IPIC Declares Bankruptcy, and Brightline Meeting Ends With Scarce Details

IPIC declared bankruptcy on Monday amid a general market rout caused by President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. It’s too early to know how the reorganization will affect Boca Raton and especially Delray Beach. That will come after the lawyers get involved.

For now, the move affords the company protection from creditors. I’ll have more as the case proceeds.

Brightline meeting

Brightline train

Representatives of Virgin Trains USA and Boca Raton held their first meeting last week.

At its July 22 workshop meeting, the city council authorized staff to begin negotiations that could bring a Brightline station next to the downtown library. Among others, according to a city spokeswoman, last week’s meeting included City Manager Leif Ahnell, Deputy City Manager George Brown, Assistant City Manager Michael Woika and Virgin Trains Vice President Brian Kronberg. He made the company’s presentation two weeks ago.

Kronberg, however, offered few details at that meeting beyond what the company had stated in its July 19 letter to the city. Virgin Trains wants the city to build a parking garage for the station, but the company didn’t say how big the garage might be. Virgin Trains wants the city to donate the land where library patrons park and where the Junior League of Boca Raton has its community garden. It would become residential housing, but the company didn’t say how many units it wants to build.

So last week city officials sought more information and began to examine how the city might accommodate Virgin Trains’ demands. It would involve a lot. One major issue would be changing the comprehensive plan to allow housing where zoning does not permit it.

We do know, however, that Virgin Trains is asking much more from Boca Raton than it asked from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, where the company has its current stations. Those cities closed roads and rezoned land, but Virgin wants a lot from Boca Raton. After speaking with people in the development business, it seems fair to estimate that the package Virgin wants is worth at least $35 million and possibly more.

The garage would start at about $20,000 per space—$10 million for a 500-space garage. The Federal Highway Administration estimates the cost of pedestrian bridges at between $1 million and $5 million. A shuttle service to connect the station with, say, downtown, the beach and Florida Atlantic University, could cost $600,000 or more at the start—depending on the number of stops—with costs increasing each year.

A Brightline train passes the Miami Design District.

It will be trickier to calculate the benefits to Virgin Trains. Rezoning the city-owned parcel next to the library and another on the block to the south would pump up the value of those roughly four combined acres that Virgin wants the city to donate.

So council members should consider hiring a consultant to determine that value. It would help the city during negotiations. City officials also should ask why the unrelated development matters so much to a company supposedly focused on train service.

As for the size of the station, those in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach are 60,000 square feet. For comparison, the downtown library is 41,000 square feet. Each of those stations, though, is part of a transportation hub, so the one in Boca Raton likely would be smaller. The 800-space garage in West Palm Beach also serves an apartment complex. The seven-story garage in Fort Lauderdale has shops on the first floor.

The city spokeswoman said administrators likely would update council members at their Aug. 26 workshop meeting. Since they seem eager to secure the station, they should hire an outside negotiator before the talks get too far along. Virgin’s parent company, Fortress Investment Group, is a financial powerhouse.

In his recent newsletter, Mayor Scott Singer seemed to say that Brightline would “bear most of the costs” of a garage. When I asked about the remark, Singer said, “I could have been clearer.” He was referring to the total cost of the project, including the station, track and platform. Brightline’s costs would “easily outpace anything” that the city might contribute.

It will be all about numbers. So the city needs expertise as council members ponder all those numbers.

Student district?

fau.jpg

There’s reason to wonder whether Boca Raton and Florida Atlantic University still want to create a student-centric district along 20th Street east of the campus.

At one point, planners hoped that such a district would cluster student housing nearer FAU and out of single-family neighborhoods. A key parcel was the one at 2500 Northwest Fifth Avenue. The owners, a Chicago group, wanted an eight-story apartment project.

The new plan is to combine that nine-acre parcel with the three acres just to the north, at 2600 Northwest Fifth Avenue. It is home to Connected Life Christian Church. The owner wants a land-use change for the larger parcel that would allow 182 units. Current rules allow just 31.

That would be a major upzoning. As noted, however, the land once might have been part of a larger change in conjunction with FAU. According to its new master plan, however, FAU now wants to keep as many non-commuter students on campus as possible. The plan envisions new dorms in what a city consultant called a “dead zone” on that eastern edge.

City staff had recommended denial of the project, saying that the change would not be compatible with the lower densities in surrounding neighborhoods. The land-use change also could allow 41 units on the small parcel. Current zoning allows only 10. The applicant asked last month for a delay, which the council granted.

I’ve heard nothing for months about what had seemed like a neat way for Boca Raton to help FAU become more of a traditional campus. Emails to FAU’s media relations staff were not returned.

Camino Bridge opens

Camino Real Bridge before renovations (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

As I reported Monday, the new Camino Real Bridge in Boca Raton opened on Tuesday. Delays pushed back completion of the span, the southernmost of three in the city over the Intracoastal Waterway. Residents in the area at last are done with their detours north to the Palmetto Park Road Bridge or south to Hillsboro Boulevard.

Boca adds budget $$ for garbage pickup

(Photo by Gary Chan)

Boca Raton has made the first down payment on the city council’s decision in June not to privatize residential garbage pickup.

The council amended the current budget to add $2.3 million for the “expedited” purchase of garbage trucks. The city wouldn’t need those trucks if a private company were going to take over the service. There will be many other expenses. Council members decided that the proposed deal didn’t justify the switch. The $2.3 million will come from reserves in the sanitation fund.

Frankel’s seat

A far-right provocateur has announced that she will run for Lois Frankel’s congressional seat.

District 21 stretches along the coast from West Palm Beach to Delray Beach and also includes West Boca. Frankel, a Democrat, has held the seat since 2012. The Legislature redrew the district, which leans Democratic, in 20—after a successful court challenge to Republican-drawn congressional and state Senate maps.

That provocateur is Laura Loomer. Most social media sites have banned Loomer because of her Islamophobia. She has called Islam “a cancer on society” and said that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in the United States government. Uber banned her because she wouldn’t ride with Muslim drivers.

Three other Republicans have filed paperwork to challenge Frankel. The qualifying deadline isn’t until next April, so there’s no guarantee that any of the announced candidates actually will be on a ballot next year.

Karen Brill files to run

In other election news, term-limited Palm Beach County School Board member Karen Brill has filed to run in 2020 for the seat held by term-limited Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary Lou Berger.

District 5 includes West Boca and West Delray. Brill has been on the school board since 2012. Whoever succeeds Burger will become the most important elected official regarding the Agricultural Reserve Area.

District 7 County Commissioner Mack Bernard and District 88 State Rep. Al Jacquet have filed for reelection. Their districts include portions of Delray Beach.

Gunshine State

A year ago, Boca magazine devoted an issue to the epidemic of gun violence. As the last few days have shown, the need for actions remains urgent.

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