Delray Beach and Boca Raton Real Estate and Homes for Sale

Watch as Jeff and Dave, the founders of YourDelrayBoca.com, give you their take on the local real estate market:

There is no more dynamic real estate market in the U.S. than Boca-Delray.

From oceanfront mansions and historic homes to picturesque country clubs and subdivisions the market is vibrant, the choices are endless and the neighborhoods varied depending on age range, price and taste. The area features everything from old Florida to the most modern downtown condo’s and townhomes.

You are sure to find exactly what you want in these two world-class cities.

Buying or selling in the Delray-Boca area and need a recommendation? We can help. Learn more here.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Imagining A New World And The Good Stuff We Leave Behind

Remote work has the potential to upend our work lives forever.

Have you noticed how fast the world moves these days?

Big changes can creep up on you, at first you may hardly notice than all it once the ground shifts and an era is gone.

When I was a kid growing up in 1970s Long Island, malls were all the rage. It’s where we hung out week after week. There was a food court, a Herman’s Sporting Goods Store, a Walden Books, a movie theater and a Spencer’s Gifts. That’s pretty much all we needed unless there was an event that required some new duds—then we moseyed over to Chess King where the polyester flowed like Niagara Falls.

The mall, the neighborhood and school were our world.

My friends all lived within a few miles of each other. I really didn’t know too many people who weren’t from the Tri-State area. Most of our parents were born, raised and lived within the confines of the Island, Westchester, New Jersey and the five boroughs. When a kid from Pennsylvania moved into the neighborhood he seemed exotic. When a family from Oregon moved down the block we lined up to take a look—the Pacific Northwest might as well have been Timbuktu.

 

Today, that’s very different.

Thanks to tech and apps like Tik Tok, our children have friends all over the country and the world. “Friend” of course is a relative term. While my friendships were forged because of proximity and relied on me seeing my buddies every day at school, today young people may never be in the same room with their best friends. They chat, text and play video games with people from all over the world.

It happened slowly and then all it once.

As we begin to see the world post-Covid (we are still very much immersed in the virus and need to be vigilant) what might the world have in store for us?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the fate of retail and office—two big players in our physical world.

Changes in consumer behavior that seemed relatively marginal and slow-moving undermined the value of retail real estate very quickly in the U.S., especially the once beloved shopping mall. Experts believe  the same potential for disruption exists in the office sector, with changes in human behavior being massively accelerated by Covid-19.

I recently read an interview on an influential real estate blog that painted an interesting picture. Here’s what one British expert had to say.

“Offices are not dead; they are very much alive,” RealCorp Capital founder Chris Kanwei said. “But a word of caution I would sound: For most of us, we tend to look at how offices will work in the future from the perspective of our own orientation. An example, if you take UK shopping centers and look back a few years to 2006, shopping centers and retail parks were a huge deal, they were springing up left, right and center. But just on the sidelines there was Amazon. And no one figured out in 2006 where Amazon would be today, and where shopping centers would be. It is just that sort of parallel you have to look at.”

 

Kanwei said part of the inability of retail real estate to see change coming is because a group of people with very similar backgrounds and experience could not envision a future that might be radically different from their own past.

 

“There were arguments put up by mostly middle-aged people at the time: You will always love the shopping center experience, you will always want to go there with your family or your friends on the weekend. And it was a great argument, but it was being made by people to other people who saw life the same way, who had the same future aspirations.”

 

There is the potential for the same thing to happen in the office sector: an expectation that the behavior of future generations will essentially be the same as what has gone before. While the difference might not be as extreme as changes to shopping patterns, they have the possibility nonetheless to drastically alter real estate usage and value.

 

“We have a generation coming up now who are not seeing life the same way,” Kanwei said. “They are not always as interested in going out and playing with their friends. They making friends online in South America, in Russia, in Africa, playing chess games online and interacting. That is the trend: We see more and more people not wanting to engage with other humans directly. Humans collaborating will never be taken away. But we have to understand that there is a generation coming through that won’t just engage in the same way we did. This same generation will be moving in to the offices of the future, and will look to engage differently, and could see the office structure of today as archaic — why would you want to bring all of these people in to the office? And that might well change the outlook people have on offices, in the same way it has in retail. I’m not calling an apocalypse for the office. But if you are investing for the long term, you have to bear in mind, your office investment may have been worth £200M, but down the line it may be worth £5M, as we have seen with shopping centers.”

Yikes.

Still, that scenario is entirely possible.

My 28-year-old son works for a large publicly traded corporation with offices in Palm Beach County. He got the job during Covid, which means he has never worked in the home office. Instead, he’s working out of his living room and thinking of finding bigger digs because his remote working arrangement may prove permanent. He also realizes that he can live anywhere and dial into the office.

