County to access critical services.

I’ve been especially impressed by 4Kids President Kevin Enders, who has run the non-profit for the past five years.

Kevin comes from the private sector and he brings a business like focus to the mission while also exhibiting a great passion for children. It’s a great combination of heart and business rigor.

At the event–held at the magnificent Waterstone Hotel in Boca Raton—Mr. Enders talked about what makes an organization work well.

Borrowing from the work of Dr. Curt Thompson, author of “Anatomy of the Soul,” Kevin reminded us that people need four things to feel whole; the 4 S’s.

They need to be “seen”, they need to feel “safe”, they need to be “secure” and they need to be “soothed”.

I was touched by that formula and it’s been on my mind ever since.

And while it applies to non-profits, I think it also works for businesses, families and communities too.

So let’s spend a moment unpacking the formula.

People need to be seen.

We have a need to feel valued, respected, loved and understood. It’s important that we take the time to do so.

But while awards and official recognition are great, it’s the daily care that matters the most. In our busy world, it’s easy to glide through the day and neglect those we love and value. We need to be conscious about “seeing” these special people and letting them know how important they are. This is a simple concept, but so often we fail. Just this morning, a friend reached out to let me know they hadn’t heard from me lately. I felt terrible about it, but I was grateful to be made aware. We need to tend to our relationships.

Likewise, we all suffer setbacks and it’s important that we are soothed by our community or organization or family when the inevitable trials occur. I can personally testify to the power of soothing to heal the body and the mind. When I was seriously ill with Covid, the messages of support I received helped me through the ordeal. Love heals.

In addition, we need to feel safe and secure in our homes, communities and careers.

The trait I most value in a teammate or a co-worker is the ability to feel that I can make a mistake or  that I can be vulnerable and say I need help.

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a team that allows me to learn and doesn’t make me feel bad or in danger when I turn to them and say “I can’t figure this out, can you help?”

Organizations get in trouble when people feel that they can’t make a mistake and that they have to pretend they know it all or risk their role. In reality, there’s a lot of wisdom in saying you don’t know what you don’t know. Smart people ask for help, not so smart people pretend they know it all.

I think the 4 S’s are a good prism to assess where we are in the various parts of our lives.

What are we getting and what are we missing in our jobs, communities, volunteer efforts etc.

I think a major issue in our nation is our inability to see others, especially those who are different or hold opposing views.

Similarly, it seems like the other S’s are related. It’s hard to feel safe, secure or soothed if you are not seen. The four go together.

I’m sure there are many other things we can think of as must haves. But the four S’s seem like a solid start.

I hope you have them all—-in abundance. And if you don’t, I hope you work hard to bring these traits into the lives of others.

 

 

 

Heroes & Villains

Dropout is the mesmerizing story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos.

We’ve been watching two fascinating series about wayward entrepreneurs on Showtime and Hulu.

“Super Pumped” is the story of Uber and its “tech bro” founder Travis Kalanick. “TK”, as he was known,  broke a lot of dishes while disrupting the taxi business before being dumped for creating a culture more toxic than sucking on the tailpipe of a Checker cab.

“Dropout” is the fascinating story of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes who modeled herself on Apple’s Steve Jobs— except for the fraud part. She will be sentenced this fall for essentially lying her way to the top before taking a fall. Her black turtleneck didn’t save her from the fact that her company was built on…well…nothing but hype.

Yes, it seems that Hollywood is taking a dim view of entrepreneurs lately. The trend goes back a decade or so to the “Social Network” which portrayed Mark Zuckerberg as an egomaniacal, socially awkward techie who climbed over a lot of people to build Facebook into a global behemoth. In other words, the movie was spot on.

Also, a fit for the evil entrepreneur narrative: “WeCrashed”, the story of WeWork founder Adam Neumann, who ran his $47 billion company off the rails before being given his walking papers.  We can also look forward to  “Billion Dollar Whale” a soon to be released movie about Jho Low who looted the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund before disappearing somewhere in China. He remains at large. But he did take down a government and ensnared Goldman Sachs during his memorable run. In a quirk of fate, I got to know one of the major players in that scheme, but I’m saving that story for my next book. It’s a good one.

