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Pompano Beach’s New Innovation District

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By Marie Puleo

As Pompano’s beachside redevelopment continues to unfold – with the opening of the Beach House restaurant, the development of the Pompano Beach Fishing Village, the reconstruction of the pier, and numerous luxury high-rises either under construction or in the pipeline – the city is also striving to reinvent its downtown area, which lies at the intersection of Atlantic Boulevard and Dixie Highway.

The vision is for it to become a vibrant and pedestrian-friendly, urban, mixed-use downtown.

Pompano’s downtown is a 400-plus-acre area featuring four distinct sections: Old Town, the historic original downtown area of Pompano; the Civic Commons, where City Hall and the Pompano Beach Cultural Center and Library are located; the Innovation District, which is a high density, core commercial area with city- and CRA-owned land ready for development; and the surrounding Avondale, Blanche Ely and Old Pompano neighborhoods.

While the city and its Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) have been spearheading redevelopment activities in each of these districts, the geographic area of work will be reduced to the Innovation District in 2019, when there will be a significant decrease in funds. The Innovation District, and the downtown as a whole, lie within the Northwest CRA district (NW CRA), which uses tax dollars from the county. For the past four years, the city has been in litigation with Broward County over the future of the NW CRA. The CRA Board and the City Commission approved a proposed settlement in July; the  Broward County Commission approved the settlement in August. [READ MORE ABOUT THE SETTLEMENT HERE]

Under the terms of the settlement, after fiscal year 2019, the NW CRA will only receive tax-generated revenues from the city, not the county. A settlement amount totaling $13.75 million will be paid to the CRA over a period of six years. Instead of spreading that money over the entire 3,000-acre NW CRA, the funds will be focused on developing the 70-acre Innovation District in downtown, which is where the city is likely to generate the most economic development and revenue, said Kim Briesemeister of Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA), the firm that has managed the CRA since 2009, but is expected to transition to a consulting role once an in-house team is hired by the city.

Even though the dollar amount of the settlement is substantially less than what the city was originally hoping to get, the CRA will now be able to issue a bond for the NW CRA district, which it couldn’t do while litigation was pending. The bond (which is not a General Obligation bond) would be for approximately $15 million, and is anticipated to be issued in the fall.

The Innovation District

At the heart of the city’s vision for a ‘new’ downtown is the development of the Innovation District, which is bound by I-95 to the west, Dixie Highway to the east, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (NW Third Street) to the north, and Atlantic Boulevard to the south.

The city and CRA own about 30 acres of prime real estate within the Innovation District, which are ripe for development. The western-most portion of the site is one of the only assemblages left in South Florida that is undeveloped along the busy I-95 corridor, with a major exit to an urban area and the Atlantic Ocean.

This February, the CRA contracted with the commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield to carry out a nationwide search for a master developer or a series of developers to build on the 30 empty acres of city- and CRA-owned land in the Innovation District.

“Very few cities have the opportunity to build a downtown from scratch,” said Briesemeister, “but this one does, and there’s nothing more exciting than that.”

Pompano Beach has been on a trajectory of change and innovation, said Briesemeister, and for the Innovation District, a “futuristic” rather than “old school” approach is being used.

“The driving concept behind the redevelopment in the Innovation District is building for future generations,” said Briesemeister. “Our environments are changing so rapidly, we have to build for how we will live in the future. It’s a very interesting new way of thinking about urban revitalization.”

Just as the groundwork had to be laid for the beachside redevelopment, the city and CRA have been working steadily to put the foundation pieces into place for the Innovation District. In 2012, the area was rezoned for transit-oriented development, enabling higher density mixed-use in close proximity to transit operations: the Broward County bus terminal on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (MLK Boulevard) and a proposed commuter train station along the Florida East Coast railway.

In 2013, a $12 million investment was poured into streetscape and infrastructure improvements in Old Town, along MLK Boulevard and around the site of the recently opened state-of-the-art Pompano Beach Cultural Center and Library. The historically significant Bailey Hotel and Ali building were renovated into visual and performing arts venues; Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA) opened in 2014, followed by Ali Cultural Arts in 2015.

The first new retail building to be constructed on MLK Boulevard in decades opened at #731 in 2015, and was leased to local businesses at minimal rents to support startup operations. The goal was to create the framework for a new pedestrian-driven main street with retail on the ground floor.

In keeping with its desire to foster entrepreneurship, the CRA, in collaboration with the city, obtained a state-approved “commercial kitchen” designation for the underutilized kitchen space at the E. Pat Larkins Community Center. The space will serve as a culinary incubator that can be leased to existing businesses or new entrepreneurs who need to cook to commercial standards. Educational programs on the culinary industry will also be offered. In July, the CRA hired a culinary kitchen incubator program manager.