He doesn’t seem bothered at all by the situation. As his boomer dad, I can see his point but wonder if he will miss out on the camaraderie, friendship and esprit de corps of working side by side with co-workers instead of screen by screen.

I happen to like the office.

I’ve worked in newsrooms (which are the best)—chock full of characters working on interesting stories and more “corporate” environments where I was able to make some lasting friendships.

As someone who values collaboration and who always has lots of questions for my colleagues the idea of working remotely forever doesn’t appeal to me.

I like the collision of ideas, the rhythm of the day, the ‘hey what are we doing for lunch’ routine that makes the day fly by.

As Seth Godin says: “The optimism and possibility that come from training and learning in groups is a miracle. It means that, with a little effort, we can level up, become more productive and enjoy the work more tomorrow than we did yesterday.”

So as we gradually emerge from our Covid cocoons, I hope we slow down and make some conscious decisions. Do we really want to give up the office?

After all, while millions enjoy the convenience of Amazon and a “one-click” society, didn’t we lose something by putting all those neighborhood retailers out of business?
Trade-offs.

Convenience versus camaraderie. Price versus personal service. Digital versus experience.

There’s no holding back the future—it will come. That’s the law. But we can and should choose wisely.

Here’s hoping we do.

Rituals, New Favorites & The Simple Pleasures

Amar is a welcome addition to the Ave.

The older I get the more I value the little rituals.

Sitting in the backyard on a cool night and watching the birds.

Taking a walk with my wife after the evening news.

Losing myself in a podcast (Tim Ferris or Guy Raz) and listening (ever so softly so as not to disturb my colleagues) to Spotify while I work.

After spending six weeks in an ICU/Covid unit flat on my back with a mask glued to my face, I’m finding that it’s the little pleasures that are giving me the greatest joy these days.

So I’d thought I’d share a few and I hope you share some of your favorites with me and others.

–Amar, a new Mediterranean restaurant, is a solid addition to Atlantic Avenue. Delicious Middle Eastern dishes and attentive service. Don’t miss the appetizers and the kebabs.

–I’m finding I get more joy these days from Instagram than Facebook. The golden retriever videos and photos of nature never fail to brighten my mood.

But if you do find yourself on Facebook,  don’t miss Gaetlyn Rae, an adorable monkey who bakes, whips up salads and opens packages in the most entertaining way imaginable. For me, a few moments with the monkey is almost as good as a meditation video whenever I need to relax. (P.S. I never thought I would ever write the previous sentence).

Streaming gems“Imposters” a dark comedy on Netflix, “Allen v. Farrow” a very dark documentary on HBO and  “I Care A Lot” a dark drama with great performances. I just realized I have a “dark” theme going so if you can recommend anything light please let me know.

I also recommend “Tina” about the amazing Tina Turner and the “Last Cruise” about the now infamous Diamond Princess cruise ship which experienced a Covid outbreak in the early days of the pandemic. Both are on HBO and well worth your time.

—Hillsboro El Rio Park in Boca just celebrated its first birthday. This park on Southwest 18th Street was once home to the city’s landfill. It’s now an idyllic escape with walking paths, a playground, pickleball and picnic pavilions. It’s a great place to picnic before the heat sets in.

–We recently peaked our heads out and visited the Living Room Theater at FAU, a pre-pandemic favorite. With only 10 seats available for sale when we went and masks required, we felt safe and saw “Nomadland” on the big screen. Nomadland is a majestic film that was made for the big screen.

Only five seats were occupied on the Friday afternoon we snuck away, but we enjoyed the experience and were reminded about the magic of the movies. Seeing a movie in a theater is an immersive experience. As good as streaming can be, the big screen is still magical.

We really like Wood & Fire restaurant in west Delray. The food is good (the Delray salad is awesome), the service is excellent and the ambience is very appealing. In this era of Covid, we like how the restaurant is open on two sides with ample ventilation and two large outdoor dining areas. Things are really picking up in the western part of our community.

As for books, I’ve got a few recommendations: Delray’s own Steve Leveen has written “America’s Bilingual Century” which I deeply enjoyed. I remember talking to Steve about the merits of bilingualism at a Christmas Party so to see the book come to life is very cool.

“How I Built This” by Guy Raz is a quick read based on the stories covered on his amazing podcast chronicling the journey of some very talented entrepreneurs. If you dream of starting a business, currently run a business or just want some inspiration this is the book for you.

“Who is Michael Ovitz?” is the autobiography of the super-agent who once ran Hollywood. Lots of insider tales of how the entertainment biz works and sometimes doesn’t.

“How to Change Your Mind” by Michael Pollan is the story of how psychedelics affect us. I was turned onto this fascinating read by a childhood friend who sent me an article in Fortune magazine about the growing research into how psychedelics might treat anxiety, depression and PTSD.

