With a backdrop of juke boxes and poodle skirts, Delray residents took a trip down memory lane at Ellie’s 50s Diner to plan for the future of the North Federal Highway Corridor.

Nestled near the city’s burgeoning downtown and the upscale town of Gulf Stream, the district is home to a cluster of car dealerships, auto repair shops and commercial businesses abutting the railroad tracks. The suburban site is juxtaposed with a mixture of high-end townhomes and neighborhoods that are tucked away on the eastern front and back up to the Intracoastal.

Filling in the gaps are eclectic places like the vintage diner, which is plastered with Elvis and Marilyn Monroe memorabilia for people to reminisce over while grabbing a milkshake.

The Community Redevelopment Agency, responsible for ridding the city of blight, hired an outside firm to determine what attractions could thrive there. But the city doesn’t want to map out a makeover for the suburban stretch alone. They are looking to residents who live, work and hang out in the area to help craft plans to revitalize the corridor with its own personality that separates the district from its big brother, Atlantic Avenue.

Under a disco ball in the restaurant’s Flamingo Room, about 40 business owners and residents of Delray’s North Federal Highway met this week to discuss ways to breathe more life into this sleepy section of town.

Consultants presented plans that call for a branding of the area, more places to live and additional office space. They recommend development start closest to downtown on George Bush Boulevard.

Several residents also shared their visions for the district, which include adding a botanical garden, public art pieces and small boutiques.
The consultants said building out more of North Federal Highway poses challenges. The area is narrow, which makes construction difficult. It is also vehicle-oriented, which could make adding sidewalks and bike lanes problematic.

Regardless, several developers have accepted the challenges. In the pipeline are plans to build a luxury rental apartment complex on the site of the old Swap Shop, along with several other recently approved townhome projects.

The last time the city officially studied the corridor was in 1999. The once popular tourist destination became home to dilapidated motels, an adult book store and a popular hangout for drug dealers and prostitutes.

Delray officials stepped in and demolished several run down buildings including the abandoned Miller Dodge Dealership and the Arrow Trailer Park. They were replaced with high-end residential developments to help boost property values of the older surrounding neighborhoods.

When the economy crashed, the area took another hit and several planned projects never took off.

“We had a lot of older buildings being refurbished and reused then the economy hit,” said redevelopment agency Director Diane Colonna. “It was pretty bad, but it’s coming back. The area has improved.”

Now, officials hope to get the makeover back on track.

The final market analysis is scheduled to land in front of redevelopment agency officials on Sept. 30.

mgottesman@tribune.com, 561-243-6544 or Twitter @marisagottesman