Thursday, December 7, 2023

Boca Recreation Survey Results Are In, Gumbo Limbo Gets an Upgrade and More

Pickleball is a low recreation priority in Greater Boca Raton, but the area needs more pickleball courts.

Those are just two of the many findings—some of them seemingly contradictory—in the recreation survey that the city and the Greater Boca Beach and Park District commissioned. City council members and district board members will discuss the findings when they meet at 5 p.m. Monday for the first time in 17 months.

According to the consultant’s report, the city and district’s priorities for new facilities should be natural areas and parks–including more park benches—multi-purpose trails, indoor fitness centers and a fishing pier. The consultant surveyed community leaders and interviewed 357 city residents and 75 district residents.

In addition, respondents want more libraries, a performing arts center and a golf course. Boca Raton has two libraries. The city is negotiating with a group that wants to put an arts center in Mizner Park. And on Oct. 1 the city will take over the course at Boca Country Club, which the Boca Raton Resort & Club is donating. That will replace Boca Raton Municipal.

The last time the council and board met, they were still arguing over the proposal for the former Ocean Breeze course at Boca Teeca. With the donation of Boca Country Club, I would expect council members to reject any discussion of more traditional golf at Ocean Breeze.

But those roughly 200 acres and the existing tennis center at Boca Country Club present plenty of opportunities to expand recreation for the roughly 127,000 people who live in the city and the district, which generally includes West Boca to Florida’s Turnpike. That population is expected to be nearly 150,000 by 2035.

The largest segment of that population—29 percent—is between 55 and 74 years old, and it will keep growing. The smallest segment—at 14 percent—is 17 and under, and it will keep shrinking. Demographics will influence how the council and board spend their agencies’ money.

According to the consultant, the city and district’s supplies of baseball/softball fields, tennis courts, outdoor pools and natural areas meet national standards. Areas of need include parks, basketball courts, multi-purpose fields and… pickleball courts.

Council members and board members will have to determine how reliable and contemporary the research is, since the COVID-19 pandemic slowed all activity. Executive Director Briann Harms notes that the district recently opened six lighted pickleball courts at Patch Reef Park that are “being heavily utilized.” New courts also opened last year at Hillsboro/El Rio South Park.

The demand isn’t just for facilities. According to the survey, most residents want more community events, fitness and wellness classes, nature programs and cultural classes. Reflecting the area’s affluence, there is little demand for child day care and preschool.

Private entities also may play a role. City Councilman Andy Thomson told me about a proposal to lease part of the Ocean Breeze property for an indoor tennis/pickleball facility. Most of the area’s courts are outside.

District board members hope for better relations with the city. “I feel like we’re more on the same page,” Craig Ehrnst said, “now that the Ocean Breeze issue is out of the way.” Steve Engel wants “a vision for Boca Teeca, so that we can begin developing a plan.”

Coordination will avoid duplication and allow the city and district to max out their combined assets. “We have the opportunity to provide the community with great recreational benefits,” board member Susan Vogelgesang said, “but we can’t be building more than is needed.”

Gumbo Limbo upgrade

One possible sign of better relations was the time-sensitive resolution of how to pay for a key project at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.

Gumbo Limbo needs new pumps and pipes to bring salt water for marine life research. Discussions about the project have gone on for 10 years. Though the city is overseeing the project, the district is financing it. The district also covers Gumbo Limbo’s operating costs.

At this month’s city council workshop, City Manager Leif Ahnell said the project was about $145,000 over budget. The city was reluctant to cover the deficit. So was the district. So was the Friends of Gumbo Limbo. So was Florida Atlantic University, which leases 1.5 acres of the Gumbo Limbo property.

But someone had to pay, Ahnell said. The city has hired a contractor and the bid price expires April 27.

With the district’s encouragement, Friends of Gumbo Limbo pledged the money. A city spokesman said work could start this summer. It will take a year to complete.

In addition to the pumps and pipes, Gumbo Limbo will be getting roof, air-conditioning and window upgrades. Construction of a new observation tower looms. Gumbo Limbo remains closed because of the pandemic, but visitors can expect an even better experience when it reopens.

Delray city manager short list

Delray Beach’s human resources department has cut the list of roughly 100 city manager applicants to five and sent the names to the city commission. There’s no certainty, though, that the commission will choose one.

After they fired George Gretsas five months ago, commissioners decided not to hire a search firm to find his successor. Instead, the human resources department placed ads in 13 trade publications and waited.

The recommended candidates are:

Kenny Haskin. He’s the city manager in Texarkana, Ark. It has about 30,000 residents and a budget of about $65 million. Each is slightly less than half of Delray Beach’s population and budget.

Scott Moye. He’s the manager in Ware County, Georgia, in the southeast part of the state. The county has about 36,000 residents. Moye previously was the manager in nearby Blackshear, a town of about 3,500.

Pat Oman. He spent six years as administrator of Mille Lacs County, Minnesota. In his application, Moye said he left because he had entered the public employee retirement system. Oman previously served as manager of Moose Lake, a town of 2,800 in Minnesota.

Leonard Sossaman. He’s the only one with Florida experience. He spent seven years as administrator in Hernando County, north of Tampa. The county’s budget is about $450 million.

The county commission fired Sossaman in January 2019 on a 3-2 vote. Those in the majority blamed Sossaman for what they considered poor budget management. Those who opposed the firing said their colleagues were making Sossaman a scapegoat.

In his application, Sossaman said he was “terminated for political reasons and not for cause.” Sossaman then served as interim city manager in Port Richey. He said the contract did not allow him to apply for the permanent job.

Paul Van Haute. He has been the manager in Putnam County, Georgia, southeast of Atlanta, for 11 years. Before that, he worked in nearby Spalding County.

After Human Resources Director Duane D’Andrea briefed the commission, Juli Casale said she wanted to “expand the search.” Adam Frankel “didn’t see a fit” with any of the candidates. Ryan Boylston countered that the city is getting “good applications.”

So the city will see whether more people apply. Jennifer Alvarez remains the interim manager, having had the job for nearly 10 months. Alvarez did not apply for the permanent position.

More mini-golf for Delray

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission unanimously approved a conditional use that would allow PopStroke to build a 36-hole golf putting course and restaurant along the Florida East Coast Railway in the 1300 block of North Federal Highway.

Commissioner Adam Frankel praised the project and noted that Elise Johnson, owner of the city’s longtime Puttin’ Around mini-golf facility, also expressed support. PopStroke still must get approval of its site plan.

When they recommended approval, planning and zoning board members attached conditions that require PopStroke to install landscaping and fencing that will minimize any harm to surrounding neighborhoods. The commission included those conditions in its approval.

Savor the Avenue delayed

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission formally allowed the Downtown Development Authority to hold Savor The Avenue this Monday. Bad weather delayed the event for a week.

Commissioners also agreed to discuss plans for July 4. Parks and Recreation Director Sam Metott said the emphasis would be on a “limited” gathering, given the pandemic. Commissioners worried about maskless attendees turning the gathering into a superspreader.

Boca Bash returns

Speaking of potential superspreader events, Boca Bash will be back on Sunday after canceling last year in the early weeks of the pandemic.

Citing Gov. DeSantis’ lifting of restrictions, organizers want a huge crowd. City officials, as usual, urge caution and stress that Boca Raton has no control over the event because it takes place on Lake Boca, which is under state purview. The forecast is for a 60 percent chance of rain. We only can hope.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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