If you remember what Lake Worth’s public beach looked like just two years ago, it’s hard not to be wowed by the place today. Once a decrepit, structurally unsound concrete box, the old Lake Worth Casino building has been replaced by a gleaming Mediterranean Revival structure, with a decorative tower and second-floor terrace that echo the beach site’s former splendor nearly a century ago.
The new public beach’s official grand opening this month came months later than originally planned when construction began in the summer of 2011. Delays in hiring the contractor to renovate the area around the Casino building and other complications pushed the date back and led to cost overruns. All told, the beach makeover cost about $13 million, $2 million more than planned.
But it’s hard to be dissatisfied with most of the end result. With two restaurants, an ice cream shop and a gift store open all day long, Lake Worth’s beach is lit up and lively into the evening. A playground and walking trails occupy the dune. Palm trees and native plants shade and accent what was once an unsightly expanse of concrete.
That it happened at all is a small miracle. Lake Worth had been arguing about how to repair the Casino literally for decades. Fed up with the years of procrastination, this newspaper once lamented: “Where else but Lake Worth?” That was in 1986.
For this reason, former City Manager Susan Stanton deserves credit for getting the project off the ground amid considerable controversy about whether the historic building should be torn down or renovated. In the end, the original building was all but demolished.
But for all its visual appeal, the project is far from perfect. Workers are still doing repairs, and some parts of the public beach remain unfinished. Restaurant space on the Casino building’s second floor still sits empty, with the city unable to find a tenant.
Revenue from leases and public parking is supposed to finance the debt, but poor planning at the outset and project delays mean the income will not be enough to cover payments. This year, City Manager Michael Bornstein says, city taxpayers likely will have to make up the difference – to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
These are significant problems, but with good management they should be short-term. Considering what Lake Worth’s beach looked like two years ago, they are not the worst problems to have.
for The Post Editorial Board