On February 21 2019, the Boca Raton Historical Society hosted a “Town Hall” on the history of Boca’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) responsible for guiding the development of Boca’s Downtown district. Roughly 70 people came out. A panel of some of the movers and shakers of that era that were involved in the creation of the CRA and its development of downtown took the attendees through an assortment of interesting old photos and key moments in the history of Mizner Park, the rebuilding of Federal highway and the creation of the city infrastructure we enjoy today.
Attendees were exposed to the folks at the society laboring to preserve Boca’s history. But the night’s panel consisted of some of the player’s who participated in the downtown development in the 70’s-90’s. One of those, Assistant City Manager George Brown regaled the audience with stories of the poor state of affairs in the downtown which included a lack of parking. In particular he shared how those involved in leading the revitalization came to realize that adding more parking wasn’t enough. They needed, as they put it, “to create a reason for people to want to come and park downtown.”
Some humorous moments were on the poor drainage and layout of Boca’s roads. Former Assistant City Attorney Bob Eisen and former city council member Al Travasos told about dealing with flooded parking lots after a night at the movie theater. But it was former CRA chairman Jorge Camejo who articulated the many problems they faced and the hurdles they overcame to accomplish the goals of revitalizing the downtown. When the CRA was converted from being run by a separate board to being run by the city council, Jorge was out of a job. But in a moment of welcome transparency, he shared how he thought, at that time, that Townsend Place would be the tallest building in the downtown. His presentation was a refreshing honest viewpoint of a resident/Former City official.
However, one impact of the CRA that was missing from the panel discussion was the impact of the 2008 City Council passing the “Landmark” building ordinance in conjunction with Urban Design Associates. That ordinance was designed to establish one landmark building in the entire downtown. That landmark was supposed to be on the corner of Federal and Palmetto. But somehow, the City Council and CRA morphed the ordinance into the notion of having a landmark building in every sub section. That further morphed into establishing a designated core area where landmark buildings could be built anywhere in that core. And that is how today we have no “landmark building” at all, but rather three undistinguished tall buildings in a row at via Mizner with The Mark and the Hyatt right next to each other.
About the Society
The historical society has created a wonderful museum. It’s old town hall building on Federal Highway is beautifully restored. There are presentations throughout of various aspects of Boca’s history. You will learn something about Boca if you visit. The society also runs the Train Museum on Dixie at Camino Real. But the mission and purpose of the Boca Raton Historical Society is to “collect, preserve, and present information and artifacts relevant to the past and evolving history of Boca Raton and to maintain a visible role in education and advocacy of historic preservation in our community”. The Society and museum is located at 71 North Federal Highway, Boca Raton, Florida 33432. Operating hours are Monday – Friday 10:00am – 4:00pm. See the Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum website for details.