Should Boca Raton let a private developer build a new government campus in return for being allowed to put up a lot of new downtown housing?
And is that private developer really interested?
The idea likely will come up next Wednesday when the city holds an open house on the campus from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the downtown library. With their consultant, Song & Associates, city officials will hear ideas for those 28-plus acres on either side of Northwest Second Avenue north of Palmetto Park Road. Few would have more impact than turning over the project to Miami-based Related, one of the country’s largest residential developers.
Last October, Related Vice President William Shewalter wrote to Mayor Susan Haynie. Related, Shewalter said, “would like to engage in a discussion of potential amenities and ideas which might permit a significant ‘value added’ benefit to this initiative as well as provide some process ideas.” Shewalter said the company wanted to make a presentation to the mayor and council.
For a long time, nothing happened. Haynie wasn’t interested in private participation. City politics, however, has kept the idea alive.
During the May goal-setting session, BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro touted Related’s participation. Zucaro challenged Haynie in the March election. More recently, he has used BocaWatch to criticize Haynie for not considering Related’s offer.
Aside from a revenge factor, Zucaro’s support is hard to reconcile with his past statements. On BocaWatch and as a candidate, Zucaro has complained about downtown residential overdevelopment. Yet Related would want either to acquire some of those 28 city-owned acres or other public property for even more residential development.
In an email, Zucaro said he had no “relationship with Related.” He was a city commissioner in West Palm Beach when Related helped to develop the CityPlace project—I was working for The Palm Beach Post at the same time—and believes, “based upon my personal experiences, that they are an outstanding organization and should be given an opportunity to present a plan, especially one that may result in significant benefit to the resident.”
Zucaro did not explain what that “significant benefit” might be. Presumably, however, it would be fronting part or all of the money for the campus, which could include a new city hall, police station and community center and new recreation complex. The properties include the tennis center, ballfields, a skateboard park and a basketball court. Related, though, surely would want a lot in return.
Another interesting angle is the involvement of Glenn Gromann, who served for nearly a decade on the planning and zoning board. Gromann said he is “an independent consultant” for Related and has registered as a lobbyist, though he doesn’t characterize his contribution as lobbying. Gromann said he has “specialized knowledge” of downtown development in Boca Raton. In an email, Gromann said, “I can assure you that the pursuit of this matter and getting the city to do the right thing will be unrelenting.”
In March, when Gromann came up for reappointment to the planning and zoning board, BocaWatch ran a commentary calling Gromann “Resident-Unfriendly Personified.” BocaWatch previously had criticized Gromann repeatedly for what Zucaro considered Gromann’s pro-development philosophy. Gromann withdrew from consideration for a new term, though he claimed that the reason was business opportunities, not the BocaWatch piece.
Soon thereafter, BocaWatch began offering Gromann space for his thoughts—unedited, as with seemingly everything on BocaWatch—on development. Gromann and Zucaro now are aligned in their belief that the city should give Related a hearing. In an email, Zucaro said Gromann “has opinions and knowledge that are useful in fostering the public debate.”
Three years ago, Shewalter worked for Elad. In 2014, Elad Properties proposed four condo towers averaging roughly 300 feet for Mizner Boulevard. After the city council refused even to consider New Mizner on the Green, Elad shrunk the project to Mizner 200, which goes to the council—as the community redevelopment agency—on July 24.
Amid all the opposition to New Mizner on the Green, Gromann said, “It’s going to put Boca on the map.”
Haynie remains concerned that there isn’t room within those 28 acres for “all the desires people have for the campus.” She also worries about “accountability” if the city were to turn over construction “of such an important project” to a private company.
On June 2, Councilman Robert Weinroth emailed City Manager Leif Ahnell to say that it “would be beneficial” for Ahnell and/or Deputy City Manager George Brown to meet with Related and “flesh out their thoughts.” Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke said she does not have “a formed opinion” on the idea.
