Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Delray’s Ongoing BH3 Discussion and Depot Plans, Plus Boca Debuts a Coastal Connection

Delray Beach City Commissioner Ryan Boylston has started a public campaign against the “incredible amount of disinformation that is sadly being championed rather than corrected by members of our community.”

Commissioner Ryan Boylston

The “disinformation” relates to the three blocks of the Fairfield Inn, where the city envisions a vibrant mixed-use development that transforms The Set in particular and the northwest/southwest neighborhoods in general. On Jan. 29, the community redevelopment agency board chose BH3 as the developer and gave the company 60 days to negotiate a contract with the CRA.

As he did during discussion three weeks ago, Boylston questions why Uptown Delray LLC received such strong support from three CRA board members. Mayor Shelly Petrolia especially has championed the project for nearly a year, trying at one point to give Uptown the contract without seeking other bids.

So Boylston laid out his case on a Facebook page called Better Delray, which he calls “a group I started two years ago that never got off the ground.” These days, Better Delray “is just a website, Facebook page, and t-shirt that is often worn around Delray.”

A page, however, is all it can take in Delray to start a disinformation campaign. Boylston thus is pushing back.

Though BH3 was his second choice after Kayne Anderson, Boylston notes that five of the seven CRA board members ranked BH3 first or second. Though Petrolia, along with appointed board members Angeleta Gray and Pamela Brinson, ranked Uptown first, Boylston points out that the company did not follow rules of the bid proposal.

(Rendering by BH3)

Boylston’s post includes every document related to sale of the three blocks. Brinson criticized Boylston for posting the commissioners’ rankings, but Boylston responded correctly that the documents are public records that residents should see.

Critics note that BH3 wouldn’t pay for the land, as the other bidders proposed to do. Boylston argues that the CRA would not be “giving away land.” If the CRA and BH3 agree on a contract, the company would be investing “more than $100 million into our city” and would have to supply “an aggressive list of community benefits,” among them a 200-space parking garage, affordable housing and space for small businesses.

“Although I was hoping,” Boylston says, “for a project that coupled a reasonable cash offer with a heap of benefits, I was always willing to discuss proposals that offered more value via the project itself and less cash.”

Boylston adds, “A CRA’s job is not to flip properties for a profit. It is to ensure they are developed in a way that fills the needs of the community and returns value.” He then cites a consultant’s report that BH3 would bring the most property tax revenue of any bidder.

A week after the decision, Petrolia questioned whether the CRA had raised legal issues with its choice. The CRA attorney said no, but Petrolia’s comments may have signaled her intent to challenge any contract with BH3. Boylston has begun his defense.

And the contract deadline

Though the CRA did not specify whether that 60-day deadline for a contract covers business days or calendar days, BH3’s attorney said Wednesday that he and the CRA “are proceeding as if it’s calendar days.”

Neil Schiller said, “Everything is proceeding on schedule.” He and the CRA have had two meetings. “We are close on the agreement.”

Performing arts complex update

It’s been almost six months since leaders of the Cultural Consortium of Boca Raton told city council members that the group would like to build a performing arts complex. The consortium’s preferred location is 10 acres of land next to the Spanish River Library that the city would donate.

The request and the scope—several venues costing between $75 million and $100 million, some private development to support the venues—surprised some council members, even though there had been discussion before that workshop meeting last October. The council responded by asking consortium leaders to come back when they had more information and perhaps pledges toward the considerable cost.

So the consortium is working to get those answers. I spoke recently with Dan Guin, executive director of Boca Ballet and one of the main presenters before the council.

Most notably, the consortium has hired the DeVos Institute for Arts Management at the University of Maryland. Its chairman is a former president of the Kennedy Center in Washington. The institute is helping the consortium develop a feasibility study. Council members understandably worry about Boca Raton one day inheriting a complex that couldn’t survive on its own.

In addition, Guin said, the consortium will prepare a traffic study and a study of all potential sites. City Manager Leif Ahnell expressed concern about the city losing its most prominent piece of remaining open land. Guin said the fundraising campaign is in its “quiet stage.”

“We will be able to answer a majority of the council’s questions,” Guin said. He estimated that getting the answers could be “a year-long process.

“Or maybe six months, if God gave me $100 million.”

