Yes to iPic

Not a multiplex.

Not a multiplex.

By now, if you’re paying attention you’ve been inundated with information pro and con about the iPic theater project seeking to come to Delray Beach.

We’ve heard the benefits:

–A corporate headquarters coming to town

–400 plus jobs

–Much needed downtown office space

–Family entertainment downtown

–Summer time commerce

We’ve heard the negatives too:


–Alley issues




Let me state right up front, that I support the iPic. Why?

Because for 30 years we have envisioned getting beyond food and beverage.

The Downtown Master Plan’s philosophical foundation was to give us a strategy to create a sustainable downtown.

That meant having density and like a sound investment strategy, a diversified portfolio: housing, arts, restaurants, retail and office uses.

We need people living downtown in order to support mom and pop merchants and you need people on the streets to create vibrancy and a safe environment. We learned that design was more important than density and that we needed to get away from numbers and concentrate on scale and creating a human feel downtown.

We led with food, beverage, culture and festivals because that was a strategy to breathe life into a town that desperately needed it.

We followed with downtown housing, which is also an essential element to a sustainable downtown. We invested in our parks and created new open space…including a central park where a parking lot once existed near Old School Square, we also opened a teen center and a skateboard park and invested in new parks like Catherine Strong and old parks too.

But the missing piece remains employment.

And we seem to be chasing it away.

Don’t tell me we’re not.

We are.

And no you can’t put everything on Congress Avenue. People want to work downtown. We should be happy that they want to.

I don’t have any special insight into tonight’s vote, but I think the tone of the debate has not been our finest moment. I have seen a lot of misinformation about this project. We are not positioning ourselves as a city that wants to create jobs in our central business district. And that hurts us more than any one project.

Our approach to growth and development in Delray Beach leaves a lot to be desired.

Every election cycle we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars bashing developers and hinting at corruption. Folks, it ain’t that black and white.

There are good developers and crappy ones. Just like any other profession.

So regardless of where you stand on the development spectrum, I think it’s safe to say that there is only one way to stop it; become a city that nobody wants to invest in.

So assuming that’s off the table, we need to take a more pro-active and intelligent approach.

My idea is simple: create a design studio staffed by architects and urbanists (yes urbanists because we are a downtown, not a suburb) who can vet projects before they are submitted and put through the meat grinder that has become the Delray “process”.

This is precisely what architect Andres Duany proposed when he gave his town hall lecture. Talk to developers early in the process so that they can make adjustments and understand local sensitivities and sensibilities.

Smart developers will adjust their plans, because smart developers want to build, not get put through an expensive and uncertain process. This kind of “process” is also exhausting for the public.

But a mindset change is also in order. Let’s go back to current example of iPIC.

When it comes to infill development there are always problems to solve, things to worry about and designs to be improved. That’s why we have a planning department. And engineers. Oh and city commissioners too.

But instead of trying to solve the issues, we seem to be debating the very use, need, process and rationale for this project. Everything it seems, but trying to make it work.

Should it be a park? Was there a scrivener’s error on some legal document?

Hello, how about rolling up your sleeves and making it work or at least try?

These are jobs we are talking about; that’s precious in this economy and worth fighting for.

The goal of returning the old library site to the tax rolls has been a work in progress since 2001. 14 years… that’s how long it has taken to move the library, move the chamber, clear title via referendum on parcels, market an RFP, lose the first deal to a recession and inaction on the winners behalf, remarket the property, select another proposal and move through the process. Along the way, we built a 500 plus space mixed used parking garage replacing an ugly surface parking with open space near Delray Center for the Arts, (there’s your park and it’s bigger and more centrally located. How about making that park great as the commission I served on envisioned?).

During this time, the city helped to move the library with CRA support, bond issue money and private funds working a complicated deal with the county on a parking garage.

The point is, time didn’t start when this project was submitted to the city’s now byzantine and cumbersome “process” but many moons ago. This is the 7th inning not the first. And this project is in service to a vision…not owned by any particular commission…but a citizens vision to have a complete and sustainable downtown. Adding jobs, a corporate headquarters, much needed office space and family entertainment diversifies our portfolio. This investor–he’s not a developer–has “compromised” by adding more parking, improving internal circulation and agreeing not to have a restaurant that would compete with nearby establishments.

Did he get a deal on the land? Sure. He bought it coming out of the recession and before the eye popping deal for the George Building, which will do a lot to raise rents and property values in our core. But do we really think if we send iPic packing and get more for the property that we’ll get less development? Friends, that’s not how it works.

I happen to think this project is terrific. I also think it is manageable. We have restaurants that will draw more people than this theater.

I feel strongly about the jobs and about the need to move beyond food and beverage and to give families an entertainment option. I think it will boost summer foot traffic downtown and help mom and pop merchants.

That’s my opinion and I think it’s shared by many. Check that, I know it’s shared by many.

I’m sure many others disagree, I get it. And their concerns are valid, but so are the viewpoints of those who want to see this happen.

This project did not spring out of the thin air and I believe strongly that cities need to be seen as problem solvers and try and make projects work.

If you don’t agree with development on that site –valid but I disagree-that decision was made many years ago by a commission I served on. There was a lot of support for the concept at the time. We were clear, no residential on that site. Return it to the tax rolls, office and retail are Ok. No restaurants. A theater was added later as a desired use.

I think we ought to be proud that we have built a city attractive enough to lure investment. But as good as the downtown is the mission isn’t over. We need year round jobs to be a sustainable downtown.

We also need to be thinking about the bigger questions.

How and where will we create employment downtown? Or did I miss the vote and have we decided to stick with food and beverage and become a seasonal resort town?

Can Congress Avenue thrive if downtown wanes? The answer is no. While I share the opinion, it isn’t mine. It’s what I am being told by property owners on Congress.

–Is Atlantic Avenue bulletproof? Nope. See Boulevard, Las Olas, Street, Clematis.

What worrisome trends are we seeing and what strategies can we employ to reverse course? Worrisome trends include very high rents, some vacancies, an influx of national retailers, restaurants struggling, parts of the avenue not as strong as other parts, young professionals buying homes in neighboring cities because we have affordability issues and a lack of middle class housing and schools that continue to cause concerns.

We need to raise the level of discourse on these issues and more.

iPic is a symptom, we will see the same exhausting process play out when Sundy House and other projects submit their plans.

Our elected leaders need to get out front and shape these projects, but with a mindset of making things work (assuming they are within our rules and the uses are desirable).

“How can I stop you”, sends a horrible message. “How can I make your project work” will make for a better downtown, jobs for our kids and better designs that work for all.