Water Cooler Wednesday: Redevelopment & Economic Development

Equity Enterprises won the RFP to redevelop a portion of CRA owned land on West Atlantic Ave.

Equity Enterprises won the RFP to redevelop a portion of CRA owned land on West Atlantic Ave.

There’s a difference between economic development and redevelopment.

A good friend pointed that out to me recently, saying that she wondered whether Delray was good at one (redevelopment) and still figuring out the other (economic development).

It was an interesting comment; certainly something to think about.

Redevelopment is often defined as:  “an often publicly financed rebuilding of an urban residential or commercial section in decline.”

Delray Beach has become widely known for its skill in redevelopment.  Starting with the “Decade of Excellence” in the 90s and continuing through the 2002 Downtown Master Plan and beyond, Delray has successfully redeveloped its once declining urban core. More work needs to be done and is being done, as evidenced recently with the awarding of an RFP to redevelop key blocks on West Atlantic Avenue –Delray’s gateway.

But while redevelopment often leads to economic development, it is not the same thing.

Economic development generally refers to the sustained, concerted actions of policy makers and communities to promote and improve the standard of living and economic health of a specific area. So while the redevelopment of West Atlantic is ongoing and positive, the job won’t be complete until we create jobs and business opportunities for existing residents and others who come to Delray.

Economic development  also refers to quantitative and qualitative changes in the economy. Such actions can involve multiple areas including development of human capital, critical infrastructure, regional competitiveness, environmental sustainability, social inclusion, health, safety, literacy, and other initiatives. I would add the arts and culture to the mix since I believe a strong arts scene spurs investment and creativity. (See Wynwood, Miami).

But while Delray has had a successful and ongoing redevelopment strategy, its economic development plan is a work in progress and needs resources. We certainly have a capable economic development director in Vin Nolan, but he can probably use some help.  Just my guess.

As a result of Delray’s redevelopment success, we are positioned to reap tremendous rewards in terms of economic development. If we leverage our assets, apply some resources strategically and streamline our approval processes the sky is the limit. We also need to work on our political culture, but that’s a subject for another day.

Delray’s economic development opportunities exist in several areas including:

  • Human capital—it has been said that the best economic development strategy is to invest in people and to provide top flight education. Clearly, Delray has challenges and opportunities in this regard. The city’s “Grade Level Reading” program is an ambitious effort to understand those challenges and to assist schools in raising reading skills across the board. Delray has some outstanding non-profits including the Achievement Center and Milagro Center that are dedicated to working with our most at-risk kids.

    There are some promising green shoots sprouting in Delray including the Plumosa School of the Arts, Village Academy (which exists because of a neighborhood visioning effort), Banyan Creek Elementary, S.D. Spady’s Montessori Magnet and Morikami Park’s early years International Baccalaureate program to name but a few. Atlantic High’s IB program has also been extraordinary.

    There are also some good private, charter and parochial options in town.

    A foundation I co-founded called Dare 2 Be Great is working to identify, mentor and fund local high school students who we feel have the potential to be game changers in our community.

    But clearly, more must be done. Especially, at the middle school level and among students who may not be on a college track. Career academies and vocational training are solid solutions. A plan to add a middle school of the arts is also an excellent idea. Adding entrepreneurial training and a program such as “Girls Who Code” would also be smart economic development plays.

  • Entrepreneurship—Delray has spent 30 years working to create an environment that would attract the creative class. But a lack of office space, not necessarily Class A (although that is needed too) but creative space is preventing companies from locating downtown where they can enjoy walkability, vibrancy and urban amenities. Clearly, entrepreneurship is both the present and the future and Delray is well-positioned for this trend, but if key parcels are lost to rental units and other uses there will be no space for people who want to work downtown and no chance for those fortuitous collisions that lead to opportunities.
  • Sports—With an international tennis tournament, several national junior tennis events, a stadium, a Donald Ross golf course, great weather, a replica of Fenway Park’s Green Monster, improved ball fields and the presence of the Elev8 Sports Institute, Delray has a chance to be a sports mecca. But the tennis stadium needs fixing, the ATP event needs bigger names and the city needs a strategy or an entrepreneur who will begin to package the cities amenities for sports related tourism such as fantasy camps and or youth sports tournaments.
  • Lifelong Learning—In today’s complex world, there is a need for lifelong learning opportunities. Delray’s Center for the Arts at Old School Square’s classrooms are ideal for weekend MBA programs, night classes etc. Programs like TEDX and StartUp Delray’s Maker Series and frequent entrepreneurial meet-ups are great economic development tools.
  • Wellness—Pineapple Grove was originally envisioned as a funky arts district adjacent to Atlantic Avenue. With the Arts Garage, Arts Warehouse and Artist’s Alley, the importance of  the arts is apparent, but quietly the Grove has also become a hotbed for health and wellness services ranging from pilates and yoga to gyms and health food stores. Wellfest, an event about to go into its second year, tapped into the trend last year. With more than a dozen sponsors, over 50 exhibitors and speakers, the event has tapped into a rich vein. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a co-founder and own a small piece of the event). Delray seems well positioned to be a destination for wellness events, businesses and activities.
  • Tourism—An old staple for Florida cities, but a good one. And with several new and boutique hotel properties a good economic development strategy as well. Destination Delray has legs and the Delray Marketing Cooperative understands the power of destination marketing.
  • Food—Delray’s initial redevelopment success gave birth to a thriving restaurant and beverage scene. But food can also be a great economic development driver with the creation of commercial kitchens, the nurturing of year-round markets, food events, urban farms, craft breweries and the growth of food related companies.
  • Arts—The aforementioned arts scene drives business and investment and therefore is a viable economic development component. But the Holy Grail will be to create a city where we attract, develop and export artists, which is why classes at the Delray Center for the Arts and the Arts Garage are so critical. Not to mention the potential of the Arts Warehouse, Artist’s Alley, Plumosa School of the Arts and the coveted middle school of the arts. This seems to be under way and appears to be a worthy investment. Still be tapped, cultural tourism, artist live/work zones and making the best use of existing spaces. For example, the Old School Square Downtown Park is ripe for improvement, programming and creative ideas.

    Next week: We take a look at Boca.

    Please let us know your thoughts.