By Jane Smith

    The aroma of fried chicken wafted through the casino ballroom as Lake Worth residents checked in to a “courteous conversation” about future plans for the Lake Worth Casino complex.
    A partner in the historic Sundy House in Delray Beach who also co-owns the historic Gulfstream Hotel in downtown Lake Worth paid for the spread. Fresh fruits, crudités and dip, slices of wrap sandwiches, cheeses and bottled water were served during the Aug. 24 dinner hours. String music played on the sound system while the residents were processed. Three Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office deputies stood guard.
    Residents had to submit questions in advance and show their driver licenses before they could enter the ballroom. Then they received wrist bands. Nearly 200 residents were seated by 5:20 p.m. Renting the ballroom cost at least $168, which also includes the tables and 200 chairs.
    “We are here to listen,” said Steve Michael, a principal of Hudson Holdings, sponsor of the event. “We do have a large vested interest in the Gulfstream Hotel, but we are not here to present our project but to let the community talk.”
    Michael told the residents that the code issues the company had in Lake Worth were cleared up, which was verified by city staff. To quell questions about the Gulfstream Hotel, which was purchased in May 2014 but remains closed, he said Hudson Holdings  submitted preliminary plans that day. The city has a rezoning application asking for permission to tie the Gulfstream and six other parcels together.
    About half of the residents there said they wanted improvements at the beach complex. Their ideas included: Build a new, deeper swimming pool without a wall so that when you are at the pool you can view the ocean; remove the parking from atop the complex and build a parking garage below that has green touches; and create a shuttle service from the downtown.
    The civil discourse of that session contrasted with the one held July 30 when Hudson Holdings and Anderson & Carr first presented their plans to an overflow crowd at a City Commission meeting.
    Hudson Holdings proposed a 22,000-square-foot addition that would include a mix of retail and restaurants on the first floor, 7,000-square-foot ballroom on the second floor, a new public pool and pool deck, covered valet drop-off and a two-story parking garage on the lower level.
    Paul Snitkin, of Anderson & Carr’s West Palm Beach office, said his client wanted to create a high-end Mediterranean restaurant in the unfinished space, take over the banquet hall and sell soups and sandwiches at the top of the stairs. The romantic restaurant would feature a “public table” section where people could sit together and with Lake Worth memorabilia on the walls.
    The meeting was so divisive that the mayor took a break from the dais and even the level headed City Manager Michael Bornstein said he was disappointed in his 3½ years in Lake Worth that he described as a “city that lacks trust.”
    On Aug. 25, city commissioners held a budget workshop. No one mentioned the plans for the beach complex.
    Commissioners reached a consensus to hire more lifeguards to staff the beach additional hours, add two part-time custodians, make the parking technician full-time, add $100,000 to its annual renewal and replacement fund, create a two-tier system for parking with summer and winter rates, and lengthen the utility bond repayment to 14 years.
 

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