At the August 9, 2016 Boca Raton City Council meeting the five members had the opportunity to begin the process of stopping the mismanagement of the citizens’ $7.5M but four of them chose to do nothing. Thanks to Councilman Singer for his attempts to fix this problem.

Following is a brief history of significant problems with management of the Wildflower project with pointers to more details.

  1. In 2009, $7.5M was invested in the Wildflower property without a plan for how the site will be used.

Kicking the Can Down the Road

  1. In 2011, citizens were invited to submit their preferences for uses of the Wildflower property, but the results were misrepresented by the City Staff to favor a restaurant instead of a park.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

  1. In 2016, City Staff recommended approval of a 45-year lease agreement that exposes the City to significant financial risks.

If it Was Your Money What Would You Do…Wait it is Your Money

So for almost seven years the $7.5M acquisition has returned no qualitative or quantitative value to the citizens of Boca Raton.  This amounts to 2,436 days of missed opportunity. On August 9, 2016 the City Council could have voted to fix this problem, but instead decided to do nothing and waste our money and time for another 90 days.

Another related situation where Boca Raton citizens are losing money is by the City not winning grants for acquisition and development of its parks. The $7.5M to acquire the Wildflower property should have been entirely or partially paid for by grant money.  The citizens of Boca Raton contribute their tax dollars to government entities that provide the grants; yet other cities are winning the grant money and not Boca Raton. This means that the citizens of Boca Raton are paying for park acquisition and development for other cities. The five minute video pointed to by the following link highlights this problem: youtube

Where is accountability for these problems? Without accountability and consequences problems like those described above will continue to occur in the City.

Details associated with the Wildflower property acquisition and ongoing mismanagement is quite complicated and difficult to understand for most of us. Many of us do not have the skills or time to devote to obtaining the right information and studying the many financial moving parts of the City. Because of this we rely on City Officials to exercise sound fiduciary management of our money in the providing of services to its citizens. The Wildflower case seems to violate this principal.

To make the Wildflower situation more understandable, we created a more personal story with similar parameters. It goes like this:

You’ve decided the time has come for traveling the world. Before leaving in December, 2009 you reach an agreement with your investment manager to care for your $7.5M portfolio using your latest risk profile. That is, the investment manager will provide fiduciary services during the period you are gone. Upon your return you eagerly contact the investment manager, confident of about a $4.0M increase in the value of your portfolio to over $11.0M. Your confidence is based on the major investment indexes, Dow, S&P, NASDAQ, etc., setting record highs and your expectation of a minimum annual return of 6%. But the investment manager informs you that the portfolio is only worth $7.5M because the money was never invested. Their advice to you is to not worry about the past because it is spilt milk and they will do the best they can in the future. As you start to object, they further inform you that your $7.5M will sit idle for at least another 90 days. When you demand to know what was done with the management fees that you were paying them, they indicate that the money was given to other clients. While you are deciding whether to laugh or resort to physical violence, they ask for a 300% increase in pay.

This behavior has to stop and it has to stop now! Additionally, while the taxpayers’ $7.5M has been dead money over the last seven years, the Wildflower property has been an embarrassment to the City with all of the charm of an EPA Superfund site. Crumbling asphalt, fencing and no trespassing signs warning citizens and visitors to keep out is not what is desired in the heart of our City.

Things have to change.

Inserted below is Commissioner Starkoff’s position on the Wildflower Property as found on his website earlstarkoff.com.

WE CAN HAVE OUR PARK AND EAT THERE TOO

All Inclusive Downtown ExperienceI believe that the highest and best use of the Wildflower site is as a public space.

I want to be clear: I am pro-park; I am not anti-restaurant.

We need a plan for an urban public space that defines the context for any commercial component within it – rather than a plan for restaurant or any commercial space that leaves public space as a secondary consideration.

Including Silver Palm Park, this property is the central connecting point between thousands of our current and future residents, and 3 distinct aspects of Boca’s life style and economy.

First, the vision of a 21st Century walkable downtown is coming to fruition. The eastern boundary of that urban space is Palmetto Park Road & 5th Avenue.

Second, this space connects to our preserved Florida beach community. Our precious Boca lifestyle – and the underpinning of the property values and our local tourist economy – began on the eastern side of the Palmetto Park Bridge. A1A in Boca Raton is uniquely and admirably different from anywhere else in South Florida.

And third, as a community, we are embarking on a Intracoastal Waterway strategy that will unify our park experience.

Not only will more of the public share in that space, but the economic benefits that will accrue to Downtown and throughout the City will be much greater than from any commercial usage that will be confined to just the property.

I’ve been very impressed by several schematics for a public space that have been offered by my fellow residents. These professionally conceived wellsprings of space planning all speak to the next legacy for our children and grandchildren that we can create today.

We need to create an open dialogue and community consensus around an urban park that first sets the public usage throughout the entire space as paramount.

That beautiful urban park can then define the context for a uniquely Boca food and beverage concession component.

We need to think beyond food trucks and hot dog stands. For example, off-site, shared kitchens are a proven, disruptive innovation in the food industry because they reduce costs that are passed on to customers. Culinary arts professionals create amazing world-class menus to serve at locations that have a smaller footprint. Our park could be such a location.

We can have our park and eat there too.

Earl Starkoff