Mayor Singer Town Hall talks Brightline, Boca Mall

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By: Diane Emeott Korzen
Contributing Writer

Library Commons resident Bill Gelin was among a contingent of Library Commons residents who attended Mayor Scott Singer’s most recent Town Hall at Spanish River Library on Oct. 23.

The group had just attended an HOA meeting with Brightline representatives earlier that week.

As of press time, Boca council spent two days meeting with Virgin Trains USA, VTUSA – the new name for Brightline.

Brightline says it will pay for building a train station and a public plaza,“Where people can hang out after a train ride or you could hold events there.” Brightline wants the city to pay for the parking garage.

In response to the neighbors at Library Commons concerns about having a parking garage built at the Downtown Library next door, VTUSA has agreed to move the parking garage 20 feet to the south.

Taxes are to be paid by VTUSA. VTUSA agreed to split revenues from the garage with the city.

“This is a big decision for us. A big decision for the city,” said Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers.

Boca City Council and Virgin Trains are expected to meet again before Dec. 10.

Town Center Mall

Also at his Town Hall on Oct. 23, Mayor Singer addressed questions about a Sunday afternoon, Oct. 13, ‘suspicious incident’ at Boca Town Center Mall that had just happened, in which thousands ran from the mall or hid while police responded to multiple reports of “shots fired.”

Later labeled as the “balloon incident,” Singer said what caused the panic was multiple pops.

Asked about the odd timing of 13-year Boca Raton Police Chief Dan Alexander announcing the day after the incident that he was about to take a new position as Director of School Police for Palm Beach County Schools after a vote by the School Board, Singer said this was merely coincidence. That Alexander’s new job with the School Board had been pending for some time.

In total, Alexander has served the city of Boca Raton for 16 years as both chief, assistant police chief and captain.

Asked who would be the new Chief once Alexander leaves, Singer said it hadn’t been decided yet.

“The City Manager will announce information about the new Police Chief process prior to Chief Alexander’s departure,” said Economou on Nov. 14.

According to School Board Member Frank Barbieri, Chief Alexander submitted his application to the School Board on Aug. 11, and the Board approved his appointment on Oct. 16. Alexander’s start date at the School Board is Dec. 2.

“This is only the fourth incident of this type at all malls in Florida,” Singer told the crowd. Asked what type of incident he was referring to, Singer later explained, “A false alarm of a shooting incident.”

Mayor Singer said there were “lots of reasons to be grateful” including the quick response by Boca Police and Fire, and other assisting agencies.

Among the lessons learned are that law enforcement and fire rescue are going to take such calls seriously and respond quickly. “Heaven forbid we have a crisis, it’s not just the brave men and women of Boca responding,” Singer said.

Singer spoke of the need to remain calm. He said initial media reports ignored the ‘reports of’ and went right to ‘shots fired.’

“I’m sure they’re not all from the food court area. The difficulty with Boca Mall is [it’s large] – 1.7 million square feet. [for police and investigators to comb through physically at the scene, and in reviewing video]. Singer said he had CNN calling him at home that Sunday.

Six SWAT teams and over 100 officers spent nearly seven hours doing a systematic grid search of the entire mall. No shell casings were found. Detectives watched hours of video from hundreds of cameras and no shooting was seen.

Boca police department received over 170 calls into 911 that were all reviewed and listened to multiple times and no one who called actually saw anything or heard any gunfire, they only were calling to report what others were saying.

“The video speaks for itself, as do eye witness accounts,” Economou said. “We released the two videos that were 2 minutes apart — This all occurred between 2:56 and 2:58 p.m. One was of the janitor popping a balloon at the far end of the food court. You can see many people turn and look … then within a minute a number of teens at the other end of the food court popped multiple balloons … within seconds someone yelled gun, or was that a gun … immediately everyone jumped up in the food court and started running.”