Yep, there sure are some cautionary tales about gifted grifters whose magnetism, vision, and ability to tap into greed makes for great books and movies and in most cases bad businesses. The jury is still out on Facebook while Uber and WeWork seek to move past the dubious behavior of their founders.

But the evil entrepreneur narrative doesn’t tell the whole story.

Yes, there are villains in the world of entrepreneurship, but there are lots of heroes too. I wish Hollywood would publicize their work as well—in many ways they are more interesting if not as salacious.

Admittedly, I am biased, but I work alongside a very kind entrepreneur named Carl DeSantis. He built Rexall Sundown from scratch into a huge vitamin manufacturer right here in Boca Raton before selling it for $1.8 billion in 2000. Rexall Sundown employees shared in the wealth they created—which is Carl’s way. While most people would have retired after such a huge exit, Carl went back to work, creating a family office and investing in companies and people. His latest hit is Celsius, a wildly popular healthy energy drink that trades on NASDAQ. Celsius started in Delray Beach before moving to larger headquarters in Boca Raton. But when Celsius rang the bell on Wall Street, Carl was onto the next thing—Tabanero Hot Sauce, which we are working hard to make a hit. Make sure to try it at Caffe Luna Rosa and Christina’s among many other restaurants.

Another good guy entrepreneur is Delray’s very own Randy Smith, who runs Heritage Flooring. Randy is a serial entrepreneur with a curious mind that I deeply admire.  I’m lucky to call him a friend because having lunch with Randy is like going to business school with salad dressing (always on the side).

Randy and his wife Lennie, have a passion for sailing (and life itself) and I’ve been taken by their devotion to an organization called Warrior Sailing (www.warriorsailing.org) which provides maritime education and outreach for wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans. Warrior Sailing reconnects veterans to the camaraderie and teamwork they previously found in military service.

While Randy and Lennie certainly know how to have fun, the Wolf of Wall Street has nothing to worry about from these two.  They run a much cleaner ship.

We understand it is fashionable around these parts to bash developers. But like we’ve been saying, there are good developers and there are bad ones. We need the good ones because their entrepreneurship creates the vibrancy we rely on to make our cities work.

Along the way, I’ve known a few good ones (and a few bad ones too) and my company has dabbled a little bit in this world— as investors anyway. I can say that the development business is not for the faint of heart. Yes, there are great rewards if you do a good job, your timing is right and there’s a market for your work. But there is great risk as well—and mistakes can wipe you out, so can interest rate hikes, pandemics, hurricanes, bad politics, changing tastes and construction costs.

You must be a great entrepreneur to swim—and not sink— in those waters. Still, I know several developers who are very philanthropic, community minded and work hard to serve their communities.

Meanwhile, some of the best entrepreneurs I’ve met are in the restaurant biz.

Talk about a tough road.

The competition is fierce, the margins are small, it’s hard to build and keep a staff but somehow, they figure it out.

Fran Marincola and his father started with a small gelato shop on A1A in Delray and built it into Caffe Luna Rosa, a Delray landmark. CLR— as some of us call it— offers health insurance to its employees and the restaurant has given back a lot to Delray Beach over the years.

Same goes for former Boston’s on the Beach proprietor Perry Don Francisco, co-founder of Delray Citizens for Delray Police. For 30 plus years, Perry has quietly been there for so many people while being a steadfast supporter of police, fire, and local schools. He’s one of a kind; a gifted, hardworking entrepreneur.

I can think of dozens of examples of talented entrepreneurs who are role models as well.

So, as much as we are enjoying the drama behind the creation of Uber and Theranos, we are heartened by the good guys. They are everywhere. You just have to look.

And when they cast the part of Randy Smith in the Netflix version of his story (the series should be called “Floor It”)  I hope they consider Brad Pitt for the role.

 

Facts about entrepreneurship:

America just witnessed the biggest business startup boom of our lifetimes.

