West Atlantic Developers Ranked for Review, O’Rourke’s Deposition Coming and More

Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

It may seem like 2013 when the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency meets this morning to make a big decision.

The board will choose a developer for the three blocks east of the Fairfield Inn. As happened six years ago, a committee has recommended that the board choose Jones New Urban.

But the board passed over Jones New Urban and chose Uptown Delray. Three years later, the board ended the deal because the company couldn’t demonstrate sufficient financing. Though an attorney for Uptown asked for more time, the board rejected the plea.

At that time, the CRA board consisted of seven independent members. Now, the board includes the city commission and two appointed members. That change means more accountability—elected officials making the decision—but also more politics.

A committee of four staff members ranked the six bids for the roughly nine-acre site that the city hopes will revitalize West Atlantic Avenue and especially The Set. The committee included two CRA officials—Assistant Director Renee Jadusingh and Economic Development Director Joan Goodrich—and two city staff members—Development Services Director Tim Stillings and Anthea Gianniotes, the city’s lead planner.

Rendering of West Atlantic by Prime Investors

The committee ranked the bidders in five categories: experience, concept, community inclusion, finances and fiscal impact. Out of a possible 400 points, Jones New Urban got 326, followed by Prime Investors (312), Kayne Anderson (303), BH3 (270) and Uptown Delray (253.) A sixth bidder, Land America, didn’t allow the city’s consultant to examine its finances and dropped out. Only Goodrich didn’t rank Jones New Urban first. She favored Prime.

Originally, the CRA board was to consider only the top three recommendations. After the rankings came out, however, a representative for BH3 asked that the CRA consider all five remaining bidders. The board agreed to do so. That move could lead to a new push for Uptown from Mayor Shelly Petrolia, who last spring had urged the CRA to make a new deal with the company, despite that earlier failure and without seeking new bids.

All bidders except BH3 are offering roughly $4 million for the site. BH3 wants the CRA to give it the land. BH3 also wants nearly $14 million in public incentives. You can expect a lot of discussion about those and other numbers. A consultant’s report examines the potential economic return from each project.

The board may cut the list to three before choosing. Or there may be a single vote. Petrolia will run the meeting. The hope is that this decision will lead to a project, not to five more years of delay.

Opioid report

opioid epidemicPalm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg reported last week that opioid overdoses countywide dropped last year by 42 percent. The decline in Delray Beach was similarly impressive.

According to city police figures, there were 245 overdoses in 2018 compared with 625 in 2017. Delray Beach recorded 57 fatal overdoses in 2017 but just 30 last year. At the county and city level, everyone takes care to stress that the numbers must get still lower.

I reported for Delray magazine on the city’s comprehensive effort to deal with the opioid crisis and related proliferation of sober homes. Other governments should study the city’s turnaround.

And deposing O’Rourke

Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke

I’m told that Boca Raton is moving slowly to comply with a ruling that lawyers for Crocker Partners can depose City Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Howard Coates said this month that the city could not shield O’Rourke from questioning in the Midtown lawsuit. Crocker’s attorneys had argued that because O’Rourke took the lead in proposed a “small area plan” for Midtown, she was creating policy, not just approving it. Crocker alleges that Boca Raton acted illegally by asking for the plan, rather than approve development rules.

Meanwhile, Crocker deposed Development Services Director Brandon Schaad. He spent nearly a year overseeing creation of what turned out to be a vague Midtown plan. Crocker’s lawyers also are deposing the consultant Schaad hired. Crocker seeks nearly $140 million from the city for what the company claims are lost profits.

A spokeswoman rejected the idea that the city is stalling. “The ‘parties,’” she said in an email, “are working cooperatively to submit the required document” that would allow the deposition of O’Rourke to happen.

Amping up Mizner Park arts

Boca Raton likes to max out the city’s arts attractions. City council members believe that the Mizner Park Cultural Arts Association is an underused asset.

So at last week’s community redevelopment agency meeting, the group’s new president sought to reassure the council. Peg Anderson said the leadership wants to raise the association’s profile and what it offers.

The Mizner Park Cultural Center offers a mix of comedy and music at the south end of Mizner Park. It’s a holdover from three decades ago, when the city envisioned Mizner Park as Boca Raton’s culture hub. Because of the public financing of Mizner Park, Anderson explained, the association must deal with restrictions on its activities.

As with non-profit groups in Delray Beach, money seems to be the real issue. O’Rourke, who runs the CRA meetings, noted that the city had given a grant after the association claimed that it couldn’t raise more money. O’Rourke pushed Anderson to expand the board, since some members have served for years. Anderson resisted.

For now, Anderson seemed to mollify the council. “It’s a new day,” she said.

Frankel lands a seat on appropriations committee

With the end of the government shutdown, perhaps the new Congress can start work—at least until the threat of another shutdown next month.

Whatever President Donald Trump’s obsession with his border wall, this area just got a bit more congressional clout. Rep. Lois Frankel, whose district includes Delray Beach, secured a position on the House Appropriations Committee. It oversees federal spending.

Some lawmakers want Congress to pass legislation that would preclude future shutdowns. Actually, Congress could have prevented this shutdown simply by passing a budget on time, which Congress hasn’t done in many years.

By the first Monday in February, the president is supposed to present the administration’s budget. Then the House and Senate appropriations committees are supposed to pass the 12 spending bills for the federal government. After that, conference committees from each chamber resolve differences and send the budget to the president.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work when Washington is functioning. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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