Uptown Boca Still On Track, Delray Turmoil Continues, and More

uptown boca
Uptown Boca masterplan rendering

Despite COVID-19 pandemic headwinds, Uptown Boca plans to start opening this month.

And the retail portion is 100 percent booked.

That’s from Alex Rosemurgy, CEO of Boca Raton-based Rosemurgy Properties. Rosemurgy, Schmier Property Group—also of Boca—and Giles Property Group are the principals in Uptown Boca. The 38-acre project on Glades Road just east of U.S. 441 will have 456 apartments and about 180,000 square feet of retail space. It will be West Boca’s first multi-family development in about 20 years.

Rosemurgy and I spoke Wednesday morning, with the world having changed dramatically since our last conversation 19 months ago. I asked if the development industry had simulators like those for airline pilots that force them to fly through impossible-to-imagine conditions.

“I like that line,” Rosemurgy said. “We always say that we learn so much from every deal, but we’ve had our fair share of stuff happen in the last few months.” Nevertheless, there have been “some silver linings.”

One is that Uptown Boca wasn’t scheduled to open in January or February, just before the pandemic shut down so much of the economy. Another is that construction crews were able to keep working. The contractors adhered to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Standards, Rosemurgy said, and there were “maybe five” COVID-related cases on site.

Another is that the residential offerings apparently matched the public’s pandemic mood. The apartments are new, which means that they’re clean. There are no air-conditioned hallways in which residents might worry about the virus spreading. Though the buildings rise to four stories, there’s a lot of open space, making the project seem more suburban than urban.

And like Realtors in the single-family home market, Uptown Boca, Rosemurgy said, is seeing “a lot of the Northeastern crowd” that might have been considering a move from New York or New Jersey and now has decided. Other potential tenants, Rosemurgy added, eventually will buy homes but want someplace to live for a year or two while they shop. The apartments run from one bedroom to four. “All plans are popular,” Rosemurgy said.

The commercial leasing would seem to have been the tougher problem. Retail was hurting even before the pandemic closed stores and forced reduced indoor seating at restaurants.

A spokeswoman confirmed, though, that Uptown Boca is “100 percent committed” on retail space. Most leases are signed, Rosemurgy said, while others are being completed.

“We all know how this works,” Rosemurgy said of his “great team.” They sought a “curated mix” of tenants, some of which offer essential services and others that are unique to the area. REI, the outdoor recreation co-operative, “was a real big one.” This will be its first South Florida store. Again because of the pandemic, outside is more appealing than inside.

Uptown Boca lost its Lucky’s Market when the company declared bankruptcy. Rosemurgy offered no specifics on a replacement, but when they announced Lucky’s the developers stressed that they wanted a grocer. The spokeswoman noted that the 100 percent also applies to “the grocery space.” Rosemurgy said Silverspot Cinema still plans to open at Uptown Boca, despite the industry’s COVID-related problems. Silverspot’s theaters in South Florida reopened in late August.

The first 50 apartments will open on Oct. 29. Rosemurgy said a similar number would open every month after that. The first retail also will open on Nov. 1. Uptown Boca just announced five more tenants: Amazing Lash Studio, Yoga Six, Mathnasium, Paradise Grills and Zen Sushi.

“You get lucky in this business,” said Rosemurgy, who said the developers’ attitude has been one of “just being positive.” Uptown Boca is stressing all the outdoor dining space the project will offer and Rosemurgy notes the “outdoor mall” concept that has interested potential renters.

Still, Rosemurgy speaks not just for the developers when he says, “I hope we get through this soon.” Bring on the tailwinds.

More Delray allegations

These days, things never stop in Delray Beach.

The Boca Raton Tribune reported that City Manager George Gretsas held a telephone conference with Black “leaders” to tell them that Mayor Shelly Petrolia wanted him to fire Police Chief Javaro Sims and City Clerk Katerri Johnson. Both are Black. Sims is the city’s highest ranking Black department head.

On June 24, Petrolia and commissioners Julie Casale and Shirley Johnson voted to serve notice that they intend to fire Gretsas. He has been suspended with pay since then. An Oct. 23 hearing will determine his fate.

According to the Tribune story, Petrolia wanted Gretsas to create a new position—public safety director. Then-Fire Chief Neal de Jesus would fill it, Gretsas said, and the police and fire chiefs would report to de Jesus. But de Jesus resigned in March while under investigation for sexual harassment.

“(Petrolia) does go after Black people,” Gretsas told the Tribune. The article was the latest response by Gretsas to his suspension. City Attorney Lynn Gelin used one set of charges to justify Gretsas’ suspension. She has since switched to a different set of accusations to justify his firing. Gretsas has denied all of the accusations.

And more Delray infighting

delray

One theory behind Gretsas’ phone conference is that he is trying to sway Johnson. She is the only Black commissioner and could be the swing vote on Oct. 23.

Johnson recently got in a dig against Petrolia, who worked to defeat Johnson last March. New information could turn Johnson further against the mayor.

Gretsas provided me with copies of text messages between him and Petrolia during the election campaign. According to Gretsas, Petrolia regularly would text him about random items.

This text string came on Feb. 11, one day after the Northwest/Southwest Neighborhood candidate forum. Petrolia wanted to tell Gretsas that Johnson “bombed.” Chris Davey—the mayor’s candidate—“did really well.”

Petrolia then called Johnson “nuts and out of touch.” Johnson, Petrolia said, told the audience that “‘the mayor is making a power grab by supporting her two candidates.'” Petrolia also backed Casale.

“That fell flat as well,” Petrolia said. “Not a good look.”

Understand that Petrolia is expressing these sentiments to Gretsas about one of his five bosses. Gretsas’ answers throughout the exchange are noncommittal.

Yet Petrolia presses on. Johnson “didn’t answer questions well, was all over the place. No one knew what she was talking about most of the time.”

Petrolia noted this happened before the forum that brings together many of Delray Beach’s minority residents. “If the crowd are (sic) going to vote on color,” Petrolia said, Johnson caused people to consider Angela Burns, who is Black and was the third candidate with Johnson and Davey.

“Those in the audience that were there to make a fair decision, (sic) walked away for Chris. He’s in good shape. He should win this.”

Johnson beat Davey by seven percentage points.

West Atlantic redevelopment

Amid the chaotic state of Delray Beach politics, the city still wants progress on a project for three blocks of publicly owned property on West Atlantic Avenue.

The community redevelopment agency chose BH3 to develop that site with a mixed-use project that would feature a chain grocery store in the food desert of West Atlantic. According to BH3’s attorney, Neil Schiller, the pandemic continues to delay things.

“It’s taking a long time,” Schiller said, “but we are focused on the grocery store. It drives everything,” and most chains are “renegotiating leases,” not signing new ones. BH3 hopes to reach a deal “very soon.”

Amphitheater mural

Boca Raton’s latest public art project is a series of murals for the stage doors at the Mizner Park Amphitheater.

The city is seeking artists who will create something “reflective of” downtown Boca Raton and the city’s art and culture. The 30-foot-by-60-foot doors are in six panels. Artists can apply by visiting myboca.us/MPAMural