Our Frances: A Most Distinguished Citizen

Frances Bourque is a legend…and we love her.

One of Delray’s heroes received much deserved recognition recently and I can’t let the opportunity to write about Frances Bourque pass me by.

Frances—the founder of Old School Square and the inspiration behind so much good in Delray Beach—was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award by the University of Florida. It’s a rare honor and truly a “big deal” as they say.

The award recognizes exceptional achievement and leadership that merits the special recognition of the University. While a committee on honorary degrees vets the nominees, winners have to be personally approved by the University of Florida’s President. Dr. Kent Fuchs knows talent when he sees it and I’m sure when the president reviewed Frances’ materials it was an easy decision to bestow the honor.

The effort to recognize the force behind Delray’s signature civic achievement was launched by Frances’ sister Judy who reached out to several of Frances’ friends, colleagues and admirers (which is just about everyone) to help write the application. I was honored to be included in the effort and it was truly a pleasure to write about Frances’ influence on the city we love.

Old School Square is the rare project that addresses our past, present and future. Its genius lies in the fact that it touches so many aspects of community building: historic preservation, adaptive reuse of buildings, art, culture, education and so much more. But perhaps its greatest value is that Old School Square gives us a place to gather as a community.

And you can’t put a price on that simple gift.

Old School Square is where we headed after 9/11. It was where we met to discuss the Jerrod Miller shooting in 2005 and where we gather for Town Hall meetings, special performances, speeches, art exhibits and scores of festivals.

It sits at main and main on Atlantic and Swinton—if you had to design a better location you couldn’t.

And yet….

And yet before Frances nobody saw the potential. They saw a rusted chain link fence, crumbling buildings and blight. But Frances saw potential and beauty. Some saw the need for new office buildings. Others saw the need for a downtown anchor store. Frances saw a place to gather and celebrate the arts—the best of humanity.

Pretty soon, everyone shared the vision. That’s Frances’ magic. She makes you see, she makes you believe and while you may have to work hard to get there you don’t mind the journey because she makes every step of the way fun.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the 100th anniversary of Plastridge Insurance and the leadership contributions of Tom Lynch and his family. Frances is yet another example of how a community can be blessed when an extraordinary individual decides to fall in love with a place and commit to a vision.

Back in November, when Frances received word of the award she wrote a few of us an email. She had just driven 12 hours from Highlands, N.C. and was tired. When she got home and saw the letter from President Fuchs she immediately reached out—and immediately sought to share credit. She was clearly elated, but she quoted Thomas Merton who said “no man is an island” and said the recognition belonged to “ALL (her caps) of us!”

Typical Frances.

The truly great ones are humble. They seek to share credit.

People like Frances don’t do what they do for the awards. But it is important to recognize them and to celebrate their achievements so that we too may learn, appreciate and be inspired to get to work ourselves.

For 32 years, I have hung on her every word. She remains an inspiration to all who are blessed to have crossed her path.



On Doc’s, Real Estate & The Importance of Libraries

Doc'sRandom thoughts on Disparate Subjects…

Real estate prices in Delray Beach and Boca Raton can be mind boggling.
We’ve all seen the headlines regarding Doc’s, the Sundy House, the Green Owl and Huber’s Drugs.
Big prices. Huge bets being made by deep pocketed people.
These are iconic properties and as such important.
Change is also important and inevitable but it’s also critical that a city hold onto to its history, it’s look and it’s feel.
While I cannot begrudge property owners for selling their land for big prices I think there are two concerns that cities can address–they’re not easy challenges and the solutions are imperfect but worth considering.

