Monday, April 22, 2024

Uptown Atlantic is Dead, Arts Garage in Trouble, and more

Uptown Atlantic is dead. Is the hope for redeveloping West Atlantic Avenue still alive?

Last Thursday, the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency voted 6-0 – board member Daniel Rose was absent – to terminate the agreement under which Equity Delray was to purchase roughly six acres of land for the mixed-use project on the three blocks east of the Fairfield Inn. So make that nearly four years with little to show on one of the city’s highest priorities.

No speaker supported Equity Delray principal John Flynn’s request for a 120-day extension of the deadline to close on the property. Instead, the speakers – all from the northwest or southwest neighborhoods – opposed the extension. A week before the scheduled closing, the CRA’s attorney had found Equity Delray in default because the company hadn’t shown that it would have financing to complete the project.

Attorney Michael Listick, who represents Equity Delray, probably knew that he was in trouble when CRA Chairman Reginald Cox wouldn’t give Listick as much time as he wanted to argue for the extension. Even then, Listick didn’t do well with the time he had.

Listick argued that the company was just now “getting over the learning curve” of operating in Delray Beach. The CRA awarded the project to Equity Delray in October 2013. As to the lack of a contractor, “They’re working on it.” Flynn’s “intentions were good.” If he did anything wrong, it was “being so naïve.”

Oddly, Flynn argued that no one should doubt Flynn’s ability to attract financing, because he is “closing a deal in Europe” for $120 million. But since the cost of Uptown Atlantic was estimated at $ 35 million, what was the problem? As Listick argued that Flynn is a big-timer, he said Equity Delray “bit off more than they could chew.” Claiming that Flynn has spent nearly $4 million on the project and would spend another $4 million, Listick acknowledged, “I can’t prove that,” and then added, “I can’t prove that I don’t beat my wife.”

Board members chopped up Listick’s comments like barracuda going after baitfish. Paul Zacks, who voted for Equity three years ago, said he took the company at face value “until they lied.” Zacks said the company told the CRA it was prepared to close – until it wasn’t.

Cathy Balistriere accused Equity Delray of wanting “four months to fix a mistake. I wouldn’t support 30 days.” Joseph Bernadel called Listick’s argument “feeble.” Cox said of Equity Delray’s request – it would have been the sixth amendment to the purchase agreement – “We have seen this before, and before and before.”

As Zacks acknowledged, however, the CRA itself deserves some of the blame. Also voting for Equity Delray in 2013 were Cox, Bernadel and Herman Stevens. They set a purchase of $1.2 million, which could be $5 million below fair market value. The CRA staff had ranked Equity Delray second of the three bidders, behind Jones New Urban Delray.

But Equity Delray claimed that the project would provide 250 jobs to city residents. Equity touted its intent to use Delray Beach-contractor Randolph and Dewdney and the local architectural firm of Currie Sowards Aguila. Dedrick Straghn, now on the CRA board, spoke in favor of Equity Delray in 2013, saying of the local companies, “The city has trusted their work before. Why not now?”

Equity Delray, though, later claimed that Randolph and Dewdney couldn’t get bonding for the project, meaning the company was undersized. Wouldn’t Equity Delray have checked that out at the start? Or did Equity Delray use the local name to beat out the competitors?

And now? The CRA starts over. Cox, who argued in 2013 for Jones New Urban Delray but said he supported Equity Delray “to make the vote unanimous, told me that CRA Director Jeff Costello and CRA Attorney Donald Doody, would “bring some options” to the next CRA meeting in January.

In an email, Zacks said, “I would imagine that we would be sending out a (Request For Proposal) soon to get the process rolling.” That’s what happened in May 2013, and it produced three applicants. The land remains assembled. One wonders whether Jones New Urban Delray is still around and, if so, still interested. Though the CRA remains in charge, Mayor Cary Glickstein said he expects city commission comments if another RFP goes out.

