Column: Fantasy vs. Reality

Wilton Manors City Hall Via the City of Wilton Manors

Fantasy is an idea with no basis in reality. Reality is its blunt, truthful cousin. For those who attended or have been following the Treasure Coast Planning Council’s public hearings on the future of the city owned property next to city hall, “fantasy” is the best description. 

In a city that could not move ahead with a proposed 100-unit condominium by renowned Miami architect Rene Gonzalez on a 4.9 acre site located on the church property on NE 26th Street, I find it very hard to believe that anyone in attendance would think that plans calling for a 100-room hotel, 100 residential and townhome units, along with parking garages, amphitheater, public space, and so much more could be anything even bordering on the realm of reality. 

And that’s only Phase One. 

Phase Two calls for adjacent land purchases and additional hotel rooms, condo units, residential micro units, and another parking garage. 

Kim Delaney, the director of strategic development for the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council stated that this scenario takes some creative license with density. Kim might call it creative license, but those of us a bit more grounded in reality call it fantasy.  

From the beginning presentation a few months ago when Delaney and company kept referring to the property in question as an eight-acre site right here on Wilton Drive, I knew we were in trouble. 

This eight-acre site of public land they want to peddle to developers already house our relatively new City Hall and Police Station, our Hagen Park Community Center, and so many other recreational amenities. The amount of property available for all this development is much less than those eight acres we keep hearing about.  In addition, their plans call for the purchase of more privately-owned parcels around the current footprint at an additional cost of over $2 million. Not sure who would be asked to pay for all this, but no need to worry about such things since according to DeLaney, residents of our great city are sitting on a pot of gold we now call the Hagen Park/City Hall property. 

All this talk about not just one hotel, but two, comes just months after our city elders were delivered the horrible news that a hotel is not feasible in our city given current market conditions. This harsh news was reality in all its bluntness, not easy to swallow, but better than sugar coating with some unattainable fantasy. 

In a world driven by market realities, long-term investment for such large-scale developments are far more likely to be grounded in reality than fantasy. One reality behind the City Hall Master Site Plan is that the financial locomotive pulling this plan forward will be the attraction of a substantially sized publicly owned property and millions of dollars in additional investment by local municipal taxpayers. 

There are many residents, myself included, that want to see increased density throughout our city, meaningfully and carefully. We have a five-acre site sitting on NE 26th Street and NE 15th Avenue crying out for development. Right down the block we have an almost vacant shopping plaza that should have been developed years ago. 

Then there’s the Shoppes of Wilton Manors which stands in limbo with many vacant un-usable retail spaces crying out for development. Andrews Avenue is ripe for more density and new mixed-use development. The Dixie Highway corridor sits totally underutilized. There is no shortage of properties throughout our city offering enormous possibilities. 

Dreaming is what moves us ahead. 

Walt Disney’s dream created one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the world. But dreaming of a better tomorrow with all its possibilities, must be based on reality, not fantasy. Dealing with current market conditions, the effects of climate change, residents and taxpayer’s interest, and many additional factors all must be part of the discussion. Otherwise, dreams are not possibilities of what can be, but just a fantasy; and that is the blunt reality.

Now it is time for our elected officials and city management to take all this latest information gathered by the planning council and come up with a course of action for the Hagen Park/City Hall site. We should not look to squeeze everything that is needed throughout our two-square-mile city into this space that is much smaller than the touted eight-acre site.  City stakeholders need to be visionary with bold and innovative ways, grounded in market realities, to bring needed development to all areas of our city. 

Some bold methods might be needed to get existing property owners moving on very important parcels located around our city. Condemning buildings that have sat vacant for years with collapsing storefronts, leaking roofs, boarded up windows might be a good start. Our city has a variety of tools at its disposal to make dreams a reality.

Many residents already know we are sitting on a pot of gold, but that pot of gold is not located off Wilton Drive next to our City Hall. It is under the entire two square miles we call the Island City. Marketing the uniqueness of these two square miles will make life just better here.


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