|CRA’s Silver Anniversary Recalls Milestones in Downtown’s Turnaround|
By Leon Fooksman
In 1985, Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency was formed to rebuild the city’s depressed downtown.
The corridor had a 40 percent storefront vacancy rate. A major property hadn't changed hands in nearly 15 years. By 5 p.m., the place was a ghost town.
And so, the agency set out to create city partners, attract private investors, and find creative ideas to reshape the struggling district.
Now, 25-years later, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is celebrating those pioneering steps that eventually transformed the downtown into a thriving destination with modern buildings, upscale restaurants, and unique attractions.
The dramatic turnaround of downtown’s Atlantic Avenue corridor is credited to the innovative work of many entities. But the CRA played a major role in creating a commercial center that has brought thousands of new residents to Delray Beach and increased property values in the district to once-unthinkable heights, from $245 million in 1985 to $1.2 billion in 2010.
“The CRA was the most instrumental entity in the transformation of the downtown,” said Bill Branning, a CRA commissioner and longtime owner of a general contractor company in Delray Beach. “If it wasn’t for the agency, the fate of Delray Beach would have been the same as so many other cities in Florida which are passed over because they aren’t progressive.”
Added Elizabeth Butler, the CRA’s marketing and grants coordinator: “Successful redevelopment requires workable partnerships, with both public and private sector participants. The benefit of the CRA is the leveraging of city, county, federal and private dollars. The CRA makes the initial investment to give others the confidence to create and build.”
Delray Beach always had a classic American downtown with a central street and low-rise buildings. But when the downtown fell on hard times in the 1970s and 1980s, many felt it was because the district lacked the right businesses and activities to attract outsiders.
That’s why the CRA was started in the summer of 1985.
The first task was to upgrade key properties, beautify the streets, and make parking convenient and safe.
The CRA used money raised from a bond issue to assemble property on East Atlantic Avenue next to the railroad tracks for a redevelopment site. Private developers went on to purchase the property and construct an entertainment complex known as Grove Square, which included three new restaurants, retail shops, and the City Limits outdoor pavilion.
The next step was drawing people.
The CRA partnered with the City, Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Development Authority to establish the Downtown Marketing Cooperative—a joint venture that markets the downtown and runs special events, such as Art and Jazz on the Avenue and the July Fourth Celebration.
Those investments, by many accounts, were a turning point in bringing upscale restaurants, galleries and boutiques to the avenue as well as putting the city on the map in South Florida as an entertainment and cultural destination.
These days, tens of thousands of tourists continue flocking to Delray Beach every year, with many staying for good. New condos and townhouses are home to upwardly mobile families. Come midnight, many of downtown’s restaurants are still crowded.
The CRA remains a vital entity in the continuing renaissance of the City’s commercial core. As the population expands, the agency is working with the city to guide the downtown’s future growth and continue to enhance its many assets. It is also working to draw builders, businesses, and jobs to the less-developed West Atlantic Avenue corridor. The CRA’s efforts have also moved beyond the downtown’s borders to the surrounding neighborhoods with the creation of pocket parks, street beautification projects, and provision of quality affordable housing.
“Our job is far from being done,” Butler said. “As we look back, we are pleased that the CRA’s investments, and those of our partners, have generated such positive returns for the community. But we have new challenges ahead, and we intend to keep Delray’s momentum going strong.”
Learn more about the CRA's major accomplishments over the last 25 years!