As usual, it was a busy year in Boca Raton and Delray Beach, and 2023 promises more of the same. Here’s a look back at some of the major stories from 2022 and a look ahead at what could be making news next year.
The city approved a lease for land in Mizner Park that could become home to a $120 million performing arts center. The Center for Arts & Innovation (TCAI) also would redo and upgrade the Mizner Park amphitheater next door and make it part of the complex.
Nothing is certain. The lease sets fundraising thresholds before TCAI could begin construction. The group also must raise an endowment, to ensure that the center would have enough operating expenses in the early years.
If the effort succeeds, however, it will produce not only a local gem but a regional attraction. With the adjacent Boca Raton Museum of Art, it would make Mizner Park the city’s cultural hub, as backers envisioned 30 years ago.
Brightline will open its station and parking garage on Wednesday. The first train to Fort Lauderdale leaves at 5:29 a.m.
It has been nearly three and a half years since Brightline—then known as Virgin Trains USA Florida—sent a letter to the city laying out its wish list. Mayor Scott Singer had contacted the company to express interest. Boca Raton contributed roughly $10 million toward the parking garage and leased the company land east of the downtown library.
Head Owl Flies Off
Florida Atlantic University President John Kelly announced in June that he would resign at the end of this year. FAU trustees said they would choose an interim while they search for a permanent successor.
Kelly became president in early 2014, as Florida was moving toward a metric-based system for deciding how much money universities would receive. One key metric is progress toward a degree in at least six years. FAU has begun many programs to monitor first-year students and offer resources to those who are struggling.
Kelly also raised the football’s team profile, hiring three coaches with much more substantial pedigrees than their predecessors. FAU has increasingly tied its identity to athletics and athletics-related studies.
School Days, School Days
Blue Lake Elementary School opened in August. It was Palm Beach County’s first new elementary school in nearly three decades.
In the previous two years, Addison Mizner and Verde elementary schools had been rebuilt and expanded to include middle-school grades. These new projects have dramatically reduced crowding at Boca Raton’s public schools and increased the school system’s value as a draw for businesses.
Saturday in the Park
The city opened Wildflower Park, at the Intracoastal Waterway and the Palmetto Park Road Bridge. Boca Raton bought the land in 2009 for $7.5 million. Wildflower will serve mainly as a park for downtown residents.
In addition, the city council approved design plans for Lake Wyman/Rutherford Park. The makeover will restore kayak trails that had become impassable and increase access to the Intracoastal, in keeping with Boca’s waterfront master plan.
Driving Old Dixie Down
The Boca Raton Housing Authority announced that the historic Dixie Manor public housing complex would be torn down and replaced with a new project called Martin Manor. It will be named for African-American pioneer and community volunteer Lois Martin.
Debate over Dixie Manor’s future led to residents and housing advocates accusing authority board members of poor communication. They brought their grievances to meetings of the city council, which appoints those board members. In response, the council increased the size of the board from five members to seven, to get a wider viewpoint.
No. 2 for No. 1?
Boca Raton hired a new deputy city manager, Andy Lukasik, who previously had been town manager in Jupiter. With City Manager Leif Ahnell due to retire no later than 2024 and the other deputy manager, George Brown, near retirement age, this hire may have set up Lukasik to succeed Ahnell if the council promotes from within.
It was a terrific year for the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Two exhibits—“Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru” and “The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop”—impressed critics nationwide and brought the institution unprecedented publicity.
Locally, that coverage impressed the Delray Beach City Commission enough that members sought to have the museum operate the Cornell Museum in Old School Square. There was a contract, but the commission surprisingly voted it down.
Next up for the museum is expansion of the arts school and plans to celebrate its 100th anniversary and the centennial of the city in 1925.
Big Ocean Breeze Plans
The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District released an ambitious goal for use of the former golf course in the Boca Teeca community. The district acquired the property when it seemed that Ocean Breeze would become Boca Raton’s new municipal course.
District board members envision an extensive network of trails, golf facilities that would complement the new city-owned golf and racquet club and an aquatics center. Partnerships could pay for some of the work. City council members will have to approve plans for the site.
Well-organized residents struck back at projects and proposed rule changes.
The most notable was in Boca Square, where homeowners have opposed an adult living facility near Addison Mizner School. After city staffers rejected the application, the property owner sued. The case could determine where such facilities can go throughout the city.
More recently, Harbour East residents blocked a project that included a Chick-fil-A on North Federal Highway. And residents of four neighborhoods near North Dixie Highway told city council members that they opposed zoning changes that could allow two-story, live-work homes on North Dixie.
Old School Square 2.0
The city commission approved a takeover by the Downtown Development Authority that will start with the Cornell Museum. It has been closed for nearly a year, since Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson evicted Old School Square for the Arts.
Next month, the commission must approve a budget item for the added money the DDA’s work will require. That amount will increase if the agency, as expected, also starts running the Crest Theater. The commission, the community redevelopment agency and the DDA also must approve an agreement on rules for the agency’s management.
Bonds. Delray Beach’s Bonds.
The city finally got moving on a plan that officials hope will create a new water plant by 2026. State health officials fined Delray Beach for violations of water-quality rules, and the issue has been a public relations problem since 2018. A bond financed with utility payments will help to pay for the plant.
In addition, the commission unanimously agreed to ask voters for permission to issue $120 millions in bonds through a special property tax. Most of the money—$100 million—would finance fire and police upgrades. The rest would go toward work on Delray Beach’s parks.
New Top Cop, Same M.O.
City Manager Terrence Moore named Russ Mager to be the city’s police chief. He will succeed Javaro Sims, who retired.
Mager has spent 26 years with the department. As usual, Delray Beach promoted from within. It’s been that way for roughly 30 years.
The hurricane-spawned tornado actually struck west of Delray Beach, in the King’s Point community. But it was one of the most serious effects outside of Southwest and Central Florida. Some residents were displaced for weeks. They got help when President Biden added Palm Beach to the list of counties that qualified for disaster relief.
In addition to those bond proposals, Delray Beach voters in March will decide two commission seats. The outcome could shift alliances and change voting blocs. . .Delray Beach also should begin to receive money from lawsuits related to the opioid crisis. . .Boca Raton officials will monitor ridership at the Brightline station to determine whether the service—as promised—brings people to the city for events. . .Boca Raton and owners of the Boca Raton Innovation Campus (BRIC) may decide on changes that could turn the former home of IBM into a regional technology job hub, with housing. . .Two new members made a change in how the Palm Beach County commissioners consider a land swap that could imperil the Agricultural Reserve Area. . .The lawsuit against Delray Beach by Old School Square for the Arts could come to trial. Before then, there may be revelations about how the commission ended the group’s lease. . .Rental costs are decreasing, but local officials still must find creative ways to provide more housing.
And, of course, some of next year’s biggest stories could be those that no one could have foreseen, like the COVID-19 pandemic. My next post will be on Jan. 3. Happy holidays and best wishes for the new year.