“Unreasonable Success” by Richard Koch came to me from the Tim Ferris podcast. It’s a great character study of people throughout history who leave an outsize mark on the world. That book led me to “The Hidden Habits of Genius” by music professor Craig Wright who teaches a very popular Yale course of the same name. I learned that I might be the opposite of a genius—but at least I have self-awareness.

I’d also like to give a plug to the vaccination site at the South County Civic Center where my wife and I recently received our first doses of the Moderna vaccine. The site was so well-run, the vaccinators so kind and the location and parking is very convenient. Get the shot wherever and whenever you can, but if you are lucky enough to score a slot at the Civic Center you’ll be delighted by how well it is run.

Hope you had a great Easter and Passover. Stay safe this spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smart Capital + Vision= Transformation

Boynton Beach’s new city hall anchors an ambitious vision that includes culture and business.

Have you seen the blizzard of news coming out of Miami?
It seems like every day there’s a major announcement; one headline more exciting than the other.

–“SoftBank makes $100mm bet on Miami as next US tech hub”—Financial Times

–“Why Miami is the next hot tech hub”—Crunchbase

–“Miami is becoming a magnet for companies trying to escape high taxes”—CNBC

And the list of interesting news goes on and on.

But the headline that intrigued me the most came from the real estate site Bisnow: “Miami Billionaire Launching Downtown Innovation Hub.”

The story details how Moishe Mana has broken ground on a downtown building that he intends to make the center of a burgeoning tech and startup community.

The 13-story “Nikola Tesla Innovation Center” will have 136,000 SF of space, mostly for offices with 2% reserved for retail. It is expected to be completed at the end of this year, with occupancy to begin in Q1 of 2022.

Mana and his team assembled about 60 properties downtown; which is an impressive feat. But he has also laid out an audacious goal: make the area the “economic engine of Miami.”

While the real estate “placemaking” is an interesting part of the equation it’s only one part of the vision. Mana is also doing what he can to assemble talent and connect key players who can make the dream come true.

In January, Mana announced a partnership with California based Plug N Play, a “global innovation platform” that works to build relationships between startups and large corporations.

Also at the table is city and county government and that’s important and essential.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is getting a lot of buzz these days for using his Twitter account to talk with tech titans and sell them on the virtues of Miami. Mayor-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, was my Leadership Florida classmate, and I can say with certainty that nobody will work harder to make things happen. Daniella is the real deal.

So yes, the stars are aligning in Miami.

While vision is also important and essential so is the ability to execute.

I researched Mr. Mana’s career and learned that he has done something similar before; he played a key role in transforming Manhattan’s Meatpacking District from a derelict section of the city into a trendy area driven by art and culture.

Mr. Mana’s strategy for Miami also includes art and culture. The concept is being called “Mana Common.”

On a recent webinar discussing the projects Mana had this to say.

“I totally understood we needed to do something exceptional,” Mana said. “The problem is, every time there is a neighborhood built, then come the real estate funds that basically destroy the whole ecosystem. So I said, ‘We’re going to buy a big critical mass of real estate and we’re going to build a sustainable community where we do not need to trade with the real estate.’ This is a home for the brain. This is a home for creation. This is a home for changing a city.”

The operative word in that thought is exceptional—the desire to do something special and transformational.

Closer to home, I recently took a tour of Boynton Beach’s new City Hall complex, innovation center, library, children’s museum and amphitheater. If you haven’t seen this project yet, it’s well worth the drive.

The vision shown by this public private partnership is inspiring and the potential is enormous.

The City Hall— which includes ample community space— is beautiful with natural light and cozy meeting rooms available to the public.

The plan is to add a café and build out a space that will be used to grow local companies.

Post-Covid there will opportunities for art, music and events in a beautiful open space anchored by the amphitheater.

As I took the tour, I thought to myself “hey, Boynton Beach has got it going on.” I think it’s the nicest City Hall I’ve seen.

I admire cities and entrepreneurs who aspire.

Smart capital + Vision= transformation.

It’s not a sure thing. But you miss every shot you don’t take.

You’ve Got To Be In It To Win It

Misfits Gaming is consolidating operations in Los Angeles and Berlin, Germany into a new HQ in Boca Raton.

Despite an historic pandemic that has roiled the economy, the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County is bringing businesses and jobs to the area.

That’s great news for Palm Beach County because we need investment and we need job creation.

So I was thrilled to see my longtime friend Kelly Smallridge, the CEO of the BDB, talk up deal after deal on a recent Urban Land Institute webinar.

But as the presentation rolled on, I noticed something: Delray Beach wasn’t getting any deals. Boca was getting them—a lot of them. Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, West Palm Beach and Boynton Beach too. Even the long passed over Glades had a few deals in the hopper.

But I never heard the words Delray Beach mentioned.

Now, I don’t blame Kelly or the BDB. I’ve served on that board twice and I know personally that Kelly and her amazing staff are fans of Delray.

And of course, I might have missed something or there may be something in the hopper that isn’t public yet and let’s hope so because we need to be in the economic development game. But I am concerned that the Delray Beach Office of Economic Development doesn’t have a director. When I visited the city’s website, the name of the departed director was still listed and the latest news was dated April 8, 2019. Sorry, folks that doesn’t cut it.

Economic development is a competitive endeavor. You have to want make something happen and you have to be out there selling your community as a great place to do business.

All. The. Time.

Despite the city snoozing, we are seeing some interesting investments—I love “The Linton” a new project by Menin Development on Linton Boulevard and I’m interested to see how the company’s bold move to build and operate the largest food hall in Florida downtown fares.

Good stuff, all of it.

It’s also nice to see some tenants moving into the iPic office building. We need the daytime activity.

Out on Congress Avenue, Grover-Corlew has done a good job repositioning the old Arbors office building into Delray Central and I’m guardedly optimistic that sometime we might actually get an overlay district on Federal Highway, an effort we have paid consultants to complete but for some inexplicable reason remains unfinished despite years and years of talking about it.

Meanwhile, the region is thriving.

Miami hired its first chief technology officer to provide “concierge” services to help tech companies navigate the bureaucracy when they come to the city. Softbank, the massive venture capital fund, just announced a $100 million commitment to fund Miami area companies, a testament to how hot the Magic City has become.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has been fielding inquiries via his Twitter account from a variety of companies and has gotten inquiries from Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Facebook investor Peter Thiel among others.

“There is an attitude that has been expressed by some leaders that says, ‘We don’t want you and we don’t need you,’” Suarez said to NBC News alluding to how business owners say they feel they are being treated in Silicon Valley. “It’s the opposite of the ‘How can I help?’ attitude, ‘How can I grow this ecosystem?”

Well said Mr. Mayor. How can I help is sure better than take your jobs and money elsewhere.

Meanwhile, to our immediate south, Boca has the amazing Jessica Delvecchio leading the economic development charge. Jessica heads a small office but you would think she has an army at her disposal. She sends a constant stream of good news about Boca and the merits of investing in the city. She’s a rock star.

So is Andrew Duffel, who runs the FAU Research Development Park.

Rock stars are helpful, but what’s as important is a coherent economic development strategy that is worked relentlessly by people who believe.

Such a strategy should be aspirational and realistic—two terms often at odds but indulge me for a moment.

Aspiration is essential—you have to identify a North Star and articulate why it’s important to reach for that star. It helps if the community is rowing in the same direction.

But while dreams are important, they have to be tempered by reality. So many cities want to be another “Silicon Valley” but that’s not likely.

It’s OK to borrow inspiration from a successful region or city, but I think the best strategies build off your own unique strengths.

For Boca—well the strengths are pretty amazing. Great schools, emerging universities, a world class parks system, a low crime rate, attractive neighborhoods and stable local government.

Delray has a vibrant downtown, beautiful beach, historic neighborhoods, great “scale”, loads of charm and proximity to some of those emerging universities we just mentioned.

Combined—the two cities can’t be beat. They are complementary places strategically located in the heart of South Florida.

So I’m bullish on the future but only if…

–We get in the game.

We need an economic development director. I was alarmed when a candidate at a recent forum at the Arts Garage said we didn’t need an economic development director. Sorry, Price Patton, you’re a smart man but that’s a short-sighted answer. Don’t let the crowds on Atlantic Avenue fool you. Like the rest of America, our economy has been hit hard by Covid-19. We need jobs and to help struggling parts of our city. There’s even vacancy downtown and along Pineapple Grove. We need to be in the game.

–We maintain our charm and scale. (P.S. Please ignore those goofy fear mongering mailers saying candidates want to turn us into Fort Lauderdale. That. Won’t. Ever. Happen. We won’t ever raise height limits downtown. We won’t ever have skyscrapers. We won’t even be Boynton or Boca which allows 10 and 12 story buildings. But we do have to manage growth and insist on great design. It’s good to be vigilant about our future, but it doesn’t serve anyone well to exaggerate. Let’s raise the level of discourse if we can).

In addition, we have to fix City Hall.

Businesses coming into a city need to know that they can rely on an efficient and fair approval process.

Leaders set the course, staff implements the vision. Staff is lost if there’s a poor culture and or no vision.

Poor leadership wastes a good staff. Good leadership without a good staff doesn’t work either. You need both sides of the equation.

It’s also essential to have a good story/vision.

It’s not about incentives—a compelling vision and a process free of gutter politics, bureaucratic fear and inefficiency goes a long, long way.

