The main story from Tuesday is that Delray Beach has chosen a developer for The Set.
The other story is how it happened.
After almost four hours of presentations, questions and discussion, the community redevelopment agency was ready to choose from the five bidders seeking the nine acres east of the Fairfield Inn on Atlantic Avenue. But how to do it? The CRA had not specified a procedure.
In a move that had the feel of an election for class president, the seven CRA members wrote their top two choices on pieces of paper. At first, the CRA staffer collecting the “ballots” miscalculated. After further review, the contenders were Uptown Delray and BH3.
City Commissioner Ryan Boylston had made clear his dislike for Uptown Delray, calling its proposal deficient in almost every category. Mayor Shelly Petrolia long had favored Uptown.
Last spring, after the city commission took over the CRA, Petrolia tried to award the contract for CRA land to Uptown without seeking other bids. On Tuesday, she thanked her colleagues for thwarting her attempt—and then pushed again for Uptown.
So Boylston quickly made a motion for BH3. Though Boylston’s favorite was Kayne Anderson, BH3 was his second choice. He clearly acted, however, to prevent Uptown from winning.
The motion to pick BH3 passed, 4-3, with City Commissioners Adam Frankel, Shirley Johnson and appointed board member Pamela Brinson joining Boylston. Then Angeleta Gray, the other appointed member, turned to Brinson. Some in the audience said they heard on the live microphone Gray telling Brinson that she had voted the wrong way. Confusion followed.
Boylston then asked to reconsider the vote, which someone on the prevailing side can do. “I wasn’t going to have it end that way,” Boylston told me later. Brinson then switched her vote to no, but Bill Bathurst changed and voted yes. BH3 had won again. This vote stuck.
Under the original plan, BH3 wouldn’t have made it to the final round. A staff committee was to rank the bidders, with the CRA board choosing from among the top three. The staff ranked Jones New Urban first, followed by Prime Investors and Kayne Anderson.
But Neil Schiller, BH3’s attorney, asked the CRA to hear from all bidders, and the board agreed. So BH3 got to pitch its ambitious design that features a pedestrian Frog Alley, in keeping with The Set’s heritage. BH3 also proposed the largest grocery store in its mixed-used project. A chain grocer for West Atlantic Avenue had been a priority. Frankel said BH3’s project was most like the “destination” he wanted.
BH3, however, proposed getting the land for free. The other bidders would have paid $4 million. BH3 also wanted $13 million worth of incentives. The company countered that because it would build a parking garage with 200 spaces, the project would create a large public benefit.
The deal isn’t done. BH3 and the city will have 60 days to negotiate a contract, which the CRA must approve. BH3 had proposed getting the land for free, where the other bidders would have paid $4 million. The company also proposed $13 million worth of incentives.
“That will be the first thing to come off the table,” Bathurst said.
Schiller said the numbers would change.
Obviously, the hope is that work finally can begin on a site that is key to the long-delayed redevelopment of West Atlantic Avenue. Still, the confusing ending and what he said was the lack of consideration for some of the bidders left Boylston asking, “What kind of message did we send to all these fine companies?”
I asked a representative of the Kayne Anderson team if the development team planned any challenge of the vote. He answered, “No comment.”
BH 3 “ecstatic”
The Delray Beach resident whose company got the West Atlantic contract is “ecstatic.”
Daniel Lebensohn co-founded BH3, which is based in South Florida and New York. Lebensohn, however, has owned a home in Delray since 2011. He already has put money into the northwest neighborhood, having bought several properties. Among them are the site of what now is ImprovU and Vintage Tap, the historic bar/music club that Lebensohn said he plans to reopen.
There has been a “misperception,” Lebensohn said, about the finances in BH3’s offer. Though the company didn’t offer money for the land and asked for incentives, Lebensohn said, “We are investing a lot more in the site” than the other bidders and will return “much larger dividends.” The parking garage, for example, would have great value for the city. BH3 will be “flexible” during contract negotiations and will “refine the deal.”
