Friday, May 23, 2014
TRI RAIL CONSIDERING 2nd BOCA RATON STOP
I am really happy to write about this one! Originally from New York, one of the things I loved about living there was the ability to use mass transit to the point where very few residents there have or need cars. Everyone walks, takes the subway, taxis or buses. Since I moved to Florida I have always dreamed of mass transit catching on here and making all of our lives easier, safer and more enjoyable. The effort has been going very slowly, to say the least, but it is catching on. Especially here in Boca Raton I am proud to say! The Tri-Rail stop in Boca at Yamato Road has become the most heavily trafficked stop in Florida with 1,600 passengers daily, recently surpassing Miami’s Metrorail stop. Given the success and demand, a 2nd Boca Raton stop is being contemplated on Military Trail close to Boca Shops. This stop would serve the Town Center Mall as well as the numerous office buildings that are in that area. Most importantly, it could relieve already over capacity traffic on Glades Road, the most congested road in all of Palm Beach County. There is currently $18.5 million on the table to make this a reality, with $8.5 million coming from Federal money from the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization and $10 million from the Florida Department of Transportation. While it could be built by 2018, the next step is a 2 year study by Tri-Rail to make sure it makes sense. The issues are that the stops would be only 2 miles apart instead of the typical 4, but there is also a lack of parking at the site. This would make it dependent on shuttle buses, which is not ideal. I am thrilled that this is even being discussed, much less that it is already funded! I think it is going to happen, and maybe it will spur more cities to invest in their Tri-Rail stops and ridership. As always thanks for reading and have a great day.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
SEMINOLES SPENDING $100 MILLION ON UPGRADES THIS YEAR
Another Florida tourist attraction is reinvesting in itself to generate even more revenue. Today we are talking about the Seminole Indians (not Florida State!) and their plans to both improve their properties and expand. In Hollywood, at the 2nd most popular (the most popular is in Tampa, at the Tampa Hard Rock) of the Seminoles’ 7 properties, the Hard Rock Hotel is running at 98% occupancy. So they are going to update the hotel rooms and suites, upgrade the entrance to the Property and the bar in the center of it and add a new restaurant. This property accounted for $600 million of the $2 billion dollars in gambling revenues they made in the past year. There are also plans to build a hotel next to the existing casino the Seminoles have in Immokalee. A food court will be added to the Seminole Classic Casino in Hollywood, a property largely overshadowed by the Hard Rock there. So like other major Florida tourist attractions like Universal Studios, Disney, Sawgrass Mills Mall, Town Center Mall to name a few, the Seminoles are wisely using their increased revenues to improve their brand and expand it. They are also working on a deal with the state to increase the amount and types of gambling permitted but that is an ongoing fight with no clear resolution in sight. But it does hold promise for even more increased revenues and expansion in the future should it ever pass. Right now the Seminoles have the exclusive right to blackjack and other table games in Florida which expires in 2015. They paid $262 million for them. The Hard Rock brand employs 3,700 people in Hollywood and 33,000 overall. As always thanks for reading and have a great day.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
GATEWAY TO LAS OLAS RIVERFRONT FINALLY TO BE BUILT
This is a really interesting one and a blast from the past for me! I moved to Florida in 2001 and went to work at the SunTrust Building at 515 East Las Olas. My partners and I frequented the bars and restaurants on Las Olas and at Las Olas Riverfront, which at that time was relatively full of tenants. But right on the Northwest corner of Las Olas Blvd. and Andrews Ave, at the main entrance to the Las Olas Riverfront, sat a vacant building for sale. And next to it was another vacant property, both with seemingly excellent frontage and visibility but challenged parking. Over the years it was said that an attorney bought the corner site (this is true, in 2002) and was planning to put a new building there. More than 10 years later, that building is due to break ground May 7th. It will be a sharp looking 40,000 SF, 5 story office building with retail on the ground floor and should be completed by the end of 2015. Wouldn’t you believe, the owner of this property, Jeff Ostrow (yes the same one who bought it in 2002!), also bought the long vacant property next to this one. There he is planning on putting a Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery, which he owns the franchise rights for in Broward and Dade counties. We always thought that Downtown Ft. Lauderdale was missing a sports bar, and now it looks like they will finally be getting one. And this place is no ordinary sports bar I am told. It is a Hooters type of sports bar concept, with an Irish flavor, that should be very popular with the men in the area. A concept featuring scantily clad ladies and sports has a high probability of success in South Florida. This is the first office building that is being developed in 6 years, and it could be a good sign for the Downtown Ft. Lauderdale office market. With any luck it will spur the development of the Las Olas Riverfront itself, which has been in steady decline for many years. Many plans have come and gone for the site but sooner than later one will work and the last piece of Downtown will finally be developed. As always thanks for reading and have a great day.
Friday, May 16, 2014
WALMART AT IT AGAIN – THIS TIME GETTING INTO AUTO INSURANCE
Clearly Walmart doesn’t take declining sales lying down. They are looking for any kind of edge they can get over their competitors and are starting to think out of the box with all these new businesses. For the 3rd time in less than 60 days Walmart has announced it is entering a new business. This time it is the auto insurance business, partnering with a company called autoinsurance.com. The idea is effectively the same as Lending Tree for mortgages, or Expedia for travel but with fewer options to choose from. The web site will allow people to see prices from 6 different auto insurance companies. Walmart gets a monthly fee from the deal, for promoting the web site in their stores and on their web site. Autoinsurance.com will be paid a commission when a customer buys auto insurance through the web site. Not all the large auto insurance companies are on board with this latest venture but the web site does feature Progressive, Travelers, and Esurance. Missing are some of the largest insurance companies in the industry such as Geico and State Farm, to name a few. Walmart hopes to add more insurance companies to the site in the future and it will be interesting to see if they are successful in doing so. Will other companies want to follow suit and get on the Walmart bandwagon, or will they see that in a negative light and not join? For now the web site will only be offered in 8 states, which Walmart hopes to expand to the rest of the country (and beyond?) if it is successful. I was unaware that they have already been down the insurance path before, partnering with the same company that ownsautoinsurance.com (Tranzutary Insurance Solutions) to do a life insurance pilot that is offered by MetLife. What will they try to get into next? I don’t know but I promise it will be here when it is announced. As always thanks for reading and have a great day.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
BOCA RATON REGIONAL HOSPITAL EXPANDS AGAIN
It all started 3.5 years ago with a dream and a gift of $10 million dollars. Now, thanks to that gift of Christine E Lynn, the aptly named Christine E Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute broke ground on April 23rd. This is an expansion of the Boca Raton Regional Hospital, and the total cost of the new building will be $22 million dollars. It will be across the street from the existing women’s center, which has been there for 25 years and not coincidently is also in Christine E. Lynn’s name. That center treats over 100,000 patients a year. The new center will cater to women’s healthcare and promote healthy lifestyles. Services offered will include specialty care, breast and pelvic health, preventative cardiology and imaging technology. It will have room for future expansion should it become needed. This is the 3rd expansion of the hospital in recent years. First was the new emergency room, which was followed by the Marcus Neuroscience Institute, which is scheduled to open this summer. At the groundbreaking for the new women’s center more major donors were recognized by the president of Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation, Jan Savarick. They include Harvey and Phyllis Sandler, and their daughters Robin Rubin and Amy Ross. In a nice gesture, the hospital volunteers from the Debbie Rand Memorial Service League were also recognized along with the donors. I have always wanted to know how much money someone has to give to get their name on a property. I am sure the price varies per location and property but $10 million seems like a large number. After all, Alex Rodriguez only gave the University of Miami $3.9 million to have his name on their new baseball stadium which is called Alex Rodriguez Park (this is not working out well for them and they are considering removing the name now). In any event I am glad that BRRH continues to expand and thank all the generous donors who helped make it happen. As always thanks for reading and have a great day.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
MORE RESIDENTIAL CONDOS FOR FT. LAUDERDALE
It is always a good sign for the Florida economy when a residential condo project is built, as opposed to a rental project. Why? Rental projects cater to people that often do not have credit to buy, and or people who are seasonal or transient. Condos on the other hand, appeal to the people with credit, who hopefully live here year round (but there is no guaranty of that) and who will invest and contribute to the area. A two acre site at 1180 North Federal Highway will soon be transformed into the RIVA, a 100 unit project with over 400 feet of frontage on the Middle River in Ft. Lauderdale. The RIVA (I kind of like saying that and writing it too, good name! You will see where they got it from later in this blog) will be 15 stories and will be completed by the end of 2016. The Property will be developed by Premier Developers, and will feature 2 and 3 bedrooms priced from $550,000 to $4 million for penthouse and custom units. It was noted that buyers will need to put 35% down, which should flush out any investors. There will be a 7,000 SF gym, wine lockers and a water taxi that takes residents across the river to the Galleria Mall. What more could one ask for? It is expected that the residents will be comprised of Americans and Canadians who will be full time area residents. Premier Developers has a good reputation and track record in the area, having developed 2 other condo projects in Ft. Lauderdale, the Venezia At Las Olas and La Rive. They are doing 2 other projects in South Florida now, the Renaissance on the Ocean in Hollywood and the Bellaria in Palm Beach. As always thanks for reading and have a great day.
Monday, May 12, 2014
SPRING TRAINING BASEBALL UPDATE
By the way, don’t get mad at me for this picture, which is what pops up for this article! OK we have the last one we might have for a while since the Legislature is over for the year now. It is very anti-climactic too in my humble opinion. All that happened at the wire last week was the passing of the bill to change the stadium financing from 37.5 years to 25 years. Another small development was allowing an existing facility to expand to a two team facility. This would only come into play if teams were considering the Mets site in Port St. Lucie, and that is not the case. Also $20 million would be available over 20 years for a one team facility. Again, it is mentioned that the sites in West Palm Beach at 45th St. and the site at John Prince Park in Lake Worth are the front runners, with the site in West Palm having the edge since it is county owned and there are no objections from area residents. They also don’t have to work a deal with Palm Beach State to do anything either, like they would with the Lake Worth site. So now that the political drama is done, when will a decision come on this?? There is still a sense of urgency here since the Nationals have moved to cancel their existing lease by the end of the year. So they probably want to announce a new home soon, even if they won’t be able to move into it for some time since it would need to be built. So it comes down to 2 impoverished and struggling cities, Lake Worth and West Palm Beach, and only one can win. If this were something that could be bet upon all my money would go to West Palm, even though history says Lake Worth will win. I bet we will get some sort of answer by the end of the summer, in August or September. Stay tuned, you will have another update as soon as it is available. As always thanks for reading and have a great day.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
MICROSOFT GOES THRU SOUTH FLORIDA TO GET TO LATIN AMERICA
American and European companies have always known that if they want to do business in Latin America they must have an office in South Florida, but when one of those companies is Microsoft we have a bloggable situation. In fact Microsoft’s Latin American Headquarters is in Ft. Lauderdale and has been since 2002. They employ 400 people now and had just 100 five years ago, an excellent sign of growth. From this location in Ft. Lauderdale Microsoft can monitor the operations it has in the 46 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America. It is a big win for Broward County to have them there, and the higher paying jobs they get from a company headquarters location. Other technology companies could be attracted to the area to follow their lead. Microsoft is doing $1 billion a year in business in Latin America and the Caribbean from here and is growing very rapidly. So rapidly that they lead the entire world as the fastest growth area for Microsoft. They have taken a leading role in the upcoming eMerge conference that will soon be held in Miami, another benefit to having Microsoft in the area. EMerge, who has a goal of making South Florida a tech hub to rival those in California, says that having Microsoft here creates a collaborative situation with local universities, governments and non-profits. So there are lots of benefits to having Microsoft here, and it sounds like there will be plenty more to come in the way of new jobs. Microsoft is one of the largest companies in the world and is poised to remain there for some time. With Amazon about to sign a 335,000 SF lease in Miami, South Florida is becoming a place where giant tech firms need to be. Technology is an industry that has the potential to lift an economy by itself so let’s hope that all these tech companies continue to grow and open and expand offices here. As always thanks for reading and have a great day.
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
SPRING TRAINING BASEBALL UPDATE
One week left to go and we do have an update worthy of reporting on. It sure sounds like serious discussions are taking place between the Washington Nationals, The Houston Astros and Palm Beach County and they have narrowed their focus down to 2 sites. One is no surprise, the site at 45th St. in West Palm Beach, which as of our last update seemed like the front running site by a large margin. The other is a big surprise, John Prince Park in Lake Worth, since it was reported previously that it was no longer being considered. It seems like a revised site plan, courtesy of PGAL (an architect who has designed other sports stadiums around the country), was responsible for the renewed interest in the John Prince site. It is pretty crazy but it really looks like AT & T Park in San Francisco, complete with the stadium facing Lake Osborne and kayakers catching home runs. Other amenities discussed are a walking trail along the outfield and the fact that it is within walking distance of the Tri-Rail, which would make it the only sports stadium in the state to be easily accessible by mass transit. While that is something commonplace in other cities around the country, it just doesn’t happen in Florida for some reason. In order for this plan to work Palm Beach State College would need to agree relocate its baseball field, since that is where they have proposed 2 practice fields and a parking lot. This, along with residents objections are what lead the site to drop from consideration in the past. But the Nationals have always liked the site, and it seems like Lake Worth is finally grasping that this might be the best and only economic development driver that they may ever see. I think this quote sums it up perfectly, from Lake Worth Commissioner Scott Maxwell, “This is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for this area. For us not to explore the possibilities is irresponsible.” The problem is that the West Palm site is in an equally economic barren area and would also hugely benefit from getting the stadium deal. If history is any guide there is no question that the deal will go to Lake Worth while West Palm will continue to struggle. But there are only days left for a deal to be made, and I am hopeful that one can be made somewhere. We will see soon enough. As always, thanks for reading and have a great day.
