This article, originally published by Al Zucaro on BocaWatch.org, is preserved for historical purposes by Massive Impressions Online Marketing in Boca Raton.
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Our downtown has recently suffered the closing of two longstanding businesses at Mizner Park. After many years of enjoyment, we no longer have Truluck’s or Uncle Julio’s as a downtown staple. Sadly, right after those two deaths we unexpectedly lost our two-year old, Junior’s as well as Pellegrino’s and Mobu have disappeared. Boca Raton may not be a global capital but every small business matters. Our city is more likely a second or third level city meaning, we must work twice as hard to attract small business investment and even harder to retain these businesses.
Small businesses are typically classified as 250 or fewer employees. There is considerable evidence to support that small businesses are the backbone of cities and play a critical role in creating jobs for residents. Too often city leaders do not support or discuss during the budget process the need to allocate a budget line item dedicated to small business development. Small businesses do not need a handout. Most small businesses with a bankable business plan need seed money or incentives to open the doors quickly; quickly being the operative word. Incentives do not have to be costly or expected but such things as a rent abatement period, interior build-out, outdoor signage or help with permitting could yield much needed retail to support our rooftops. And the City or the CRA needs to help.
We all know Boca Raton looks good on paper and shines with many key partnerships in the acronym game of FAU,BRCC, BDB, SBA, CRA, and many more. Yet, even with all these partnerships Boca’s downtown is not vibrant or robust. In fact, the recent loss of these downtown restaurants demonstrates business retention is not Boca Raton’s strong suit in either the short or long term.
Looking good on paper is irrelevant if we do not have the will to create a vibrant downtown that is not only a destination for our residents but also entices the larger population of the tri-county area. The problem is the city has no “visionary leadership.” Visionary leadership is necessary to create a vibrant daytime and robust nighttime economy.
Step one to getting on the sociable city economic train is to conduct a hospitality assessment. We need to know and evaluate the barriers to developing a nighttime economy overseen by a nighttime manager to change the city’s sociable trajectory to ensure Boca Raton is a stop on the travel map. City management has checked the boxes and clicked the right buttons but ignored our ability to create and implement a social scene that enhances the experience of food, drink, music, culture and safety making Boca the place to be seven days a week. For years, city government has operated as a well-oiled machine with necessary bells and whistles, but where is the “WOW?”
A second step would be for city staff who operate often as overlords of a city government culture to be converted to a customer service attitude of “How can we help?”
Until visionary leaders are elected, a third step is to challenge existing policies or burdensome regulations by deploying a small business advocate who quickly rectifies any road blocks to zoning, permitting, and licensing prohibiting businesses or projects from opening in a timely manner; a prime example of this type of obstacle was recently experienced with Luff’s Fish House on Palmetto Park and a small business owner wanting to open an ice cream shop on Palmetto. The small business advocate should serve as a liaison partner to the private sector and reveal any potential expenses arising from other governmental entities as required to opening a new business in Boca Raton or other issues as they arise. Changing the culture to a customer service attitude will ensure potential new business owners that the city is their partner to success instead of an adversarial gatekeeper.
A fourth step would be engagement with the business community to jointly create a small business growth plan connected to available city, regional, state, and national economic assets. The city government has under its control the ability to provide resources for training and networking critical to new businesses. These dedicated resources would ensure the city has a workforce ready to be employed by all future small businesses.
From a pragmatic perspective, the fifth step is that downtown Boca Raton consists of contiguous sub-areas that have different reasons for existing and different sources of consumer support. It is critical that these sub-areas be considered as clusters to properly identify retail needs in each unique cluster. Then collectively each of these unique clusters would coalesce to create a merchant organization operating as one voice. The merchant organization is not a new concept rather an unfulfilled recommendation of the 1995 Downtown Plan and lost in the vacuum of other priorities. Without a merchant organization it is difficult to maintain, expand and retain our existing retail and restaurant partners that are essential for vibrancy.
And Parking! The initially proposed garage near the Library is a danger to kids, due to heavy traffic – And not centrally located to business district. Wherever it is put, a circulator paid for out of parking fees is needed. It is too far, and too hot, to get much foot traffic to the whole district. I have not shopped downtown in years.
Good morning Krista: I am not a fan of the proposed site for the parking garage on the west side of the tracks adjacent to the library….Only Acting Mayor Singer has proposed that location and has received no support from the other members of the council. As to the issue of a ‘circulator’, I am in full agreement. There needs to be a system put in place….perhaps a trolley but certainly with a ‘Boca’ signature. CRA’s generate lots of revenue. This revenue is available to cover items like a circulator. In BocaWatch’s recent articles focusing on the downtown CRA, the question as to what the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars are providing the residents, has been raised. The question remains unanswered. Thank you for your comment. Al Zucaro, Publisher
Downtown Boca needs help – the vast turnover of businesses on Palmetto Park, Royal Palm Plaza and Mizner Park are a clear indication something is not optimum. This is not new to Boca Raton.
Mizner Park is somewhat a destination – it actually has two large PUBLIC parking garages.
It has a public area – designed for people to converge. To see the staples pulling out is alarming.
The Palmetto corridor – is becoming paralyzed, and likely to get far worse once more of the “planned and approved” construction is realized. Parking along Palmetto Park Road west of the intracoastal is a hazard as the lanes are narrow and the congestion can be high. trucks blocking lanes, etc…
Royal Palm has less than ample parking – No public place to converge.
Delivery trucks have no where to unload. The limited signage lacks direction.
With the amount of new construction happening…
The decisions today will likely show their true colors 5 years out.
We don’t have a parking problem! We have a parker problem. Over many years, with the exception of Major Mizner Park special events, I have never had an issue finding space in one of the four garages. Yes, you may have to go way up, maybe to the roof, but the parking is there. (Be honest and ask yourself, have you ever been to the roof ?). In 1999 there was major kickback when the Art Museum decided to relocate downtown, as to parking. People wanted to relocate in a suburban area where there could be a massive parking lot. A psychologist from Seattle, who specialized in parking was brought in. (Yes there was that specialty). He talked about the geriatric fear of going up, up up. The fear of being mugged or assaulted (brought down from from the North), and other parker issues. Think of this: wherever you park in a garage, first floor or roof, the average number of steps to Ground level and the park itself, is the same (think elevator). Parents and their kids have parked and walked in hundreds of cities across America, forever. “Hold my hand, honey, as we cross the street”. We don’t have a parking problem! We have a parker problem.
Al, your article points out the lack of vision by city leaders. I would like to offer up that there is also a lack of vision by property owners. Mizner Park gave our downtown a GREAT starting point with a vision (financing of Mizner aside). From there the vision for our downtown suffered,to a degree, from too much property ownership in the hands of too few owners.
Then came the Great Recession when our City Council was stacked with members that believed in ‘build anything, anywhere, anytime’ while enjoying the financial backing of developers that ultimately encouraged them to put comprehensive planning and vision on hold. This should qualify as a lesson learned.
If the developers of Midtown will participate in the City led comprehensive planning for their area we can have a better outcome for Midtown. I fear they prefer the build anything, anytime, anywhere approach that lacks the aforementioned vision and comprehensive planning.
The elections of O’Rourke and Mayotte provide hope for better buildout and better quality of life. We need one more like-minded on City Council.