West Side Story: Developing The Set
Before I start, let me disclose that People of Delray is a site about the people, for the people.
We do not have a political agenda. We don’t take sides. We don’t really know the people in town- hence why we interview them, and we come with an “empty canvas” approach- we don’t research or read news about them prior to the interview or know anything about their background.
We believe what we see - the way they act, what they say, and we describe it - as a person- not a public/media subject.
With that said, let me enter the heated discussion around the new developer that was selected for the Set - BH3. More specifically- Daniel Lebensohn, co founder of BH3.
I met Daniel over a year ago in regards to events he wants to put on at the Libbey Wesley park adjacent to the former Vintage Tap.
At the time I was interested in the west side of town. I wanted to get to know the people. But it felt unapproachable. I didn’t know anyone that lives or works there, so I reached out to my friend Brian Rosen who’s been a known commercial real estate guy in Delray responsible for a lot of the movements in town, as well as the Okeecobbee music festival and locally- the O.G.
He took me for a walk around the west side. He meets with the Elders of the neighborhood there on Thursday mornings when he can at Donnies for breakfast to better understand the needs and wants of this neighborhood and community.
We met for breakfast at the diner, and continued to walk the streets. He showed me Impov U new campus, a Spady cultural and art museum, as well as some local shops. I was impressed at how pretty the streets were, how much art, culture and local businesses were there, but saddened by how empty it was - and segregated. We were the only 2 white people walking that street. Everyone was super nice and friendly. A few Elders passed by and greeted us - that hardly ever happens on the “Posh” east side. It was really great seeing that side of town, but at the same time it felt like another world- not a part of Delray. Or at least- not the part I know.
I went home conflicted. I fell in love with that piece of Delray- the streets, the people, but I still didn’t know enough about it, the people, and in a weird way I almost didn’t want to. I didn’t want to come in there and “expose” the people. Ruin their little bubble.
Later this week Brian invited me to join him and a friend for a dinner they planned to talk about a potential event on the west side- at the Libby Wesley to Vintage Tap. We met at Park Tavern.
Present were Daniel Lebensohn, DJ Slym, a native to the West Atlantic community and us. I was just there to listen. Maybe help with ideas. They talked about putting up a music event at the park.
DJ Slym lives there and knew all the local talent and has some big ideas himself. The plan was to put up a live show featuring local talent and artists from the west and inviting all to come. The goal was to revive the west side and bring it to life while highlighting its culture through people in the community.
Later that year I spoke to my friend Glayson- the founder of Gallera Collective, art curator, a local graffiti artist and truly a workaholic that everyone either knows already or should know. He put up Art Basel exhibit featuring 30 artists and a huge contributor to town. (Separate story)
Glayson showed me a presentation he gave to local developers to put up a few blocks with art Murals on the west side. Really amazing stuff. I saw who the presentation was addressed to and again - the developer was Daniel Lebensohn
I thought it was all great stuff but I still didn’t have a story so I let it be.
Last month I spoke to a friend who reminded me that they are going to choose a developer for the Set project consisting of the 600, 700, and 800 blocks of West Atlantic Avenue at the upcoming CRA meeting. I knew I could give my opinion at the CRA meeting but I wasn’t really sure I had an opinion- I know nothing about the west side. It’s unapproachable.
And then I realized that I could say just that. It is also a public comment. In addition, I met Daniel and could attest to his involvement in the area. I really wanted to see that event and mural coming to life. And honestly - I just want to be able to walk the streets of that side of town without feeling like it’s a forbidden area. I don’t want to move there and kick people out - I just want to be able to enjoy it.
So I went and I said my piece. I was also grabbed by Fox News for an interview that gave me exactly 4.5 seconds of fame.
It was official BH3 was selected.
The next day public opinion supposedly crushed Delray Raw - a Facebook group I personally removed myself from after noticing the negative pattern. Also I don’t want to know the politics so I stay out of it. I was told by members of the group that people crucified the decision, specifically isolating Ryan Boylston. I was also told that there was a lot of politics going on at that CRA meeting, that I didn’t know of. Specifically regarding past real estate transactions with Uptown. But I know nothing about that so it stands as just rumors.
The main comments though were about how this is a bad deal, financially. As there is no negotiations to take place the CRA meeting they had to accept whichever developer they wanted based on the plan that was presented which BH3 had included a 14 million dollar grant request from the City in the initial proposal. Now there is a 60 day time frame to negotiate out the formal deal where it has been presented that this grant request will be removed And how Ryan needs to explain it, as he shifted the votes after they came in (which he did in this link (https://betterdelray.org/600-800-west-atlantic-ave-rfp-process-selection/). And off course- gentrification.
As an attendant in that room my notes are:
1) Where were all these angry people from town during the CRA meeting presentations?( Hiding online is more convenient)
2) city commissioner Ryan Boylston was the only one with an open computer during the presentation truly analyzing each proposal based on numbers and facts. His points were legitimate points that were not considered in the failed vote before he pointed them out: The board initially selected the builder with the least amount of parking spots, residential units and shops. That was a fact.
While many attack him for personally attacking Uptown, I saw him as the only one who stood up against decades of possibly agenda fueled political preferences.
Watching the votes come in, it was clear that something else clouded the decision- I kept hearing the name Uptown come up as #1, while in reality, as an observer in the room - nothing in their proposal was as attractive as BH3, or justified as a top choice.
From an observer perspective, BH3 proposal, visually and conceptually, truly stood out.
Most of the proposals offered a building- another residential building. One proposal was for a hotel, which we have plenty of. Another one had some shops. But not an open walk through garden community and event space like BH3’s proposed Frog Alley. Frog Alley has a strong and historical connection to this community. It will run through the middle of the entire development and be an important place for this community to come together.
Commissioner Adam Frenkel kept asking each of the dvelopers “how does it showcase a destination “ - which clearly was in the RFP. Non could truly answer that, other than BH3 with Frog Alley proposal. It was clear that they are already a part of the west side and immersed in it.
Financially, BH3 pushed the envelope asking for free land (funding request was dropped), but the 3 proposed parking garages make up for that cost.
All in all, it looks like the best decision was made. But - you can’t make everyone happy- especially on Facebook groups.
Let’s just see how the next 60 days of negotiations pan out.