Kaufman Lynn Construction executive Ben Baffer, chairman of the Delray Beach Historic Preservation Board, believes that historic buildings and sites ‘are our community’s collective legacy, and our link to our past.’ This photo mural of projects — including the historic Miami Freedom Tower — graces the Kaufman Lynn conference room. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
Perhaps no one is more aware of the importance of preserving historic buildings in our communities than someone who builds new ones for a living.
That is one of the elements that has made Ben Baffer an excellent choice for chairman of the Delray Beach Historic Preservation Board. His two-year term in that role will come to an end in August.
Baffer, 57, recently rejoined Kaufman Lynn Construction as senior vice president after spending the last three years with a Miami firm. He also spent two years (2010-12) with Kaufman Lynn in Miami working on the restoration of the Freedom Tower, one of South Florida’s most iconic buildings, dating to 1925.
Considered one of South Florida’s leading experts on historical restoration projects, Baffer initially joined Kaufman Lynn in 2007 as a senior project manager before a promotion to vice president of operations. He and his family have lived in Delray Beach for 21 years.
“There is so little history in South Florida, compared to other parts of the country,” Baffer said. “That makes the few historic buildings we have become so precious, especially in areas that are attractive for development like Delray Beach.
“Historic buildings and sites are our community’s collective legacy, and our link to our past. This is critical to our identity as a community, regardless of whether you are a newcomer, a part-time resident of Delray Beach, or if your family has been here for generations.
“And from a purely economic standpoint, it is a well-known fact that communities with a strong commitment to historic preservation are able to sustain significantly higher property values.”
Baffer said as he nears the end of his final term, he is particularly proud of the way “we have furthered the mission of historic preservation by incorporating things like landscaping, sustainability and resiliency to our purview.”
Also, “the fact that we have been able to conduct our business as a board in a manner that has always been civil, collaborative and supportive of one another, the city staff and the applicants who come before us.”
“The paradox of historic preservation is that for it to be sustainable, property owners must be able to continuously maintain, improve and invest in their historic properties. If not, historic properties will be left to deteriorate and the historic resource will be eventually lost.
“Our job as a historic preservation board is to help property owners to improve and maintain their historic properties in a way that is consistent with the land development regulations, and the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic preservation. In other words, we are here to help people make good decisions.”
Baffer’s wife, Kathy, spent 14 years as president of the Seagate Neighborhood Association and is a Realtor in Delray. Their daughter Grace, 19, is a sophomore at the University of Florida, and Ava, 16, is a junior at American Heritage School.
The Baffers bought a small travel trailer camper during the pandemic and have used it extensively for family trips.
— Brian Biggane
Q: Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A: I grew up in Newport News, Virginia, which is in the southeastern corner of the state where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Growing up there, I got to know humidity, mosquitoes and the smell of low tide. I grew up on the water, and I knew at an early age that I could never live far from the coast. So, it should come as no surprise that I eventually ended up in Delray Beach. I went to college at Virginia Tech, and then graduate school at the University of Florida.
Q: What professions have you worked in? What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: I have only worked in one profession, as a general contractor in the construction industry. On the advice of my older sister, who was majoring in architecture, I majored in building construction. This turned out to be the right decision. I was hired by a general contractor immediately after college, and this is all I have ever done.
Construction is one of the few careers where we have lasting, tangible proof of our efforts and accomplishments, and so much of my professional identity is wrapped up in the buildings and projects that I have built, and I am proud of them all.
However, in 2010 I had the opportunity with Kaufman Lynn Construction to perform a two-year historic restoration of the Miami Freedom Tower. This is the one project I am most proud of since this building is so meaningful to Miami and the Cuban community. This project won numerous local and national restoration awards, including Engineering News- Record’s “Best Project of the Year.” A decade later, people still send me photos of the Freedom Tower lit up at night.
Q: What advice do you have for a young person seeking a career today?
A: Instead of chasing the money, find something that you really like to do, because you will spend a lifetime doing it. On the other hand, never forget that your job is still work. They call it work for a reason, and if it was fun all the time, it would be called a hobby. Never underestimate the value of showing up on time and giving an honest effort every day. This will pay off in the long run, in ways you cannot imagine.
Q: How did you choose to make your home in coastal Delray Beach?
A: My wife, Kathy, is a Florida native who grew up in Boca Raton. She owned a small cottage in the Seagate neighborhood before we were married. After we were married and started having children, we realized we needed more space. We did not want to leave the Seagate neighborhood, so in 2003 we built a larger home, and we have been here ever since.
Q: What is your favorite part about living in coastal Delray Beach?
A: Delray Beach is a special place. It has everything you would ever want or need, but still has a small-town feel. Not to mention, the 2 miles of accessible, public-access beach. I also love to remind myself that we are so fortunate to be able to live, work and raise our families in a place where people from all over the world want to visit on vacation. Because of this, I try to make a point to live a little bit of vacation every day.
Q: What book are you reading now?
A: The Storyteller, by Dave Grohl. I am a big fan of the Foo Fighters, who in my opinion are one of the last of the great American rock bands. Dave Grohl is about my age and grew up in Springfield, Virginia. I guess he’s living out my rock and roll fantasy life. I started reading his book before Taylor Hawkins died, so this just makes it so much more poignant.
Q: What music do you listen to when you want to relax? When you want to be inspired?
A: My musical tastes are pretty much stuck in the two decades of the 1970s and 1990s. When I want to be inspired, I like to listen to my daughter Grace, who is an accomplished classical pianist, and to my daughter Ava, who is becoming an excellent guitarist. I love to listen to both of them play, since as a parent, there is no prouder moment than when you realize your child is really good at something that you cannot do.
Q: Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A: Yes, too many to mention, starting with my father, from whom I inherited my work ethic, and to Mike Kaufman, who taught me the business side of the construction business. As far as life decisions go, I have found it is usually best to listen to my wife, Kathy, who keeps me grounded. She is a great sounding board, and she helps me to make good decisions.
Q: If your life story were to be made into a movie, who would play you?
A: Vince Vaughn. Mainly because of his height, and the fact that he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. Vince Vaughn is known for his comedy roles and doesn’t necessarily have leading man looks, but he can carry a heavy role when he needs to.
Q: Who/what makes you laugh?
A: I’m not proud of the fact that I still have the sense of humor of a 10th-grader. Totally unsophisticated, basic, stupid humor. Caddyshack, Fletch and Animal House make me laugh hysterically, no matter how many times I’ve seen them.