The West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition had been especially proud of the Community Benefits Agreement it negotiated with Equity Delray. The coalition surely would seek another with a new developer. As Glickstein noted, “The community objectives have not changed for development and getting the project started and completed. A new RFP that mandated those objectives may be most effective way to get there.”

Joycelyn Patrick chairs the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition. Patrick told me Monday that she began to get “a little uneasy” a year ago because of Equity Delray’s inability to show financing. Yet she remains optimistic. “I am crazy enough to believe,” Patrick said, “that there will be another developer to come along under different circumstances.” I asked Cox if the CRA had wasted three years. “Only if you ignore that it took 30 years to assemble the property.”

Last month, the city introduced new banners promoting “The Set,” the area on and around West Atlantic that Delray Beach wants people to see as a place “Where you can live, play, grow and groove.” Uptown Atlantic was key to that branding campaign. Equity Delray may look bad, but so does the CRA. The agency may never have faced a more important do-over.


Long process for filling Delray Beach City Commissioner position

During last week’s second failed attempt to fill the seat of Delray Beach City Commissioner Al Jacquet, commissioners Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia denied accusations that they helped to recruit Josh Smith as an applicant for the vacancy. They supported Smith. Mayor Glickstein and Commissioner Jordana Jarjura favored Yvonne Odom.

Yet one day after the meeting, Smith filed paperwork to run for the commission – not for Jacquet’s open Seat 2 but for Jarjura’s Seat 4. In his application for the Seat 2 vacancy, Smith had said that he would not run for a full term if the commission appointed him to serve the final three months of Jacquet’s term.

Historically, Seat 4 has been the commission’s minority seat. In 2014, Jarjura defeated incumbent Angeleta Gray, who is African-American. So is Smith. CRA board member Joseph Bernadel, who is Haitian-American, also filed paperwork for Seat 4 on Monday. Jarjura told me last week that she intends to file her paperwork and hold a kickoff event in January.

Smith’s entrance will reinforce in Jarjura’s mind that Katz and Petrolia – with help from some residents – urged Smith to apply and thus get momentum as an “incumbent” when he ran for a full term in March. Odom made clear that she would not seek a full term. At last week’s meeting, Katz and Petrolia denied any such involvement. I contacted them, but I did not hear back by deadline for this post.

Though Katz sought to mollify Jarjura, she portrayed his action as “another fake conversation,” with Katz speaking on the dais of the need for commission cooperation while working in private to undercut Jarjura. Last summer, Katz accused Jarjura of having an ethical conflict on the vote to hire former City Attorney Noel Pfeffer as a temp. The ambush was unlike almost anything I’ve witnessed in local government. Though Katz ultimately backed down and apologized, Jarjura suspects him of still trying to discredit her.

Four people have filed paperwork for Seat 2: Anneze Barthelemy; Site Plan Review and Appearance Board member James Chard, who applied for the interim appointment; Courtlandt Todd McQuire IV; and Kelly Barrette, who started the Take Back Delray website.


 Chomping at the bit

Amid this backbiting, the Delray Beach City Commission will try tonight to pick an interim city manager. Don Cooper is resigning at the end of the year due to family health reasons.

The city received nearly 150 applicants, many of them more amusing than serious. There was interest from a manager at TGI Friday’s, a personal trainer, an assistant manager at the WalMart in Ponca City, Okla., a receptionist from Lake Worth, two chefs, the Republican who lost his U.S. Senate race in Nevada, a Jamba Juice manager, an eighth-grade teacher and a tax preparer.

Fortunately, there also are some credible applicants. The commission will have lists of recommended candidates from headhunter Colin Baenziger – he led the search that produced Cooper in November 2014 – and from Cooper. Four candidates made both lists: Kelvin Baker, the city manager of Lauderdale Lakes, in western Broward County; Danny Crew, the city manager of Miami Gardens in Miami-Dade County that is home to Hard Rock Stadium; Barry Feldman, who spent 20 years as manager in West Hartford, Conn., and is a Delray Beach resident; and Donald Stilwell, town manager in Fort Myers.

