Long-Awaited Uptown Project Not Heading To West Atlantic Ave.

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By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor
Plans for a pivotal project for Delray’s West Atlantic neighborhood, recently rebranded “The Set,” are off the table.
Last month, the Community Redevelopment Agency board voted not to extend a contract it had to sell land to developers Equity to build a project known as “Uptown Delray.”
The project planned to bring places to live, shops and restaurants to 6 acres on the south side of West Atlantic Ave. between Southwest Sixth and Ninth avenues. The development was intended to help pave the way for more development in a part of the city that has wanted action for years.
But just before the agency was set to close on the property with the developer, a letter was sent by the developer John Flynn of Equity requesting an extension of 120 days. The board denied the request unanimously.
Equity was selected to build its proposed project in 2013 and was scheduled to close on the purchase of the property. Agency board members said they didn’t want to extend the project especially after representatives from the development team told the board they would have no problem closing by the scheduled Dec. 1 date.
“The CRA was ready to do business,” CRA chairman Reggie Cox said. “We were ready to play ball. You were in the huddle and time ran out in the huddle before you could throw the Hail Mary.”
The rest of the board agreed they couldn’t move forward with the extension and voted to terminate the agency’s deal with the developer.
“I was very optimistic,” board member Paul Zacks said of the project, which he supported in 2013. “Then, we got near crunch time, which was this year and things began to turn. There have been some representations made to this board on more than one occasion that just weren’t true.”
Equity’s pitch
After assembling land for decades, the CRA asked for requests for proposals to develop the site.
Three developers, Equity, Jones New Urban Delray and Prime Investors & Developers submitted ideas for the space.
West Atlantic residents rallied behind the Equity project, which promised to include the community in various aspects of the project. The proposal involved hiring local contractors and subcontractors and including a grocery store in the project, which is something the community identified as a need years ago. It also promised to use local contractor Randolph & Dewdney.
The board supported the project because of the amount of residents who said they wanted to see Equity’s project in their backyard and the developer’s promise to include the community in the development process.
“I was on the board when we selected Equity,” Zacks said. “I liked the Equity project the best of the three. They made an offer to engage the community living around the property.”
Community Benefits Agreement
The project focused on what the developers called a Community Benefits Agreement. The deal involved ways to include locals during the development process and even after.
The idea was the first of its kind in Delray and lauded by residents and city officials. It included hiring local residents for construction and permanent jobs and providing workers ‘liveable wages,’ keep existing businesses in the new development with reasonable rents locked in for five years, add workforce housing units, add a grocery store to the project and donate money annually to Spady Museum.
The idea was to build trust between the neighborhood’s residents and the developer. The agreement was between the developer and the community and did not involve the city or CRA. It was celebrated in 2014 with a community party.
Issues arise
Part of the CBA stated the developer would hire local general contractor Randolph and Dewdney, RDC to do the work.
In 2016, the developer parted ways with the RDC due to issues the developer states it can’t resolve, which caused contention among some community members.
When news broke that Equity would not be working with RDC, residents and local officials asked the agency board to look into the topic. They demanded the agency and the city hold the developer accountable for promises made to the residents.
The developer states why the two companies parted ways in a 10-page letter. He states that Equity has had “insurmountable problems” with RDC. He states that Equity has “used good faith efforts to reach commercially reasonable terms with RDC for the construction of the project.”
But due to several reasons, Equity has to part ways in order to fulfill other obligations to city, CRA and lender, the letter states.
Flynn states that RDC has been unable to provide Equity a comprehensive estimate package to present to its lenders, which has caused delays in receiving a financing commitment. He also states that RDC has indicated it is unable to provide a bond for the project, which is a requirement of the lender of the purchase and sale agreement Equity has with the CRA.
He quotes a part of the community benefits agreement that states the project is for profit and that the agreement shouldn’t hinder commercial feasibility. He said that working with RDC will negatively impact the commercial feasibility and profitability of the project. A phone call to RDC to address the concerns was not returned.
Legal problems
In addition to RDC not being able to be bonded, Dwayne Randolph of RDC was arrested around the same time the split between Equity and RDC occurred.
On Sept. 30, Randolph was arrested and charged with domestic battery, according to Palm Beach County Sheriff’s records.
The arrest report states his family broke into the guest house he was living in because they were concerned about his well being and he wasn’t answering the door. Then the report states he choked his wife. Court records indicate they are going through a divorce.
He pleaded not guilty in court on Nov. 10. He had a court hearing scheduled for Dec. 28, which was after deadline for this article. He is being represented by Daniel Rose, who is a sitting CRA board member.
The developers didn’t indicate Randolph’s personal issues were a part of their decision to part, but the timing occurred in the same month.
Next steps
Now, the CRA will have to start the process of finding a developer over again. Board members asked the agency staff to come up with recommendations for how to proceed at a meeting this month.