By Jane Smith
On the same day that Boynton Beach celebrated its centennial with a balloon-filled soft opening of its new City Hall, city commissioners heard troubling news about desperately needed parking garages for the Town Square project.
The six-story south garage will not be finished in June 2021 as promised. In fact, the city will be lucky to get it financed early next year, according to John Markey, managing principal of JKM Developers.
“The timelines are completely gone,” Markey said.
At the July 21 meeting, he asked for help from the city:
* instruct staff to return to the negotiating table that would result in the city co-signing the garage loans,
* use some Community Redevelopment Agency tax dollars generated by future development to help with building the garage and
* help his firm get clean easements to access his property.
Commissioners wondered why he waited four months to tell them of his dire situation with the garages.
Town Square is an ambitious private-public partnership between the city and its Community Redevelopment Agency and private developers. The 16.5-acre area, sitting between Boynton Beach Boulevard and Southeast Second Avenue, is supposed to give the city a definable downtown. When complete, the $250 million project will have a mix of municipal buildings and privately developed apartment buildings, a hotel, restaurants and shops. The city’s share is slightly more than $118 million.
The south garage received a building permit on Sept. 5, 2019, and was supposed to be finished by June 5, 2021, said Colin Groff, assistant city manager, at the start of the Town Square update. The north garage completion is estimated to be finished by Dec. 5, 2021.
Last fall, Markey said, city staff was working toward becoming a co-guarantor of the garage loans, which would be totally financed by Iberia Bank. Then the city decided that was too risky, he said.
Earlier this year, the city talked about borrowing $34 million to build the two garages by agreeing to “pre-buy” them.
“We were days away from that happening when COVID shut down the finance world,” Markey said. COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory illness that can be fatal. To help stop its spread, the state shut down all businesses, schools and events in mid-March.
In its contract with the city, Markey’s firm has agreed to provide surface parking for the city to use while it builds the garages. The city had given JKM the land for free, $1.9 million and new water and sewer lines and underground utilities at no cost.
“It’s sounds like the P3 (public-private partnership) is not showing to be a real partnership,” Commissioner Justin Katz said, “if we fund everything and bear the risk for everything.”
Katz continued, “I don’t know if shoveling more money into it from the city solidifies this P3 or converts it into a city project. We should be in the position to take the reins back if we are doing everything other than building it.”
Katz, the three other commissioners and Mayor Steven Grant said they were uncomfortable with deadlines not being met, how the project would be paid for, and moving the parcels around.
“The COVID shutdowns started four months ago and we are just hearing about the delay in July,” said Grant. He said Katz had asked for monthly updates. Grant had asked for a Town Square update in mid-July.
Markey apologized by saying he has not been “out of my house for the few months. I have not been invited to a meeting until Thursday.”
City Manager Lori LaVerriere said she would meet with commissioners individually to tell them what has been happening with JKM and the city.
Next month, city commissioners will sit as CRA board members. The CRA, which controls redevelopment dollars, is in the process of doing its budget for the financial year that starts Oct. 1.