There is general agreement to not choose a permanent manager until after the March election. Whoever gets the interim job could be a candidate for the permanent position. Given the failure on filling a commission seat, there could be similar jockeying over this choice.

So Cooper recommends that if the commission can’t agree on an interim before he leaves that Assistant City Manager Francine Ramaglia have the title until the commission acts. She has more time in the city than the other assistant, Dale Sugerman. Neither wants the interim position for any longer.

If nothing else, commissioners should give themselves more choices than two. That limitation created the deadlock in filling Jacquet’s seat. Another divisive failure would hurt Delray Beach’s image even more.


Arts Garage in trouble?

Arts Garage may have a new lease with Delray Beach, but the group now has a new issue.

A press release Monday announced the cancellation of “Blues in the Night” and “Breadcrumbs,” the final two performances of the theater season. In the release, CEO Marjorie Waldo and Board Chairman Chuck Halberg blamed the decision on losses during the first part of the theater season. Arts Garage plans to “take a step back and review the model we. . .use to produce theater.”

I will have more on this Thursday.


New boardwalk at Gumbo Limbo

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Phase 1 of the new boardwalk at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton. Speaking as someone who has taken children and grandchildren on that lovely shaded walk, the reopening is overdue.

The Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District oversaw this phase. The city will oversee the next two phases. Art Koski, the district’s director, said the city first sought a state permit for the boardwalk renovation in 2010. That took two years, because the state had issued no permit for the original boardwalk, and the new permit didn’t cover stretches that went through mangroves.

In 2014, the city put the project out for bid, Koski said, but rejected the low bidder. Meanwhile, the district had a separate consultant creating a new master plan for Red Reef Park, to which Gumbo Limbo connects. So the city and district agreed in mid-2014 to have the district’s consultant include the mangroves and get the state permit for this work. That’s Phase 1

Last February, Koski said, the city took over all projects on city-owned property. That includes Phase 2 of the boardwalk and a new tower. The city also will oversee what Koski called “piping and pumping projects” for the nature center, with the district paying for the work.


The Nazi Hunters

Nearly 70 years ago, Benjamin Ferencz put evil on trial and won.

Ferencz lives in Kings Point, the condo community in West Delray. At 7 p.m. tonight at B’nai Torah Congregation on Southwest 18th Street in Boca Raton, Ferencz will participate in a program called “A Relentless Pursuit: Brining Holocaust Perpetrators to Justice.”

Ferencz is 97. At 27, he secured convictions of Nazi execution squads. At 92, he argued the first case before the International Criminal Court. For all the barbarity that still exists in the world – Syria comes to mind – Ferencz said he believes society is “spiraling upward,” not downward, in its campaign against genocide and mass murder. “The very fact that the (International Criminal Court) exists is evidence of change,” Ferencz said. When he was working to get it created, “People said we were wasting our time.”

Last spring, The Washington Post profiled Ferencz as “the man who won history’s ‘Biggest Murder Trial’ at Nuremberg.” Andrew Nagorski, who will be part of tonight’s program, features him in the book “The Nazi Hunters.” Ferencz’ donation will create an international justice initiative in his name at the museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide.

A realistic optimist, Ferencz believes that even Syrian President Bashar Assad will face justice for his crackdown in early 2011 and the civil war that has followed. “He’s a caged rat. We’ll get him.” After all, charges are still coming from the Balkan Wars of the early 1990s.

I asked Ferencz what he remembers most about the Nazis he prosecuted. “War,” he said, “can make murderers out of otherwise decent people.” The lead defendant, he recalled, had five children and loved cats and dogs. Without the war, “He would have been listening to Wagner and quoting Goethe.”

Ferencz is another of the remarkable people who exist in comparative anonymity throughout South Florida. How lucky we are for events like this one that remind us of these people and their contributions to a better world.

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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