Will City Build Boca National? Plus Updates on Atlantic Crossing and More

City council members want Boca Raton to take over construction of the Boca National golf course. We will find out Monday whether the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District agrees.

There might be majority support among district board members at their meeting. Erin Wright told me, “I favor it.” So does Craig Ehrnst, assuming, he said, certain conditions and additional information. 

In an email, Steve Engel said he doesn’t want the city to build one portion of the course and the district another. The council raised that idea at one point. “Since the city has put a $15 million cap on the project’s cost and has issues with our architect’s design,” Engel said, “I think the best thing is for the city to handle it, with input from us.”

Board Chairwoman Susan Vogelgesang said only that the district would “explore its options” on Monday. Bob Rollins remains opposed to a city takeover. “I have not given up on the idea that the district will develop both sides” of the course.

All five board members do agree that they must make an offer that the council will accept at the Nov. 12 meeting of the council and district. Briann Harms, the district’s executive director, said, “I am sure both boards will want to have this mostly ironed out by then so we can have a productive meeting.” She added, “I am hopeful that we will be able to work something out that will make all our residents happy.”

Getting there may mean getting past bad feelings from the district’s budget meetings. Mayor Scott Singer and council members urged city residents to protest the district’s proposed tax increase, Ehrnst called the response a “public flogging.”

Rollins, who has been on the board since 1996, said the council “has become too political.” He was “disappointed” by the “hostile crowd and quoted the Bible version about the need to be quick to listen but slow to speak and be angry.

Yet Rollins also said, “There’s no reason not to get this straightened out.” Councilman Andy Thomson, who has been the most vocal critic of Boca National’s cost, acknowledged that the course has “dominated all discussion” between the city and district, which work together on many issues. “Let’s get back to the bread and butter stuff.”

Thomson has proposed that the city, which underwrote bonds for the district’s purchase of the Boca National land, underwrite a revenue bond for the district. Thomson said the bond could finance, among other things, the roughly $25 million makeover of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.

Vogelgesang said such bonds would “come with conditions” and require additional agreements between the district and city, such as the one for the Boca National property. She also pointed out that because the district didn’t raise its tax rate—thus taking the council’s position—Thomson’s idea “may not even be an option.”

Ideally, resolution of the Boca National dispute will lead to resolution of the larger issue: what Ehrnst called the “fractured partnership” between the city and district. When it works, that partnership provides residents of Boca Raton and the area west of the city to the Florida Turnpike an enviable system of parks and recreation programs.

On behalf of those 100,000-plus people, the city and district must return to a working partnership, eventually through a long-term, comprehensive agreement. The timing works. The city and district are conducting a recreation assessment, which should be complete this week, and could help to shape the agencies’ collective agenda.

The discussion could get wide-ranging. Example: Vogelgesang wants the city to “reconsider” the use of district money that goes to the Boca Raton Community Redevelopment Agency. Vogelgesang represents district residents who live outside the city.

Depending on what happens Monday, administrators from the city and district will have to show by the Nov. 12 meeting how to carry out city takeover of the golf course. Harms said she has been talking with City Manager Leif Ahnell and believes that “on a staff level” there is a willingness “to sit down and work out some way for the course to get built.”

“I think we can all do better,” Ehrnst said, “and we will.  Let’s get this behind us and focus on the partnership.”

And Koski going forward                                       

Another item for the beach and park district board on Monday will be Art Koski.

At one point, Koski was the district’s executive director, attorney and project manager. He is none of those anymore, but the board gave him the title of “consultant.”

But the district still must decide on what Executive Director Brian Harms said are the “terms, scope of service and compensation” for Koski’s new role. Finally removing Koski from any role involving golf course helped relations with the city. Council members believe that Koski didn’t negotiate hard enough on the Boca National land deal. The district bought the roughly 200-acre former Ocean Breeze course for $24 million.

Atlantic Crossing update

There are developments with Atlantic Crossing.

According to a news release last week, vertical construction on the western block of the $300 million project will begin by the end of the year. Atlantic Crossing will cover the two blocks next to Veterans Park on Atlantic Avenue.

The western block will include office and retail, with space opening in late 2020. Developer Edwards Companies also announced three tenants for the western block.

View from Atlantic Avenue and Federal Highways looking northeast. Photo courtesy of Atlantic Crossing.

Merrill Lynch, the release said, will take half the office space in the first building—20,000 square feet. Chico’s will take about 3,000 square feet for a store fronting Atlantic Avenue. A beach-themed restaurant chain called The Hampton Social has leased about another 8,600 square feet.

Edwards Vice President Don DeVere said the company wants to attract “best of class” commercial tenants. He correctly notes that Delray Beach has lacked top-level office space, which Atlantic Crossing will bring.

The eastern block of the nine-acre project will include Atlantic Crossing’s residential portion. The first apartments are scheduled to open in 2021. Atlantic Crossing will have six buildings, with all parking either underground or hidden from the street. Each building will have a different design. It will be the city’s largest private investment.

Town Center balloon                                        

I asked Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer for his thoughts on the popped balloon that on Sunday mushroomed into reports of a shooting at Town Center Mall.

Singer praised first responders, given the “challenging circumstances in responding to one of the largest buildings” in South Florida. “Overall, we have many reasons to be very grateful — both that the incident was not what was feared and for the swift response by our first responders.

“In this era, especially with social media, it’s all the more important that people rely on official information and not spread rumors.”

Wildflower update coming

During its Monday workshop meeting, the Boca Raton City Council will hear an update on the proposed Wildflower Park from the city’s consultant.

Wildflower park rendering (Courtesy of City of Boca Raton)

The park would be at East Palmetto Park Road and the Intracoastal Waterway. The city bought the land in 2009 with the idea of leasing it for a waterfront restaurant. A 2016 voter-approved ordinance prohibited such use.

Bob Currie  

One of Delray Beach’s most prominent residents has died.

Bob Currie was a principal of the Currie Sowards Aguila architecture firm. He served on a slew of government and civic boards. His greatest achievement, though, helped start the city’s renaissance three decades ago,

Currie not only designed Old School Square, which has become Delray Beach’s downtown civic hub. As this magazine recalled four years ago, Currie “was integral in helping to determine the direction Old School Square would take as coordinators set out to create an organization to meet the community’s cultural needs.”

oldschoolsquare.jpg

With Old School Square founder Frances Bourque, Currie lobbied in Tallahassee for Old School Square to get historic designation. That led to a state grant. The magazine said  

Currie “was involved in six different phases of plans, from the original design and master plan to designing the outdoor pavilion.” He also was instrumental to creation and development of Pineapple Grove.

Former Mayor Cary Glickstein told me, “When and where he saw need and problems, he jumped in to find solutions.” As Currie put it, “I love this town, and there’s never been a more important project for this town than Old School Square. It was the spark that turned this town around.”

Currie’s Funeral Mass will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church.

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