  •    5.4 million people applied for small-business licenses last year — a 53% jump from 2019, pre-pandemic.
  •  Global investment in startups shattered records in 2021, hitting $643 billion — 10x what it was 10 years ago.

 

 

 

Here’s To The Game Changers

Akira Back is the newest addition to Pineapple Grove’s Ray Hotel. It’s special.

I’m intrigued by my friends at Menin Development.

I’m not alone.

Led by founder Craig Menin and President Jordana Jarjura, Menin Development is doing some truly extraordinary things in our village by the sea.

I’m interested and curious about all of it.

But I’m especially fascinated with some of their more unique projects.

  • The Ray Hotel in Pineapple Grove is a next level boutique property with a gorgeous 22,000 square foot rooftop amenity featuring an incredible pool,  three cutting edge restaurants and a design aesthetic that has reshaped the look and feel of the block.
  • The Delray Beach Market is the largest food hall in Florida, a whopping 150,000 square feet featuring 27 chefs and operators.
  • Lionfish restaurant brings a west coast sensibility to Atlantic Avenue. It just feels very different from what we’ve seen before.

So what’s next?

We went to the soft opening of Menin Development’s latest creation, Akira Back last week. It’s special. Located in The Ray Hotel, Akira Back is the namesake of a Michelin starred chef who was gracious enough to greet his guests last week as the staff served dish after dish of creative cuisine.

The food was in a word: magnificent.

Mr. Back brings a interesting back story to Delray Beach.

Born in Seoul, Korea and raised in Aspen, Colorado, Akira moved to the Rocky Mountain state at the age of 15.  He picked up snowboarding as a hobby and eventually turned pro. He was so good, he appeared in a handful of extreme sports movies. During this time, Back began working at a local Japanese restaurant to supplement his income. After seven years on the pro-snowboarding circuit, Back realized that he felt the same thrill in the kitchen as he did on his board, shaping his decision to pursue a full-time culinary career.

Back attended the International Culinary School at The Art Institute based in Colorado, where he established the framework of his technique and amplified his knowledge of Asian cooking, allowing him to incorporate his artistic vision and Korean heritage.

The rest is the stuff of culinary history—award winning restaurants inside the Bellagio in Vegas and locations in Dubai, London, Paris, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Riyadh and now Delray Beach.

Sitting inside Akira Back, we couldn’t help but marvel at what’s happening to Delray.

We were at the event with former City Commissioner Jon Levinson and his wife Lori. We moved here in ’87, I think the Levinson’s arrived in 79-80. We’ve seen a lot of change.

And while a generation of civic leaders, planned for, worked toward and hoped for sustainable vibrancy and economic success—it’s still hard to fathom what has happened here.

Delray is a rare story.

It really is and I sometimes feel like we take it for granted.

Now I get that not everyone is thrilled with the changes or change itself, but I like a lot of it. So do others, as witnessed by the year- round crowds, rising property values and now national reputation of Delray.

We told our server— a nice young man, from Salt Lake City—that the street we were sitting on was once anchored by a McCrory’s department store and a Piggly Wiggly. We pointed to Citywalk across the street and told him parts of that project used to be a coin operated car wash. He said that was hard to imagine.

When we cut the ribbon on Pineapple Grove Village 20 years ago, the photos showed that there was nothing to the north of us.

Those of us who were around  in the 80s remember Norm Radin (who coined the term Pineapple Grove), Tom Fleming (who led the Mainstreet approach to revitalizing the street) and architect Bob Currie talking about transforming four blocks of Second Avenue from Atlantic to Lake Ida Road. Some thought they were nuts. Nice people, but nutty. After all, at that time the city was struggling to get Atlantic Avenue going.

But you know what? Ya gotta believe (as Mets fans know). First you must see, and then you have to believe, and more importantly you have to act on those beliefs.

This blog is a paradox of sorts because I am a believer and a champion of change. I think it’s inevitable.

Our responsibility is to shape that change, but I don’t believe we can arrest it. At the same time, I cling to some things from the past that I feel are vital to our future. There are projects and buildings and values that define who we are—they identify our civic soul. Lose those things and we lose that soul and once lost….well you know the rest.

