Sunday, April 14, 2024

What Will Delray do About the CRA? iPic Still a No-Go

Everything you need to know about possible changes to Delray’s CRA board

delray cra
Gateway feature at West Atlantic Avenue and I-95, a CRA project completed in 2013.

The resolution is barely two pages. The language is simple. The potential effects, however, could be long-lasting and complicated.

We are talking about the potential takeover of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency by the city commission. For 32 years, since the creation of the CRA, a seven-member board—which the commission appoints—has set policy for the agency. Comparing the downtown of today with the downtown of 1985, the CRA clearly has succeeded. The question now is whether downtown is succeeding at the overall city’s expense.

Politics around the iPic project partly explains the push for this change. More about that in a moment. Mostly, however, this argument is about money—whether too much stays within the CRA boundaries and isn’t available for the many needs outside the CRA.

In an email, former Chief Financial Officer Jack Warner made the case for change. Warner noted that the city spends about $250 million a year on services and infrastructure, much of it within the CRA and within the agency’s mandate. “The city’s annual budget process,” Warner said, “is a continuing balancing act between funding these services and the desire to avoid raising property taxes, which are already uncomfortably high.”

By essentially subsidizing the CRA over the last two decades, Warner argued, the city ran up an infrastructure backlog of $250 million. The CRA could pay a larger share for downtown work and still fulfill its role, Warner said, but progress toward that goal has been “only partially successful.” Placing the commission in control,” Warner said, “is a logical alternative, and should not be dismissed as politics of the product of a few personalities.”

Yet the politics is there. Much of the support for a takeover comes from residents who supported the two losing candidates in the March election. Those candidates had support from commissioners Mitch Katz and Shelly Petrolia. Jim Chard and Shirley Ervin Johnson, the winning candidates, have been more cautious.

On Monday, Katz told me that he is “leaning toward” a vote in support of the resolution. At his town hall meeting last week, Katz said, almost all of the attendees favored a takeover. Though Katz said finances and what he called “potential efficiencies” are a factor, he also cited the CRA board’s decision to give iPic roughly $1 million worth of incentives and subsidies over the next 10 years.

Glickstein, who was happy that Chard and Johnson won, pronounced himself “somewhat neutral” on a takeover as of Monday. “We have a lot on our plate already.” Glickstein noted, correctly, that the resolution arose from a comment by Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus at the end of the last commission meeting. “I’m not sure the best decision-making occurs after being in a meeting for five hours.

“While the subject matter is timely and valid, changing 30 years of direction after a heated conversation at 11 p.m. when we’re all exhausted and impatient may not produce the best outcome.” At last week’s goal-setting meeting Glickstein did rate the redevelopment of West Atlantic Avenue “a fail.” In December, the CRA’s deal for the three blocks east of the Fairfield Inn collapsed after three years.

Johnson remains a likely “no” vote and Petrolia—who didn’t return messages seeking comment—a likely “yes” vote. Chard said Monday that he is “concerned about the tenor of the conversation,” which is moving not just to a takeover but from there to abolishing the CRA. “There’s something of a rush to judgment going on. What would we replace the CRA with?”

Under the resolution, the commission could keep the CRA board at seven by appointing two other board members. The commission also could create an advisory board. Practically speaking, however, the commission would control the CRA.

What would that mean? Would city staff absorb the CRA staff? Would all the CRA employees keep their jobs but report to the city manager? How would the city and CRA budgets work together?

Notes on Boca’s CRA board vs. Delray’s

The Boca Raton City Council long has served a dual role as the CRA board. There are two notable differences, however, between the cities.

First, Delray Beach has a race component that Boca Raton lacks. The CRA district includes most of Delray’s minority neighborhoods. Second, the CRA district includes Delray’s most important tax base. Boca’s key source of property tax revenue is the commercial districts outside of downtown. The CRA controversy in Boca involves individual projects and the work of unifying downtown.

The CRA recognizes the threat. On its agenda last week was repeal of a street-naming rule that had angered the commission. In addition, the CRA discussed whether the agency could pay all $11 million of the Old School Square master plan.

Neither de Jesus nor City Attorney Max Lohman will make a recommendation. This one is all on the city’s elected leaders.

Perhaps the commission will decide the issue tonight. Perhaps the commission will delay a decision and schedule a workshop to consider other options. Example: The commission could change the appointment process, with the goal of naming members who would make more progress on finances. Four CRA positions—a majority—are up for appointment soon.

“I hope (a workshop is) the sort of outcome we get,” Chard said. He has asked—and not received an answer—whether the commission could give itself the power to approve the CRA budget, which could accomplish many of the same goals without a takeover.