Monday, May 5, 2014
BOYNTON BEACH GETS SERIOUS ABOUT CLEANING UP BLIGHTED PROPERTIES
I love it when a city does something really smart, that helps itself and its’ residents. This is one of those blogs, about Boynton Beach in fact. There are a few areas in the City that are badly in need of redevelopment. They are littered with old, crumbling abandoned properties that look like they have been there in that condition for decades. The problem is that properties like these rack up many fines and liens on the way to foreclosure. What this ends up being is a problem for anyone who would consider buying it, since they would have to pay the fines and for the property as well. This problem makes it easy for the potential purchaser to move onto a new property in another area without these issues. So Boynton loses, and the blighted property continues to languish, an eyesore for all. The City approved a conditional lien waver program on April 1, which will last for 1 year. The program allows the liens and other fees to be waived in exchange for developing and cleaning up the property. It also applies to residential properties as well. You can be sure that if it is successful, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be, that it will be extended forever. While it doesn’t expressly say it, it certainly sounds like Boynton took this plan from North Lauderdale and Tamarac, where they have done the same thing. A very smart thing to do and other cities would be wise to follow suit to clean up the undesirable areas there. I can think of many that would benefit from such a program and I hope that they can do the same. Congratulations to Boynton Beach and their new lien program! Now who is next? As always thanks for reading and have a great day.
Friday, May 2, 2014
CHINA’S POLLUTION PROBLEM IS PRETTY BIG
Hello everyone! This is a rare international blog, a quick break from all the important local news and events that I normally write about. I think it is important to step back and look at the bigger picture sometimes and this is one of those types of blogs. We actually wrote about this China pollution issue months before, but the article is here again and I think the news is important enough to share again. While we have a lot of drama in the world right now (Russia, Syria, Iran, etc.) I think there is little doubt that the main and largest rival to the U.S. is China. The Chinese have been racing to compete against us for many of the world’s resources including energy, weapons/military and food production to name a few. The difference is that China is a country lacking in true Government oversight of virtually everything, especially the environment. They have been growing so quickly and have been so focused on the here and now that they have seriously polluted their country on the way. How bad is it? The Chinese Government issued a report on this very subject, and you can be sure it is very understated, that the problem is much much worse than they are letting on. They have admitted that 16.1% of the entire country’s soil was polluted which includes 19.4 of all farmland. So one fifth of all the farmland in China is so polluted that it cannot be used. That is the size of the state of Maryland and it is growing fast. A great example of what this can lead to is what is happening in Hunan Province in Central China. This is a place where there is both metals production and also food production (rice). This area accounted for 16% of all the rice in China as of 2012. You might not be surprised to know that when they tested the rice from Hunan it was exceptionally high in cadmium levels, a chemical by product of metal production. It is really amazing that such things could be allowed to happen at all, much less for so long. But in a country where bribery, extortion and nepotism are ingrained in the people, truly anything is possible if you have enough money. Sure makes you appreciate and feel gratitude for living in America. As always thanks for reading and have a great day.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
ROSENFELD RESTAURANT REVIEW – MADISON’S OF NY – BOCA RATON
I had heard a lot about this place and had been wanting to try it for some time. I think the name is very funny since they are a Canadian company but the restaurant is called Madison’s of New York. Regardless, they have a very large expensive location that was formerly occupied by Stephanie’s, so there might be something to the place. The inside looked great, large and airy with lots of room between other tables. We sat in the elevated part of the restaurant, which is kind of nice to be seated up high like you were in an SUV or something. We had a very energetic and friendly waitress, who did a nice job.
There is no question this is a steak/meat place, which is exactly what our friends enjoy. That is OK with me since these places usually have some good seafood too. Someone who I worked with told me that they bought Houston’s recipe for ribs and that they were even better than the ones at Houston’s but no one ordered them. I went with the crab cakes first, which were good even though they had red pepper in them. I think really good crab cakes don’t need that but they were still good albeit small. I had the blackened Bronzino, which was the catch of the day. It came with broccoli, cauliflower and carrots and was excellent. The wife had a burger, my friends had the prime rib, NY Strip, rib eye steak and Mediterranean chicken. My daughter had pasta with butter. They were all very happy. I must comment on the wine list. There were many choices here, most fairly priced, and some great selections. I went with the Newton Chardonnay which is not easy to find by the glass and it is awesome. They also had an impressive selection of desert wines which were very reasonably priced. I got a Sauternes which was excellent. We ended up with the key lime pie which was really great. It had a thicker than usual graham cracker crust which was perfect with the creamy pie. I would go back here in a minute and hope they make it. It is a very large space and I am sure they are paying a huge rent. I was concerned since it was not that full and seemed to have a very early sort of crowd. Give it a try and let me know what you think. As always thanks for reading and have a great day.