Ideally,-the vision comes from the community with the City Commission leading the way and serving as the guardian and driver of the vision making sure things get done and that we stay true to what the community wants. And by community I mean everyone willing and able to show up or weigh in.

We can’t afford to leave anyone behind. We can’t afford to ignore stakeholders.

We are so quick to label in this town.

The developer is always greedy and rapacious—some are, but most aren’t.

The business community has been labeled by some as a self-serving “special interest”—and yet some of the most caring, committed and dedicated contributors own businesses in town. Shouldn’t they have a voice? And what’s wrong with making a profit, this is America and in order for a city to be sustainable we need a strong and prosperous business community.

On the flip side, opponents of projects are often labeled NIMBY’s, which stands for not in my backyard. In other words, they don’t want to see anything happen. Sometimes that’s true. But many citizens just  have some questions that need to be answered or suggestions that might make the project function better.

Regardless, effective economic development means that we need to have a common vision, a staff to carry it out, a great story to sell your town to investors and a climate that doesn’t resemble Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

But most important, if you want jobs, opportunity and tax base—(and we do because if you’re stagnant you die) you have to get in the game.

I hope we do.

Hotels and multi-family projects have their place. But job creating commercial enterprises are also needed. We shouldn’t mistake the two—and I fear we do.

Boca, Palm Beach Gardens and West Palm Beach are reeling in companies that create jobs and make their economies less reliant on food, beverage and tourism which we have learned can be very vulnerable to economic cycles, pandemics and even extreme weather events.

We need to diversify. We need to innovate. Complacency is a killer.

 

Here’s a look at some deals coming to Palm Beach County:

Beacon Pharmaceutical is building a 200,0000 square foot life sciences accelerator in Jupiter. The $80 million investment will support up to 50 companies.

NYU Langone Health is bringing 500 new jobs to Boynton Beach with a 100,000 square foot patient access contact center.

Misfits Gaming is creating 30 new jobs in Boca. Average salary $95,000.

Northwest Company is bringing 35 jobs to a new corporate headquarters in Boca.

Logistics/Distribution. 15 distribution centers occupying nearly 5 million square feet is planned for Palm Beach County. 1 million square feet and 300 jobs are coming to the Park of Commerce and 150 jobs in 75,000 square feet is coming to North Military Trail in Boca.

–The BDB’s “Behind the Gates” initiative targeting financial firms has yielded 2,500 jobs and counting.

Wealthspire Advisors is establishing a presence in east Boca.

Project Rack is in the hopper for Boynton Beach, 270 new jobs in distribution.

The Best Leaders Deliver Happiness

Tony Hsieh’s philosophy was summed up in the book “Delivering Happiness.” Zappos’ legendary customer service made Zappos a $1.2 billion company.

There was shocking news over the Thanksgiving weekend for those of us who are fans of great entrepreneurs.

Tony Hsieh, (pronounced shay) the visionary founder of Zappos and the driving force behind The Downtown Project in Las Vegas, was dead at the young age of 46. Mr. Hsieh succumbed to injuries suffered in a house fire.

Zappos was an early e-commerce success story selling shoes by the truckloads until Amazon came along and scooped up the company for $1.2 billion in 2009.

Hsieh took his fortune and wrote one of the best business books ever “Delivering Happiness” which preached the Zappos philosophy of exceptional customer service. His book and business model influenced scores of entrepreneurs then he pivoted to Las Vegas where he bought a slew of real estate in the old moribund downtown and set about trying to transform the place.

I’ve been following those efforts for years and while the results have met with mixed reviews I deeply admired his vision and audacity.

Transformation is a risky venture. Efforts often fall short but without these special people willing to take risks and buck conventional wisdom change won’t happen.

Within reason, we ought to be encouraging and where possible helping these pioneers who see potential where others see blight.

Hsieh took a boring category (shoes) and created a culture that revolutionized customer service and how to buy a product.

When it came to downtown revitalization, he spent his money and time trying to lure talent and enterprise to a part of Las Vegas long ago written off.  The Downtown Project is a $350 million investment: $200 million for real estate, $50 million for tech startups, $50 million for small businesses and $50 million for education, arts and culture.

Noted urban journalist Aaron Renn was a fan of the ambitious effort.

“While I had some critiques of the downtown project, his vision to remake the unbelievably bleak downtown Las Vegas into a hub of creativity was audacity on steroids,” Renn wrote.  “ Again, most cities could only dream of having someone with that kind of vision and willingness to attempt the impossible.”

Those “someone’s” are developer/entrepreneurs and I think we make a big mistake when we paint with a broad brush and write them all off as rapacious enemies we must instinctively fight.

As has been noted many times in this space, there are good developers and there are bad ones. We benefit when we can distinguish between the two.

Good developers transform communities. They create places and jobs and they generate vibrancy while growing the tax base.

