By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Bill Bathurst is a preservationist with an eye toward the future.
The new commissioner, who was elected without opposition, will sit on the dais in Seat 2 for the next two years.
The seat was vacated by Commissioner Jim Chard who unsuccessfully ran for mayor. He will join Commissioner Shirley Johnson and newly elected Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioners Adam Frankel and Ryan Boylston who were elected to their seats last month.
Bathurst is a familiar face to many residents. His family has long roots in the city dating back to the 1930s, he is an Atlantic High graduate and he has served on city boards like the Historic Preservation Board.
“I think I am in a blessed position,” Bathurst said. “I have a long term perspective on Delray. I know where we have been and I know where we can go.”
He said his focus is not on the Delray of tomorrow, next week or next month, but the Delray of 2038, 2048 and beyond.
He wants to blend the idea of historic preservation while expanding the city’s tax base. To do so, he proposes putting plans in motion that will allow his son to have a job in the city in 20 years from now while making sure some of his favorite homes and buildings remain.
“It’s a very difficult balancing act,” he said of preservation and economic development. “People look at it as one or the other.”
One way he identified as a way to attract new businesses to the city is through adaptive reuse. He said the city should encourage the adaptive reuse of the historic homes and buildings that give the city its flavor and charm that residents love.
He said the city should encourage more of what companies like Delivery Dudes did with its space in a historic home and Sunflower Creative Arts, which is a pre-school located in his grandparent’s former home.
For the bigger businesses and companies that need satellite offices, the city should have a place for them to be, and he said that place is along Congress Avenue.
He said Modernizing Medicine is an example of a Delray-based company that outgrew its space and moved to Boca because Delray couldn’t accommodate what the company needed.
And when it comes to saving those treasured homes and buildings, Bathurst said the commission can look into additional policies in the land development regulations.
As a member of the historic preservation board, he said he began to identify shortcomings in the city’s rules and began to request changes to help with preservation.
“I asked for stronger lever to help manage historic preservation,” he said. “It only scratched the surface. We need to be vigilant when it comes to historic districts.”
His decision to run for commission he said shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
“It seems like a natural progression,” he said.
One challenge he said comes with being a commissioner is making a decision that is reflective of the city as a whole.
As a board member, he said you fight for what aspects are important for your board, like green initiatives for the green board and historic values for the historic preservation board. But as a commissioner, he said all of those factors have to be taken into account.
To help with the balance of growth and preservation, his idea is a concept he calls Always a Village. The city, dubbed by many as the Village by the Sea, is something that isn’t going away, Bathurst said.
“We were and will be always,” he said. “We need to maintain the Village by the Sea atmosphere in 2038, but it will look a lot different then it did in 1992.”
Bathurst has seen the city change. In the late 70s and early 80s, he worked at Hands delivering office supplies to all the businesses in the city. He said some afternoons it was so slow that he would kick a ball down Atlantic Avenue.
“It was a different time,” he said.
Now, he said the city is on what he calls a sugar high when it comes to economic development. He said the events, restaurants and bars are the success of the city. But what happens if you take that away from the downtown? He said the city should be thankful that it attracts tourists, but officials need to add to the inventory of types of businesses in town.
One of the reasons the city invested heavily in cultural attractions like Old School Square, Arts Garage and Spady Museum is so businesses would look at Delray as an option for their offices.
He said people are doing yeoman’s work to keep these nonprofits open and now the focus needs to shift to the second part of the initiative, which is attracting businesses outside of the tourism realm.
“It is hard to have tourism as our only economic driver,” he said.