The Train Depot Gets a New Lease on Life, Election Updates & More

The Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum has a buyer for the former train depot at Camino Real and Dixie Highway near Addison Mizner’s former office.

It’s Mizner Arts LLC. The principal is Holly Meehan, a longtime Junior League volunteer. She is the daughter of George Zoley, founder and CEO of Boca Raton-based GEO Group. State records list Meehan, her father, and her mother, Donna Zoley, as managers of Mizner Arts, but Meehan said she would be the one involved with what she envisions as a spruced-up, thriving city hub.

As I had reported, the historical society decided in 2015 to sell the 88-year-old depot because the organization lacks the resources to maintain the exterior and structure of the building and the four historic rail cars that are part of the depot tours. Though the city paid for some of the upkeep, the society believed that the expense was detracting from the organization’s core priorities.

Still, since the depot and the cars are on the National Register of Historic Places, the idea of divesting was tough. “It took a long time to get my head around it,” said Mary Csar, executive director of the historical society.

depot from sw 1.7.30

It also took a long time to choose a buyer. The society wanted someone who would maintain the historical integrity of the depot and continue the education component. The society bought the depot in 1987. It had deteriorated for nearly two decades after the Florida East Coast Railway discontinued the passenger service that the company has revived with Brightline.

Csar said of the depot, “We want to see people there. We want it to get better.” Meehan agrees. “I don’t want it to be just another building.”

Meehan and her parents formed for-profit Mizner Arts LLC last year to bid on the depot. Meehan said she would market it as a unique venue by using the building’s history as a draw. The society had interest from 100 parties. The request for proposal went out to 25, and five submitted bids. Mizner Arts, Csar said, “was the vision closest to what we would have wanted if we had the resources.”

Csar would not reveal the price, but she said it’s close to market value. The Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office lists the roughly 1.3-acre site and the 3,300-square-foot building at roughly $2.4 million.

The sale is contingent upon the city rezoning the site from Cultural to Retail High. Though the depot hosts events now, Csar said the change is necessary because a for-profit company would own it.

In its letter to the city, the attorney representing Mizner Arts says the company would maintain the current 40 parking spaces and seek “offsite” parking “as required.” Mizner Arts wants to provide a “four-season” experience and will “refresh” the exterior and the grounds and do a “full interior upgrade.” The application has its first city review on Jan. 23 with department heads and outside agencies like Florida Power & Light.

Assuming nothing untoward arises during the city’s review, the deal seems very good. A preservation easement will be on the depot, and Meehan already has shown a strong civic commitment to the city. Brightline trains won’t be stopping at the depot, but the deal could mean a great future for something important from Boca Raton’s past.

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Depot plans

The train depot. Image by Peter Lorber.
The train depot. Image by Peter Lorber.

Mizner Arts notes that the depot can take advantage of redevelopment in the south end of downtown Boca Raton: Via Mizner, apartment complexes. Another project is Camino Square, proposed for the former Winn-Dixie plaza just west of the depot on Camino Real. The project goes before the planning and zoning board tonight with a recommendation for denial.

The residential arm of Florida Crystals, the sugar cane company, wants to construct two buildings that would hold 350 apartments. It would be another major shift downtown from retail to residential, though some retail still might go on the roughly 5-acre property.

City planners cite “several problems” with the project, most notably its pedestrian-hostile design. The report calls the north-south driveway “a missed opportunity,” saying the developer did not incorporate suggestions that planners had suggested. As such, the report finds that the project is not compatible with the downtown plan.

475 Royal Palm

Also before the planning and zoning board is another downtown residential project. This one, called 475 Royal Palm, proposes 48 condos in three, nine-story towers behind the Morgan Stanley building on the corner of East Palmetto Park Road and Fifth Avenue.

This project is a much closer call. It complies with downtown architectural and open space guidelines. The staff report finds no potential traffic issues, even though that intersection is a chokepoint.

The recommendation is for denial only because the project doesn’t meet setback requirements. The report notes, however, that the council is considering an ordinance that would modify those rules. If the council approves the ordinance, the recommendation would shift to approval.

City Council race

Monica Mayotte has a much easier path to the Boca Raton City Council than she did last week.

Ten days ago, Mayotte was facing Seat D incumbent Robert Weinroth. He had raised more than $100,000 and would have raised more.

Then Weinroth dropped out to run for the county commission against Mayor Susan Haynie. Weinroth faced a Wednesday deadline—the end of the city election qualifying period—to decide.

After Weinroth switched, former Councilman Mike Mullaugh got into the Seat D race. He spent eight years on the council, departing last year because of term limits, and might have been able to raise money quickly.

This week, however, Mullaugh himself dropped out. After having to enter at the deadline, Mullaugh told me Wednesday, “I couldn’t put together a team to run my campaign. People said, ‘If you had called earlier. . .’ “

Mullaugh’s name recognition would have made him a tough opponent for Mayotte. Now she will face Armand Grossman. He qualified to run for the council three years ago dropped out just after qualifying. He had been the subject of three negative mailers.

