Friday, April 12, 2024

Boca Regional’s Big Plans, iPic Deal May be Ready to Close

Hospital plans

Marcus Neuroscience Institute

During the next five years, Boca Raton Regional Hospital may change as much or more than it has in the previous 50 years.

The hospital’s proposed parking garage—more about that in the next item—is the first of four projects designed to transform Boca Regional. The others are a second tower, new operating rooms and a new power plant. CEO Jerry Fedele estimates the cost at $260 million.

Fedele came in 2008 as the third CEO in 10 months. The hospital had lost $120 million, mainly stemming from the attempt two years earlier to create a $600 million academic center. After Fedele and the team he brought stabilized the finances, they changed the name from Boca Community to Boca Regional.

Since then, the hospital’s core market has expanded beyond the city. Vice President Dan Sacco said the market now runs from Pompano Beach in Broward County to Lake Worth. As the market has grown, so has Boca Regional’s share of the market. Even as competitors tout their emergency rooms, Boca Regional has grown from 35,000 annual ER visits to 55,000. Previously, Fedele said, only about 100 of the roughly 400 beds might be occupied on an average day in the summer. “Now, we’re at 300-plus consistently. We’re much less seasonal.” He and I spoke last Thursday. The day before, Fedele said, “We were full.”

Meanwhile, in the last 11 years Boca Regional has started an open-heart surgery center and opened the Eugene M. & Christine E. Lynn Cancer Institute, the Marcus Neuroscience Institute and the Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute. A new robotic surgery program has three such devices that cost $2 million each. The Gloria Drummond Physical Rehabilitation Institute—named for the woman whose family tragedy led her to found the hospital— will open this year.

So Boca Regional has a stunning list of outpatient services, but what Fedele calls “capacity problems” for inpatient services. Many rooms are still semi-private, and what Fedele calls the hospital’s increasingly “sophisticated patient population” wants is private rooms. Over the last seven years, he said, Boca Raton Regional Hospital “has fundamentally changed.”

Accordingly, the projects will help the hospital meet those new demands. Eighty percent of the beds will be private. In practical terms, Fedele said, the hospital operates with 350 beds. If Boca Regional can replace the parking lot with the garage, it will shorten the distance patients must travel to the main entrance. Most would get there by using an air-conditioned bridge.

The new tower would be on the north side, out to Meadows Road, and the hospital would renovate the existing tower. Fedele would like work on the garage to begin next spring and be finished by the start of high season, and for work on the towers to begin in 2019.

In almost any other similarly sized area of the United States, much of this would not be possible. Fedele said Boca Regional ran a surplus of between $7 million and $10 million in its most recent budget year on revenue of about $450 million. At non-profit hospitals, Fedele said, health care is a low-margin business. Because of the philanthropic base in and around Boca Raton, however, the hospital doesn’t have to pay for the improvements out of its operating surplus.

But while retaining that community identity, Boca Regional has widened its appeal and reputation. Affluent snowbirds who once flew home for advanced care are having it here. Turmoil at the North Broward Hospital District makes Boca Regional a better option for patients south of the county line. The relationship with Florida Atlantic University’s medical school is growing.

Between the planned improvement and the new programs, nearly half a billion dollars could flow into Boca Raton Regional Hospital over 15 years. How lucky that protests 20 years ago prevented the board at that time from selling the hospital. Despite that fundamental change, Boca Regional remains Boca’s own.

Hospital garage

The hospital’s proposed garage got a favorable recommendation last week from the Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board, but the neighbors aren’t happy.

Before the 4-2 vote, homeowners who live across the canal from the current parking lot complained about potential noise, exhaust fumes and excessive light. Some said their property values have been dropping and would drop if the hospital got permission to replace the roughly 200 surface spaces with 900 spaces in a 50-foot garage that could be 100 feet from their homes, rather than the 250 feet that otherwise would be required.

Some speakers made unreasonable suggestions. Example: build the garage on the north, which would force patients to cross Meadows Road. Some wondered if the garage would benefit employees more than patients, since the hospital moved about 300 employees from the lot to the nearby garage at Oaks Plaza on Glades Road. A hospital representative said “some” employees would return.

Mostly, though, the neighbors don’t like the size and the proximity. Indeed, 100 feet is pretty close. But as I reported last week, the hospital could build its planned second tower at that location. The tower would be nearly 150 feet tall. Property records show that values of the homes across the canal have been rising, not falling. Though Boca Regional was much different when it opened in 1967, the hospital likely predates many of the homes.

And the need is obvious. Board member Janice Rustin noted the times that she had been unable to find a parking space. Boca Regional also is not the usual developer seeking a change from the city. The hospital holds near-iconic status, which was reflected in the comments from some board members.