So yeah, there’s a paradox and a dance that goes on. Let’s celebrate the good changes but let’s also hold on to the tried, the true and the important pieces of our community’s fabric.

Which is why Craig Menin intrigues me. He’s showing us a new future, he’s shaking it up and making it happen. And I deeply admire that kind of drive.

I think Mr. Menin is a visionary. I know he’s an entrepreneur and I have a soft spot for both.

So, I’m rooting for him.

He sees something here and he’s willing to take big time risks to test that vision.

It’s the visionaries and the risk-taking entrepreneurs who change our world and our cities too.

They create opportunities for others; jobs, a broader tax base, a brand, a vibe and an ethos.

Those are extremely valuable assets for a city.

Mr. Menin has always been complimentary of the civic work that attracted him to Delray.

I really appreciate that about him, because I feel a lot of that work and a lot of those people have been demonized for ushering in an era of change and for failing to get out of the way.

But as the late Madeleine Albright once said, it takes a long time to discover your voice and once you find it you don’t want to give it up. Same with your community. When you find your home, you want to do all you can to make it better and sometimes that means speaking your mind.

That’s why I write these weekly messages. Thank you for reading them.

Personally, I never envisioned quite what Craig Menin and company are doing…but I did envision and hope that the work so many engaged in over the years would attract people like Craig. And Akira Back too.

Beginning in the 80s our city committed to citizen driven visioning.

It worked.

We didn’t have to offer incentives like so many other cities. We didn’t have to build or finance a major project that would “save” us.

We just asked stakeholders to come to the table to dream and we encouraged them to aspire then we got busy getting it done. That sent a message to the entrepreneurs: this is the best place to be. The best place to invest.

It’s not a perfect process.

Some stuff works better than you could have imagined and some stuff fails miserably. But you keep going. You keep working together, you keep promoting, you keep inviting people to participate and you hope that the entrepreneurs show up and take you places you could never imagine.

By the way, those entrepreneurs come in all kinds of styles. Some, like Mr. Menin, invest tens of millions of dollars and do things that make you say “wow”, others like Mark Sauer– who visited our table during the opening—start non-profits to help kids find a future. Some like Jeff and Julia Kadel make it possible for children to play baseball (see the Miracle League) and others like C. Ron Allen and Emmanuel “Dupree” Jackson devote their lives to creating the next generation of game changers.

In Delray, we also had entrepreneurs working at City Hall designing innovative programs and policies. Some of our best civic entrepreneurs wear uniforms and serve as police officers and firefighters figuring out ways to protect and serve us while making it safe for investment.

Thank goodness for all of them.

One might ask, where’s it all going?
Who knows.

I attended a webinar by a futurist last week and he said the 2020s would be the most consequential decade in human history. That’s quite a statement. We are off to an interesting start with a pandemic and war raging in Europe.

Here at home, I hope we remain safe and stay healthy. One thing we can bank on is more change. Let’s shape it, let’s embrace it but let’s not forget the values that created the opportunities we enjoy and remember to do what we can for those who need our help the most.

 

 

It’s Only Rock N’ Roll (But I Like It)

Graham Nash still rocking at 80.

“Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die.” — Paul Simon.

We went to see Graham Nash in Coral Springs recently and it felt…well…it felt magical.

We bought the tickets more than two years ago only to have Covid wash everything away for a while. So, it felt extra gratifying to walk into the theater and see a live show.

I’m on a personal mission to see the legends while they’re still here. Graham Nash certainly qualifies.

At 80, he retains his distinctive tenor. He is a charming and dynamic performer.

We were swept away by the music and for two hours it might as well have been the 60s and 70s when Nash was playing arenas not small theaters in Coral Springs (which he mistakenly referred to as Coral Gables).

Most people think their generation’s music was the “best ever” made; only in our case we’re right.

Nothing beats classic rock.

Two nights before the Graham Nash show, we went with my dad and his girlfriend to see “The Liverpool Legends” a Beatles tribute band at Spanish River Church in Boca Raton. They were accompanied by the Spanish River Orchestra, and they covered the Fab Four’s catalog from “A Hard Day’s Night” to “Let it Be” with aplomb. And for just a moment, we were transformed to a better place.

