Downtown Downturn

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I moved my law practice to Downtown Boca two- years ago.  My first law office was in Dayton, Ohio’s downtown 25 years ago; a downtown in decline, within a city in decline.  A downtown’s growth instead of its decline was something I wanted to experience.  It’s been a great two year experience.  However, I have some trepidation about Downtown Boca’s direction.

My office is in the Bank of America Tower (that’s the name, I’m from New York, I know it’s not really a tower), next to the 5th/3rd Building.  These two buildings are the prime office buildings along Downtown’s main artery, Palmetto Park Road.  Since I moved in, Bank of America has moved its local headquarters from my building to Midtown along with Merrill Lynch, from 5th/3rd.  These prime downtown buildings are housing substantial vacancy rates.

In just the past few weeks, Mobu, Truluck’s, Uncle Julio’s and Pellegrino’s, 4 really nice restaurants, have closed.  I couldn’t relate accurately which shops have turned over in Mizner, Royal Palm and the roads in between.  Not surprisingly, the cycle of store closures never ends.

While Tower 155 is rising from the ground, Mizner 200, now “Monarch” is not.  The developers of Monarch seem to be in no rush, and after fighting to get plans approved, they are trying to revise the plans, presumably because if they build now, as planned, it won’t make much financial sense.   101 Via Mizner and Palmetto Promenade seem to have tenants trickling in, but remain largely vacant.  Nobody really knows their vacancy rates, nor those for the condominium buildings downtown.

This is not a doom-and-gloom piece, just a snapshot of where we are in the CRA today.

What is of great concern is that this is a mere snapshot during a very late stage of a growing economy.  I don’t believe we are well-positioned for the inevitable downturn in this changing economy.  Retail is and will continue to suffer due to the internet.

Prime office space seems silly to much of the Millennial generation.  Restaurants have a tough time during booms, let alone during recessions.  Rents in the newer apartment buildings downtown cost several thousand dollars a month, and a lot more housing is approved and in “the pipeline” to be built.

I sense tough times ahead in the absence of planning, leadership, and investment by our elected officials who comprise our CRA Commission.  I write because we have two elections approaching, and those elected will serve on our CRA Commission and will need to address these issues and more.

The newly comprised CRA might need to consider a new “Downtown Plan” with an eye towards the remaining development and future redevelopment within the CRA boundaries, obtaining grants available from the Federal and State governments, establishing small business incentives with  grant and loan programs, short-term and long-term parking, sidewalk widening and connectivity, CRA operated and/or funded transit (circulator and/or point-to-point), commitment to ensuring a business presence in the Downtown (in lieu of becoming a strictly residential downtown), and recruiting businesses from other cities to expand or relocate in Boca’s Downtown.

The Downtown is on less-than-firm footing.  The time for leadership and action is now, while the economy is still growing.   I look forward to the candidates who wish to fill both CRA Commission seats discussing these issues and more. Let’s hear debate about creating a shared vision for Downtown Boca, and how to lead us there.  If we don’t get such substantive debate, it won’t be for a lack of issues to discuss.

 

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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.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Article by Michael Liss, “Downtown Downturn,” strikes an ominous chord and may signal a need for what is so lacking in Boca Raton, which I believe is promotion, and of course I would say that as I’m in the public relations business and own the award-winning PR firm TransMedia Group. But it’s true.

    Those restaurants that have closed in Mizner Park, the corporate tenants who’ve left our downtown buildings, causing vacancy rates to rise, are all symptoms of lackluster, unimaginative or non-existent national promotion of Boca Raton as an ideal place to live, to work, to relocate a business.

    The city needs a bright and productive nationally-focused PR and advertising campaign and now with the economy percolating would be the right time for action, but that takes leadership and commitment, not to mention selecting the right professionals instead of just routinely sending out those RFP’s that cities do that high-powered creative firms like mine avoid because they’ll be lacking sufficient financial runway for a meaningful takeoff.

    The TransMedia office building I own on Palmetto Park Road opposite Boca Raton City Hall is doing just fine by the way with 100% occupancy and rising rents that have nearly doubled in the past several years. Maybe that’s because we know how to promote it and make it an exciting place for businesses to be. We actually do a radio show weekly from there that promotes local businesses and we’re always doing parties, events, seminars, podcasts, etc. that make it a lively, attractive and stimulating location.

    So just like the three most important things in real estate are location, location and location. The three most important things in making downtowns attractive and prosperous are PR, PR and PR!

    • Tom…I could not agree with you more. Boca Raton’s marketing, its storytelling, is incredibly lacking…One area needing improvement is Economic Development…Economic Development that actively engages with business interests to identify cultural and directional messaging designed to attract business relocation into Boca’s downtown, a downtown that is beginning to demonstrate a significant downturn. Economic development that engages in marketing the city nationally and internationally as a destination separate and apart from other locations in southeast Florida like Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach; a unique, relaxed location where business and residents thrive and are effectively balanced. Where growth and development are smart and sustainable. These are aspirations yet to be achieved in the public discourse. Thank you for your astute comment. Al Zucaro, Publisher

  2. CRA’s have been know to hire their own ‘in house’ PR/Marketing person or team. This team has the ability to sub out jobs to larger firms when the need arises, do we have that option in Boca’s CRA now?

  3. THIS ARTICLE IS SPOT ON –
    I have space in Royal Palm Plaza…
    Downtown Boca is like a game of musical chairs.
    Businesses are here one day and gone the next.
    The frequency of shuttered businesses is staggering.

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