Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Did you know West Palm Beach’s downtown redevelopment roots go back over 20 years? And what about Lake Worth’s “potential”.

Last year I stumbled upon this New York Times article from back in 1997. It was when former-Mayor Nancy Graham was in office.

Mayor Graham ushered in many changes. I first worked for the city of West Palm Beach beginning in 1989 as a planner on staff there. I left for my next job about a year after Mayor Graham assumed the office. Back in 1989 downtown West Palm Beach was not a destination. It was a place to avoid. We can all see the changes from then until now.

Many projects initiated or pushed forward by Nancy Graham are mentioned in the NYT article. They include the fountain on Clematis Street and the blowing up of the former Holiday Inn on a New Year’s Eve which made way for the amphitheater and open space.

The article also mentions City Place and calling in Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk to prepare the downtown master plan, making way for the continuing redevelopment that we see in West Palm Beach. It also points out the change in government structure from a manager/commission form of government like Lake Worth has today, to a strong mayor form of government that West Palm Beach still maintains to this day.

But here in Lake Worth, just across the canal from West Palm Beach, we continue to hear the “mantra of fear” from some quarters, a resistance to change of any sort, keeping many parts of our City frozen in time. Missteps or past mistakes by other cities are cited as reasons to delay and delay and delay some more. New projects that should instill hope are instead picked apart. “Bad things might happen.”

However, if you look around our Downtown and many neighborhoods in this City of Lake Worth, it’s easy to see how we can vastly improve and still retain our identity as a unique community.

West Palm Beach and Lake Worth are neighbors but we’re vastly different. West Palm Beach is the regional hub of activity in Central Palm Beach County. Lake Worth is a small satellite. For example, many in the local press and media don’t really even know what and where the actual City of Lake Worth is let alone understand what makes us so very unique from all those communities out west, places “in Lake Worth” that are not in our City at all.

Fortunately, we have “ambassadors” such as West Palm Beach Commissioner Shanon Materio who also runs a very successful business on Dixie Hwy. in Lake Worth. And there are many others who understand the dynamics of our two cities. We can learn a lot from the city of West Palm Beach. And will dare say, our City of Lake Worth has a lot to offer our neighbor.

Going forward, especially after the elections last March, I’m optimistic more people are looking around and seeing that “potential” our City has. That’s also exactly why some here in Lake Worth who like to throw around “the ‘P’ word” like cheap confetti continue to be confused and dismayed by those election results, which were indeed “seismic”.

Because while they’re trying to score a few political points everyone around them is looking towards a brighter future for this little City. A City that has all that potential we have all talked about for the last 20 years.