Monday, October 1, 2007

Misty, Watercolored Memories...

Here is a small sampling of the large number of redevelopment proposals for the Lake Worth Beach, as chronicled by the Palm Beach Post Editorial staff. I picked the two proposals that would be most fresh in our collective consciouses: The 1998 RFP developer give-away debacle and the 2002 attempt at a general obligation bond issue.

Those of you that have lived here long enough surely recall the four responses to the City's RFP for beach development - which included condos, hotels, commercial space and ignored the fact that it was a public beach at all. I remember at the time addressing the City Commission and commenting that the City "lifted its skirt a little too high" and realized that too late in the game. The sad fact was the City had no criteria and nothing on the table in terms of expectations that the various private entities had to meet. What resulted is what could be expected - a developer-based plan that left the public out of the decision making process. That is, with the exception of a very agitated crowd at the Lake Worth High School during the revealing of the various proposals.

The following editorial appeared before that public hearing. Remember, the date was December 16, 1998:

Key quotes from the above 1998 editorial: "No one believes the beach property can remain as it is. The casino building is showing its age. There's too much parking and too little open space. One of two staircases to the beach in front of the casino is closed because of deterioration." And the following, "But the Lake Worth beach is not a rundown neighborhood where anything would be an improvement. It is a public park and perhaps the city's finest asset. There is no way to add a hotel or a shopping center without inhibiting public access." So, back in 1998 we came to a conclusion as a community that a developer's vision for the beach wasn't meant for the Lake Worth beach property. We also concluded that something needed to be done - time was a wastin'.

The following editorial appeared about two weeks later in the Palm Beach Post - on Christmas Eve 1998 as a matter of fact:

Key phrases from this 1998 editorial include (besides the headline): "Lake Worth's beach does not need a hotel, but it does need at least a face lift. City commissioners must not let the issue fade now that the shouting has died down." And this humdinger, "At the very least, the 50-year-old (editor's note: 60 years for part of the building, 80 years for other parts) casino building needs work. The dune line, which helps stabilize the beach, could function better if the sidewalk east of the casino were moved west to line up with the sidewalk to the north and south. Some of the parking atop the dune could be eliminated in favor of a picnic area, or more shops, or a nighttime restaurant, and replaced with a small parking garage well behind the dune." And then this, "Mayor Tom Ramiccio, the first member of the commission to come out against the hotel, suggested seeking state historic preservation money for the casino, county money' for a new promenade and landscaping and a private-public partnership, for shops and a parking garage. That's an intriguing idea, especially if the casino could be restored to look like the building destroyed by the 1947 hurricane; it was far more attractive than the box that replaced it."

So, the City went to work. We engaged the services of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (TCRPC) and they put together a number of community charettes and held a design studio in the City Hall annex where they were able to articulate the community's vision of what a redeveloped beach property would look like. The plan that TCRPC and those that participated in the process resembles the current Greater Bay proposal to a large degree. However, the concept was that the City would go ahead with a general obligation bond for the improvements and continue to operate and manage the property.

The plan had the following parameters. This is a portion of a brochure put out by the City in advance of the March 2002 election:

Here is a black and white rendering of the project:

I will do a future post which explores the difference between this plan and the Greater Bay plan. However, the direction given by our former Mayor Drautz and the Commission at the time was to stick generally with the plan that was associated with the failed attempt at a bond issue. Greater Bay has made some changes. Remember, the site plan that is part of the existing Development Agreement is illustrative only. I am getting ahead of myself and it's time to turn back to history.

Armed with the TCRPC study, a Beach Steering Committee was formed. The following editorial comes from the day of the presentation by the Chairman of that Committee. It deals with the proposal from the Committee and a recommendation to go to referendum on the general obligation bond issue for the project. It's important to realize that the vote was for the bond issue only and not for the zoning or anything else related to the project. It is dated May 15, 2001 and here it is:

What golden nuggets can be pulled from here you ask? Try these: "...the city commission will get what its beach committee hopes is the final, thoroughly tweaked plan, which is based on hours of suggestions from residents. The plan calls for rebuilding the casino wit% its original -1922 look. The amount of floor space would double, and the buiIding would 'link to a parking garage. With the garage, the 19-acre site could have more green space." And, "Even if they do nothing, they will have to pay at least $1 million just to keep the casino safe ,for a few years. Concrete chunks have fallen in the aged building, and deterioration problems will grow with time and exposure to salt air." And, "Expanding commercial space in the casino will help meet the operating cost. Paying off 20 year bonds for stormwater sewers in 2004 will leave the city a chance to use those payments for bonds that would finance casino construction. Taxpayers are used to that charge and could feel comfortable extending it if commissioners can show how much Lake Worth would benefit from renovating the city's most valuable public asset." And finally this - in large type, "Lake Worth has waited long enough to act."

Unfortunately, something happened on the way to the ballot box with this proposal. Someone upset with mangroves islands in the Lake Worth Lagoon - not associated with the beach, or something like that. You'll have to ask around for the full story.

The point is that the time to act has been forever in coming. By not acting, we are restricting the future of our city and the sense of achievement that could bring. I wonder if these editorials are being shown at the door when signatures are being gathered?