Best of Boca 2021: Around the City

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After a year and a half of near-isolation and a slow return to normal, Boca and beyond is back–and better than ever!

Written by James Biagiotti, Marie Speed, John Thomason & our merry band of pundits and pranksters

It’s been a year like no other, but our town and our region kept ticking along, making new strides in local development, innovative ideas and the promise of a bright future. Here’s a roundup of the people, places and possibilities that defined 2020-2021—and point to great days ahead.

BEST NEW R&R

Boca’s newest (completed) park was well worth the wait—even if it’s been 30 years since it was first promised. The waterfront Hillsboro El Rio Park South, just west of 18th Street and Dixie Highway, features tennis, volleyball, pickleball and basketball courts, along with pavilions, a playground, and a canoe/kayak launch into the El Rio canal. A much-needed addition to Boca’s growing list of spaces for outdoor activities, the park has been a hit with kids and adults alike, and continues the beautification—and growth—of Boca’s southeast residential region.

2021 PATIENCE AWARD

To anyone who perseveres through the Glades/I-95 interchange work starting as we speak. Even though we can’t wait for the new I-95 interchange at Glades Road to alleviate some of the area’s notoriously brutal traffic, we’re dreading the construction phase—which is slated to last up to two full years.

PEOPLE TO WATCH

  • MSD Partners announces that veteran hospitality executive Daniel Hostettler is the next president of the Boca Raton Resort & Club. President and group managing director of Ocean House Management Collection, in charge of four properties in Rhode Island and another in Lenox, Mass., for the past 12 years, Hostettler is also American president of Relais & Châteaux, the luxury hotel chain. “This opportunity will be the capstone of my career,” he said. The community is anxious to meet him, and welcomes a new era at the grand old resort.
  • Giana Pacinelli, marketing director, Crocker Partners, is bringing the community together through innovative events and outreach at BRIC.
  • Chrissy Gibson is promoted from Communications Director at the City of Boca Raton to Assistant City Manager. Cool under pressure, dedicated and highly intelligent, Gibson, with the city since 2010, brought fresh air to City Hall six years ago (after leaving the Amphitheater)—and we’re glad she’s moving up the ladder.
  • Andrea Virgin, a Boca Raton native and graduate of Boca Ballet Theatre and the Harid Conservatory who went on to dance professionally with the Houston Ballet, started her own planning and engineering-services company, Virgin Design, in 2018. Now, she’s channeling both of these vocations as president of the Boca Raton Center for the Arts & Innovation, and is the public face behind efforts to build a new arts space in Mizner Park.
  • Dr. Katrina Carter-Tellison, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Lynn University, was recently named to the YMCA’s board of trustees and is an up-and-coming force.

5 THINGS WE ARE WATCHING CLOSELY

1. The $150 million Boca Raton Resort & Club renovation and rebranding is well underway as MSD Partners goes in swinging with what a rep called a “gut and redo” of the 27-story tower, a four-acre “lakefront oasis” that will feature four pools and a 450-foot “lazy river” connecting two of those pools. The resort’s food and beverage offerings will be revamped and reoriented to blow past the 13 restaurants and bars it now has. Boca will keep an eye on the progress as well as the finished product—it’s not our first rodeo when it comes to hotel changes, but communication has been comparatively sparse this time around.

2. Most live performances have been on hiatus for the past 16 months, but behind the scenes, arts executives are anticipating a brighter future. While plans have not been approved by the city at the time of this writing, the north end of Mizner Park may transform into a diverse cultural hub by 2026. The Boca Raton Arts District Exploratory Commission is behind a $120 million project that would upgrade the Amphitheater and build the Center for the Arts & Innovation, a performing-arts space, from scratch.

3. In October 2020, MSD Partners and Northview Hotel Group, new owners of the Boca Resort, donated the Boca Country Club facilities to the city to develop Boca Raton Golf & Racquet Club. This was big and it’s going to be even bigger as it nears the opening date this fall. Think of the city owning a 167-acre complex with an 18-hole championship golf course (renovated in 2018), tennis and aquatics facilities, clubhouse with event space and restaurant. All open to Boca residents. Only in Boca is this kind of amenity for real.

4. The Great In-Migration by New York and the Northeast (and beyond) to Boca and South Florida continues, driving up housing prices, wiping out inventory and adding population by the week. What will it mean? Will we be priced out of our own city? Time will tell as we track these rapid changes.

