A spark in development for Swinton Avenue is on its way.
Pending concessions proffered by Delray Beach-based developer Hudson Holdings, Midtown Delray is on its way to downtown Delray Beach.
The $140 million project plans to add offices, shops, residential inns and restaurants to 7 acres of property.
After several iterations of the project and various name changes, commissioners requested several additional revisions before approving the project. The eight hour meeting ended with a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Shelly Petrolia cast the sole dissenting vote.
The pitch by the developer includes revitalizing historic homes by moving them and revamping them at the developer’s expense, burying utility lines underground, adding a 279-space parking garage underground, adding a public garden in an alleyway and funding a Historic Neighborhood Preservation Grant with $100,000.
“We have this empty hole at Swinton and Atlantic,” Commissioner Shirley Johnson said. “This our dam. We need to build it up and we need to let the development flow west.”
In addition to a new development, the developer promised to hire locals for new jobs. Estimates indicate that the project will create a total of 1,700 jobs, 864 temporary and 836 permanent, according to Hudson Holdings.
The growth of jobs and the city’s tax base is what attracted some commissioners to support the project. Developers said the property tax should go from $343,000 to $2.5 million.
Residents were divided on the project. Many felt strongly against moving historic properties while others saw the project as a way to clean up an area of the city that has been neglected.
“I would really like to see this happen,” resident Rob Long said of the project. “I would like to see millennials live and work in downtown Delray. It will increase the sales tax revenue for the city and expand our tax base. This seems like a great opportunity for our city, one our city should embrace.”
Resident Terri Cooper said she owns a home built in 1931 just a block away from the Sundy house where this project would be located.
“We need massive changes for South Swinton,” she said. “I am scared to walk two and a half blocks from my house to Atlantic Avenue. It seems like a deserted place. It could be vibrant and prosperous and good for the economy to have something there.”
But the size and scope of the project in an area where some of the city’s oldest buildings are located was problematic for other residents. The city’s historic preservation board voted against the project several times.
Historic properties located in the district include the Rectory, the Cathcart house and Sundy House.
“It’s not this project, it’s the location is what I have a problem with,” chairman of the historic preservation board John Miller said, adding just 2 percent of the city is considered historic.
But several of the historic structures have already been moved from their original locations over the years.
“We don’t learn our town’s history by driving south on Swinton today,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said. “There is little that remains that is memorable. We learn through books and thats important, but in order to tell the history of Delray we need effective mediums to tell that history through. The way that we will tell the story over and over is by this adaptive reuse of these properties. In terms of the project itself, on the spectrum of possibilities on pure preservation and complete destruction, there are a lot of elements of this plan that strike a balance of redevelopment and restoration.”
Glickstein said the land is not hallowed like it is in a place like Gettysburg, rather it is the stories that the city should aim to retell.
“It’s what happened in these homes, its who owned them,” he said. “It’s the stories.”
Commissioners attached 18 conditions to their approval. The developers must meet the conditions to move forward.
Those include: redesigning a building from four stories to three, posting a $1 million bond that the developer would forfeit if construction doesn’t commence within two years and entering into an agreement that outlines how the developer plans to hire locals for jobs, among other items.
“The developer has done more than anyone could expect,” Commissioner Johnson said. “We are going to grow or die.”