The city’s push to create incentives for a spine of downtown office towers leading to the waterfront gets a key hearing Wednesday before the Downtown Action Committee.
The plan to create the Okeechobee Business District, which would stretch down Okeechobee Boulevard from Rosemary Avenue to Flagler Drive, was prompted by Related Urban Development’s desire to rezone a property 300 feet from the Flagler waterfront to allow a 25-story Class A tower.
An analysis by city staff said jobs and other economic benefits of adding top-tier offices would outweigh the loss of nearby condo residents’ and office tenants’ views and would create open public space along the waterfront, while preserving the historic First Church of Christ Scientist, beside which the tower would rise.
The city’s Planning Board unanimously agreed at its July 26 meeting. The DAC approval represents a final hurdle before the city commission hears the matter at an as-yet-unscheduled date.
Opponents say creating the Okeechobee Business District amounts to poorly disguised spot zoning to allow the developer’s 25-story tower in an area that a 1996 voters’ referendum restricted to 5 stories. They say it would generate traffic at the already busy entry to the Royal Park Bridge and violate voters’ desire to keep tall buildings off the waterfront.
The DAC meeting starts at 9 a.m. in the city hall auditorium.
City staff pressed its plan to rewrite downtown zoning to accommodate Related Cos.’ proposal for a 25-story tower at the First Church of Christ, Scientist site.
Addressing the commission and a polite crowd of 200 packing the city hall auditorium, Development Services Director Rick Greene countered arguments that the proposed creation of an Okeechobee Business District, allowing Related’s One Flagler project, would turn West Palm Beach into another jam-packed Miami. “Apples and oranges,” he said.
Mayor Jeri Muoio also sought to address concerns that allowing Related’s tower would open the door to other towers blocking off the city’s waterfront. “As long as I am mayor, we will not let that happen,” she said.
The city’s existing handful of office towers bring in millions in annual property taxes but they’re full, so major companies are going to Boca Raton, Greene said. He also insisted that the proposed reworking of zoning districts would not lead to more waterfront towers, currently restricted by a voters’ referendum to five stories.
But commissioner Shanon Materio and Commission President Cory Neering said they wanted city staff to explore and the commission to discuss other options to preserve the church and the waterfront.
“Is (creating the Okeechobee Business District) the only way to achieve that? Neering asked afterward. “I feel boxed in with that as the only option. Not that we don’t eventually get there, but I’d like to think of other options.”
Materio said Related’s plan amounted to “spot zoning” and she recommended another option: Have the city buy the church site for a public use other than a skyscraper, perhaps selling some of the land for a smaller development, to recoup the city’s money.
Christian Science churches, many of them in historic buildings like this one, are being re-purposed all over the country, she said. “There are so many other things we could do with that site.”
City commissioner Keith James argued that the city could be putting itself in legal jeopardy by interfering with Related’s contract to buy the property. Related’s attorney, Harvey Oyer agreed.
But attorney Gregory Kino, representing Trump Plaza Condominium Association, disagreed.
“The City could put an end to this discussion immediately by telling Related that they are not going to support such an extreme proposal and they need to go the Quadrille Boulevard corridor where they built the last successful Class A building in the City or other places that the City’s Master Plan consultant recommended and the City agreed when it was last updated in 2009,” Kino said. “The City has every right not to entertain this proposal initiated and backed by Related solely for their own gain. The contract would go away on its own.”
CHECK BACK WITH THE PALM BEACH POST LATER THIS WEEK FOR A MORE DETAILED STORY.
An office/apartment/hotel project linking Tri-Rail, bus, trolley and car commuters while promising 4,000 jobs, educational programs, local business incentives and home ownership help to abutting poor neighborhoods crashed and burned Monday, with city commissioners squeamish about the developer’s request for a subsidy from property taxes generated by the project.
Developer Michael Massanoff and his team sought to make a full presentation to the mayor and city commissioners, who were gathered as the Community Redevelopment Agency, to explain how he’d revised the plan and reduced the requested tax subsidy in response to criticisms they made in January. But Mayor Jeri Muoio, though complimenting the project itself, sharply limited his time to explain the proposal and the numbers. Two motions to approve the deal didn’t even get a second.
Massanoff is left to try renegotiating a deal for city staff to again present to the board. Or, the disappointed developer noted afterward, since the land is owned by the county, he could just work out a development deal with the county and leave the city out of the loop.
City officials noted that the $25 million in tax increment financing he was willing to accept was 12 times more than the previous highest amount given a developer. Massanoff countered that his transit-oriented project would create public benefits that others do not.
We’ll have a more detailed story this week in The Palm Beach Post, on the deal and what went wrong.
As a next step in West Palm Beach’s mobility study, city planners are reaching out to merchants and other downtown groups for their ideas on easing downtown parking problems.
