Update on Congress Avenue Corridor, More Fake News from BocaWatch and more

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Delray Beach’s attempt to redevelop the Congress Avenue Corridor is showing signs of success – part of it at Boca Raton’s expense.

That coup is the move from Boca to Delray of Kaufman Lynn Construction. In an interview, CEO Michael Kaufman said the company, which has 125 employees, has outgrown the space it rents at Boca Corporate Center, the old IBM facility.

Kaufman would have preferred to stay in the city where he’s done business for nearly three decades. He’s chairman-elect of the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. The cost of land, however, was too high to support his 23,000-square-foot Class A office space project. Then there was the reception he got from Delray.

Once Kaufman decided to move, he got offers from Delray Beach, Deerfield Beach and Raleigh, N.C., where Kaufman owns a home. The company’s average wage, Kaufman said, is north of $100,000. Those jobs, the corporate presence and Kaufman Lynn’s wish to grow nationally make the company very appealing.

About a year ago, a task force in Delray Beach completed its report on how to make Congress Avenue the city’s “Next Great Street.” Attracting businesses is a key component of the plan. Among other things, that four-mile stretch of Congress in Delray is home to the 42-acre, former Office Depot headquarters the company abandoned in 2008 – for Boca.

Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein recalls that at the first meeting last spring between Kaufman and city officials, the mayor asked, “ ‘Mike, what do you need?’ “ Kaufman wanted to build a self-storage facility next to the headquarters. Land isn’t that much cheaper in Delray, Kaufman said, but the self-storage revenue “helps us” make the overall project viable.

The city commission had to approve a privately initiated land development regulation to allow self-storage in an area not zoned for it. That happened in early July. The city delivered site plan approval just a few weeks later, and assured Kaufman that he could secure permits quickly. Avison Young brokered the sale, which just closed, of roughly three acres at 3185 South Congress.

Kaufman stressed that Delray Beach “didn’t bend over.” The city offered no financial incentives. “Actually,” Kaufman said, “we gave them incentives.”

Planning and Zoning Director Tim Stillings said the city wanted to preserve the character of an area zoned for residential and office. So the city attached conditions to the self-storage facility, to make it compatible. Example: It can’t be dramatically taller than the headquarters.

After that, the city offered Kaufman Lynn a menu of what Stillings called “community benefits” from which to choose. The company will provide 6,500 square feet of open air space that will be public – to make the campus-like project part of the street – and provide an easement that the city can use to create a greenway.

Kaufman praised Stillings and Economic Development Director Joan Goodrich. They city, Kaufman said, “was very smart. They didn’t overreach.”

Kaufman Lynn won’t be the only new arrival to the Congress Corridor. Call 4 Health, which also is moving its headquarters from Boca Raton, is leasing space for its headquarters a bit farther north from where Kaufman Lynn will build. PetMed Express is moving its headquarters – and roughly 200 employees – from Pompano Beach to a warehouse/distribution center on roughly 10 acres at 420 South Congress. The company bought the property last January for $18.5 million. Kaufman plans to break ground in early January, and forecasts September for the move-in.

Though the Congress Avenue task force disbanded after submitting that report, some members are part of the Congress Avenue Group, which seeks to implement the ideas in the report. Property owners in the area meet with Goodrich regularly. The next meeting is Tuesday. Given the recent news, spirits will be high.

In Boca Raton, the mood may be different. One response, of course, could be that companies come and go – that the city could withstand even the loss of Office Depot and its 2,000 jobs. There’s no need to worry.

A better response, however, would be to wonder if Boca Raton is getting complacent when it comes to business. For months, I’ve heard private complaints about permitting delays for large projects, especially in that northwest area where Kaufman Lynn is located. Kaufman said Boca Raton “never would have approved” his plan with the self-storage facility. “Boca Raton,” he said, “is very discerning.”

Delray Beach delivered to Kaufman Lynn what all businesses want most – certainty. That incentive usually matters much more than money. One assumes that Kaufman will spread the word.

 



Deadlocked on Interim Commissioner Decision

Fortunately for Delray Beach, business recruitment is going better than the attempt to name an interim commissioner to fill out Al Jacquet’s term.

Not surprisingly, the commission deadlocked again, 2-2, at Tuesday night’s meeting. Mayor Glickstein and Commissioner Jordana Jarjura stuck with Yvonne Odom, while Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia stuck with Josh Smith. Before the actual vote, however, the hostility between Katz and Jarjura again showed itself, as each questioned the other’s motives for their choices.

Though the four officials disagreed on whom to appoint, it became clear during the first attempt that they were agreed on the need to appoint a minority. Delray Beach traditionally has had at least one minority commissioner. Jacquet is Haitian-American. Odom and Smith are African-American.

Katz asked why Jarjura first had supported James Chard, a respected civic activist and member of the Site Plan Review and Appearance Board. Chard is white. Jarjura replied that Chard was aligned with none of the city’s political factions. Sensing the commission’s sentiment, Jarjura said, she shifted to Odom after the first vote because of her presence at all commission meetings and her widespread support from Delray’s traditionally minority neighborhoods.

