By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor
Bill Branning has spent two Thursday nights a month for the past 10 years inside Delray’s City Hall.
He has spent hours allocating money to redevelopment projects, reviewing contracts and planning for the future of 20 percent of the entire city. He did so for free on a volunteer basis.
His term as a Delray Community Redevelopment Agency board member expired last month. Commissioner Al Jacquet named attorney Dedrick Straghn to replace Branning. CRA board members are appointed by commissioners to four year terms and serve as an independent board.
Branning calls Boca home, technically. But, his business is located in Delray. He has been instrumental in the revitalization of the city from his involvement on the CRA board.
Some of those major projects include, the downtown trolley, Libby Wesley Plaza and the Fairfield Inn. In the works are the Arts Warehouse, iPic and Uptown Atlantic. Other initiatives include providing nonprofit funding, purchasing blighted properties and providing business grants.
During his last meeting, he reminded his fellow board members to stay true to the cause of the CRA. He was sporting a sport coat and a newly grown goatee.
Even during his last meeting, he came prepared. He read his meeting material and suggested changes to make several proposed contracts better.
If there was one quality that everyone praised Branning for, it’s his attention to detail.
“You forced me to read through my board packets,” board member Cathy Balestriere told Branning. “I have learned so much from you. You are a true leader. I hope you know how valuable you have been to us.”
“We don‘t get paid for this,” board member Paul Zacks said. “You put a decade into this. That’s remarkable. Your attention to detail is amazing and I know your heart is always in the right place when you vote.”
Even though his time on this board is up, he is not ending his involvement in the city. He is currently the chairman of the Old School Square board.
We caught up with Branning and asked him to answer a few questions about his time on the CRA. Here is what he had to say:
1. What are the top three things you are most proud of working on with on the CRA?
First, I’m really proud of the positive impact the CRA had on the city of Delray Beach during my time as a commissioner. Just about everywhere you go in the CRA district, you can see the work the CRA has done there and how it has made our city a better place. Not many people get to see the magnitude and detail of the projects constantly being undertaken by the CRA. Whether it’s working to make Delray Beach a cultural destination, helping with home affordability, providing economic incentives, putting together development sites, or acting as the city’s capital improvement arm, the CRA has been there making it happen. Looking back, I’m very proud to have helped set the direction of the CRA and to have been a part of all those projects.
The iPic project is a great project that will bring Class A offices, entertainment, and jobs to Delray, not to mention putting a large piece of non-taxed downtown property on the property tax roll. The RFQ the CRA put out back in 2013 attracted some excellent developers, but the iPic project stood out in being able to offer a combination of advantages for Delray that couldn’t be matched by the others. Unfortunately, the approval process for it has been a challenge. It wasn’t that long ago that the Worthing Place project, another CRA assisted project, with its apartments, restaurants, and shops, was being fought tooth and nail. Going there today, you’d never dream it was a problem to get approved. I predict the same thing for iPic. It will fit right in and become an important part of the fabric of our downtown.
It’s been a long time coming, but the Uptown project on West Atlantic will start in a few months. That project will bring 40,000 sf of retail, 32,000-square-feet of Class A office space, and 93 residential units. The West Atlantic neighborhood has been asking for help with a grocery store for as long as I can remember, and it will have one of those, too. It will be a real game changer for Delray. Instead of vacant lots along our main street, we’ll have shops, offices, and apartments.
2. What will you miss the most about serving on the CRA?
I guess I’ll miss the team. It’s been an honor to work with such a talented group of staff members and fellow commissioners who all brought something to the table. To meld our ideas into a programs and projects, and then to go out and actually accomplish them, most very successfully I might add, was special. I’ve met some great people through my involvement with the CRA. In fact, some of my best friends today I met while serving on the CRA board.
3. What are doing with all your spare time?
Well, I’m sure I won’t get bored, I’ve been pretty heavily involved as a volunteer in Delray for the last 20 years. In 2015 I was elected to serve as the Board Chair at Old School Square. With Joe Gillie’s retirement last year and the hiring of Rob Steele as its new CEO, there’s been a lot going on. But it’s been exciting. We’re working with the city on getting the outside of the buildings repaired and repainted, and of course, we still want to make the grounds a beautiful place where the community comes together. We are working to build our endowment and renovate some of the interior spaces. Rob is building on Joe’s successes, and is expanding our programming to ensure our entire community feels like they can call Old School Square home.
I have a feeling that the time I used to put into the CRA will just get transferred across the street to Old School Square.