According to the Mayor’s Office, city planners recently met to discuss availability and affordability of parking downtown. They are evaluating policy changes to manage demand, especially during events and tourist season.
Consultant Sam Schwartz, retained by Alta Planning + Design, which is conducting the mobility study, is completing an initial report on parking. The report summarizes the existing situation, best practices in parking management, alternative transportation options, how many parking spaces are available, demand, and what downtown residents and business owners said.
The city is considering dishing out about $100,000 to attract two unidentified firms, one in aerospace/aviation, the other in life sciences.
City commission votes are scheduled for July 17 for “Project Falcon” and “Project Cell,” respectively.
According to the commission agenda, Project Falcon is the code name for an aerospace or aviation firm that wants to relocate to the city with 450 jobs and create an additional 200 over the next five years.
The jobs would have an average salary of about $66,000.
The state would pay the biggest part of the incentives package, $640,000, while the county would match the city’s $80,000.
Word that Mayor Jeri Muoio’s staff was moving ahead with a plan that could put an office tower near the waterfront sent city commissioners’ phones ringing this week.
Commissioner Paula Ryan said she’d fielded 700 emails on the hot-button issue. The mayor said she also had a folder filled with inquiries.
Problem was, the commission hadn’t been filled in so there wasn’t much they could say on the matter — the mayor’s Development Services staff had been treating it as an administrative matter* at this stage and planned to bring it to the commission in the months ahead, after going through the Planning Board and Downtown Action Committee.
That’s going to change.
At Commissioner Shanon Materio’s request, Muoio this week agreed to schedule a mayor-commission work session on the plan, which would allow developer Related Cos. of New York to build a 25-story office tower on a site near the waterfront now limited to five stories.
It was Related that came up with the idea, but the city took the ball and ran with it, citing a shortage of first-class office towers with which to attract employers.
Since spot-zoning — changing the zoning to favor a specific parcel, even if at odds with current zoning — isn’t Kosher, Related proposed that the city create a whole Okeechobee Boulevard business district that would include its site near the First Church of Christ, Scientist.
Materio said the point of her request was to slow the approval process down a bit, so commissioners, the city’s policy-making body, can have a better sense of where the administration is headed before the plan goes to the other boards.
“We have no idea right now of what is being put together,” she said.
*Note: The Mayor’s Office objected to this characterization. Here’s what spokeswoman Kathleen Walter said in an email Wednesday:
“Your blog post states, ‘the Mayor’s Development Services staff had been treating (the Related Cos. project) as an administrative matter.’ That’s not accurate. To clarify, the City has not been treating it as an administrative matter. The City’s Development Services Department stated from the very beginning that the changes that the City was going to require were the creation of a new zoning district and a comprehensive plan change. Neither of these requirements is an administration matter, and public input is required. The matter requires a formal review by the Downtown Action Committee, the Planning Board, and two public hearings with the City Commission. In an effort to publicize and receive input on these proposed changes, the Development Services Department held a workshop on April 12, 2017 with the Downtown Action Committee and on April 18, 2017 with the Planning Board. Both of these meetings lasted approximately four hours, and the City received a lot of public input. The meeting agendas are publicized and shared with board members and commissioners to inform everyone of what is being discussed in each of these meetings.”
News the Downtown Action Committee approved a landscaped, illuminated walkway connecting Banyan Boulevard with the 500 block of Clematis Street brought cheer an ocean away, where the co-owner of West Palm’s Subculture Coffee, Sean Scott, was traveling in — of course — Scotland.
The committee, in approving a 348 micro-unit apartment called Banyan Place, OK’d plans to turn a 20-foot-wide alley between the east side of the proposed building and a city parking garage into an attractive cut-through to downtown’s premier street, by way of Subculture’s courtyard.
“We’ve always wanted to activate the whole passageway since we licensed the front part,” he wrote in an email before boarding a plane home.
“When we were told it was going to happen, we were thrilled! It’s such a unique space that could just add another dimension to the flourishing 500 block. I look forward to helping program events whenever it’s finished.”
Scott, with a couple of entrepreneurial friends, has been working on a plan to turn the side of the five-story city garage into an urban climbing wall, which received city approval several months ago but has yet to materialize. “We hit some snags with financing it,” he wrote. “Not a dead project but still trying to work through it.”
A proposal by West Palm Beach to turn empty storefronts into pop-up rentals for small businesses or start-ups has won a $180,000 grant from the Knight Cities Challenge.
The proposal, “12 for 12: Popup to Rent,” submitted by Economic Development Director Christopher Roog, expands on the success of a pilot project by inviting local businesses to activate 12 empty stores as an economic catalyst for the city.
