- By Lulu Ramadan Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
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:
To keep up with Boca Raton news, subscribe to our weekly newsletter. We deliver Boca Raton headlines directly to your inbox.