Update On All Things Ocean Breeze, Decision Time in Delray

golf / golfer

New ideas on Ocean Breeze’s fate

The latest idea regarding the Ocean Breeze golf course is for Boca Raton to take over negotiations from the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District. After that, the city would seek to take the land by eminent domain.

That likely won’t happen—probably for good reason.

The idea comes from Judith Teller Kaye, who with Betty Grinnan founded Boca Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility. Their issue was unfunded liabilities in the city’s police and fire pension funds. The city council responded with reforms in the current contracts that reduce those liabilities by nearly $100 million over 30 years.

That background explains why Teller Kaye’s proposal on Ocean Breeze got noticed. She believes that the $24 million price for Ocean Breeze—which the district’s executive director and attorney, Art Koski, negotiated with Lennar—is too high. So do some council members. The district has signed the contract, but it’s contingent on the city council agreeing to issue bonds for the purchase, with the district reimbursing the city for the debt payments. Lennar must return the $2.4 million down payment in the contract if the council doesn’t approve the bonds. Teller Kaye also believes that the city could obtain Ocean Breeze for less through eminent domain.

For the council to intervene at this point, Mayor Susan Haynie told me, “We would have to have this policy decision. I think it’s rather questionable that we could do it. That’s a very tough mountain to climb.”

Councilman Robert Weinroth said of Teller Kaye, “She is jumping the gun. Negotiations haven’t evolved to the point of (the council) taking that extraordinary step.”

As to the council’s potential use of eminent domain, Scott Singer said the tactic “is not appropriate here.” Singer, the only attorney on the council, said Lennar would cite the $24 million figure “as the minimum value in any eminent domain proceeding, so eminent domain here would likely result in only higher costs and delay.” Lennar and Wells Fargo, which owns Ocean Breeze, have the deep pockets to drag out any litigation.

The district’s consulting attorney concluded that eminent domain could result in a price of at least $36 million for Ocean Breeze after legal fees were added. Though the analysis concluded that the district might have a legal basis for taking Ocean Breeze, the council might have a separate problem. The city already has a 27-hole golf course. What is the public need to take Ocean Breeze except to cash in by selling the existing course?

Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke declined comment on Teller Kaye’s idea: “I would prefer not to be quoted at this juncture.” Jeremy Rodgers was the most receptive to Teller Kaye’s comments. Rodgers said Teller Kaye “made some good points.” The district, he said, “outrageously bid the price up with no financial basis for that $24 million number.” Though Rodgers called eminent domain “not the preferred option,” he said it was “something we should explore in parallel to move forward most quickly.”

Despite the collective wish to resolve the issue, Haynie acknowledged that the council can’t make a decision on selling the western course without “some clarity on Ocean Breeze.” By its July 24 meeting, the council may have the staff’s analysis of the Lennar contract and a better idea of how much it would cost to renovate Ocean Breeze. Board chairman Bob Rollins told me Monday that the district definitely also would want the city’s help on securing the money—now estimated at between $9 million and $12 million—to make the closed course playable and to build a pro shop.

City takeover of the Ocean Breeze negotiations “is not the direction I’m reading” Rollins said. For now, he’s right.

      More on Ocean Breeze:

Haynie complained that she had been speaking with district officials about the Lennar offer “and the next thing I read is that they’ve signed the contract.” The district, Haynie said, “seems to be pushing the council” to act.

Rollins acknowledged that “Lennar was anxious,” but defended the district as “just trying to move forward.” The move, however, puts a timeline in play. The closing date for the purchase of Ocean Breeze is Oct. 27. Koski said Singer asked that the district include options to extend the closing. There are three, each for 30 days.

Haynie wanted to know if the land within Ocean Breeze that is zoned for a hotel could be separated from the golf course deal. That property is not under the covenant that restricts use of Ocean Breeze to golf. Cutting out that land could reduce the overall purchase price.

Apparently, that is one other unanswered question. Koski said he is “working on the response.”

       And finally on Ocean Breeze:

The beach and park district is asking the city council to take a lot on faith: the $24 million price, the estimate for renovating the course and the district’s ability to run the course at a surplus.

So, as Rollins admitted, “The optics are not good” when the district just agreed to pay $500,000 in cost overruns for the makeover of the playground at Sugar Sand Park. That was one project on a small piece of land, not the roughly 200 acres that make up Ocean Breeze.

In retrospect, Rollins said, it would have been better to “start fresh” than to rebuild. One factor was sentiment. Volunteers built the original playground, before the Americans With Disabilities Act. There was community sweat equity in the structure. Making the playground accessible to all children, whatever their limitations, proved very complicated and expensive.