Or perhaps the threat alone would have the desired effect. Whatever their respective positions on a takeover, all five commissioners want the CRA to change. The question is whether the CRA will undertake it or the commission will impose it.

iPic reps fail to pick up docs, delay closing on land

Speaking of iPic, the company and the CRA finally were set to close Monday on the land for the project.

And then they didn’t.

Closing had been delayed by negotiations over a plan for parking during the expected 18 months of construction. The project will displace 88 public spaces that mostly serve businesses near the site—between Southeast Fourth and Fifth avenues south of Atlantic Avenue. iPic has agreed to provide 90 public spaces in the parking garage that will serve the movie theater and offices, including iPic’s corporate headquarters.

All seemed fine Monday morning. But according to City Attorney Max Lohman, iPic’s representatives never picked up the building permits that are required at closing. The permits have been ready for weeks.

Lohman said Tuesday morning that the CRA’s attorney had given iPic a deadline of 2 p.m. today to get the permits and close. Otherwise, Lohman said, the company will have to return the closing documents.

iPic’s attorney, Bonnie Miskel, said negotiations over the parking deal went on longer than expected because they included so many people from each side. The company and city actually reached agreement late Friday—the hoped-for date—but too late in the afternoon to obtain the permits.

Miskel called the effort to find parking spots during construction “a big challenge” because downtown parking is so limited. Downtown Development Authority Director Laura Simon, Miskel said, helped out with a suggestion to use a valet system. “We think,” Miskel said, “that we have a way to proceed.”

First, of course, the closing must happen. I will update this saga in my Thursday post.

Wheels begin turning after Boca’s goal-setting meeting

The Boca Raton City Council already is moving on a priority from this month’s goal-setting meeting: a downtown parking garage.

Council members envisioned such a project as part of a remade downtown “campus”—the 30 acres of public land that include City Hall, the police station, the library, the community center and recreation space. With downtown parking so tight during the season, however, the council wanted to move first on the garage.

Having raised the issue during goal setting on May 4-5, the council last week— acting as the community redevelopment agency – formally asked staff to begin studying the garage. One likely site is the city-owned land east of the downtown library. It would be near a Tri-Rail station if commuter service began on the downtown FEC rail corridor. The city would find another location for the Junior League’s community garden on the property.

At this point, there is only a goal—no specifics on size or type. Automated garages, for example, can hold more cars in a smaller space. Staff hopes to present the council with preliminary information soon.

Mizner 200 hearing tonight

Concept view of the entrance of Mizner 200.
Concept view of the entrance of Mizner 200.

Armed with a favorable recommendation from Boca Raton’s architecture consultant, representatives of Mizner 200 will have their formal hearing tonight before the city’s community appearance board.

Arguing against the condo project on Southeast Mizner Boulevard will be Boca Beautiful President John Gore. He lives in Townsend Place, the condo that is just south of Mizner on the Green. Mizner 200 would displace that complex and its 246 rental units with 384 luxury condos. Another opponent could be Investments Limited, which owns Royal Palm Place. Investments Limited might propose its own residential project. If so, the units would look out onto Mizner 200.

Bonnie Miskel, the attorney for Mizner 200, said Elad Properties “has tried to incorporate all the suggestions” from community appearance board members at two prior informal hearings. I would expect a favorable vote tonight. The tougher stop will be Thursday before the planning and zoning board. I’ll update this issue in my Thursday post.

More info needed if city is to buy Ocean Breeze

Include Craig Ehrnst among those who want more “substantial numbers” for buying the Ocean Breeze golf course and reopening it as Boca Raton’s new public links.

That opinion matters because Ehrnst serves on the board of the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, which has a contract to buy the closed course from Lennar for $24 million. Last week, District Director Art Koski pitched the sale to the Boca Raton City Council. The city would have to issue the bonds, with the district reimbursing the city for the payments.

In an email, Ehrnst—treasurer of the Boca Raton-based National Council for Compensation Insurance—said Koski “effectively articulated the reasons” for the purchase, such as the beneficial effect on property values in Boca Teeca and giving the community “a useful asset.” Ehrnst added, however, that needs confirmation on several points:

  • How did the city-district partnership on the purchase of the Ocean Strand property work? Does that apply with the potential purchase of Ocean Breeze?
  • How much would it cost to make Ocean Breeze playable? At what level of quality? “If we are going to do this,” Ehrnst said, “we need to evaluate options—premium to minimal. My preference is to design it right the first time, with city input. I just don’t know the cost, and we need a better estimate.”
  • How would the purchase affect the district’s long-term priorities, especially if voters in 2018 add $25,000 to the homestead exemption? Ehrnst does not want to raise taxes to pay for Ocean Breeze. The district’s tax rate is slightly less than half of its allowed $2 per every $1,000 of assessed value.

The city council has asked staff to create an interlocal agreement under which the city would issue the bonds. But council members have many of the same questions and want the same information Ehrnst wants.

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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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