Back to the Future! “BOCA RATON AMENDED DOWNTOWN PLAN” circa 1995

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“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.

https://www.myboca.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/671

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Michael J. Liss, Esq. is a business and real estate attorney whose office is located Downtown. He resides in “Midtown”. He has a son who is graduating Spanish River High and a daughter at college in Tallahassee, who also graduated Spanish River. He is married, and always available to serve his community. Aside from the DBA he co-chairs two committees at the South Palm Beach County Bar Association, serves on the board of his HOA, and is always seeking what is possible by bringing community members together.

16 COMMENTS

    • Thank you. I think we can build a great economic hub for millennials and beyond by sticking with the original plan.

  1. I think Michael may have hit upon a perfect approach to meet the goals and intents of all constituents in Boca Raton, while improving the Corporate Ideal of a lifestyle operating environment in a globally prestigious and paradise like lifestyle world. Kudos to Michael for this idea!

    • Flattered from a man of your caliber. Help by staying in this conversation. Technological and architectural input is to be published in the near-future.

    • Jeff, That is an interesting question. BocaWatch has been trying to get figures. The city does not track and the private developers are silent. Will keep working on it….Al Zucaro

  2. I have been searching and hoping for new, open, creative dialogue and thinking regarding the development of our downtown business district. I’m not sure of the answers, but feel confident that the idea of collaborative conversation for our downtown’s future and true “placemaking” is an idea now past due. Thanks Mike for diving in and caring enough to speak out.

    • Councilwoman O’Rourke, I am not suggesting that I have ALL of the answers; I offered one possible solution to fulfilling on a long-standing vision which remains unfulfilled. In the long-term, our kids and local college students will only remain in Boca with the prospect of good jobs and a vision which captivates their minds. I hope I have at least caused some thought towards that end. No city can be world-class with a downtown of apartments without businesses-every great city must have a vibrant central business district. That was the case in 1995 and will always be the case.

  3. Your Back to the Future article showed vision. How did such a good idea get railroaded? This plan sat on the self for way too long. I do think the area needs a community parking garage with hi-tech security features with pick up by little trolleys. This would be something for locals and visitors to talk about.

  4. if you look at what s being done around the USA and the world cars are going to be the problem there is no public transportation to speak off besides some aging buses showing up every 2 or 3 hours so if you dont address mass transportation you will have a city chocking on gas fumes and no parking plan can solve that already Palmetto is like the highway to hell
    I like the model of SAN JOSE CA build businesses with housing incorporated think of a shopping center with housing above and connections to trains airports … I could vision Boca being sort of a laid back not too big not too small with great mobility If you address only business concerns it wont work and what about a more wallkable city as it is right now it s dreadfull and dangerous
    Remember also that as of today many of the condos built or being built will be mainly catering to seasonal occupants so what happens in July August??

  5. I think Mr. Liss just came up with the “concept “. Now it’s up to the community to tweak it. First the location, then add pieces of the newly adopted PM Zone Overlay, but making sure workforce housing be included, along with an intra-active mobility system. Personally, I think it was a brilliant building block to start with ( no pun intended)…It’s kind of like what The Crocker Group, etal are driving forwards in the central BOCA area.

  6. Part of my thinking was that this relieves some of the urgency of having to pass Midtown ordinances right away….and as APOC has filled and the central/west areas are now the most congested, that it’s time to really look at the downtown/FAU corridor for hi-tech/mixed use modern re-development, with micro-transit and parking a key theme.

    An architect and local tech innovation entrepreneur will be adding input shortly. Others should build upon this theme and make it a community concensus plan.

  7. I guess I am not as smart as all of you folks that have made comments. Mike’s ideas are good I guess but I don’t get it. When you start talking about business centers and kids coming to work there and live in apartments downtown I don’t know. Maybe I am old and washed up and just don’t get it. When one says business area in boca what businesses. We don’t have a court house or medical center or retail district or anything. What I see are developers coming in and putting in boxes with windows as in The Mark which is empty. Now they want to rip out Royal Palm and put in 1200 apartments . HUH. Than we have a Crocker guy say that Mizner Park is dead space. HUH. So by 2018 we will have 3000 apartments or condos in downtown. No businesses will want to be there what with high rents. HUH. So we will have 5000 residents with no cars since no parking, no green space, no restaurants since no parking,etc. It will be a deserted town at 6 at night. I guess that is progress. Mike’s ideas are better than what we got. Lets go for it. but council could care less. They will all be gone soon so what do they care.

  8. 40 years ago before I moved to boca I lived in the Denver area. Downtown Denver was thriving with parks and cultural centers and public art and a place to live. Than the outside developers from New York came in and took control of the city council and rezoned downtown for high rise tenements. Ripped out the parks since they used the same expression “dead space” as in to many parks. Talked about transit stuff from the new airport 10 miles away. Trolleys etc and horses taking people around. All bullshit. It has been a deserted ghetto for 25 years. All the business moved south to the tech center. And than Boulder watching this mess passed ordinances no higher that 4 stories as in Del Ray now and guess what town has the highest home values in the country. Boulder. I know I am not as smart as all these urban planners running around here but I do know that boca should not be an experiment for these outsiders that are telling us how to live by walking and biking everywhere. Total scam. I am ashamed for the boca residents that have not woke up. First the parks now the beaches. The outsiders want it all and we are like sheep. Until some one says we are busing your kid since schools are full up. By than too late.

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