By Jane Smith
As Boynton Beach’s dispute with the Town Square private developer went into its second mediation session in early August, frustration over the terms of the contract and missed deadlines showed in the comments of the city’s commissioners.
Although a majority of the commissioners have shared their frustrations, Mayor Steven Grant continues to support the developer, John Markey, and his firm, JKM, despite the drama caused by the firm’s failure to meet deadlines on the promised construction of two parking garages.
Grant, who has a friendly relationship with Markey, has tried to calm the differences. The mayor and Markey are golfing buddies who played together for years, Grant told The Coastal Star on July 21. Markey also watched Grant’s dog while his daughter was being born in late March 2020.
Although all the public buildings in the nearly 16-acre site opened last year, the project still lacks the private pieces of the $250 million Town Square.
Missing are a hotel, new apartments, shops, restaurants, offices and garages to provide parking for city staff, library workers and patrons, and visitors to the renovated historic high school and Schoolhouse Children’s Museum.
In July 2020, on the same day Boynton Beach leaders and elected officials celebrated the city’s centennial with the opening of the new city hall/library building, the commission found out that JKM would not be able to deliver the garages on time, as it had promised.
JKM has since allowed Boynton Beach to park cars on the Town Square land the firm owns, according to a deal worked out by an ex-assistant city manager.
At the July 21, 2020, commission meeting, Commissioner Justin Katz questioned if shoveling more money into the project from the city solidifies the deal 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,” he said.
The city sued JKM in November 2020, asking a judge to decide whether it had met all terms of the deal. By affirming the city has met its obligations, the suit claims JKM has not upheld its part of the contract and the relationship can be severed. Even if the city wins, JKM will still own the land. The city gave three parcels of Town Square land to JKM. The firm also received nearly $2 million in cash “for considerations,” according to the original March 2018 agreement. The city had an options clause in the agreement that allowed it to buy back the land for $100 a parcel. The options clause was removed in December 2018 after JKM received city approval for its site plans.
At a June 15 commission meeting held one week before the first scheduled mediation session, Katz expressed his frustration again over the contract terms when he called Markey a “property hostage taker.”
“I have a different perception,” he said. “If we can get a better project that we could not have received three years ago, that is something the commission should look for.”
Commissioner Ty Penserga has asked for an investigation of how the deal was created, and Vice Mayor Woodrow Hay requested a workshop to explain how the deal came together. Neither one was on the commission in 2018 when the Town Square pact was made. Each suggestion failed for a lack of support at the June 15 commission meeting.
“Maybe I am taking it a little bit personally,” City Manager Lori LaVerriere told commissioners at that meeting. “There was no action taken on this project in terms of agreements or modifications to any documents without the commission being fully aware of it, voting on it and being informed. I just want to make that clear for the public. Nothing happened in the back room.”
The first mediation session was held June 23 at Boynton Beach City Hall. Markey proposed a revised agreement then, and each city commissioner received a copy of it from the city attorney, Grant said. Commissioners then were supposed to tell the city attorney whether the deal was acceptable.
A second mediation session was Aug. 2 at the law offices of Tripp Scott in Fort Lauderdale. The law firm’s president, Ed Pozzuoli, is the mediator. He also is a former chairman of the Broward County Republican Party and a Fox News analyst, according to his profile on the Twitter social media platform.
The second mediation produced a workable agreement that the City Commission will discuss behind closed doors in mid-August, Grant told The Coastal Star. If a majority of the commissioners support the deal at that session, then the commission would discuss the settlement publicly in September.