Still, the neighbors likely will turn out in big numbers when the proposal goes to the city council. That could happen next month.

And now a golf sponsor?

Boca Raton Regional’s community image probably got even higher with the announcement last week that the hospital will be temporary title sponsor of the annual pro golf tournament at Broken Sound. Allianz has ended its relationship with the event. The politics over Allianz’s sponsorship, however, continue.

Two months ago, after the tournament, State Rep. Emily Slosberg emailed Councilman Robert Weinroth. Slosberg wanted the city to end what she called its “contract” with Allianz until the company paid Holocaust survivors all claims they are owed. Allianz sold insurance policies to Jews before World War II, and then insured Nazi death camps. Some money that should have gone to survivors went to the Nazis.

But Boca Raton doesn’t negotiate sponsorships. That’s the job of Pro Links, the company that runs the tournament. Though Boca Raton is a tournament sponsor, donating $375,000, Pro Links handles contracts.

Like Slosberg, Weinroth is Jewish. In a return email, he told Slosberg that she had unfairly criticized the company and, “by inference,” the city. Weinroth noted that the federal courts determined that the international Holocaust claims commission is the proper venue for survivors to press their case. Most survivors, he said, received payment for their policies.

Weinroth also pointed out that Allianz has 10,000 American employees and has acknowledged its sins. “I do not mean to minimize the suffering of the survivors and the families of the Shoah,” Weinroth said, “but I believe continued support of this event is in the best interests of our residents.” The tournament, a stop on the PGA Senior Tour, benefits Boca Raton charities.

That might have been the end of it. But last week, after Allianz ended its 11-year sponsorship, Slosberg issued a news release praising the city for booting the company. Slosberg clearly wanted to imply that the city had acted after her email. Of course, the city took no such action.

Weinroth told me Monday that after Allianz withdrew he simply notified Slosberg as a courtesy that the tournament was seeking a new name sponsor. In a email to City Manager Leif Ahnell, Weinroth said, “This simple statement of fact … appears to have been embellished and expanded far beyond what I communicated.” A revised release from Slosberg, Weinroth said, was clearer but continued the “spin.” None of that kept Slosberg from holding a news conference at City Hall on Monday, which was Yom Hashoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day. With Slosberg were survivors and their representatives.

Slosberg was elected last year to the West Boca/West Delray district that her father,Irv Slosberg, had represented. The district has many Jewish residents for whom the Holocaust is a local issue. Like her father, however, Emily Slosberg seems capable of grandstanding and taking credit where it isn’t deserved. If she needs a favor from someone in Boca Raton, Slosberg may have to wait longer for a response to her email.

Midtown update

The debate at last week’s Boca Raton Planning and Zoning Board meeting over proposals for the city’s Midtown district wasn’t much of a debate.

Before presentations began, the board voted unanimously to delay any decision until city staff is “comfortable,” in the words of Chairman William Fairman, with a traffic study from Crocker Partners. The company owns several properties in Midtown, including Boca Center, and commissioned the study.

Crocker believes that Midtown could absorb 1,300 residential units and not add traffic trips even without a Tri-Rail station north of Boca Center. Crocker representatives and city staff couldn’t resolve all the questions before the planning and zoning board meeting. Normally, such a proposal would have gone to the board with a staff recommendation to approve or deny. Since that wouldn’t happen, Crocker asked that the Midtown portion of the meeting be a workshop.

With Angelo Bianco of Crocker Partners, representatives of the two other property owners east of Town Center Mall offered renderings and said Midtown could work well as a planned mobility development. Neighbors who spoke were roughly split, for and against, one calling it “low-end housing.” On Monday, a Crocker representative said “hopefully” Midtown could go before the planning and zoning board in May.

iPic update

Closing on the sale of land for the iPic project in Delray Beach is tentatively scheduled for Friday.

iPic is buying the property from the community redevelopment agency for $3.6 million. Closing has been delayed while the company waits for a state permit. Attorneys have had to work out a parking agreement; the garage will include 90 spaces for public use. The city also wanted assurances that it would receive that portion of the payment that it owed to the city.

One of the many controversial aspects of the project has been the conveyance by the city of public alleys. Critics have asked what would happen to the property if iPic doesn’t build the theater/office project. City Attorney Max Lohman told me Monday that there is a “mechanism” for the city to retake the property. iPic would have 60 days from closing to begin construction.

GEO inauguration sponsor

The Palm Beach Post reported that Boca Raton-based GEO Group gave $250,000 to President Trump’s inauguration. GEO operates private detention facilities. Such companies are expected to benefit from Trump’s plan to round up more illegal immigrants, even those who have not committed serious crimes. GEO Group stock is up roughly 50 percent since election.

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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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