“Given the demonstrated preference of major offices, corporate headquarters, and individual firms for Boca Raton, Downtown needs to concentrate on capturing a share of this market….As congestion continues to increase in western areas, Downtown must become seen as a viable and desirable location.
Additional office development is fundamental to developing the synergy between sites necessary to redevelop Downtown. Office development spurs the development of additional downtown residential and hotel units. Office workers increase the demand for restaurants and retail goods. Office parking provides additional parking space for use in the evenings and at night to support additional retail and cultural uses Downtown.”
What does that look like?
“The day begins with employees arriving at their destinations by car or transit. The streets will be busy but workers will find the walk from their parking garage pleasant since the streets are lined with lush vegetation. Some workers will walk to work from the downtown residence of adjacent neighborhoods.
Once the day has begun for office workers a new bustle occurs in the shopping areas downtown from Royal Palm Place to Mizner Park and along East Palmetto Park Road. Patrons begin arriving at the International Museum of Cartoon Art. Shoppers and patrons are aided in their visit to the downtown by a trolley system that links all areas of Downtown.
At lunch everyone converges on the Sanborn Square Plaza and Mizner Park. A concert announces the beginning of the May Day Fair and a new exhibit at the museum. Office workers and visitors from as far away as Palm Beach are here for this event.
Toward the late afternoon some of the downtown employees begin to head home. Many, however, remain for dinner and a movie or a concert at the amphitheater. Many more come from other areas of the region for dinner, shopping, the concert and relaxing strolls through the Downtown areas.
The next day the process begins anew.”
This typical “day in Downtown Boca Raton” is not from a novel, but an actual excerpt from the 1995 “BOCA RATON AMENDED DOWNTOWN PLAN” which remains the current vision for our Downtown!
Downtown Boca has been developed in the opposite order of the agreed upon Plan by our city officials. Instead of sticking with the Plan and the 1995 adopted Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Action Plan, successive councils and private developers have created a downtown of residences, with the hope that offices and jobs will miraculously follow. This is the result of our city officials voting dollar-by-dollar, building-by-building and election-by-election.
While our city’s vision has become blurred by proceeding backwards, the original vision is achievable through a fresh lens. I was not around Boca when this Amended Plan was approved. It was not until I sat down to write this piece, that I learned my idea of having a “Downtown Business Alliance” was already written and approved in the Amended Plan more than twenty years ago.
A downtown is the “business center of a city” or “central business district”, depending on which source’s definition you choose. Downtown Boca Raton has become a high-rise residential neighborhood, not a central business district as defined, or as planned in our official visioning document. Although some of the Downtown has already developed, we can still create a vibrant central business district and I have a possible solution.
It is my recommendation our elected officials immediately plan for and designate an additional community redevelopment district. This second district would expand the current boundaries of our Downtown incorporating existing blighted areas. After formation of the second CRA district, the two CRAs should merge, with the new CRA assuming the liabilities of the original CRA district.
By the choice of the electors and numerous debates on Mizner Park’s development, the CRA became politicized, resulting in the agency being solely comprised of City Council officials ignoring the original intent of citizen oversight for the Downtown. This politicization of the CRA has led to our current state of dissatisfaction with the Downtown and desire for change.
To that end, the City Council through resolution and interlocal agreement should create a 7-member citizen stakeholder CRA Board along with one (1) non-voting city council member to serve as liaison on a rotating basis. The newly formed CRA Board should hire a CRA Director and CRA Attorney as authorized under F.S.S. 163.356(3)(c) to develop an action plan with identified economic initiatives and programs approved during the annual budget process.
If the elected officials do not implement such planning immediately, we the people should take action to complete our Downtown’s planning by referendum. We deserve a vibrant central business district with corporate officers and employees who can reside in the newly built housing, as well as enjoy walking to work or taking advantage of alternative transportation options. This expansion of the CRA will ensure that the originally planned commercial hub intended for our Downtown becomes a reality.
Loosely, subject to protections for Pearl City and other pockets, the general perimeter of the Downtown CRA expansion could include Boca Raton Boulevard to the West, Federal to the East and Palmetto Park to the south. To complete everyone’s vision of FAU’s importance to the City, include 20th Street as the northern boundary, and at 20th go westerly until the university’s boundary. I am not certain of these boundaries…but the low-rise, low-rent commercial buildings within these boundaries are ripe for redevelopment, and connect the Downtown to FAU.
The original vision of a central business district, with corporate activity driving housing, restaurant and retail demand is very tenable. We just need to dust off the old plan, put it back into play, create a second CRA district (and merge out the old) and expand our geographical idea of what our Downtown is. And, most of all, we must have integrity-plan our work and work our plan. We can’t go off the rails because of an election cycle, a temporary fluctuation in the economy or self-serving private interests. I stand for a vibrant central business district. I believe this is one way to achieve it.