Our City Council has voiced support for Boca Raton’s 2020 Vision initiative, and has chosen to fund “Phase 1- The Downtown Waterfront”.  This year will finally see the Wildflower blossom, made one with Silver Palm Park.  The waterfront aspect of the Vision is a work in progress.  But, Boca’s 2020 Vision is “From Coast to Campus”, and we now need to discuss, as a community, how we wish for the Downtown to develop adjacent to a thriving waterfront, and what we want for the remainder of our city.

Boca’s population has doubled since the Downtown planning began in 1980.  The boundaries of the city have greatly expanded as the result of annexation.   As a Visionary Leader in Boca’s 2020 Vision representing the Downtown Business Alliance, I propose that our City leaders take a close look at how the Downtown could be better connected to the greater city beyond, and also review the use types of these properties to assure they promote a balance of the “live-work-play” goal of our Comprehensive Plan.   By 2020, our city should be well on its way to implementing an overlay of guidelines that define Boca Raton’s 2020 Vision.

I encourage our leaders to review the current boundaries of Downtown to create an “urban core”- one which connects Downtown to FAU, and key areas in our City….the” Campus” beyond our Coast.  Whether it is all formally called “Downtown” doesn’t matter.  Having a thriving urban core does.

To date, we have created a Downtown which, by 2020, will include thousands of high cost rental and condominium housing units.  While the seven-figure condominium units may well be occupied by people who have already made their millions, the thousands of expensive rental units spread between 101 Via Mizner, Palmetto Promenade and the re-developed Royal Palm Place will require tenants who earn high incomes, and who work within some proximity to that housing.  With APOC and the Innovation Campus intended for workers who are proximate to those areas or who commute via Tri-rail and I-95, we are in need of an expanded “Downtown” workforce in order to occupy the thousands of housing units in the pipeline or already built.

We also suffer from unfortunate brain-drain.  Thousands graduate from our universities each year, and the very large majority of those graduates move away from Boca Raton.  Also, many talented local high school students leave Boca for college, never to return.  The possibility of creating an expanded “urban core” provides one sensible and simple solution to slow the brain-drain and to provide high-income jobs, proximate to the current CRA Downtown boundaries.

Large swaths of Dixie Highway, Boca Raton Boulevard, 20th Street and even Federal Highway   cry out for improvement.  Old, one-story commercial buildings are ripe for redevelopment as “mixed-use” buildings that include modern offices, in addition to appropriate retail, restaurant and housing.  Under our current zoning map, there is no incentive for re-development of properties within this corridor.  Allowing for a broader spectrum of high quality re-development would encourage a positive, active continuation of our Downtown “core” area.

Despite some private owners’ facelifts of 20th Street properties, the gateway to what was the main entry to FAU is under-developed and under-utilized.  20th Street also connects the university to the Downtown via Federal, Dixie and Boca Raton Boulevard.  Simple and desirable redevelopment opportunities abound if those streets can be planned as a corridor of mixed uses to support the new residential development Downtown.  While this also enables alternative modes of transportation, during peak hours, a drive for a resident of Palmetto Promenade to Dixie and 20th would take 10-15 minutes, tops, should driving a car be the choice.  With this proposal, micro-transit can be planned from inception. If a critical mass of new, high-tech, high-income jobs could be created in this corridor, then the housing, retail and restaurant demands on the buildings Downtown will grow.  And, the worst traffic (head West at 5p.m. anywhere in Boca), would gradually be reduced.

This would create an expanded core, from Downtown to FAU, which would allow for a complete “Live-Work-Play” geography utilizing micro-transit to support those millennials and others who choose not to commute by car. Downtown would seamlessly connect to FAU via a newly-developed, high-tech corridor, providing for high-paying jobs, filling the developments Downtown and retaining talent emanating from our Universities.  And all of these urban pioneers will have a functional, fun and beautiful park system along the water for recreation, relaxation, meetings, events and opportunities- all  part of this new Vision.

Diagram by Margaret Fitzsimons, M. Arch, Assoc.AIA, LEEDap

Let’s bring Boca Raton’s 2020 Vision to life by first completing an amazing waterfront park system as an anchor in our Downtown.  Then, let’s connect the Downtown to FAU and beyond with modernized uses that will create jobs with incomes to fill Downtown residences.   Our 2020 Vision spans Coast to Campus.  The Coast is being planned.  Please come forward and join this initiative to voice to our elected officials what you would like to see as part of this Vision to unite our City from “Coast to Campus.”