5. Continuing its ascent toward world domination, Amazon, which has Florida fulfillment and sortation centers in Miami, Jacksonville, Davenport, Orlando, Ruskin and Lakeland, announced last summer that it would open its latest center on a 1 million-square-foot site in northern Palm Beach County. This means hundreds of new jobs, but complaints of poor working conditions are tempering some of the enthusiasm.

WALKING THE TALK

Boca councilman Andy Thomson, who has been on the city council since August 2018, has made it his goal to run all 475 miles of Boca Raton this year, cleaning up litter all along the way. The initiative, which he dubbed #RunTheCity, has started strong; as of mid-April, he had run 120 miles and cleaned up nearly 300 pounds of trash in the process. Between jogging stints, Thomson is keeping the city clean in other ways: his proposal to increase the fine for littering PPE like masks and gloves from $50 to $250 passed unanimously in early 2021.

NEW OBSESSION

Pickleball madness has taken the city by storm, thanks to advocates like Raul Travieso, former assistant chief for the Boca fire department and president of the Boca Raton Pickleball Club. Since early 2020, courts have been added to El Rio, Sugar Sand, and Patch Reef with plans for more on the way.

THINGS WE ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO

  • Not being Delray for another year (in terms of politics)
  • The opening of the Boca Golf Course this fall
  • An in-person Festival of the Arts
  • The Green Market coming back
  • The return of yoga to Sanborn Square

BOCA MUSEUM STRIKES GOLD

In what may be his biggest coup since bringing Tutankhamen to Fort Lauderdale in 2005, Irvin Lippman has organized “Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru” to premiere at the Boca Museum of Art in October. The exhibition will encompass both floors of the museum and feature 192 priceless artifacts—objects never seen before by the public—and one of the largest gold collections to ever tour the globe.

ONLY IN BOCA

  • The George Snow Scholarship Fund earns a record-breaking revenue—$660,000 plus—for the televised Boca Ballroom Battle—in a pandemic.
  • BRRH raises $200 million of its $250 million goal in the first two years of its capital campaign.
  • During the pandemic when the mall was all but shut down, you could have heard a pin drop—except for out-the-door lines at the Lululemon and Louis Vuitton stores.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING: NEW TRANSFORMATIONS

1. Selected from an open call by the Boca Raton City Council, local artist Eduardo Mendieta transformed the stage doors at Downtown Boca’s Mizner Park Amphitheater from drab to delightful with a colorful mural dubbed “On Stage.” Pictures don’t quite do it justice—a stop by Mizner Park to see the towering work with your own eyes is well worth it. Not to mention the “Shades of Culture,” an enormous pair of teal sunglasses peering out from the lawn of Sanborn Square.

2. The luxurious Alina is now part of the Boca skyline, its building looming downtown behind Royal Palm Place. One of the city’s most luxurious new offerings, residences feature expansive terraces, floor-to-ceiling windows, open-concept floor plans and all manner of luxury appointments.

3. The Boca Raton Innovation Campus (BRIC) on the old IBM complex has flourished—and is coming into its own as, well, an innovation campus. Home to TED talks, community events, a high-end food court and a STEAM lab co-working space, it is 90 percent leased. Key tenants include Modernizing Medicine, Canon, Kroger and Boca Raton Regional Hospital. Recent bells and whistles include Marcel Brewer’s coffee shop (a spin on the name of the campus’s iconic architect Marcel Breuer), and a giant keyboard on the grounds—an enlarged model of the first IBM PC Keyboard which was invented at BRIC when it was home to IBM’s Research and Development division. Also new is the large shimmering Rocket installation by artist Hubert Phipps, a partnership between Boca Raton Museum of Art and Crocker Partners.

4. The pandemic forced workouts outside, and Boca gyms like Johnny O’s—South Florida’s largest indoor/outdoor training facility—took off. Olson opened the gym in 2019.

5. The Boca Raton Historical Society continues its ambitious expansion, more than doubling its exhibit space and aiming for a fall opening.

6. Boca Ice and Fine Arts was approved by the City of Boca Raton, a facility at Congress and I-95 that will house two NHL-size rinks, a running track and more under one roof.

7. YMCA’s The Lab at Town Center opens, providing a youth development center offering everything from civic and business interaction to video making and more.

This story is from the July/August 2021 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.