Outside the beautiful church, our world is a mess.  Missiles are being fired at innocent Ukrainians an ocean away, gas prices are skyrocketing and Covid—that damn virus– was still claiming victims and threatening yet another surge. Even though we are done with the virus, I’m not sure the virus is done with us.

Yes, it’s quite a world.

It’s during these times that we seek solace, answers, and sustenance. We get it from music.

Are there words profound enough to describe the brilliance of The Beatles?
Not likely.

What it is about their music that 60 years down the road we are still dancing in the aisles and singing along?

Same with Graham Nash.

My high school friends and I saw Crosby, Stills & Nash, 40 years ago at the Nassau Coliseum. CSN were sort of an oldies act even then—a 60s era band but still making music that resonated.

The song “Wasted on the Way”  broke through for me. The song was released in 1982. It was senior year and despite being 17 years old, I was already experiencing regret for not taking more chances. Why was I so scared of talking to that brilliant brunette in my English class? What’s the worst that could have happened if I asked her to grab a pizza at Mario’s in East Setauket?

The lyrics to “Wasted on the Way” challenged me to think differently.

“Look around me

I can see my life before me

Running rings around the way

It used to be

I am older now

I have more than what I wanted

But I wish that I had started

Long before I did

And there’s so much time to make up

Everywhere you turn

Time we have wasted on the way

So much water moving

Underneath the bridge

Let the water come and carry us away

Oh when you were young

Did you question all the answers

Did you envy all the dancers

Who had all the nerve

Look around you now

You must go for what you wanted

Look at all my friends who did and got what they deserved.”

 

Yes, I envied all the “dancers” who had all the nerve but this song—in 2 minutes and 52 seconds—gave me hope. It told me that life could be different. That we can “go” for what we wanted, question all the answers and find a better world that would run rings around the way things used to be.

That song—among so many—provides hope, inspiration, and joy.

There is something about music that makes us feel fully alive.

The other day I left work dragging. I sat in a chair for 8 hours, answered endless emails and was all “zoomed” out.

But when I got to the car bracing myself for the rush hour traffic, I turned on Sirius and “Jumping Jack Flash” came through the speakers— the distinctive riff instantly lifted my mood. I turned it up—way up— and the worries of the day melted away. When that song ended, the opening notes of “A Hard Days Night” so ingrained that they feel a part of my DNA blasted through the speakers.

I was no longer tired. I was no longer beleaguered. I was renewed.

That’s what good music does to you.

Whether its Bieber or The Beatles.

Beyonce or the The Band.

We’ll let Bob Marley have the last word:

“One good thing about music,” he said. “When it hits you, you feel no pain.”

 

 

Change The World

From heavyweight champ to fighting Putin, who could have known what history had in store.

“We can change the world rearrange the world
It’s dying – to get better” -Graham Nash

 

“I’m sorry, where should we go? This is our home… we defend it”—Wladimir Klitschko, former heavyweight champion.

Ten years ago, I went to Burbank, California with a colleague to film a commercial for Celsius, the beverage company that we worked for and believed in with all our hearts when few others felt the same way.

We were there to film a commercial with Mario Lopez, our first celebrity spokesman. Mario was also an evangelist for Celsius.  He didn’t need to get paid to drink Celsius. But we wanted him to promote the brand.

A few months earlier, that same colleague, Irina Lorenzi, and I had gone to LA to negotiate a deal for Mario to represent Celsius.

We felt beat up by the experience, but later learned it was all part of the game. Mario loved the brand, and it was his passion for our mission that sealed the deal. After all, we weren’t exactly Coca-Cola. (Today, we have a multibillion dollar market cap, so the lesson is believe!).

So here we were a few months later, filming a commercial based on a concept that Mario had conceived.

We went to a boxing gym in downtown Burbank, a place where Mario– an ardent fan of the “sweet science”– trained. The ad was cute but simple. Mario would be sparring with an older gentleman who was being pummeled until he took a swig of Celsius and turned the tables on Mr. Lopez.

