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Our Wilting Wildflower

by Joe Panella

An update to the Wildflower/Silver Palm Park project was presented to the Boca Raton City Council at their May 26 workshop, and it was a sticker-shocker!!  


Because the project cost estimates have gone from $4.3M in 2018, to $8.3M in 2020, and are now projected to be over $11M in the 2021 time frame!  The entire council expressed disappointment at these findings.  After some three years of planning, no one in our city knows if or when the park will ever be completed.  Or even started….

You can view the workshop on the Boca Raton City website.  Click on agenda item “4A – Wildflower/Silver Palm Park Update”.

How did it wilt away?  

There is a lack of effective program management associated with this project:

  • There were many conflicting goals regarding the features to be built at Wildflower, and the design morphed over years during many workshops and public meetings.  The ‘plan’ that was presented at the May 26 workshop is now just a ‘proposal’.  Why?  After the council expressed their disappointment in the financials, there was much discussion about the design itself.  Councilors weighed in on, “Do we really need this”, or “Do we really need that?”  In other words, after years of work, there is not a clear picture of what will be built at the Wildflower property.  This will require a somewhat severe ‘Needs vs. Wants’ discussion and resolution for all involved stakeholders, which will take time.  Which brings us to……
  • There were, and still are, no clear timelines established for this project.  There is not a reliable schedule of when, for example, construction should begin.  Or when it would be complete.  Based on the council workshop comments, we are going back to the drawing board to see what can be built for the $8.25M estimate of earlier this year.  Which means a new design and another project re-start.

So how can we fix it?  

We can’t go back in time, but we can do a much better job going forward.  It all comes down to solid project management on the part of city council and city staff:

  • Create a rational timeline for all key events.  Things like
    • Design Complete
    • Construction Documents Complete
    • Bids Received
    • Bids Approved and Budgeted
    • Start of Construction, Finally!!
    • Park Opens, Yay!!
  • Assign owners to the key events, make them accountable and measure their performance.  This includes city staff as well as EDSA, the consultant the city hired to facilitate the Wildflower design.  
  • No more surprises!!  Oversight is essential, especially for this project at this late date.  Wildflower (and any other large project) should be discussed at every council workshop twice a month.  Status updates, timeline management, issues to be resolved, plans for the next two weeks, and more, should be reviewed and resolved every two weeks in the public domain.  This keeps small issues from becoming large issues, such as those we are dealing with today.  Those on the council who have run businesses and large commercial/military projects can appreciate how effective oversight and solid project management can be.  

How Can We Avoid This In The Future?

Every year the city council, city staff, and city residents spend a week on “Goal-Setting”.  This is the process where all of the important Strategic Goals of the city are designed and defined.  Large projects like the Wildflower certainly fall into this category.  

But the city’s Strategic Goals are not goals, they are narratives.  To turn these narratives into goals they will need to have timelines, accountability, and oversight, as we mention above.  For more on the subject of Boca’s City Council goal-setting process, see our previous article Great city goals means great city results

And finally, an anecdote:

I moved into my current home 26 years ago, just up the street from El-Rio Park.  This was the sign on site at the time, which eventually rotted and fell down.  More than two decades later, the second phase of the park opened in 2020, some 30 years after being announced.  For perspective, thirty years is ten different city councils.  Will the Wildflower take this long? 

el rio sign WEB
El Rio Park sign circa 1995

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