If we engage them early, we can shape development and make sure projects respect the style and aesthetics of the community. It can be done. But only if we elevate the conversation and work with people not on them.

 

Attracting good developers to your city is critical of you want to succeed. Avoiding bad ones is equally important.

As for Hsieh, his model called for investing in tech companies in exchange for their promise to relocate to Las Vegas.

He also recruited restaurants, coffee shops and other cool businesses to downtown Las Vegas so that the tech workers who moved there would enjoy a good quality of life.

I thought his approach was fascinating because it tried to be holistic.

He didn’t just build, lease to anyone who showed up and then abandon the place. He curated and stayed around.

He took a long term view and did a huge amount of marketing to promote the vision. He was an evangelist for an old part of Vegas that had been written off as the focus shifted to The Strip.

In more than 30 years of watching local development trends I’ve seen a wide range of development philosophies.

There were those who settled in and did multiple projects while making it a point to give back to the community through service and philanthropy and there were those who acted like strip miners extracting value with little regard to giving back. We make a mistake if we conflate the two types. The former is what you want to attract and nurture, the latter is what you want to avoid.

It’s easy to distinguish who’s who.

Tony Hsieh was the kind of investor you want to attract. Losing him at a young age is tragic.

But he sets an example for those of us who care about our local communities and economies.

There is an opportunity to find and or encourage developers to act as curators to bring desirable uses to our cities.

There is also an opportunity to elevate the conversation around development. The current discourse doesn’t serve anyone and will chase away the visionaries we need to keep our cities vibrant and healthy.

 

Notes: 

Delray Beach lost two community leaders in recent days who will be long remembered for their contributions.

Nadine Hart was a long time community leader, educator and former chair of the TED Center, a local business incubator. She was a guiding light for generations of Delray residents. She was also known for having mentored hundreds of young women in Delray.  She will be greatly missed.

John Ingles was a legendary local tennis coach who quietly added immense value to Delray’s  tennis community. “Jingles” as he was affectionately known, was a kind man and a trusted advisor for anyone interested in learning about tennis’ potential in Delray. Rest In Peace my friend.

On a happier note, congratulations to Jeffrey Costello who left for the U.S. Marine Corps over the weekend. Jeffrey grew up next store to us in Delray Lakes and has always been a great young man. He was in Junior ROTC at Atlantic High School and has been focused on a military career for quite some time. He’s the pride of our neighborhood and we will be praying for his safety and success.

 

 

Special Places Lift Our Spirits

 

 

 

 

Old School Square in patriotic splendor.          Let’s  start with the obvious.

This has been one horrendous year.
Let’s be honest,  if years were things, 2020 would be a smoldering dumpster fire.

I don’t have to or want to recount the craziness and tragedy, we know it all too well. We are engulfed by it.

What I do want to write about is what can soothe us during troubled times.
So here’s something to try— inspired by Yankee magazine—one of my favorite publications because it celebrates the best of New England.
Yankee’s basic premise is that places are special because they tell stories, have distinctive styles and personalities and that we ought to explore as much as we possibly can.
When I scanned the most recent issue it got me a little down because I know that at least this year, there’s no way to see any of the amazing places described in the magazine.
But then I had a thought, what are the local places that make me happy either because they are beautiful or trigger positive memories.
So I decided to take inventory of those places— first in my mind and then via a car ride—which is still possible even during this time of Covid.
I visited old homes and neighborhoods, cruised Atlantic Avenue, took a walk on Banker’s Row, went to Papas Tapas (love that place), cruised around the West Settlers District, swung by the Catherine Strong Splash Park, went north  then south on A1A, visited Lake Ida Park where I have walked all of my dogs over the years and parked across the street from Old School Square where so many of my “Delray memories” were launched.
I dropped by Knowles Park to visit the Intracoastal and took a drive west to the Morikami.
I drove the bridges at George Bush, Atlantic, Linton and Spanish River—for some reason I’ve always loved bridges. Maybe that stems from childhood when crossing the Whitestone Bridge meant we were visiting my grandparents.
Anyway, it did my soul some good.
It’s not the same as discovering a new place or going to Maine but somehow it was soothing.
I think it’s because the act of thinking about which places mean something to you triggers endorphins, memories and positive feelings.
I thought of the people I’ve met over the years at Old School Square, the photo shoot we did with my now 30 year old daughter at Morikami, great neighbors we’ve had, friends who live in certain neighborhoods and votes we took on the City Commission that led to new places and exciting things—-Bexley Park, Coral Trace, CityWalk, Ocean City Lofts, the public art program etc etc.
For a moment, I forgot about 2020 the nightmare and focused on the sense of place we enjoy.
This summer I had dreamed of going to New England, there’s something about the region that speaks to me. That dream has been dashed.
We’ve been grounded. At least for now.
So my visions of weather beaten cottages along the Maine coast will be replaced with drives around Palm Beach County.
Things could be worse.
And I promise they will get better.