Those concerns are affordability and  design.
Maintaining affordability in a sizzling market is not easy–market forces are strong and difficult to buck. But there are some strategies cities can deploy to ensure that mom and pop merchants can remain viable.
On the residential front tools such as density bonuses can be used to ensure at least some affordability.
Delray has also done yeoman’s work by creating and supporting a very effective Community Land Trust in which a non-profit entity buys land, develops property and places the land in a trust to ensure affordability in perpetuity. Homeowners own the homes but the land remains in the trust and increases in values are capped.
One wonders whether a similar approach can be taken to commercial property–an expensive proposition no doubt but it might be something to explore for culturally important properties.
Other tools include historic designations which would not cap appreciation of values but would control what can happen to a property if it is bought and redeveloped. If properties are not already designated historic, property owners often balk at seeking the designation because it hinders development. This is not a phenomenon limited to developers, we’ve seen single family neighborhoods rebel when the historic word is used.
I always felt CRA’s could be used to strategically acquire properties so that the city can control their disposition.
While there are some constraints and limitations (including the Sunshine law which makes it hard for CRA’s to move on land discreetly) there’s no doubt that CRA’s can and have bought important properties enabling cities to shape the future look, feel and use of land and districts.
I think an opportunity was missed to purchase the warehouses in the Artist’s Alley neighborhood. If the CRA had grabbed that strategic real estate to go along with their wise purchase of the Arts Warehouse there’s no doubt we could have had a sustainable arts district–our version of Wynwood which could have been placed in a trust and managed by another entity.
Instead, the battle between community desires and market forces will persist and we all know the win loss record on that front isn’t good. Delray’s track record is actually better than most cities in this regard as a result of visioning efforts and CRA investments. When you own properties you can control their destiny. The City Commission would be wise to tighten their relationship with the CRA, get on the same page and work together on these types of initiatives.
The other tools available to cities worried about gentrification are to develop design guidelines to stop or mitigate generic architecture and to encourage the development of other shopping districts so that as areas heat up, independents have a place to go.
Delray’s brave decision to narrow Federal Highway has converted that stretch from a highway to a neighborhood street opening up commercial possibilities. South of the avenue and other nooks and crannies may also offer opportunities now that Atlantic Avenue and Pineapple Grove’s prices have soared. Of course, with prices exceeding $1 million on acre on US 1 it won’t be easy.

Libraries are cool
We had an opportunity to attend the 10th annual Laughs With the Library event at the Marriott featuring the terrific Bobby Collins.
If you haven’t seen Bobby perform, put it on your bucket list. He’s a comedian’s comedian.
A large crowd turned out to support our library. That was heartening to see.
Lots of rumors are swirling around the library including making it a city department. That would be a mistake.
The Delray Library has a rich history and it’s location is ideal to serve the community. It also happens to be a beautiful place.
Is there a place for a library in the 21st Century? Yes, as a community hub, intellectual center, lifelong learning facility and a place for children and families to develop and indulge a love of books and reading. That’ll never go out of style.

Real estate buzz at Lynn

A few weeks ago, Lynn University President Kevin Ross convened a round table to discuss the creation of a real estate program at Lynn.
I was privileged to attend the small gathering and encouraged to start spreading the word. So I will. Gladly.
I’m a huge Lynn fan and a big admirer of Dr. Ross who is entrepreneurial and innovative. He’s a leader. And I like leaders.
The idea is not fully hatched yet but there’s a resolve and a commitment to create a boot camp program to teach skills to those passionate about real estate.
Executives from GL Homes, Kayne Anderson, Avison Young are at the table and there is a huge need to train people in all aspects of the profession.
Since growth and development are always at the top of the list in Boca and Delray it’s important to train a new generation in skills ranging from design, transaction, land use, resiliency, environmental sustainability, urban planning and more.
There’s also a screaming need to elevate the dialogue around these issues. Here’s predicting that Lynn will lead the way.

Water Cooler Wednesday: In Praise of Joe Riley

Mayor Joe Riley has led Charleston for 40 years.

Mayor Joe Riley has led Charleston for 40 years.

The New York Times ran a great story Sunday on Mayor Joe Riley of Charleston, S.C.

The Times called Riley possibly the most loved politician in America.

Cynics may think that’s like naming your favorite disease, but Joe Riley is proof that politics can be noble and that good politicians can get things done and leave a remarkable legacy.

I was fortunate to meet Mayor Riley some years back at a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting. He spoke about place making and believed strongly that mayors should be the chief architects of their cities.

After his speech, I had a chance to speak with the mayor and invited him to Delray. We traded dates, but sadly it never quite worked out and that’s unfortunate because Mayor Riley has some great lessons to teach about cities, places, preservation, new development and leadership.

The Times article notes that Riley made a big bet on culture back in 1977 when he brought the “Spoleto Festival” to Charleston. The festival raised Charleston’s national profile and positioned the city as an arts haven.