Across the street from the community center, renovations are underway at Annie Gilles Park to create an urban plaza. A one-mile interactive art trail, known as the “Trail of the Honeybees,” is being developed by the Public Arts Committee to connect all of the cultural facilities in Pompano’s downtown. It is funded in part by a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Innovation District had its first official groundbreaking for a private sector development project in 2016, when construction began on the seven-story mixed-use City Vista building at the northeast corner of MLK Boulevard (NW Third Street) and NW Sixth Avenue. Completed in February of this year, City Vista includes 111 rental apartments, plus 3,800 square feet of office space and non-residential uses on the ground floor. It is now almost fully occupied. Part of the commercial space (3,300 square feet) has been leased from the developer by the CRA to be used as a co-working space for local entrepreneurs.

In May, the city received an unsolicited proposal from Azur Equities, in partnership with Hadar Homes, to build Patagonia, a community of 15 two-story rental townhomes on CRA-owned property along NW Seventh Avenue and MLK Boulevard, on the northern edge of the Innovation District. The project, still in the early planning stages, includes about 1,800 square feet of commercial space fronting MLK Boulevard. The proposal was accepted by the CRA Board in July, and a development agreement is being drafted for approval in September.

Future development in the Innovation District could include 750,000 square feet of office space, 165,000 square feet of retail, 35,000 square feet of restaurants, 1,500 residential units, and two hotels with a combined 420 rooms. The current zoning allows for a maximum building height of 105 feet.

“It’s a really exciting time because Pompano is now on the map for development and we get to be in charge of what we want to see happen,” said NW CRA Director Nguyen Tran.

Planned waterways in the Innovation district with walkable paths

An Innovative Waterway System

A crucial factor in catalyzing development in the district will be a new system of self-contained, linear waterways, which will create a scenic setting for outdoor cafes, restaurants, shops, offices and mixed-use residential buildings.

“What we’re really trying to do is create connectivity in this urban area that isn’t there today,” said RMA’s Kim Briesemeister.

Inspired by the canal systems in Amsterdam and The Riverwalk in San Antonio, this series of waterways is an innovative drainage system that eliminates the need for dry retention ponds, allowing developers a maximum buildout capacity across parcels.

The proposed project is anticipated to cost $70-78 million, including all streetscaping, sidewalks, landscaping and utilities, said Horacio Danovich, the city’s capital improvements program manager. The CRA has budgeted $15.1 million, and the rest could come from grants, private developers, or other unidentified resources.

The next step in the project will be the design phase, which could start by the first quarter of 2019. It is expected to take about two-and-a-half years to complete the final design and secure all the necessary permits. Construction could start by early 2022.

Another infrastructure project that will be pivotal in attracting private sector development to the district is the revamping of the Atlantic Boulevard and Dixie Highway intersection.

“Those are the two most important public investments to get private development to come,” said Briesemeister, “and they have to happen at the same time.”

Atlantic Boulevard/Dixie Highway Intersection – Rendering – “After”

Atlantic Boulevard and Dixie Highway Complete Streets Project

A key component in setting the stage for the Innovation District is redesigning the Atlantic Boulevard and Dixie Highway intersection to make it more pedestrian and bike friendly. The goal is also to enhance connectivity between the Innovation District, Old Town and the Civic Commons, and to create a beautified gateway to the city and its beaches when approaching from I-95.

This city and CRA initiative, known as a “complete streets” project, will decrease the number of traffic lanes, create safer bike lanes, increase the width of sidewalks and medians, and add landscaping. “Incomplete” streets are designed with cars in mind and limit transportation choices by making walking, bicycling and taking public transportation inconvenient, unattractive or dangerous. Complete streets are designed to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

In 2016, the city assumed ownership of Dixie Highway (McNab Road to Sample Road) and Atlantic Boulevard (NW Sixth Avenue to the beach, excluding the bridge) from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), and began planning the Complete Streets project. EDSA, an international planning, landscape architecture and urban design firm headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, was hired to do the conceptual design.

EDSA designed the enhancements along Pompano Beach Boulevard that were completed in 2013, including a beach promenade, “The Great Lawn” gathering area with an interactive splash pad, and restoration of the dune system. The firm has also been involved in every phase of the development of the Pompano Beach Fishing Village, from master planning to construction.

