CRA focus on West Atlantic Avenue continues goal of extending downtown to I-95 by Paula Detwiller Special to The Pineapple DELRAY BEACH, Fla.— The owner of a small shop on West Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach remembers when most people thought of downtown Delray as “everything east of Swinton Avenue.” But in recent years, said Woodrow Lockett, who operates iShip Pack & Ship at 402 West Atlantic Avenue, “I’ve seen the transition that’s happening, and I think it’s awesome.”
That transition is the ongoing redevelopment of the western portion of Atlantic Avenue, downtown Delray’s main thorough fare. For many years, the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) has been acquiring and assembling property along West Atlantic Avenue in order to facilitate redevelopment, with the ultimate goal of extending downtown business activity westward to Interstate 95. Milestones in the CRA’s efforts have included the development of the mixed-use Atlantic Grove project in 2006, the completion of the West Atlantic Avenue beautification project in 2009, and the creation of the West Atlantic Plaza in 2010. The CRA also assembled numerous land parcels that resulted in the development of the South County Courthouse and the new Delray Public Library, two key public facilities that attract hundreds of people to West Atlantic Avenue each day.
Now the agency is focusing on developing vacant parcels west of SW 6th Avenue—and the effort is picking up steam. The CRA is currently finalizing agreements with a developer for construction of a moderately priced hotel in the 900 block of West Atlantic Avenue. “The hotel project has generated new interest in the area, so we’re now soliciting proposals for the redevelopment of additional property near the hotel site,” said CRA Executive Director Diane Colonna. On March 12, the CRA issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the development of 5.07 acres of CRA-owned property on West Atlantic between SW 6th and SW 9th Avenues. Developers have until June 1 to submit their plans for consideration. Proposals may be for all or a portion of the properties, and may also include the use the CRA’s development incentives, such as a long-term land lease through the Land Value Investment Program.
Economic Development Director Vin Nolan said the hotel project is a signal to the broader development community that there is new momentum in the West Atlantic area. “There have been few new projects in and around that region for a number of years, partly because of the recent economic decline,” Nolan said. “But development of a hotel facility has definitely piqued the interest of other developers, for both the West Atlantic corridor and Delray Beach in general.”
Existing West Atlantic Avenue businesses are greeting the news with anticipation. “The hotel will be a great improvement in upgrading Delray,” said Linda Singleton, deli manager at Tony’s Market & Deli at the corner of NW 3rd Avenue and West Atlantic Avenue. “I live right over there, on Southwest 14th Avenue, and I think it’s a real positive thing, especially because it will bring jobs.” Evelyn Jones, owner of Salon on the Avenue at 301 West Atlantic Avenue, said she is excited about having a business-class hotel a few blocks down the street.
“All the merchants on the west end of the Avenue want the same action as the east end has. We want to see traffic in our stores,” said Jones, “and other developers coming in and building more things.” What might those things include? The current RFP expresses preference for a single-phased project with a mix of uses consisting of Class “A” office space with retail, restaurant, and service use components as well as shared or public parking. A series of studies and public meetings revealed that the community would like to see service uses such as a pharmacy, a restaurant, and a medical or dental office along the corridor. Nolan said those uses make sense from an urban development perspective.
“Once you put a hotel in there, something like a pharmacy is even more likely to come, because it complements that type of facility,” Nolan said. Among the factors that the CRA will use in judging developer proposals: the inclusion of a local employment hiring program, and the services and economic benefit the project will bring to the surrounding community—all of which is music to the ears of merchants like Lockett.
“Downtown should be all the way from the beach to I-95,” Lockett said. Then, referring to the area’s ZIP code, he concluded with a smile: “We need more in the 3-3-4-4-4!” For more information, or to download a copy of the RFP for West Atlantic Properties, visit the CRA website at www.delraycra.org or contact the CRA office at (561) 276-8640.