The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Business district proposed to fund new trolley downtown

By Mary Hladky

Boca Raton City Council members are considering creating a Business Improvement District financed by downtown businesses to make improvements in the downtown.

The idea has been in the works since 2012 but moved forward on April 22 when council members agreed that a steering committee guiding the effort could meet with downtown business owners to find out if they will support creation of a BID and will agree to pay for the improvements.

The meetings likely will be held in October, when a consultant is available, and the steering committee will report back to City Council members, sitting as Community Redevelopment Agency commissioners, on whether businesses will get behind the idea.

If they do and the Business Improvement District is created, its first order of business would be to set up a trolley that would ferry people who park at locations such as City Hall and the Downtown Library across the Florida East Coast Railway tracks to the downtown. The BID would contract with a company to provide the shuttle service for free.

The steering committee has proposed shuttle stops from Camino Real to Northeast Second Street. Most would be on Federal Highway, Palmetto Park Road and Mizner Boulevard.

The committee’s proposal calls for initial funding of $2 million, of which $1.5 million would be for operations and $500,000 for administration.

Retailers, restaurants, offices, hotels and apartment buildings — but not condominiums — would be tapped to finance the BID. The amount each is assessed would vary depending on the taxable value of its property and how near it is to a shuttle stop.

The steering committee selected the shuttle system as the BID’s potential first project to help solve two longstanding problems — traffic congestion and insufficient parking in the downtown.

Future projects could include placing utilities underground to reduce power outages during storms, lighting improvements and marketing downtown businesses.

Council members supported the BID concept.

“For residents who live in town, it is a complete win,” said Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers.

“I will certainly support this effort,” said council member and CRA Chair Andrea O’Rourke.

Mayor Scott Singer, noting the $500,000 budgeted for administrative costs, suggested reducing the amount to make the BID more appealing to business owners.

Robert Eisen of Investments Limited, the largest commercial landowner in the downtown, was the only business representative who spoke at the meeting, and he did not tip his hand.

“We’ll eagerly anticipate meeting with them,” Eisen said. “We will not be shy in letting them know our opinions.”

Florida law allows for creation of BIDs. More than 1,200 exist in the United States.

The steering committee, chaired by Peg Anderson, studied other BIDs and decided to model Boca Raton’s on one in Coral Gables.

Council members have struggled to provide a downtown shuttle system ever since the Downtowner pulled out of Boca Raton in 2016.

They urged private operators to offer services in the city but would not subsidize their operations as other cities have. Operators were not able to make enough money by relying on revenue generated by advertisements placed on their shuttles or trolleys.

Downtown parking is another conundrum. A city consultant has said the downtown will be short as many as 425 parking spaces by 2023 and up to 750 spaces by 2040.

Council members want to build a downtown parking garage, but no property owner has been willing to sell land to the city. 

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