During the filming, a very large, very muscular man stepped into the gym. It was heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. He was 6’6” and looked like he was chiseled from granite. He came by to see Mario, his friend.

After a few moments of chit chat, it was decided that we would write Wladimir into the script. He didn’t charge us (we couldn’t have afforded him) but he was gracious, a good sport and willing to help the cause, which is apparently a character trait.

Irina and I were elated. So was Mario. The commercial was better than we had imagined.

Here it is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fnivh8rg2BY

I was so taken by Mr. Klitschko’s kindness, that I read up on him. He was born in the Soviet Union and his father was a General who was one of the commanders in charge of cleaning up the effects of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. His dad was later diagnosed with cancer. His brother is Vitali, also a former heavyweight champion and the current Mayor Kyiv. Both Wladmir and Vitali hold PhDs in sports science. They are not your typical boxers.

I’ve been thinking about Wladimir, his brother and of course the Ukrainian people since the Russian invasion.

The brothers are together in Kyiv bravely facing the brutal assault of a ruthless dictator hellbent on death and destruction. I have been following the brothers on social media and praying for their safety and the safety of their citizens.

Both Klitschko’s made a fortune because of their boxing prowess.

They could be in any exotic location enjoying their riches and the opportunities that their fame and their education’s would afford them. Instead they are in Ukraine defending their home and their freedom.

Wladimir signs his twitter posts with the hashtags “we are all Ukrainians”, “stay with Ukraine” and “stand together.”

And we will.

I hope we will.

For the love of Ukraine.

Sand in His Shoes

On a happier note, legendary journalist David Lawrence Jr., received a major award last week from the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

It’s aptly titled the “Sand in my Shoes” award and it is given to a Miamian who has added value to the community and to our state.

I can think of no better person than Mr. Lawrence, who is a hero to journalists nationwide and those of us who value public service. He used to work for the Palm Beach Post.

I had a chance to meet Mr. Lawrence a few years ago after he led a discussion with former Governor and Senator Bob Graham at the annual meeting of Leadership Florida. It was a thrill to see two legends trade stories. I bought Mr. Lawrence’s book “A Dedicated Life: Journalism, Justice and a Chance for Every Child.” It was inspiring.

A friend posted 12 lessons that Mr. Lawrence shared after receiving the award last week. I thought I would print them here.

  1. Tell people that you love them while they are still alive.
  2. Believe in people.
  3. Grow spiritually – believe in something.
  4. Racism is the great cancer of societies.
  5. Have the courage to speak up.
  6. Be a lifelong learner.
  7. We cannot get through life without pain – but we can grow through it.
  8. Get back to people quickly.
  9. Believe in redemption.
  10. Always vote for someone with a moral core.
  11. Love this country- help us make it better.
  12. “The purpose of life is not to be happy—but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.”-Leo Rosten

 

Where Have You Gone Dave Concepcion?

Big Red Machine Shortstop Dave Concepcion

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved newspapers.

Not the online version, but the physical paper—-ink, ads, and smudges.

Over the years, I have watched our local newspapers shrink and that has hurt our sense of community and frankly our Democracy too.

When it’s easier to find out what’s happening in Ukraine than it is to know what’s happening at City Hall that’s not a good thing. We need to know as much as we can about both Kyiv and Boca/Delray.

But through it all, through the layoffs and shrinking local news hole, there was always the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

I love both papers.

The writing, the in-depth reporting, the investigative journalism, the photography, and the sheer amount of news from all corners of the globe.

As a subscriber to both papers (and USA Today too for the sports and entertainment news), I’ve come to rely on the papers every day.

I never thought it would end.  But then again what lasts forever?

Apparently, the great employee shortage has hit the newspaper delivery business. I just can’t get the papers delivered. So, this week, after weeks of calls, complaints and credits I reluctantly pulled the plug. Sort of.