That support was evident. All the African-American residents who spoke on the appointment favored Odom. None favored Smith – even the campaign manager for his unsuccessful 2015 campaign. Odom also had pledged not to run for a full term in March.

Katz countered that he had received “threats” if he didn’t support Odom, though he didn’t provide examples of what he thought constituted “threats.” Jarjura accused Katz of having “personal motivations” for choosing Smith, whom Glickstein believes was recruited to apply. Glickstein said Smith had been “off the radar” since losing the commission race. As Katz persisted, Glickstein broke in to say, “Your job is to listen to people,” meaning those who had spoken for Odom.

Contributing to the drama was an anonymous mailer that went over the weekend to some Delray Beach residences. It said Glickstein campaigned on a promise to “fix City Hall” but instead has “made it worse.” Glickstein said he doesn’t know who was behind it or what the motive might have been. Katz and Petrolia denied having any role.

The mailer does reveal the self-destructive politics that simmer in Delray Beach. Glickstein pronounced himself “disappointed” by the failure to appoint Jacquet’s replacement. “It wasn’t a heavy lift.”

So until after the March election, when Jacquet’s seat and Jarjura’s are on the ballot, the commission will face the possibility of deadlock. Several pro-Odom speakers noted that campaigning already has begun. Jarjura accused Katz of recruiting candidates to run against her.

Despite the blowup, the commission dealt with all other business. There remains, however, a potentially difficult debate next week on the choice of an interim city manager – also until March.

 



 More Fake News from BocaWatch

Last week, BocaWatch published an ad hominem attack on the Boca Raton Historical Society. The charge was that the group has become a tool of downtown developers. The evidence: The society had the nerve to host a trolley tour of downtown projects.

Since BocaWatch publishes lots of fake news, the ambush should not have surprised Mary Csar, the society’s director and a member of the Downtown Advisory Committee. But surprise her it did.

Csar told me that the group had wanted to hold the event a year ago, but some of the five projects – Via Mizner, Palmetto Promenade, Boca City Walk, 327 Royal Palm and Tower 155 – “weren’t out of the ground.” Tower 155 still isn’t. So they waited.

As to the accusation that the tour amounted to promotion of projects that some residents – and BocaWatch – have criticized or tried to block, Csar said, “We wanted residents to know what’s going on.” Like them or not, the projects will be part of what Csar called Boca Raton’s “evolving history.” The society also conducts hotel and cemetery tours, and just became a welcome center for Discover the Palm Beaches.

Tickets for the tour were $40. Csar asked the projects to contribute $500 each toward the cost. She said the tour sold out at 150 people, and about 140 showed up. “Some people were in real estate, some were snowbirds and some were just curious.” Some city employees went along.

“We had pure intentions,” Csar said. “Not everyone liked what they saw, but it was very educational.”

The author of the BocaWatch blog post was Nancy Hendrey, whose husband let the petition drive against a restaurant on the Wildflower property. So if anyone has a bias, it’s BocaWatch. The article also stated, incorrectly, that the historical society “receives funding from taxpayers.” It doesn’t. The article did praise the society for supporting preservation of the “Luft House,” which actually is the Luff House.

Csar said the society would send a letter to BocaWatch noting the inaccuracies in the article. The bigger problem is the premise behind the article.

 



Uses of New Sales Tax Money

The Palm Beach Post recently reported that Boca Raton sent the county a list of projects the city would finance with revenue from the sales tax increase. But I had been told that the city didn’t submit a list, because Boca has no infrastructure backlog.

A spokeswoman said the city might have been referring to county projects within the city, such as improvements to county roads. “As for our list,” the spokeswoman said, “staff is looking at possible uses for the funding. Those could include new capital improvement projects, future capital improvement projects, expansion of current capital improvement projects or replacement of current capital improvement project funding (which could free up money for other uses.) It’s still being discussed.”

 



Possible Long Delay for Uptown Atlantic

The developer of Uptown Atlantic doesn’t want a little delay to close on the property for the project. He wants a 120-day delay.

Closing had been scheduled for Nov. 30, but the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency notified John Flynn’s attorney that the developer was in default for having produced neither a letter of credit nor a performance bond. In his letter seeking the extension, Flynn still did not provide either. He said “arrangements will be made” to supply the performance bond through his contract with the general contractor.

Flynn wrote that he has spent $3.6 million on the project and would spend $4 million more during the 120 days. “We believe that type of expenditure,” Flynn wrote, “shows our commitment to the project and demonstrates our ability to proceed in the most practical and realistic way possible.”

The CRA will decide on Flynn’s request at tonight’s meeting. Board members can agree to the extension, amend the purchase agreement or cancel the agreement. I would expect the board to ask Flynn for more details of that “commitment.”