Much of the overrun, Rollins said, was overtime pay to meet the March 17 reopening date that the district already had postponed from November. Rollins said the public likes the result, and he’s probably right. But I would expect those playground “optics” to come up when Ocean

Breeze returns to the city council.

Waiting with bated breath for Delray CRA appointments

Appointments to the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency usually don’t generate much attention. Not this year.

Just three weeks ago, the city commission came one vote short of abolishing the independent CRA board and taking over policymaking. Tonight, the commission will appoint four board members – a majority. Whatever happens, there will be change at the CRA. The only question is how much change.

Board member Paul Zacks declined to seek appointment to another term after Mayor Cary Glickstein’s May 24 letter to the CRA offering “suggestions” on policy. Zacks considered that overreach. Board member Herman Stevens is term-limited. Joseph Bernadel did not apply for a second term. Chairman Reggie Cox is the only incumbent among the roughly two dozen applicants.

Glickstein told me, “I’m looking for board members who offer renewed focus and sense of urgency to finish the job, but who also can work together.” Though Glickstein voted against the commission takeover, he made clear in his letter that he wants major policy changes.

Commissioner Jim Chard also opposed the takeover. Critics note that Delray Beach is one of the few CRAs in Florida still with an independent board. In Boca Raton, the city council also functions as the CRA board. Chard responds, “Our CRA is different from almost every other in the state.” Among other things, the CRA gives money to non-profit groups, a policy that has been controversial. Commissioner Mitch Katz criticized the CRA for giving incentives to the iPic project on East Atlantic Avenue, but Chard pointed out that the Fairfield Inn on West Atlantic Avenue also received incentive money.

Chard said he and Commissioner Shirley Ervin Johnson have attended meetings of the CRA board and the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition. Chard told me, “There are some very good people” among the applicants, though he declined to name them.

Katz emailed four questions to the 23 applicants. He told me that the questions centered on Glickstein’s letter—“I got a lot of interesting comments on that one”—the iPic money, whether a community benefits agreement should be required for any project within the CRA and what financial experience qualifies the applicant for the job. Katz also said he will not support Cox. “We all said we wanted something new. The incumbents are what got us here.”

CRA appointments rotate among the commissioners. Chard is the only one without an appointment. But that could change. Each commissioner presents the name of an applicant for nomination. The applicant must get a second and receive at least three votes. If a commissioner offers two names that the others reject, that commissioner loses a turn. Commissioners also could defer their choice to the June 20 meeting. The appointments take effect July 1.

I will report Thursday on the outcome.

Delray CRA grades in

With Zacks off the board, CRA Executive Director Jeff Costello will lose one of his biggest supporters.

In their annual evaluation, the board members ranked Costello over 31 areas related to budget, staff, policy and community outreach. Rankings ranged from 5 (outstanding) to 1 (unsatisfactory).

Zacks gave Costello 148 points, which amounted to a grade of 95 percent. The only board members to rank Costello higher were Bernadel, Stevens and Daniel Rose, at 97 percent. Bernadel and Stevens are leaving the board. Among other board members whose seats are not up this year, Cathy Balestriere gave Costello 70 percent and Dedrick Straghn ranked him at 86 percent. Cox, who has applied for another term, was hardest on Costello. He gave the director a failing grade of 50 percent.

Commission members applying for CRA seats

During our conversation about the CRA, Katz said he has filed for re-election to Seat 1. Glickstein and Seat 3 Commissioner Shelly Petrolia also can seek re-election. Both have been elected twice, but the first time, in 2013, each was running to fill out a term. The city’s term limits apply only after two consecutive three-year terms.

There has been talk that Katz or Petrolia might challenge Glickstein. Katz told me that he filed early “to let people know I was running for my seat, nothing else.”

Mizner 200’s city council  judgement next month

The Mizner 200 downtown condo project will go before the Boca Raton City Council on July 24. Mizner 200 easily got favorable recommendations from the community appearance and planning and zoning boards. It would replace the Mizner on the Green rental community across Mizner Boulevard from Royal Palm Place.

Is economic development really what Rick Scott wants?

 

Gov. Rick Scott, who claims that economic development is his priority, vetoed roughly $6 million worth of requests by Florida Atlantic University.

The vetoes make no sense because a) better universities help to create jobs and b) most of the money was to promote economic development. FAU’s Tech Runway, which helps startup companies, lost $1.2 million. The other money was to enhance FAU’s biotech work at the Jupiter campus, where Scripps Florida and the Max Planck Florida Institute share space. Nearly $10 million for a long-awaited life sciences building in Jupiter survived.

Scott vetoed roughly $400 million because his political priority was to find money for the awful budget deal he worked out with legislative leaders. As part of the deal, Scott will get $85 million for what amounts to a political slush fund disguised as economic development incentives. Tech Runway will have to wait.


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