Planning Is Great; Action Is Better

Don’t let your plans gather dust. If you do, you burn public trust which is the most valuable currency.

 

It happened a long time ago, so I guess it’s safe to tell the story.

It was the early 2000s and Delray Beach was still reeling from a bruising battle over Worthing Place—the apartment building that also houses Park Tavern and Salt 7.
The city commission agreed to a Downtown Master Plan process and we got some funding from the MacArthur Foundation to hire a slew of planning and design consultants.
A large cross section of the community turned out for meetings that surfaced a bunch of cool ideas.
It was a true community building experience.
We felt  a lot of civic pride, it was exciting and we felt as if we could do anything we set our minds too. It was a special time.
Then the plan was sent to the commission for adoption with a list of priority projects.
But despite the enthusiasm and effort, the commission never adopted the plan. They ignored years of advocacy from residents pleading for the plan to be adopted. And nothing happened.

The gateway wasn’t built. None of the downtown garages were ever built, and we never got Old School Square Park.
All of the innovative policy ideas that enabled restaurants to thrive, the grid system to flow and events to take root vanished along with our hopes.
Northwest/Southwest Fifth Avenue which we had hoped would include public art, small businesses and interesting streetscapes never happened.
Downtown housing, which we had wanted so that we could add vibrancy and support for local businesses didn’t happen either. The plan was placed on a shelf where it gathered dust.
And all of the participants who gave their time and energy to our town went back home disappointed. Some moved away. Many never participated in anything “civic” related ever again.
Instead, we watched neighboring towns flower and attract investment and entrepreneurial energy.

Eventually, our talented staff began to send their resumes out hoping to catch on in a place where they could make something happen and feel that their careers were meaningful.

Property values stagnated. The momentum we started to feel in the late 80s and 90s faded away like so many other things we hoped to do.

At this point in the story, I can share that all of this is bunk.
The plan was not only adopted it was largely implemented in a blizzard of civic projects and investment that helped our town blossom.
Oh some people didn’t like what happened. One guy referred to our vibrant downtown as a “concrete jungle.”  I’m not sure what he was referring to, it is a downtown of course. We have concrete. We also have open space, art, culture, sports,
music.  restaurants and nightlife that cities all over the country envy.

But hey, you can’t please them all.
The downtown master plan was the first to expand the boundaries of our downtown from the ocean to I-95, an important symbolic step.
But it wasn’t just symbolism.
We added an attractive “gateway” feature just East of 95 because the citizens who participated in the process felt it was important to send the world a message. When you exited the Interstate at Atlantic Avenue you were entering a special place. We wanted people to know it.
Some criticized the art work and lighting that decorated our gateway. It was too expensive they said. They always say that by the way. And they are always wrong.
My friends cities work when you invest in them.
You get a return on that investment in the form of increased property values and civic pride. If you fail to invest, you fail your citizens in ways that you can measure and in ways that you cannot.
Atlantic Grove got built—“they” said it couldn’t be done. Nobody would build market rate housing in “that neighborhood.”
Once again, they were wrong. The market rate and the affordable housing sold.
So did the commercial portion of the project and for the first time in a long time—maybe ever—we saw people from all parts of Delray mingling at places like Ziree, a wonderful Thai restaurant.
The streetscape that made East Atlantic so trendy was extended all the way out to 95, a new library was built where it was needed —again despite some people coming up to the microphone and saying you can’t put the library “out there” because people will be afraid to go. Once again they were wrong. Lots of people use the library.

There were other plans that were implemented too.
The southwest plan called for infrastructure  upgrades that were funded and done. The plan called for an expansion of The Village Academy and that was done too.

The parks plan added a splash park named after our first female mayor Catherine Strong, becoming the first park in the long neglected Southwest neighborhood.

A community land trust was formed, I think it was the first in the county, and they built some adorable homes for first time buyers.
We had an independent CRA back then, and by the way it was independent in name only because it worked collaboratively with the City Commission. The agency won a ton of awards and was recognized as one of the very best in the state before a mayor came along a few years back and used it as a punching bag.
That was shameful. Truly was.

How smart is it to take your best economic development tool and put cheese in the engine? Answer: not very.
Oh well, thankfully so much got done before the dysfunction set in.
Which is a good segue I suppose.
Last week, after four years of trying, a neighborhood calling itself “The Set” finally got their plan on the Commission agenda thanks to Vice Mayor Ryan Boylston. The neighborhood, which used to be called the southwest and northwest sections of the city, came together to work on  “The Set Transformation Plan.”