Roog worked with urban planning firm Gehl Architects, gathering data about downtown activity and in particular about retail spaces that weren’t active. He came up with the idea to ask landlords to donate the spaces for use by small businesses or start-ups to occupy the slots on a temporary basis, and with a marketing effort, “maybe have an event with some food trucks, some cool lighting,” to help activate the street and give the start-ups a shot at success, he said in January, when the project was named as a finalist.
The project is one of 33 announced today by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that will share $5 million as winners of the Knight Cities Challenge. Each of the ideas centers on helping cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunities and create a culture of civic engagement.
“The Knight Cities Challenge works to uncover the ideas, people and collaborations that help to advance deeper civic engagement and contribute to city success,” said Sam Gill, Knight Foundation vice president for communities and impact. “The winners join a network of civic innovators who are showing us the ways in which our cities can shape their futures to help solve pressing challenges and create new opportunities.”
The challenge attracted more than 4,500 ideas to make the 26 communities where Knight invests more vibrant places to live and work. It asked innovators of all kinds to answer the question: What’s your best idea to make cities more successful? One project in Palm Beach County is receiving a portion of the $5 million pool.
The 33 winners proposed a host of ideas, from providing a space for Philadelphians to develop city service solutions through a traveling city design lab to further enlivening the Detroit waterfront by creating an inviting, urban beach along the city’s Atwater Street, from replacing an inoperative freeway in Akron with a lush forest and public space to connect two physically and socially isolated neighborhoods to reimagining Columbia, South Carolina’s State House as a front porch for all.
“These Knight Cities Challenge winners will help to create avenues for people to contribute to their community. Their ideas propose to bring together diverse residents, ensure talent thrives, and connect people to place, giving them a stake in city-building,” said George Abbott, Knight Foundation director for community and national initiatives.
Past winners have created innovative solutions aimed at connecting people of all backgrounds and incomes, inviting people into active civic engagement and helping keep and attract talented people in their communities, the foundation said. They include: The Institute of Hip-Hop Entrepreneurship, which uses hip-hop to provide hands-on business training to members of low-income groups in Philadelphia; Re:Brand Detroit, which aims to spark reinvestment in Detroit’s neighborhoods through entrepreneurship; and Minimum Grid Maximum Impact, which improves neighborhood life by creating a network of bike and pedestrian connections between Midtown and Uptown Columbus, Georgia.
Applications open June 12 for small, grassroots nonprofits in Palm Beach County to receive their share of $750,000.
For the past six years, West-Palm Beach health funder, Quantum Foundation, has set aside a total of $4 million for this project.
This year will mark the 7th annual Quantum in the Community initiative, to help local nonprofits who are working towards a healthier Palm Beach County by meeting the basic needs of residents like food, clothing, shelter and transport.
“Having basic needs met is essential for people to be healthy, and we want to help those who need it the most,” Quantum President Eric M. Kelly said.
All applications are evaluated by a committee of: Quantum Foundation Program Officer Shannon Hawkins, chairwoman Donna Mulholland and board members Ethel Isaacs-Williams and Denis Coleman, Jr.
Applicants: must be registered as a 501(c)3; have been working in Palm Beach County for at least six months; have an annual operating budget no higher than $500,000; and must provide basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, utilities and transport to the county’s most vulnerable residents.
No one organization will receive more than $25,000 of the $750,000 total.
The city is inviting small business owners, including minorities and women, to a program on how to benefit from the city’s 1 percent sales tax increase.
Frank Hayden, the City’s Director of Procurement, is hosting a free workshop from 4-6 p.m. on Thursday, June 8, at the Pleasant City Recreation Center, 501 21st St.
He will explain updated programs created to encourage more engagement among small, minority- and female-owned businesses and the city’s streamlined processes for businesses to get certified.
Hayden will be joined by Mark Parks, West Palm’s CFO, who will outline the city’s funding sources for new contracts; Kevin Volbrecht, director of Engineering Services, and Susan Burglund, Engineering Services project manager, who will talk about engineering opportunities with the City’s Comprehensive Improvement Plan Project; and Poonam Kalkat, director of Public Utilities, who will provide details on water and wastewater projects. Guests can talk to city representatives one-on-one, following the presentations.
“The City has its funding in place now, including funds generated from the 1 percent sales tax, and projects ready for bid,” Hayden said. “We are excited to share the most recent details of our upcoming projects.
A recent Disparity Study showed a need for greater inclusion among women-owned and minority-owned businesses on certain types of work available from the city.
In 2016, the Procurement Department introduced new programs to help small business enterprises be more competitive in the city’s bid process. Hayden has set a goal to increase the number of small businesses certified by the City by 5 percent annually and to increase the number of dollars spent with certified businesses by 5 percent annually.
“We’ve streamlined the paperwork to make it simpler and less time-intensive,” Hayden said.
To learn more about West Palm Beach procurement opportunities in the areas of goods and services, construction and professional services, visit www.wpb.org/procurement or call 561-822-2100.