Agency board pushes for more negotiations with developer who previously failed to close on property
By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
The countdown is on for Uptown Atlantic to come to an agreement with Delray’s Community Redevelopment Agency board if it wants to build on West Atlantic Avenue.
The agency board gave staff the OK to continue negotiations with the developer, who already failed to bring its approved project to fruition.
The developer has until Aug. 3 to come up with an agreement to bring to the board for consideration.
“How many times do we want to see a person fail in what they have to do before you recognize this could be another time to disappoint us on the West side,” longtime resident of the West Atlantic neighborhood Alfred Straghn said.
Currently, Uptown proposes paying $1.2 million for 6 acres of land recently valued at $15.4 million. In exchange, they plan to build a project that includes affordable housing units, a grocery store, pharmacy and space for offices and shops.
“We are ready to go,” developer John Flynn told the board last month.
The decision to keep negotiations going was a 5-2 vote with board members Ryan Boylston and Bill Bathurst casting dissenting votes. Both said they would like to see the project go through a new, competitive bidding process.
Simultaneously, the board unanimously voted to allow staff to prepare a request for proposal to issue in case negotiations with Uptown Atlantic fail. That document will be ready by the Aug. 15 board meeting.
The Uptown project was considered a dead deal when the developer John Flynn failed to meet a contractual deadline. At the time, the agency board of independent members, dissolved the contract.
Then, commissioners took over the board and added two volunteers. About a week later, Flynn’s company, now named Uptown Atlantic from Equity Delray, wrote a letter to the board stating they were still interested in building the project.
When the new board agreed to look into reviving the deal from, it triggered a response from six other developers, who submitted letters of interest. Uptown’s unsolicited offer was the lowest.
The RFP process would allow anyone interested in the land to provide a purchase price and their idea on what to build.
Bathurst said his two concerns were price and the design of the project.
The Uptown deal would give the agency $1.2 million for the 6 acres. The agency spent more than $7 million over 17 years to acquire the land. A recent appraisal valued the site at worth more than $15 million.
“We put a lot of tax money into this, $7 million,” Bathurst said. “The fact that we would sell something we bought for $7 million for $1 million, that really hurts me.”
He added he like some of the design elements he saw in the other proposals that came in. Those proposals also offered higher prices for the land ranging from $2 million to $6 million.
The sale price concerned many of the residents who showed up at the meeting last month to discuss plans for the site.
“Selling property that is worth $15 million for $1.2 that is a slap in the face to us when you have been offered as high as $6 million,” resident Ernestine Halliday said. “Equity had their hands at it first. If they didn’t do anything with it the first time, we have no guarantee they are going to do anything with it the second time.”
Palm Beach County tax collector and Delray resident Anne Gannon agreed the city should go through a bidding process. She said she was coming to speak as the city’s conscience.
“You are elected officials and the highest charge you have is to ensure that you are good stewards of our public money,” she said. “Our city needs to get the highest price for this property.”
Representatives from the Downtown Development Authority, Chamber of Commerce and past agency board members all favored a competitive bidding process. The Uptown Atlantic proposal could be submitted for consideration in that process.
“This community deserves a fresh choice to get the best possible project that benefits the community,” DDA member Peter Arts said.
Boylston said he supported the bid process because its transparent and would incorporate the city’s new development rules, which changed after the Uptown project received approval.
“You are asking me to accept a project that is the definition of gentrification,” Boylston said. “It’s a project dropped into a community with very little for the community. This project needs to be an extension of our community and it needs to be a gem of our city.”
But supporters of the Uptown project say the current project will be built faster and put the property on the tax roles sooner.
“We need to move forward,” board member Angie Gray said. “They are ready to move forward. We need redevelopment and we need it now.”