By Steve Plunkett
Mayor Susan Haynie used her State of the City 2016 speech to cement her place as Boca Raton’s biggest booster.
Gaining her highest marks are the thriving business community and the explosive growth of Florida Atlantic University and the Boca Raton Regional Hospital. She said the city now provides “destination health care.”
“They used to say if you got ill you had to go to the airport to get on the plane to go to the Mayo Clinic or the MD Anderson [Center],” she said. “And for an aging population of baby boomers, I think that’s a really important community asset for us.”
FAU has transformed from a single building to a campus accommodating 30,000.
“This is what’s fueling the attraction of so many quality businesses here in town, because we have an educated workforce,” Haynie said at the June 7 meeting of the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations.
The mayor had the statistics to back up her claims: Boca Raton has 30 of the 62 corporate headquarters in Palm Beach County.
“So we’ve done a great job as far as attracting businesses here,” she said.
The city also has 12 million square feet of office space, more than West Palm Beach — “That’s been our challenge, to fill vacancies up,” Haynie said — and has created and retained more than 8,400 jobs in the last six years.
“That’s an amazing number for a city of this size — 8,400 jobs,” Haynie said. “And the wonderful thing is, these people come and they find homes and they shop in our stores and patronize our restaurants, send their children to our schools. It’s really making us a much younger and more vibrant community.”
Haynie said the top concerns today are the same as those a local newspaper listed in 1966: traffic flow, speed limits, zoning, high-rise apartments, architectural review standards that relate to community appearance, disposal of city-owned land and parking problems in the downtown business area.
In the ensuing 50 years the city’s population has swelled from 20,000 to about 93,000.
“I don’t see us ever going much higher than that. … I never, ever see us exceeding 100,000,” Haynie said.
That means not annexing the mostly gated communities between the western edges of the city and Florida’s Turnpike, which would dissolve the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District.
State lawmakers set up the district to disband if the city annexed all the district land out to the turnpike.
“I don’t ever see the city annexing the beach and park district out of existence,” Haynie said.
The mayor said the City Council’s top priority this year is developing and evaluating a master plan for the City Hall campus. The first floor of City Hall is still off limits during repairs from the rainfall soaking it got in late March.
And the Community Center, built in 1968, also is showing signs of age.
“We love our Community Center, but when you travel to other cities in our county, this is a very sad building,” she said.
Haynie said there are no plans to move the City Hall and Police Department elsewhere in the city and said an off-the-cuff comment at May’s strategic planning sessions sparked the rumor.
“I have no intention of relocating City Hall from beyond the campus where we stand today.”
She also said the council hopes to complete a comprehensive waterfront plan this year.
In the meantime, she is eagerly waiting for the Hyatt Place hotel to open in a few months at Federal Highway and Palmetto Park Road, giving downtown its first hotel in years. Haynie recalled when the only hotel downtown was the since-closed Howard Johnson’s.
“It’ll be nice to have more of a business-type hotel in our downtown,” she said. “That is something we have wanted for a long time.”
By Steve Plunkett