Of course, you might not know that because when it hit the agenda the word “Set” was removed. Kind of like when the Egyptians removed the name Moses from their history books when they discovered he was Jewish.
It struck me as odd, petty, political, small and disrespectful.
It struck others that way too.
Anyway, it’s a good plan. I’ve read a bunch over the years and this is solid. But it needs to be adopted, funded and implemented. Otherwise, it’s just platitudes on paper.
Unfortunately last week, after four years and after many a campaign promise to get moving, the adoption of the plan was postponed so it can be workshopped.
Interesting.
The decision or lack thereof, smells.
It just does. And it smells worse considering where we are as a nation right now wrestling with issues of equity and racism.
There are some players tied to the plan who are controversial.
So what?
One of the guys spews a lot on social media as is his right. He gets some things right and he is way way way off on other things. For example, he’s wrong when he says nothing has ever been accomplished by the city or CRA in or for his community. A whole lot has been done. And nobody has ever said that things were finished.

But it’s really not about him or his friends. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Is the plan worthy? Is it supported by the neighborhood it aspires to help? Is it good for Delray?
If the answer is yes, it ought to be adopted and put into action not put on a shelf.
If the answer is no, well then we need another plan and leadership ought to make that happen. But they better be able to explain why the plan falls short. And the answer can’t be because a few people who run their mouths on Facebook are behind it.
We are at an inflection point in this City and this country.
I don’t watch city meetings but my phone sure blew up when the plan’s adoption was postponed.
I’m not a bellwether. I’m just a middle aged white guy sitting at home watching Netflix riding out the pandemic.
But I’m feeling something and it ain’t COVID. People want change. They want progress. They want to be heard and respected. Those are not unreasonable demands.
Many are not feeling like they are being heard.
That’s not healthy.
It’s time for the plan to be adopted, funded and implemented.
It’s past time really.
As Sam Cooke sang, “a change is gonna come.”
Even in sleepy ole Delray.

Preparing For Recovery

I moved to Delray Beach just when efforts to revitalize the city were beginning to kick into gear.

The year was 1987, so I had just missed Mayor Doak Campbell’s Atlantic Avenue Task Force, an effort that served as an important precursor to the massive efforts that were about to be launched.

But I was there for Visions 2000, the Decade of Excellence, Visions 2005, Sharing for Excellence (which focused on the city’s schools) the Downtown Master Plan and a host of other efforts that created modern day Delray Beach, a three time All America City, that has earned national acclaim for its redevelopment efforts, successful downtown, events, culture and food scene.

It’s been quite a ride—turbulent at times, but joyous too.
Now in the midst of a pandemic I am reminded every time I drive down Atlantic Avenue about those early years when downtown was dead and buried in a lot of people’s hearts and minds.

Delray came back as a result of careful planning, massive public investment, risky private investment and a playbook that included everything from a downtown tennis stadium and festivals to a focus on culture and a big bet on food and beverage as a driver of commerce and branding. A strong commitment to Community Policing was another indispensable tool. If people don’t feel safe, they simply won’t spend time or money in your city.

In a pandemic, most of those tools are largely off the table—- for now at least. So I wonder how we will fare in the short and long term.
Long term I think we will find a vaccine and effective treatments that will give us the confidence to venture out again and be among people.
That’s what downtowns do best if they are healthy. They bring us together.

But short term it may be a while before we see restaurants packed and feel comfortable enough to attend festivals with thousands of people.

Thanks to societal changes, retail doesn’t appear to be viable option especially in a high rent environment.
Pineapple Grove has done well as center of personal services and hopefully salons, gyms and the like can safely re-open soon.

We never quite had a huge office component downtown and one wonders where that sector will be in the wake of the coronavirus. Many companies are realizing they can effectively operate remotely and may not require the large offices they now occupy.

Still, there are opportunities at Atlantic Crossing and the IPic building to bring workers downtown.
In time, it will also be important to get anchors such as Old School Square and the Arts Garage up and running again.
The arts are a morale booster and an economic development engine.

I also think  there is  a great opportunity to introduce educational uses downtown and perhaps someday (post vaccine) that will be possible too.

Tourism is a huge part of our economy and we finally have a critical mass of hotel rooms after years of lacking capacity.
In time, if the hotels can stay alive, that sector will bounce back and be a critical piece of our economic recovery.
My belief is we need a short term survival plan because long term we can bounce back because the fundamentals are there. But it will be harder to bounce back if we lose too much of what we had prior to the pandemic.
What’s probably needed is a local city specific Marshall Plan.
Is that an overreaction? Maybe, but what we seem to be facing is an economic event unlike any we’ve experienced since the Great Depression.
So in my estimate, it will take big and bold thinking to restore a sustainable local economy that has the potential—if done right—to be better than pre-Coronavirus.
Tall order?
Perhaps.
But we are starting with a decent foundation this time.
Back then, all we had were good bones and a lot of dreams.
A slew of visionaries made it happen then, we can do it again.