Delray’s golf course under par

A new municipal golf course is coming to Boca Raton even as players say they like the current layout. In Delray Beach, the city faces criticism that its course is in terrible shape. Yet where’s the money for a makeover?

In a report, City Manager Mark Lauzier estimated the cost at $7 million. At first, it appeared that the city could use a revenue bond and finance the work through higher fees and increased play.

This month, however, Lauzier told the commission that the finance department had said, “Not so fast.” The course is running a deficit. Renovating the clubhouse also would require debt. “We’ve got a financial problem,” the manager said.

So Lauzier proposed an alternate plan. The city could pay a consultant $4,000 to determine whether Delray Beach could generate revenue from “spinning off”—as Lauzier put it—land on the north side of the course that fronts West Atlantic Avenue. Though that section is part of the course property, leasing it wouldn’t affect play. And the revenue from commercial development could finance at least part of the improvements.

Commissioners agreed to the study by PMG. All want the course to look better. “We want to proud of it,” Mayor Shelly Petrolia said. No one talked of selling any land. They also recognize, however, that not all residents use the course and the city has many needs.

“We’ll try to make this work,” Petrolia said of the new plan, “or consider what’s next.”

The Depot plan

Another faded Delray Beach landmark will get much more than $4,000.

The city commission approved a $325,700 contract for a company that will start fixing up the historic train depot on the CSX tracks north of Atlantic Avenue and west of Interstate 95. Tri-Rail runs on the CSX tracks, but the Delray Beach stop is farther south.

For years, the depot problem has frustrated city officials. The structure is nearly 100 years old and has historic designation, but Delray Beach uses it only to store Christmas displays and for fire-rescue training. Though the popular Saltwater Brewery is nearby, you can’t walk from Saltwater to the depot. Even driving there requires going north to Lake Ida Road.

So the current plan is to “repurpose” the building for offices and space for start-up companies. Parking, lighting and other improvements will use what a staff memo calls “historically appropriate details and materials.” Eventually, there will be access by foot, bicycle and car. With the newly opened Delray Station apartment complex to the north, Delray Beach hopes to create a destination that will further boost the Congress Avenue Corridor.

That next phase, City Manager Mark Lauzier said, would cost $2.3 million. But the city is thinking bigger than when some residents envisioned the depot as a place to serve meals to the poor.

Match Point update

This being the week of the Delray Beach Open, I wondered how negotiations were progressing to settle the city’s lawsuit against the promoter of the annual professional tennis tournament.

New City Attorney Lyn Gelin told me Wednesday that the city had agreed to delay further talks until the tournament was over. Delray Beach wants changes to the 25-year contract that the city signed in 2005.

At last report, both sides were optimistic. “I hope that’s still the case,” Gelin said.

Boca marijuana dispensaries update

The Boca Raton City Council will get an update at Monday’s workshop meeting on medical marijuana dispensaries. Like Delray Beach, Boca Raton has banned them, mostly because the enabling legislation for the 2016 constitutional amendment allows dispensaries wherever a local government allows pharmacies.

Though there might be discussion of repealing the ban, a city spokeswoman cautions that the meeting is just “an opportunity for businesses and the public to weigh in or comment.”

Boca’s Coastal Connection initiative

(Photo by Meghan Rodgers)

Delray Beach just banned single-use plastic straws. Boca Raton is taking a different approach.

This week, the city announced a program called Coastal Connection, in partnership with Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. A news release calls the program “an environmental initiative that aims to recognize those who are acknowledging their role in the coastal community and taking actions to mitigate negative impacts and create positive change.”

First up is a rating system—with three stars the highest —for restaurants that promote sustainability. As in Delray, the focus is on single-use plastic. To earn a one-star rating, restaurants must offer plastic straws only if customers ask for them, use only reusable tableware, offer only non-plastic containers for takeout orders and include plastic cutlery for those orders only on request.

To get two and three stars, the release says, restaurants “must take on other issues impacting the coastal environment and implement actions that address energy and water conservation, night-friendly lighting, recycling and sustainable seafood.”

The city cites research by the Nielsen Company that 66 percent of Americans would pay more for products and services that stress sustainability. Particles from the eight millions tons of plastic that countries dump into the ocean each year have been detected in marine life. Coastal Connection will launch on March 2, which is Gumbo Limbo’s Sea Turtle Day Festival.

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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