For the Atlantic Boulevard and Dixie Highway Complete Streets project, EDSA held four public outreach meetings this year, and modified the design based on community feedback. In the final conceptual design, a multi-use pedestrian and bike promenade with an average width of 10 to 12 feet is proposed along both sides of Atlantic Boulevard and Dixie Highway, as well as a minimum five-foot-wide curbside lawn with street trees. There would also be a 6- to 8-foot wide urban walkway along the north side of Atlantic Boulevard and the west side of Dixie Highway, parallel to the multi-use trail, but separated by landscaped planters and seating areas.

The existing turf and concrete medians would be widened to measure 10 to 14 feet, and landscaped with either palm or shade trees. The medians would also be extended to align with newly defined crosswalks for both pedestrians and cyclists, providing ‘safe refuges’ for negotiating the divided roadways.

To increase connectivity, two bridges for pedestrians and bikes are being proposed over the Pompano Canal from the Avondale neighborhood to Atlantic Boulevard, as well as a new pocket park overlooking the Pompano Canal at the southwest corner of the Atlantic Boulevard and Dixie Highway intersection, which is currently an unkempt open space. A linear greenway park along the canal is also being considered.

“This is all about improving quality of life and catalyzing redevelopment,” said Paul Kissinger, a principal of EDSA. “Ultimately, we’re going to make the Dixie Highway and Atlantic Boulevard intersection a destination, rather than a drive-through.”

In order to accommodate all the proposed amenities, traffic lanes would need to be reconfigured. On Atlantic Boulevard, between Dixie Highway and Cypress Road, there would be two lanes heading east, and two lanes heading west, instead of the existing three lanes in each direction. West of Dixie Highway, the three existing eastbound lanes on Atlantic Boulevard would remain (with one becoming a left-turn lane when it reaches Dixie Highway); the three existing westbound lanes would be reduced to two lanes. Dixie Highway would retain its two northbound and two southbound travel lanes. At the intersection, the double left-turn lanes on Atlantic Boulevard and Dixie Highway would be reduced to one; the northbound and southbound right-turn lanes on Dixie Highway are proposed to be eliminated (eliminating the northbound right-turn lane would require approval from the FEC). All bus stops would be maintained, but bus lanes and pull-offs would be removed.

Based on preliminary traffic studies, EDSA estimates that the lane reductions – with expected traffic diversion to Copans Road, Cypress Road, NW Third Street and SW Third Street – would add two additional minutes of travel time on Atlantic Boulevard heading east from I-95 to Federal Highway, and less than one additional minute of travel time heading west from A1A to I-95.

The next step in the project is for the city to hire a firm to do more detailed design and planning, which is currently underway. There will be more public forums for the community to provide input. A construction bid won’t take place for one to two years. The project is expected to break ground in mid- to late 2020, with an estimated completion date of 2024, said Danovich. It is anticipated to cost $42 million, with $29 million coming from FDOT transfer funds and the G.O. Bond that Pompano voters approved in March.

The MLK Boulevard and Dixie Highway intersection, as well as the Atlantic Boulevard and NE First Avenue intersection, will eventually be redesigned to follow the complete streets concept, said NW CRA Director Nguyen Tran.

Old Town – What’s Coming

Pompano Beach’s historic downtown, called Old Pompano or Old Town, is being revitalized through numerous city and CRA projects with the goal of making it a pedestrian-friendly dining and entertainment hub. The streetscape improvements completed two years ago included the creation of Old Town’s focal point – a central urban plaza with a “fire fountain,” the first of its kind in the United States, where multi-colored flames literally burst out of the water using new technology.

Old Town Untapped, a monthly craft brew and arts festival, was created to showcase the vacant retail bays in Old Town as a location for restaurants and retailers to open a business, and to increase the community’s exposure to the area. The CRA also set up the Pompano Beach Green Market on Saturdays in partnership with the Pompano Beach Historical Society to support the launch of new business endeavors.

Historic Downtown Pompano: The Bailey Hotel (center), built in 1932, is now Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA), which opened in 2014.

Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA

The upgrades and amenities have attracted local entrepreneurs, who are slowly reinvigorating the Old Town area. The CRA purchased the historic Bailey Hotel, built in 1932, and converted it into Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA), where artists use the renovated hotel rooms as artist studios. In 2016, Blooming Bean Coffee Roasters opened an artisanal coffee and snack kiosk in a gallery space on BaCA’s ground floor. In 2017, Odd Breed Wild Ales, a local brewery, opened its doors in a recently renovated building in the heart of Old Town that is subleased from the CRA.

