Sunday, July 14, 2024

Boca’s Uptown, Delray CRA Agenda Loaded, and Why Did Boca Refuse to Ban Straws?

As lawsuits continue over plans for a new destination in Boca Raton’s Midtown neighborhood, a new destination in West Boca will open late this year.

Uptown Boca is rising on nearly 40 acres east of the Home Depot plaza on Glades Road. The $200 million mixed-use project, a joint venture of Schmier Property Group, Rosemurgy Partners and Giles Capital Group, will include what the principals say is West Boca’s first new multi-family housing development in two decades.

That alone makes Uptown Boca significant. The project also shows that some of the demographic changes in Boca Raton are happening in West Boca.

Schmier Property Group CEO Brian Schmier and Rosemurgy Partners CEO Alex Rosemurgy are locals, like their companies. Schmier cites such projects as University Commons and the newer Park Place in northwest Boca Raton to demonstrate their commitment. Schmier said they saw “a void” in West Boca that they believe Uptown Boca will fill.

First is the housing. Uptown Boca will offer 456 units, roughly one-third more than in the original plan. In working with county planners, the developers added workforce housing, aimed at middle-class, wage-earning families. Thus the increase.

Uptown Boca Raton

Though the Shadowood movie theater is nearby, Uptown Boca will include a theater with the Silverspot brand, like the one in Coconut Creek. Rosemurgy said there’s a market in West Boca for a “deluxe” cineplex, despite iPic and Cinemark to the east in Boca Raton.

Retail is the trickiest component. “It’s changing faster than we can keep up,” Schmier said. Beyond Silverspot, the only announced tenants are Lucky’s Market, Chick-fil-A and Bolay. Schmier expects to more “in the next few weeks.”

Schmier and Rosemurgy say they were guided by evaluations of older projects in the area and by community discussions with the West Boca Community Council and other groups through an approval process that Rosemurgy called “not easy.” The Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County is directly south of Uptown Boca. Federation officials told the developers that their members wanted larger apartments, so the project will have four-bedroom units. Uptown Boca also will offer kosher kitchens.

The residential component distinguishes Uptown Boca from those older projects. As in other areas of South Florida, Rosemurgy said, “People want walkability,” to not need a car for dinner out and/or a movie and shopping. Although the primary market is West Boca, a successful project likely will draw from a wider area.

Schmier said he and Rosemurgy spent “a long time working” on the property, which the Johns family had owned. “A lot of people,” Rosemurgy said, “had chased” the parcel where row crops grew until recently. They would not disclose the purchase price.

The developers believe that their families’ history and their commitment to the project got them the property. “We are not in it,” Schmier said, “to make money for the second guy that owns it.”

Rosemurgy and Schmier stress that Uptown Boca reflects the changing demographics of West Boca. “It’s getting younger,” Rosemurgy said. That aligns with the trend of families in Boca Raton buying homes from older couples looking to downsize. If Rosemurgy and Schmier are right, Uptown Boca may be overdue for West Boca.

Boca, take notice.

Uptown Boca seeks to create a live-work-place hub on land that is only about 12 percent the size of Midtown, but the approach is the same. Use residential at the core. The city’s failure to write redevelopment rules for Midtown has deprived that area of a needed updating.

The Park at Broken Sound, formerly the Arvida Park of Commerce, also once was residential-free. Now housing has added to the dynamic while doing no harm to the area’s role as the city’s economic engine. That was the potential for Midtown that the city, for now, has thrown away.

Delray CRA has a loaded agenda

Based on recent activity, Boca Raton City Council members can’t complain about being overworked. The last three community redevelopment agency meetings, for example, have taken a combined 90 minutes. There was almost nothing on Monday’s CRA agenda.

That will not be true this week for their counterparts in Delray Beach.

On Thursday, city commissioners will meet as the CRA to award bids for downtown transportation systems. Also on Thursday, they hold their annual organizational meeting—the agenda is mostly ceremonial—and hold a workshop meeting. On Friday is the CRA goal-setting session, outlining priorities for downtown Delray.

They will earn their salary this week.

Small Business City

Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

At that Thursday workshop meeting, city commissioners will discuss an intriguing new report on the Delray Beach economy.

