City leaders want the $94.5 million Town Square project to finally deliver a vibrant downtown to Boynton Beach, but they said the plans they saw this week, full of apartments and parking garages, lack imagination.
Instead, they want tree-lined streets, cafes, outdoor seating — something that will stop drivers from passing by.
“This is weak. What you’re showing me today is weak,” Commissioner Joe Casello said.
Town Square, paid for with a combination of private and public money, is expected to include a hotel, apartments, green spaces and parks and will reshape the land where City Hall, the police department and library sit off Boynton Beach Boulevard east of Interstate 95.
All three would be leveled.
The plans presented Monday night are far from final — giving the team of city staff, developers, planners and architects more time.
“You’re not selling this project to me. I’m sorry,” Commissioner Mack McCray said.
Staff did get approval from commissioners to spend $307,000 to make plans to ensure those buildings are well air conditioned. A $10 million, two-story District Energy Plant will sit within Town Square and provide cold water for air conditioning through a central chilled water plant. The plant should provide a less expensive utility for residents and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, assistant city manager Colin Groff said.
The commission could get another Town Square update as early as Sept. 19, but some aspects of the plan aren’t likely to change: The Schoolhouse Children’s Museum and Learning Center will stay as is. The vacant historic high school will be turned into a two-story civic and cultural arts center. The Kid’s Kingdom playground will be preserved as much as possible, and likely expanded.
Commissioners have long lamented the lack of activity on Ocean Avenue.
Monday’s site plan showed apartments on the avenue next to the children’s museum. Instead, the commission wants retail, something to “reactivate” the street, said Commissioner Christina Romelus.
The proposed location for the new police station also disappointed some commissioners. The plan puts the station next to fire station 5, on High Ridge Road at Gateway Boulevard. Commissioner Mack McCray prefers this location, and said it has long been the plan to put police headquarters there. But the majority of his colleagues want the police station closer to downtown. They would leave the High Ridge land available for private development.
The original plans left Boynton’s library untouched,but the team found that keeping it there would bring heavier traffic to Southeast Second Avenue, a residential street. The building also has leaks and issues with space and air conditioning. So the revision calls for a four-story building to house City Hall and a modern, technologically advanced library.
Meanwhile, work is nearly underway to restore the historic high school, and the building is fenced off for safety. Once redone, that building will house all of the city-sponsored activities held in the Art Center and Civic Center.
While it will be used during the weekdays mostly for children and adult programs, the building, especially the second floor gymnasium, could be rented out on weekends for concerts, weddings and parties.
“The gym, if we do this right, is probably going to be one of the best facilities in Palm Beach County,” said Groff.