Perhaps Related doesn’t have one, either. I contacted a Related representative on Tuesday, seeking to interview Shewalter. The representative emailed back to say that she had been trying to find “information on the Boca Raton government campus and The Related Group’s supposed interest. . .” I sent a copy of the letter Boca Raton got from Shewalter, who is not registered as a lobbyist. The next response from the Related representative? “Unfortunately, it’s no comment at this moment.”
More on Gromann
Another aspect of this activity regarding Related and the government campus is Gromann’s characterization of himself as a major real estate intermediary.
In an email, Gromann said he “got Toll Brothers to bid” on the western golf course, thus starting the process that has led to three $73 million offers for the course and the possible acquisition of the Ocean Breeze course. “I am in almost daily contact with major developers,” Gromann said, “trying to get them to enter the market. . .”
Gromann also said he has talked to All Aboard Florida about a Brightline station for Boca Raton. The new passenger service will have stations in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. All are part of mixed-use projects, especially the station in Miami. There would seem to be no need or room for a station in Boca. On that topic, an All Aboard Florida spokeswoman said the company is focused on launching the first phase of the service.
Mizner Amphitheater replacement?
Another related—as opposed to Related—aspect of the campus discussion is the talk that AEG is interested in building a performance venue at de Hoernle Park.
Los Angeles-based AEG bills itself as “one of the leading sports and entertainment presenters in the world.” The company books acts at the Mizner Park Amphitheater. Among the many ideas for Boca’s campus is a performing arts center that might displace the amphitheater.
The city, which took over the amphitheater from the Center for the Arts in 2010, operates the facility as an amenity. It loses money. What AEG might want from the city besides land for its venue would be just one of many questions. Would a performing arts center make sense for the campus? If it displaced the amphitheater, what would go on the amphitheater site? The Boca Raton Museum of Art has expressed interest. All these questions likely will come up next week.
Next steps in sober home regulation
Delray Beach’s next sober home regulation, which I discussed on Tuesday, is on Monday’s agenda of the planning and zoning board. If the board recommends approval, the item would go before the city commission next month.
Controversial beach-side property gets construction permit
The controversial property at 2500 North Ocean Blvd. in Boca Raton has received its construction permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. There is no indication, however, that work will begin soon.
In December 2015, the city council—with Jeremy Rodgers dissenting—approved a zoning variance that could allow a four-story, single-family home on the undersized lot. The city’s planning staff legal department recommended approval, noting that the owner had not caused the conditions that created the lot size.
Though the city could have faced a lawsuit by denying the request, the decision was controversial because the lot is on the beach side of A1A. The zoning board of adjustment also denied the request.
Despite the DEP permit, a city spokeswoman said the status of the project with the city is “under review.” She added that the city is “waiting for information from the petitioner.” The owner of the property is Natural Lands LLC. Its principal is Gavriel Naim, who is a partner in Beach Hill Capital Partners, a private real estate investment company.
After hearing repeated complaints from residents about trash in canals, the Boca Raton City Council has asked staff to include money in next year’s budget to purchase and staff a skimmer boat.
As the name implies, the vessel removes trash from waterways the same way a backyard device skims leaves and other objects from pools. Baltimore uses one to collect trash from the Inner Harbor, the hub of the city’s tourist district. Boca Raton’s purchase will come as the city seeks to finalize the waterfront master plan.
Speaking of which, the city’s consultant—EDSA—will hold a second open house next month on the waterfront plan. The July 12 event will take place at the downtown library from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. A news release says EDSA “will be sharing conceptual plans and recommendations.” The plan includes Spanish River Park, South Beach Park, Red Reef Park, Ocean Strand, Palmetto Dunes Park, Rutherford Park, the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Lake Wyman Park, J. Patrick Lynch Golden Fig Park, Silver Palm Park, Camino Villas Park, Carriage Hills Park, Hillsboro El Rio Park and the Wildflower property.
No swim zone
Unfortunately, that master plan probably can’t address water quality. On Wednesday, Boca Raton announced beach closures at Spanish River and South Inlet parks. The Florida Department of Health found excessive levels of bacteria in the water. Most likely, heavy rains this month have caused higher-than-normal runoff, which carries waste from our suburban lifestyle.