Here’s how the Times’ Frank Bruni described his thinking: “Almost as soon as we sat down together, he talked up the annual Spoleto performing-arts festival, a renowned Charleston event that has bolstered the city’s profile. I wasn’t sure why he was choosing to focus on it or how it factored into any political philosophy.

Then he explained his reasons for pushing for it back before it was first held in 1977. “It forced the city to accept the responsibility of putting on something world-class,” he said.

Yes, he wanted the tourists who would flow into the city and the money they’d spend. Sure, he wanted the luster.

But he was also staging a kind of experiment in civic psychology and doing something that he considered crucial in government. He was raising the bar, and Spoleto was the instrument. It simultaneously brought great talent to Charleston and required great talent of Charleston.

“You need to commit a city to excellence,” he said, “and the arts expose you to that.”


Riley, 71, has been mayor since December 1975. He will step down in 2015 after 40 years of leadership. During his tenure, he has been embraced and sued by preservationists and environmentalists, evidence of how hard it is to make and keep friends when you make decisions on the local level.

Unlike state and federal politics, local elected officials vote around the block from where they live. There’s no hiding and the decisions are often personal affecting neighbors and friends. Once those decisions are made there’s no place to hide. And that’s the beauty of local government. It’s the government  closest to the people and increasingly the only level government that seems capable of getting things done.

Says the Times:  “What people want from government, Riley stressed to me, isn’t lofty words but concrete results. They want problems solved and opportunities created. Mayors — ever accountable, ever answerable — tend to remember that and to wed themselves to a practicality that’s forgotten in Washington, where endless ideological tussles accommodate the preening that too many lawmakers really love best.”

It’s important to share Mayor Riley’s philosophy because of the wonderful opportunities available in Boca Raton and Delray Beach especially if local leaders engage the communities they serve and embrace the real power they have. The great thing about cities is the work is never done, even when you experience success; especially when you experience success. The challenge is to stave off complacency and to leverage the opportunities you were given by the hard work of those who came before.

I find Mayor Riley an inspiration. Here’s a sample of his thoughts. We hope you enjoy:

  • “A great city is one that has a dynamic economy and jobs for its citizens. With the work of generations, we have made Charleston a most desirable place to live. We must create and attract more and better jobs here so our people and their children and their grandchildren can stay or come back home and work and live in the community they love.”


  • “A great city works to make sure we remember those who might be forgotten.”


  • “What does it mean to live in a city?  A great city is not only lived in but it is carefully and diversely used. A long time ago it was said that “Charleston was too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash.” That has long since passed. A new affluence has graced our city. And with that, there may be on the part of a few the misunderstanding that they live in or have moved to a place that is like a gated community – affluent and exclusive. But that is not a great city. Great cities are a part of a larger public realm.  There will always be sights and sounds in our city – the announcement from the Coast Guard Station; or on another part of the peninsula ships arriving or embarking; fire engines; and sometime long ago, vendors with their wonderful songs and calls announcing their fresh crabs or vegetables; children romping, healthfully engaged in athletic activities on our playgrounds; students going to college; workers coming to the hospitals; cranes lifting huge containers; scientists and software engineers coming to work; streets and sidewalks bustling with people engaged in commerce, parks and public spaces busily and diversely used and shared; quiet zones for repose, reflection, solitude.  The answer to that question is that a great city, as Charleston is, is a real city – a public place, diverse people and activities working, living, energizing each other and happily sharing their city.”


  • “Never, ever, ever take for granted the citizens that you’re serving and always be asking yourself, ‘Is this the right thing?”


  • “Leaders should lead. Leaders should not be worried about the next election. They should be worried about the next generation. They should be worried about the next generation looking back at their time in office and say that they did the very best that they could to make sure that now, 25 to 50 years later, we have what we have. “


  • “The need for beauty is embedded in the human instinct. There is never an excuse for anyone, but particularly a government, to ever build anything in a city that doesn’t add to the beauty of the community.”


  • “The restored public realm is something. There is a yearning in the heart of every resident of a metropolitan area. They may not articulate it, but they want it. They need it. And if you give it to them, they will rejoice in it.”


  • “Do Americans want beauty in the city? They desperately want it! They crave it! Life is harsh and cruel and plastic enough. Will our people support this? They will support it. They will rejoice in it. They need it. It is our responsibility to give it to them.”