By Jane Smith

    The Downtown Development Authority will spend about $25,000 of its approximately $750,000 budget next year on a pilot parking plan for downtown Delray Beach restaurant workers. Starting in October, the agency will run its proposed parking plan at the South County Courthouse garage, its board decided in early June.
    The agency is estimating the six-month cost for security for the free-employee parking program to be $25,000. The agency plans to split that cost with the downtown restaurants. The cost for a shuttle service for employees will be extra.
    The garage has 343 spaces available between 4 p.m. and 3 a.m.
    But what incentive would employees have to park in the garage after meters were nixed recently for the downtown?
    “As a business owner, you tell your employees this is where you park,” board member Frank Frione said. “If your car gets parked somewhere else, you are out of a job … I don’t let my employees run my company.”
    The parking program will work if it is safe, easy and reliable, said associate director Laura Simon.
    Enforcement is essential to making this work, said board Chairman David Cook. “Right now, employees pull in at 4:15 p.m., they are there all night. If the city changed the hours to end at 7 p.m., the 4-o’clock crowd would find where they are supposed to park,” he said. “But there is no parking enforcement right now.”
    Executive Director Marjorie Ferrer said she would need to get a commitment from the restaurants to make the parking program work.
    The agency also will spend about $15,000 this budget year on cleaning sidewalks in its 340-acre district, based on a city request.
    The tax-supported agency has the money remaining (after it purchased twinkle lights and banners) that it could put toward pressure cleaning the sidewalks, Ferrer said. Restaurants are responsible for cleaning their own sidewalks, she added.
    But how many square feet is that? Right now, no one knows. The agency has estimates varying from 130,000 to 226,000 square feet in its area that starts at the interstate and goes east to the beach.
    Cost estimates came in at a range between 9 and 11 cents per square foot. Using the higher price and higher area, the total cost would be approximately $24,680.
    “The question is: Do we step up to the plate and help the city,” Ferrer said. “The city has asked us eight times to help.”
    Board member Frione offered to find a software program to determine the square feet, similar to one used by roofers.
    As to city’s 100-foot Christmas tree, the city manager suggested asking the supplier, Brandano Displays in Margate, whether it is willing to create an aluminum version with stainless steel screws and arms, and store it. Then, the city would lease it.
    The agency proposed spending $20,000 in next year’s budget for Christmas tree maintenance, basically removing rust from the current steel tree. If the city gets a new tree, that money can go toward meter maids, or another board priority, Ferrer said.
    “There are a lot of unknowns in the budget,” she said.
    The agency’s district has primarily small businesses, Ferrer said. About 93 percent have fewer than 30 employees. She would like to focus on customer service by engaging the 6,000 employees in an ambassador program. Each employee would wear a button that says: I love my downtown.
    The agency makes the bulk of its money from a tax of $1 per $1,000 of value on properties in its district. For the coming budget year, that revenue source is projected to grow by 10.9 percent to $689,869. Sponsorships will add another $62,000, and Ferrer says the agency is still soliciting more. Payroll expenses remain 30 percent of the total budget.
    At the end of the goal-setting/budget workshop, Ferrer talked about the ideal board member and misunderstanding of how the agency differs from others in the city.
    “Each one of you needs an elevator speech of who we are, what we do, why we are doing it,” she said. “Things are moving pretty fast in the city right now. The tree just happened, and the parking garage. We’ll keep you posted.”
    Next, she talked about her “working together notes.”
    “At some point there was a comment made that we do not work well with others,” Ferrer said. Her notes, presented to the city manager in February, contained a list of meetings attended, items collaborated on, data shared and financial support provided to the city and four organizations: Chamber of Commerce, the Community Redevelopment Agency, Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative and the Center for the Arts.
    “I want us to be the proactive ones,” said board member Frione. “And ask them: How are we doing for you?”
    The Delray Beach City Commission is surveying property tax payers (renters and owners) on the effectiveness and value of the DDA to the city.  The online survey is available on the city’s website or at www.surveymonkey.com/r/XVC72FG. Responses are due July 15.

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