Prepared by the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University, the study found that 95 percent of business in Delray Beach employ fewer than 20 people. The report calls that “an unusually high proportion” of small businesses, compared to places such as Boca Raton that are considered comparable to Delray Beach.

Many of those small businesses are doing well. Nearly half earn more than $1 million annually, which the report calls “atypical for a small city.” Those businesses, though, tend to be parochial. Delray Beach has comparatively few “traded industries,” which serve markets outside the city. “Without strong traded industries,” the report said, “it is virtually impossible for an economy to grow and attain high performance.”

In tandem with the report comes a new business navigator program from the city’s office of economic development. The service is designed to help business owners who must deal with what Economic Development Director Joan Goodrich calls 18 “departments, divisions and offices.” A news release says the city created the program in response to “feedback from local small business owners, entrepreneurs and executives.” Done right, it could make approvals timelier and cheaper.

The report praises Delray Beach for creating “high-skilled and well-paying industries” to complement the many jobs in entertainment and construction, calling it one of the city’s “most important strengths. Still, nothing would bolster Delray Beach’s finances more than additional commercial development.

And the West World needs to thrive

That FIU report underscores the importance of success for the project to develop West Atlantic Avenue. The Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency hopes to approve a contract next month.

Though residents of The Set neighborhood hold jobs at an unusually high rate for lower-income areas, those jobs tend to be low-paying.

“Continuing distress in The Set,” the report said, “represents tremendous lost economic opportunities for the rest of the city.”

Low incomes mean lost spending power. Potential business owners can’t get capital. Young workers move away, draining the talent pool. Many people work outside the city, so they aren’t participating in Delray’s growth and must deal with longer commutes.

East Atlantic Avenue is thriving. Delray Beach west of Interstate 95 is revving up. The challenge—and potential benefit—remains the area in between.

Nightlife issues? 

Downtown Delray Beach (Photo courtesy DDA)

Indeed, East Atlantic Avenue is too thriving.

This week, Delray Beach officials will discuss additional ways to keep downtown fun but safe. Some programs have been underway. But as the backup material says, “Recently, issues related to certain business operations have prompted the need for a workshop discussion and policy direction to effectively address short- and long-term challenges.”

Among other things, the city may conduct an analysis of “nightlife industries.” I’ll have more on this as it develops.

Banning straws in Boca fails

(Photo by Meghan Rodgers)

Boca Raton will not ban single-use plastic straws anytime soon.

No vote took place at Monday’s city council workshop meeting, but sentiment favored Mayor Scott Singer’s approach of attitude adjustment, not a prohibition.

Councilwoman Monica Mayotte had asked for the discussion. She and several speakers favored a ban similar those passed by Delray Beach and other cities. 

Singer, though, came prepared to make his case. He wondered how a ban might apply to juice boxes that children take in lunch boxes. He warned of litigation from advocates of the disabled who say that paper straws don’t work for everyone. He played the tape of recent testimony by a disabled woman before a legislative committee in Tallahassee.

In fact, the bill in question would preempt local bans on straws and other products. This Legislature worries more about decimating home rule than protecting what Singer called the state’s “vulnerable population.” And most bans include exceptions for the disabled.

Yet all except Mayotte preferred to encourage, not enforce. Singer offered what he said were 16 proposals that would seek to cut the city’s use of plastic, recognize businesses that do the same and “set the model.”

Mayotte said Singer thanked her after the meeting “for starting the conversation on this. I’m not as happy as I could have been, but I went up there swinging for the fences and I think I hit a double or a triple.”

Boca writes a grant instead of allocating BRHS funds

Boca Raton has applied for a $1.6 million state grant that help to finance the Boca Raton Historical Society’s upgrades to the former city hall.

Mary Csar, the society’s executive director, heard that news during Monday’s city council workshop meeting. She had hoped to hear that the city would allocate money. Though the grant would provide even more, there’s also a time crunch.

A rendering of updates to the Boca Raton Historical Society

Work on the society’s new exhibits has begun. The legislative session ends in early May. Even if the grant—from a program that supports tourism—made it into the budget, Csar and the council would have to wait until Gov. Ron DeSantis issues any line-item vetoes of budget items. Csar and the city might wait almost three months and find themselves back where they were Monday.

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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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