By Jane Smith
Delray Beach needs to provide Disney-style service for its downtown to maintain its image as a world-class destination, said Don Cooper, its new city manager.
But achieving that high level of service is difficult and costly in a downtown that operates 18-20 hours a day, seven days a week. Compounding the challenge are the dozens of festivals, parades and art shows held every year in the downtown.
Since more than 80 percent of the property taxes from downtown property owners — nearly $8 million a year — goes to the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, the city is looking to the CRA for more of that money. The City Commission and CRA board will hold a joint goal-setting session this month after holding individual sessions in February.
An additional $1 per $1,000 of taxable value — $676,032 — goes to the DDA, which markets and promotes a defined downtown area within the CRA boundaries.
“We do not traditionally do a joint goal-setting session,” Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Marjorie Ferrer responded via email, “but will put the question to the board at our May meeting, which is also being attended by the city manager to discuss the goals.”
High on the city’s list of topics to discuss is the number of special events held downtown. “The original purpose was to bring people into the downtown, but now they are having a negative impact of people’s budgets,” Cooper told commissioners on Feb. 13. “Too much of a good thing?”
(l-r) Dawn Lamb (big hat), Michael Sylvestre, Brandon Sylvestre, 4, Colbie Wynn, 4, and Keith Wynn show their ‘Irish’ during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Delray Beach March 14.
Parade organizers estimate almost 50,000 people watched the parade featuring fire-service bagpipe bands and 12 fire engine ladder trucks hoisting giant flags along Atlantic Avenue.
Tim Stepien/ The Coastal Star
In June, city commissioners will review a policy governing special events. They will be asked to identify the ones the city should host. At the group’s goal-setting session, holiday-related events were mentioned. They are St. Patrick’s Day, Delray Affair, July Fourth, Veterans Day, Christmas Tree lighting and First Night.
That June session also would include the CRA’s and DDA’s special events where those agencies pay a portion of the costs. Private events will have to pay all costs, including police overtime, street closures, maintenance and cleanup.
The goal is to limit the number of special events in the downtown.
Cooper warned the commissioners, “Stakeholders out there who want to have these events will pressure you, the commissioners.”
His warning was echoed by Francine Ramaglia, assistant city manager, when she said, “We definitely need a policy to prevent event-organizers from going around us to the commission.”
Mayor Cary Glickstein, Vice Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Deputy Vice Mayor Jordana Jarjura attended the meeting. Commissioners Al Jacquet and Adam Frankel were absent
At one point Jarjura teased the mayor saying he was known as “the grouchy one.”
Glickstein defended himself and said, “I’m not grouchy but using common sense.”
In addition, the Clean and Safe program for the downtown needs a comprehensive restructuring and the city needs a master plan for its beach, Cooper said. Most of the focus is on the downtown, but west of Interstate 95 needs attention to determine what is needed out there and what can be done.
“You framed our mission perfectly,” Glickstein said. “It is an art to concisely and succinctly define what we need to do.”
‘A complete disconnect’
“There is a complete disconnect that impacts every department in the city,” Glickstein said, “because that money is not remaining in the city but is going to the CRA for deployment in other areas. Those decisions are being made by other people.”
Jeff Costello, executive director of the CRA, attended the meeting and said, “I understand … Specific to the downtown, we’ve got to maintain it. To create the Disney effect, you need resources to do that. … Let’s have a plan.”
City commissioners also want the CRA to consider expanding its eastern borders to include the beach to help pay for the work that needs to be done there.
But the CRA board members balked.
“They don’t want buildings on the beach,” Annette Gray, a CRA board member, said during its goal-setting session. “But they want us to move our boundaries to be able to spend more money on the beach.”
When the city was reviewing its downtown height limits last year, she said, the commission was focused on the CRA moving its boundaries and didn’t look at other possibilities such as attaching an extra fee to builders who want permission to build to five stories and have that money go to preserve and maintain the beach.
Gray said the city was not expecting a formal response, but the commissioners “are just testing the waters.”
CRA board member Reggie Cox said, “We need to spend money throughout the district before we start having conversations about prioritizing other areas.”
He blamed the funding of public safety pensions as the reason the city was cash-strapped and looking for “sources to provide the services that people want.”
Cooper agreed the public safety pensions are eating up more of the city’s budget. During the current financial year, city contributions to the public safety pensions increased by 17.8 percent or $1.6 million over the previous year.
“The city has a large unfunded liability with the public safety pensions, but it’s being addressed through recent contracts with the police. We need to negotiate a similar one with the Fire Department,” he said.
But to blame it solely on “public safety pensions would be wrong,” he said.
There are many reasons for the city’s current financial challenges. As an example, he said, “Property values have come back (in the downtown) after the recession, but most of that money goes to the CRA and not the city.”
Costello tried to direct the board to find a project east of the Intracoastal such as a parking garage.
“I attend all of their meetings, workshops,” Costello told his board. “I try to redirect their focus to their priorities such as Old School Square Park Phase II and Veterans Park, instead of broaching that subject.”
Costello was able to reach a consensus with his board about the CRA’s goals: Old School Square Park Phase II, alley projects in the northwest and southwest areas, expansion of the West Atlantic Redevelopment Plan, Veterans Park renovations, reassessment of the Clean and Safe program and a parking management plan. The CRA board will discuss how to meet the goals at its April 9 meeting.
Cooper gave this warning to city commissioners in February: “What we need to do is the city needs to catch up and needs CRA assistance, from the maintenance and operations side.”
The city’s Clean and Safe program, which covers the general cleanliness and safety of the downtown, needs to be restructured with defined boundaries and one person responsible for the program and its budget, Cooper said.
Otherwise, he predicted, downtown property values “will decline because it’s an unpleasant place. We have to make a maintenance investment to keep the property values up and desirability. That’s our revenue structure. The nature of the money, it is that simple.”
I was hired as the first Clean & Safe Streetscape supervisor. What a JOKE! No staff, I was promised a crew. I was given a few of the parks dept employee's that were not motivated and did not work for me.
Equipment that was inappropriate for the area. Sidewalk sweeper machines that would not pick up sand! Street-sweepers that were always broken and the trash remained in the street and swail that would blow on to the sidewalks. Events that were unsupervised/monitored that damaged the area horticulture ie trees and plantings and left messes you would not believe!
I quit because I was not given what I needed (staff, tools, materials)to accomplish the objectives of this position. I tried to set up procedures I was met with a brick wall. If the CRA is supporting this why don't they oversee it?
Don't get me wrong I think the idea is great just to many obstacles in order to achieve the goal of this program....