Grossman has not served on city boards in the last three years, but he has been Steven Abrams’ appointee to the Palm Beach County Planning Commission. It’s the advisory board that issues recommendations on development proposals. “That has consumed a lot of my time,” Grossman said.

Mayotte has the backing of BocaWatch and is a former chairman of the Green Living Advisory Board. She also has a following in East Boca from her time on the Addison Mizner Elementary School Parent Teacher Association. Mayotte raised just $1,150 in December, and has about $25,000 in the bank.

Mayotte has been campaigning since September. With Weinroth bolting, Grossman has much ground to make up before the election on March 13.

And one more…

A third candidate has qualified for that Seat D race, but there’s a question of where he lives.

The paperwork for Paul Preste lists a Fort Lauderdale address. There is no record of Paul Preste owning property in Palm Beach County. When I spoke with Preste this week, he claimed that he lives in the city – candidates must be registered voters in Boca Raton – but would not offer details or give an address.

2019 race

And in case you forgot, it may be 2018 but there’s a 2019 race in Boca Raton.

It’s based on the idea that Mayor Haynie will resign in November after winning or losing that county commission race against Councilman Weinroth. Her term as mayor doesn’t end until March 2020.

Haynie might change her plans if two ethics investigations go badly, but for now she’s in the race. And three candidates have filed paperwork to run for mayor in a special election next March.

One is Councilman Scott Singer, who announced his run for mayor right after Haynie announced her run for the county post. Singer has raised about $41,000—$6,500 of it in December.

Another is Glenn Gromann, a former member of the city’s planning and zoning board and a regular speaker at city council meetings. He hasn’t been in the race long enough to file a fundraising report, but Gromann is doing his own sort of campaigning.

In an email this week, Gromann called on Singer to cancel his mayoral kickoff event scheduled for 5:30 today at Ouzo Bay. Gromann called the event “disrespectful” to candidates running this year and confusing to voters. He noted, correctly, that Singer sponsored the ordinance that changed the system to allow a special election under the Haynie/county commission scenario.

Gromann closed with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” I emailed Singer for his response. I didn’t hear back.

And one more for this one

A third candidate has filed paperwork to join Singer and Grossman in that mayoral race.

He’s Bernard Korn. Like Preste, he listed an address outside the city. There is no record of a Bernard Korn owning a home in Boca Raton.

Ocean Breeze

As expected, the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District this week approved the agreement between the district and the city for the $19 million purchase of most of the former Ocean Breeze golf course.

That move sets up the agreement for city council approval next week. The deal is for that portion of the property west of Second Avenue. The district is spending $5 million on its own to acquire the balance of the roughly 200 acres east of Second Avenue.

District Chairman Bob Rollins also confirmed Wednesday that the public can attend the district’s interviews with the 15 golf designers that want to turn Ocean Breeze into the city’s new course. District board members will interview the bidders in three sessions on Jan. 29, Feb. 1 and Feb. 12.

All sessions will start at 5:30 p.m. in the district’s office. Members of the public can’t comment, but Rollins said there would be a chance for public input before the district chooses a designer.

Delray staffing update

Delray Beach City Manager Mark Lauzier has filled two key positions.

Patrick Figurella is the new city engineer. He comes from Calvin Giordano, which does consulting work for many local governments.

Lauzier also has hired India Adams as assistant to the city manager. As I had reported, Lauzier converted an assistant city manager position to one of policy adviser. Lauzier recruited Adams from Tacoma, Wash., where he had been an assistant city manager.

In a memo to commissioners, Lauzier also said he has created a “Team of Teams”—department heads that will focus on four areas: Governance: general management; Operations: police, fire community improvement and parks and recreation; Infrastructure, such as utilities and Economic Development; and Continuous Improvement, which will emphasize budget preparation, planning and measuring employee performance.

Addison Mizner Elementary

The Boca Raton Federation of Homeowner Associations and the Boca Square Civic Association will host what they call a “community conversation” about Addison Mizner Elementary School at 6:30 tonight in the Willow Theater at Sugar Sand Park.

Boca Square is home to the school. Current plans call for rebuilding Addison Mizner on Northwest 12th Avenue and adding a middle school. That would require having students attend class at the old Verde Elementary after the new Verde is built. Money for both projects will come from the sales-tax surcharge.

Brian Stenberg, secretary-treasure of the civic association, has four children. The youngest attends Addison Mizner, as the older three did. The meeting, he told me, is less about debating whether to move the school to Sugar Sand Park and more about wanting to urge coordination between the city and school district planners. “I don’t want to lose the funding” for Addison Mizner, Stenberg said. “I just want to see common-sense progress.”

Frank Barbieri, the school board who represents Boca Raton, will be at the meeting with the district’s director of planning. So will Mayor Haynie. Stenberg believes that Addison Mizner will remain in Boca Square. “It’s a great community asset.” The move to Sugar Sand continues to seem unworkable, not least because of uncertainty over what would replace that community asset. It drew many homeowners to Boca Square and nearby neighborhoods.

Still, Sternberg hopes the meeting gets the city and school district closer to a resolution that ensures a new Addison Mizner. Plenty of other cities would love to swipe that $20 million if a decision stalls.