From golf course sales to football wins, top stories from Boca Raton in 2017

BOCA RATON — For better or for worse, Boca Raton had a significant 2017.

A scandal mires the Boca mayor’s office. The city sold one of its golf courses, pocketing $65 million. And the Florida Atlantic University Owls landed a new football coach and a record-setting season.

And that’s not all that happened this year. 

Here’s a look at the top stories in Boca Raton in 2017, and a look ahead at what’s to come next year:

Boca mayor controversy

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie’s financial tie to a prominent local developer has dominated city discussion since it was detailed in a Palm Beach Post investigation in November.

A business founded by Haynie and her husband had collected thousands in paychecks from a residential association controlled by James Batmasian and his wife, Marta, the largest commercial property owners in the city. All the while, Haynie, a Republican running for Palm Beach County Commission, has voted at least a dozen times on proposals benefiting Batmasian without disclosing the connection.

Haynie announced six weeks after the story broke that her husband had severed ties with Batmasian.

But the controversy already has taken a toll on Haynie’s bid for County Commission.

FAU football makes waves

The Boca Raton-based university won more football games this season than its past three season combined. With national recognition and a recruiting edge, the Owls’ record-setting season is in part attributed to new high-profile coach Lane Kiffin. 

FAU’s 11-3 season was capped off by a Boca Raton Bowl appearance — and win — on Dec. 19. Hours before FAU crushed Akron, 50-3, in the bowl game, the university announced Kiffin agreed to a 10-year contract with the Owls. 

As The Post’s Tom D’Angelo put it: “Whether Kiffin is tempted by an offer in the next year — or even the next month, who knows — every minute of his stay in Palm Beach County will have been worth the price for FAU.”

Hurricane Irma came and went

Hurricane Irma blew through Palm Beach County in September, leaving behind days of power outages and millions of dollars worth of damage to Boca Raton’s shorelines.

“The dunes got crushed,” said Chrissy Gibson, city spokeswoman.

The widespread power loss prompted Mayor Susan Haynie to say Wednesday that the city may consider whether it should pay to bury power lines.

In all, Palm Beach County was spared the worst of a storm with record-breaking size and power. 

Bye, bye golf course

The city parted with its western, public golf course on Glades Road near Florida’s Turnpike.

It sold for a whopping $65 million to GL Homes, a developer with plenty of experience building in central and southern Palm Beach County. GL Homes plans to build more than 500 homes over the open greens.

The city hasn’t yet pocketed the cash, as it remains in the inspection phase of the contract.

Meanwhile, with a promise to residents that Boca Raton would keep public golf in the city, the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, a taxing body separate from the city, is buying the dilapidated Ocean Breeze Golf Club and hotel in the city’s northend for $24 million. 

That eventually will be renovated and become the Boca Raton National Golf Club.

Wildflower opens as park

A small pocket of land known as the Wildflower, a city-owned parcel that sparked a successful citizen preservation campaign, opened in November as a public park.

The 2-acre waterfront plot, at 551 E. Palmetto Park Road, was the subject of a ballot referendum in 2016 — an effort on the part of several residents to protect the land, and any other city-owned property near the Intracoastal Waterway, from development. 

The Wildflower referendum, as its come to be known, was adopted after a landslide vote about a year ago.

And now the public park is slated for a revitalization. Among the ideas being floated: splash fountains for children, an event pavilion and a bridge along the water connecting it to another park on the other side of the Palmetto Park Road bridge.

A look ahead

There’s much to look ahead toward in Boca Raton, as the city tackles crowding at local schools, development proposals and more. Here are few stories to look out for in 2018:

  • Bring golf back to Boca — The city’s parks district is buying Ocean Breeze Golf Club, and plans to renovate and re-open the dilapidated couse to the public. That may include building a hotel, pro shop and golf school. 
  • County Commission race — The race for a Palm Beach County Commission seat that includes Boca Raton in its district is on the ballot in August and November. Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie is the only contender so far. She’s vying for the seat held by term-limited Commission Steven Abrams, who also served as Boca mayor before moving to the county level.
  • A reinvented waterfront — Boca Raton wants to connect its 300 acres of waterfront parks and add amenities. The project — which might include dramatic changes at Wildflower, Ocean Strand, Spanish River, Red Reef, South Beach and Palmetto Dune parks — will take shape in 2018.

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