In about a year, there will be a new social gathering place in Old Town. The CRA will open a public courtyard plaza behind the building at 165 NE First Avenue in an effort to attract new restaurants that will offer outdoor dining, said Nguyen Tran, the NW CRA Director. The CRA is finalizing a lease for a “southern comfort” restaurant concept to fill the 3,300-square-foot building at #165. Two other nearby spaces have been leased for restaurants. One is a farm-to-table concept at 11 NE First Street, in what was formerly a laundromat; the other, at 44 NE First Street between Odd Breed Wild Ales and “Fire Fountain” Plaza, is planning a seafood concept with a patio bar and dining area overlooking the plaza. In addition, some private owners of retail space on Flagler Avenue are currently working on leases for new restaurants.

Adding to the entertainment aspect of the district, the CRA food truck and music event that used to take place every third Friday of the month on the beachside near the Pier Parking Garage is in the process of being moved to Old Town, and is expected to start there this month.

Currently, another streetscape project in Old Town is getting underway to widen sidewalks, create new on-street parking, LED lighting, landscaping and upgraded utilities along several more streets. Work will take place between NE First Avenue and NE Second Avenue, starting with NE First Street and continuing north to NE Fourth Street. Parts of Flagler Avenue will also be included. The project will cost $4.8 million and is expected to take about one year to complete.

Old Town is also attracting private sector development. Old Town Square, a 10-story mixed-use project targeted toward millennials, is expected to break ground in the near future. In addition to having 279 rental apartments, it will include 6,000 square feet of ground floor retail space that is envisioned as a restaurant. Heritage at Pompano Station, a seven-story 116-unit project with ground floor commercial and retail use, is currently under construction. It is expected to be marketed and leased to households where at least one member is age 55 or older.

To adequately provide for Old Town’s anticipated parking needs, the CRA will start planning soon for the construction of a parking garage on the surface parking area at the northeast corner of Atlantic Boulevard and NE First Avenue, with ground floor retail opportunities facing “Fire Fountain” Plaza. Because transportation uses are continuing to evolve, the garage will be designed in a way that will allow it to be repurposed in the future, if parking needs decrease.

Civic Commons – What’s Coming

The Civic Commons district of downtown is anchored by City Hall and the Pompano Beach Cultural Centerand Library. Most of the land is city-owned, and the placement of the existing buildings lends itself to development opportunity. The city envisions a high-density, commercial district with non-government office buildings added, and possibly some retail.

There are 9.8 acres of vacant land available. The next phase of development will include marketing the vacant parcels as well as reconfiguring the City Hall parking lots into downtown urban development projects. According to RMA’s Kim Briesemeister, the CRA will begin the marketing process once the makeover of the Atlantic Boulevard and Dixie Highway intersection is completed, which is expected to be in 2024.

The East Transit Oriented Corridor (ETOC) – Connecting downtown to the beach and the beach to downtown    

The City of Pompano Beach and Broward County recently approved a major zoning and land use change that will affect future development in an area now officially designated the East Transit Oriented Corridor (ETOC), which stretches from the Intracoastal Waterway to downtown (at Cypress Road), with Atlantic Boulevard as its main axis. It includes a portion of Federal Highway, roughly from SE Fourth Street to NE Sixth Street. This new zoning district allows mixed-use development, with commercial uses on the ground floor, primarily along Atlantic Boulevard and Federal Highway, and residential units on upper floors. The mixed-use development is intended to support mass transit use and a pedestrian-friendly environment. The new zoning protects neighborhoods by ensuring buildings are reduced in height as they get nearer to the neighborhoods, and less commercial use is allowed. 

In 2012, the downtown area was designated the Downtown Pompano Transit Oriented Corridor, or DPTOC, which allows for mixed-use redevelopment in close proximity to transit facilities – the existing county bus terminal and a proposed rail station. The ETOC bridges the gap between the downtown and the beachside in what is referred to as the “barbell” effect: the downtown is one end of the barbell, the beach is the other end, and the ETOC zoning and land use is the bar that connects them.

The ETOC allows for 2,399 additional residential units. Residential buildings produce less traffic than commercial, which was reduced from 38 million to 7 million square feet. To lessen the impact that more intensive development will have on adjacent residential neighborhoods, the city enacted regulations limiting building heights based on their vicinity to the surrounding neighborhood by pushing the higher portions of the building to the main corridors along Atlantic Boulevard and Federal Highway. Properties directly abutting these major thoroughfares have always been permitted at a maximum height of 105 feet, while those on the edge of the ETOC will now be required to be reduced to a maximum height of 35 feet. The heights of buildings were not increased.

Zoning in the ETOC will prevent unwanted businesses, particularly automobile-related uses such as car dealerships, gas stations, auto repair and drive-throughs. It also ensures all new development will be under similar and compatible design standards, rather than on a piecemeal basis by individual developers seeking their own rezoning and land use plan amendments.

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