I fired USA Today, which became so thin you could read it cover to cover in five minutes. I put the Times on warning—miss one more Sunday and your done and I worked a deal with the Journal that has them mailing me the paper. Remarkably, I get the paper the same day it’s printed, except of course when there is a weekend or holiday then I get Saturday’s paper on Tuesday. Sigh.

I know I sound like an old crank, but so much of what I once enjoyed is fading away.

Movies—- in a real theater.

Magazines.

Bookstores.

Record stores.

Chicken wings that don’t cost $6 bucks a piece.

I remember when baseball was relevant and can still recite the starting lineup of the Big Red Machine (a Hall of Fame infield except for poor Dave Concepcion).

Today, baseball is canceling games (post-Covid!) because they can’t figure out how to carve up billions of dollars at the same time young fans are moving onto other interests.

Why would baseball hurt itself like this? It would be like Delray shutting down Old School Square and bringing the Boca Museum to the  heart of our city….oh wait bad example. That’s happening.

Oh well, it was sure good while it lasted.

And we do have the memories, don’t we?

We live in an era of constant change and I’m good with most of it.

I love the new restaurants, novel concepts like food halls and the emergence of boutique hotels and craft cocktails.  Have you tried the “Trail Mix Mai Tai” at Driftwood in Boynton Beach? Who knew that macadamia, almond, banana, and lime could work so well together?

Yes, I have one foot in the here and now, but the other is cemented in nostalgia. Sometimes I get stuck.

Still, I’d sooner leave home without my wallet than my iPhone and I love how whenever I have a question Alexa is there to fill in the blanks.

When I hear a  new song, I fire up my Shazam app and it leads me to Spotify where I can add that song to my personal playlists. I do miss Neil Young on Spotify and if given a choice I would choose Neil over Joe Rogan every time, but that subject is for another day.

So, I’m not a technophobe, even if I still long for the best of the old days and a lot of what I stream was recorded fifty plus years ago.

(Exceptions include Jason Isbell, Leon Bridges, The Lumineers and Nathaniel Rateliff among others.) I do listen to new music, contrary to the accusations of my friends.

But something has shifted since Covid. Something fundamental and I believe lasting.

We broke some old habits and adopted some new ones.

One of the habits appears to be work.

Have you been anywhere recently? There’s no help to be found. Understaffed restaurants, hotels without enough personnel, professional offices that are desperate to fill key positions.

I read in the Wall Street Journal (on the rare day it showed up) that 4.5 million people roughly around my age (50 something) retired during the pandemic. With their stocks soaring and their home prices higher than ever they woke up one day and said, “that’s enough.”

So, they left their careers and are busy pursuing QTR (quality time remaining). Who can blame them?

We live in a world where someone can pick up a virus in a wet market in Wuhan, China and a few months later they can be a statistic.

Might as well sell your house and move. But where?

Maybe north?

But it’s not just the boomers who are opting out, offices are going remote and while that may be an appealing option for many, I do wonder what it does to company culture and to our social lives and mental health.

Many millennials are stuck behind screens and can live anywhere as a result.

Some have opted out of the race and get by living on their parents’ couches and taking work in the gig economy.

Two plus years of no events, no in person meetings and limited socializing have changed something very fundamental about who we are.

For example, my hometown, Delray has always been a very social place with lots of things to do.

But the calendar, while still full, is no longer full of social events and our gathering place Old School Square is dark. I know, I promised not to write about OSS anymore. But it’s ironic that the community’s gathering place is now devoid of—community.

So where will this all lead? And what problems will we need to solve?

We will need to figure out how young people get a foothold in the real estate market— not an easy task in a red hot location where prices seem to soar daily.

I saw a house sell recently for over $2 million in Osceola Park. Wow.

I hear our local public schools are barely half full, that’s a sea change from a few short years ago when we were debating where to put all those portables.

Yes, this place and this world is changing.

I wonder where it’s all going and how we’ll navigate the currents.

As for newspapers, I remember when kids coveted a paper route. You couldn’t get a Newsday route when I was growing up on Long Island.

Those days are long gone. Now apparently, the newspapers can’t field a team. Another nail in the heart for print journalism. Ugh.