No More Flagler Shore? Local man forms group to oppose WPB project

10:17 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 Business
People who work downtown and area residents take part in a lunchtime food truck event last year on the new Flagler Shore hosted by the City of West Palm Beach. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post

A local businessman has organized a group to kick sand in the West Palm Beach Flagler Shore project.

Robert Garvy, formerly chairman of Intech Investments, has created a non-profit group, Fix Flagler! and a website, fixflagler.org , to rally citizen opposition to the urban experiment.

On Oct. 7, the city closed off the two eastern lanes of Flagler Drive between Lakeview Avenue and Banyan Boulevard in a project it dubbed Flagler Shore. The roads remain closed until March 1.

Flagler Shore’s goal is to encourage greater use of the waterfront by pedestrians and bicyclists. To spur the area’s use as a gathering spot, closed-off portions of Flagler Drive feature food trucks, tables and chairs and periodic activities.

But Garvy is one of a number of opponents who consider Flagler Shore and the plastic barricades marking the space a bad idea. They believe Flagler Shore worsens traffic in a congested city. They also say the project is anti-business and unprofessional; unsightly; dangerous to drivers and pedestrians; and overall, goofy.

Garvy said he decided to organize opposition to Flagler Shore after determining the project will eventually become permanent. He said he reached this conclusion after a Dec. 16 public meeting to discuss the Shore.

“There were howls of protests from dozens of citizens outraged at the dreadful manner in which Mayor Jeri Muoio’s obsession has been crammed down our throats” Garvy wrote in a letter to The Palm Beach Post, a letter featured on fixflagler.org. “She emphatically resisted any dissent and insisted this project would go forward, no matter the local residents’ fury.

“In response to my question as to whether Flagler Drive might be returned to its original four-lane configuration her answer was ‘no,’ ” Garvy wrote. “So much for listening on the part of the mayor.”

In an interview Tuesday, Garvy said if the mayor doesn’t want to listen, she’s going to hear it anyway.

The website’s catch-phrase: No More Flagler Shore.

Fixflagler.org encourages people to contact the mayor. It also has links to contact candidates and members of the city commission.

The site includes several others letters published in The Post, including from West Palm Beach resident Jeffrey Barr, who called Flagler Shore “a defilement of our previously beautiful waterfront property along Flagler Drive.”

In an email to The Post on Wednesday, the city did not address the formation of the anti-Flagler Shore group but thanked people for visiting Flagler Shore and sharing their opinions or comments in writing or in person.

“We are still conducting research and will present the results of our study, once completed, to the public and commissioners,” the city’s statement said. “In the meantime, we ask everyone to come to Flagler Shore, bring a friend, have an open mind..and of course continue to send us feedback.”

In a newsletter, the city said some suggestions include floating restaurants and pubs; a dog park; kids’ play stations; street performers and pop-up shops.

Plenty of residents like the notion of more walkable space along the waterfront. In an opinion piece published in The Post, Patricia Perano of West Palm Beach said Flagler Shore brings “family-friendly vibrancy” to the waterfront.

Garvy and his supporters aren’t swayed.

With the opening of the Flagler Bridge and the new left turn lane from the bridge onto Flagler Drive, traffic is only expected to increase, Garvy said, particularly with the opening of the hotel at the old city hall site, now under construction.

A city initiative to encourage financial firms from the Northeast to relocate to West Palm Beach, especially in the waterfront area designated the Flagler Financial District, also runs counter to the idea of closed-off roads, Garvy said.

The mayor did not mention Flagler Shore, one of her biggest initiatives, in her State of the City address on Jan. 24.

But she alluded to plans to improve mobility throughout the city, including for bicyclists, and singled out the Okeechobee corridor.

It seems more road narrowing is in the works.

Assistant city administrator Scott Kelly said the city is weighing plans to reduce Lakeview Avenue, the road that leads from the middle bridge to West Palm Beach, from three lanes to two lanes between Flagler Drive and Olive Avenue.

The city is talking to the state Department of Transportation about putting in a bike lane where the current left lane is, Kelly said. Sources say on-street parking could be added there, too.

Kelly said that stretch of Lakeview isn’t needed as a three-lane road, particularly since the road coming off the bridge from Palm Beach is two lanes.

Bolay empire expands

Bolay, the fast-casual eatery, is opening its fifth location — and this one is in West Palm Beach.

The store is set to open on Feb. 9 at 1880 Okeechobee Blvd. Suite A.

Palm Beach resident Tim Gannon, co-founder of Outback Steakhouse, told The Post in October that Bolay is slated to add another 40 stores by the end of 2019.

Gannon said he was particularly looking forward to the West Palm Beach location because it is the largest store and also is closest to Gannon’s neighbors on Palm Beach. “Because Palm Beach means a lot to me, all the island people can get to it.”

The bowl-centered eatery allows diners to select a protein, vegetable and starch. Bolay has four locations, three in Palm Beach County.

The new West Palm Beach location will feature Justin Tyler Testa as operations partner, a move that will boost the company’s growth, said Chris Gannon, Bolay chief executive. Testa has worked with Gannon since the company’s creation in 2015, when it opened its first location in Wellington.