Redevelopment of West Atlantic Avenue is a delicate subject. Three decades ago, a CRA director proposed a grand plan that involved leveling several blocks. Delray Beach officials have stressed that The Set project not drive out the residents.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in that neighborhood,” Lebensohn said. “I think I know the nuances.”
His plan is “four-sided,” to be as inclusive as possible and to “embrace the history” with its Frog Alley walkway.
“We don’t want it to have a gentrified impact,” Lebensohn said, in which newcomers arrive and old-timers leave. He prefers “emergence.” Alta West “will not be ostentatious. We want the area to grow and prosper.”
More on Uptown
One last note: It remains unclear why Uptown Delray got so much support if the goal was to get the best project.
As Boylston and Bathurst noted, Uptown’s was the least creative plan. Petrolia long has opposed four-story buildings downtown, yet Uptown was the only bidder to include a four-story building, even though the Request for Proposal stipulated a three-story height limit.
The Uptown team, which said they had taken over the project from John Flynn, had no record of completing other projects. Kayne Anderson offered an impressive team that included Kaufman Lynn Construction—which moved from Boca Raton to Delray Beach—a strong record and a well-rounded plan, yet got comparatively little consideration from anyone other than Bathurst and Boylston.
Remember that the CRA still must approve the contract with BH3. In two months, we could see a rerun of Tuesday and the iceberg politics of Delray Beach.
The Scott and Andrea Show
Boca Raton City Council meetings are turning into the Scott and Andrea Show.
That would be Mayor Scott Singer and Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke. Consider what happened last week.
The issue was a simple change that would allow City Manager Leif Ahnell—in his role as chairman of the community redevelopment agency—to approve small downtown projects rather than subject them to a full council review. A year ago, a man who wanted to open an ice cream store faced such a delay that he moved the project to Delray Beach.
Everyone agreed that the change would be helpful. Before the vote, however, O’Rourke took time to express her support and lament how some small folk got “caught up in the wheels of big business.” Then Singer commented that he had been talking about “streamlining” for four years and had a “small jubilee” over the change.
The same thing happened during presentations by the city’s education task force and community advisory panel. Singer and O’Rourke tried to see who could be more praiseworthy of citizen participation. At another point, Singer and O’Rourke sparred over whether traffic is a problem at the Five Points intersection on North Federal Highway. Singer said yes. O’Rourke said no.
Though Singer beat Al Zucaro by 30 points in the special election last August, his term ends next March. I’ve heard speculation for weeks that O’Rourke—whose term is up at the same time—will challenge Singer.
O’Rourke has said nothing publicly about her plans, but she and Singer for now are competing on the dais.
Canal clearing aftermath
Resentment festers in Boca Raton over the Lake Worth Drainage District’s canal clearing, but don’t expect resentment to bring change.
City council members commented last week on the lingering complaints. One issue is the district’s system for electing its five supervisors, who set policy. Each supervisor represents part of the district’s vast territory, which stretches from West Palm Beach to Wellington and south to Boca Raton and Delray Beach. Land ownership determines elections, which explains why three of the supervisors are farmers.
That system dates to when southeast Palm Beach County was largely undeveloped. A more representative system would shift power. As Singer told the council, that would require an act of the Legislature, which would require a local bill. It would need support from the entire county legislative delegation, and there would be opposition from the landowners.
So change is unlikely. Councilwoman Monica Mayotte complained of “taxation without representation.” She’s right, but the best hope is to keep making nice with the district and hope the agency returns the sentiment.
The Last Straw
I had written before going on vacation that Delray Beach likely would ban plastic straws. The city commission passed the ban, with a phase-put period, on first reading. The second, final vote almost certainly will come at next Tuesday’s meeting.
Missed the last City Watch?
Visit our City Watch page and also sign up for our City Watch e-newsletter, where you’ll get the latest column delivered directly to your inbox.