Key takeaways from the Wildflower visioning session

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By: Councilman Scott Singer Special to the Boca Newspaper
I’m pleased to share that the Waterfront Visioning Session, which I announced in last month’s Boca Newspaper, was a successful example of how community-driven conversations can lead to greater visions for Boca Raton. On Sept. 19, more than 130 residents came together at the session to discuss what they’d like to see, feel, and experience at both the Wildflower and Silver Palm Park.
This interactive discussion involved participants answering a series of questions of what they liked, disliked, and envisioned of these two downtown waterfront parcels, which together total more than six acres. The participants then viewed a series of slides curated by a group of architects, who helped me plan this discussion, and voted on the images they liked the best. This exchange of opinions generated a host of ideas for the sites and brought greater understanding by all participants of each other’s points of view on whether they wanted the emphasis to be on restaurant space, other active uses, recreation, green space, or some combination of uses.
What stood out most was the creativity and variety of ideas. In just three minutes, 96 participants at 12 tables brainstormed nearly 100 ideas on different activities for these sites, including recreation, entertainment, dining, retail, fitness, and many more possibilities. While is it not possible to include any more than a fraction of these concepts on these parcels, the feedback suggests that many of these ideas can and should by implemented in the city’s other waterfront areas and parks.
Of the slide images, the two most popular slides – by a wide margin – depicted broad waterfront walkways. Whether or not the current proposed Hillstone restaurant site plan goes forward, the view of this cross-section of residents and business representatives suggests that a more prominent promenade along the water linking both parcels would be a welcome improvement to the existing plan, a conclusion I have shared with Hillstone’s representatives. Other more popular images focused on the waterfront: a boat taxi, paddle boarding, the boat launch, while other favored photos featured distinctive landscaping, public art, and recreation.
I organized this session because in the many years of discussion about the Wildflower, potential improvements for Silver Palm Park have been overlooked. Home to the city’s lone boat ramp, the four acres of Silver Palm are underutilized during weekdays and evenings, and used largely on weekends nearly solely for boat trailer parking. Few other cities would dedicate so much prime public, downtown land to parking for trailers, and we have an opportunity to better utilize this site and provide greater boating opportunities. Together, the land on both sides of Palmetto Park Road – and additional space under the bridge – could ideally be combined into a more comprehensive site that would be a signature city attraction and provide a link between the downtown and Boca’s beaches.
Special thanks goes out to local architect Ken Hirsch, who brought his expertise in holding hundreds of visioning workshops over decades, in facilitating the question-and-answer portion of this session. Many thanks also to the team of volunteers: Jose Barrera, Margaret Fitzsimons, Jonathan Kolbe, Andrea O’Rourke, and Derek Vander Ploeg, and interns Briana Nirenberg and Stephanie Woloshin, who dedicated a great deal of time and talent to the planning and success of this workshop.
This exercise suggests a great deal of potential for improving both sites (no matter the outcome of a November referendum and whether or not a brick-and-mortar restaurant lease is approved) and greater potential for positive community input and consensus. Like the opportunity for these two locations, when different groups come together to exchange ideas, the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts.