Thursday, August 27, 2015

Lake Worth Diagnosis: Chronic Constipation

Confirmed by the white-robed scribes in their Ivory Tower this morning, The Palm Beach Post editorial board does successfully diagnose our plight vis-à-vis the Casino complex. The broken clock analogy comes to mind when referring to the editors there. There's been a whole lot of dithering going on by the city staff and the city commission as it relates to the solutions to our problems at the BEACH! It was about this time last year when the concept of an Invitation to Negotiate (ITN) was being discussed within the walls of City Hall. This process was designed for the City to proceed in an even-handed way. It would now be able, or was thought so at the time, to evaluate varying proposals on how to handle flaws with the Casino complex in the wake of its "renovation" which left out some loose ends to yet address.

Before heaping too much praise upon the "wise ones" in their cozy paneled offices of the Post and their editorial today, they mistakenly retell revisionist history by stating that the Casino building was "saved from the wrecking ball and restored in 2013 to a Mediterranean magnificence." Just so there isn't a misunderstanding, all but 6% of the building was demolished during the rehabilitation process. What we have there 'on the beach' is a new building. It is not a restoration of anything, except for the north half of the building resembling the original 1922 structure. Just for proof, yet again, below is a picture of the property at the peak of the Casino building's demolition in the summer of 2011. Let's not start any rumors here.

The Post, to hammer the point home, says the Casino building was spared the wrecking ball. In actuality, they used a back hoe and a claw.
An inconvenient truth for the Post editorial board.
Back to what the ITN process was supposed to try and fix: Chief among the flaws was the lack of securing a tenant for the most lovely restaurant space ever known to humankind. This according to those on the dais at the time who made the decision not to have a two-story "anchor" restaurant, which Johnny Longboats was getting ready to do. But, alas, the decision was made to reserve this space for a restaurateur, something like Cafe L'Europe. The thought was that such high level gastronomes would be falling all over themselves in some sort of bidding war for the space. That never happened so the City was left with a gaping hole in its business plan. So much so that the City is unable to meet its obligation to pay itself (the taxpaying citizens) back the $6 million it borrowed from the water utility to construct the new Casino building. There were other problems the City wanted to address in the process such as making the site work better, integrate/upgrade the pool building and the pool itself in the whole plan for the property, etc.

The ITN finally went out in October last year and there were three respondents. One of them were the new owners of the Gulfstream Hotel, Hudson Holdings. Now, I am not going to get into the nitty-gritty of what has happened since then, but if the owners of the Gulfstream Hotel were told back in November of last year by City staff that their proposal was "not responsive" and they were proposing too much it would have been better for Hudson Holdings and the City to let them know that then—not at the end of May of this year when the ITN committee had its first public meeting to announce its recommendations. At that meeting, William Waters (the Director of Community Sustainability) told us about all the concerns the City had about that level of development and suggested that a capacity study be performed about the beach property to determine if it actually could accommodate that scale of activity. He also pointed out many of the flaws present on the property in terms of accessibility issues, parking and vehicular circulation to cite a few. The thing is these were not new concerns. Those concerns existed in November 2014.

Instead, the respondents were led down a "secret" path where meetings took place "outside of the sunshine" to keep the sanctity of the ITN process. This process continued through the last election cycle giving those predisposed to the creation of rumors ample supplies of misinformation and the prospect of boogeymen that would be taking over OUR BEACH! A "no" in November 2014 from City staff and the selection committee would have been better than having this process simmering in the background in limbo until after the elections in March of this year.

On July 30th the respondents to the ITN were finally given an audience before the public and the City Commission to present what their proposals actually were. Many hadn't heard, including those on the City Commission, what was actually being proposed and how what was being proposed had changed over time. The general message from that meeting was that somehow the cart was before the horse and the respondents to the ITN, or the City, should have held charettes (planning sessions with the public) in order to solicit their vision as to what would be some of the solutions to fix the failed Casino business plan.

This past Monday, Hudson Holdings invited people to a public meeting for just that purpose. It was a meeting designed to solicit ideas from the public on how to fix the problems with the Casino complex, pool, parking, etc. Those that attended were greeted by this welcoming sign on the doors to the Casino ballroom:
After showing your ID and your RSVP ticket you were invited to enter and be part of the meeting. The meeting happened and the Post is correct, it ended up being a cordial exchange of information for the most part. And Hudson Holdings did this on their own accord to solicit the public's input: something that had been missing from the process from the beginning.

Now, after this last meeting, what do we do? I don't see the City Commission clamoring to get on with it and come to a resolution of the ITN process which is still ongoing. Like Dustin Zacks' cats, this process has nine lives. Can we have SOME MOVEMENT from the City Commission now? Please DO SOMETHING. Rather than being a political sitting duck the Commission needs to act. Say "yes" or "no" and move on. We are not going to reach our 'potential' if the city is afraid of its own shadow.

The truth of the matter is this: the Casino complex has failed expectations and is a drain on the City's finances. This problem has to be fixed because it's only going to get worse over time. As City Manager Bornstein explained many maintenance issues are being deferred to fund the daily operations of the Casino complex and beach property. The Post editorial board fundamentally misunderstands many issues about the Casino complex but on this point they are absolutely correct: the City staff and City Commission are dithering.

The opinions expressed above are my own. Some will take great umbrage with what I think and that's understandable. Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts.