- By Alexandra Seltzer Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Boynton Beach Mayor Steven Grant wants the Community Redevelopment Agency to pay about $1.2 million to build a 5,000-square-foot storefront on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard — without any businesses signed up for it.
The building should spark development on the blighted street that decades ago flourished with restaurants and stores, Grant said.
Vice Mayor Justin Katz supported the mayor at Boynton Beach ’s January CRA meeting: “Let’s build something now and see if it doesn’t spark something.”
But other city leaders and residents are skeptical.
Resident Linda Cross called the plan “a total waste” and estimated the building to cost $1.6 million. She said it’s a “building that you have nobody to go into and you have no idea what it’s going to be used for and you’re just hoping somebody goes in there…”
Commissioner Joe Casello would rather a business be lined up first.
“I’m afraid we’re going to put up a million dollar shell and it’s going to be a million dollar empty shell,” he said.
With a push from Commissioner Christina Romelus, the commission decided to wait on a decision and instead ask residents first what they want.
“Where is the community input for this? Why are we so quick to jump to the ‘we need to build something, we need to build it now’ prerogative?” she asked.
Lack of development of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard has frustrated city officials. The CRA owns the 1.23 acres of land the building would be built on. The agency has been buying land for the past 14 years to assemble properties that could be redeveloped into bigger projects. In total, the agency owns about 6.22 acres of land there, CRA documents show.
However there is land mixed in with the CRA-owned sites that are owned by private companies or residents, and those owners are asking for more money than the agency is willing to spend. And because the land on the street isn’t completely assembled, the area is less attractive to big developers who could come in with affordable housing or retail.
Grant thinks the CRA, which has $1.2 million allocated in this year’s budget for MLK redevelopment, should step up to the plate.
Commissioner Mack McCray, who represents the area where the building would be built, said he wants to ask the residents what they would like to see. He also said he worries that if the building does go up then surrounding land values will increase.
“We have to do something because if we don’t do anything the land value isn’t going to increase…and we’re just stuck holding the bag,” Grant said.
Resident Bernard Wright, a minister, said the area needs a state-of-the-art pool hall. Resident Cross said she somewhat agreed, and said the building should be a “build-to-suit.”
Resident Brian Fitzpatrick agreed with the mayor: “You taking that step and building something like that could bring some tremendous vibrancy to Martin Luther King Boulevard” he said.