Real loser: Riviera Beach

Editorial Page
Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Having backed two successful charter amendments in last Tuesday's election, it's clear that Singer Island residents don't want Dan Catalfumo's project to replace the island's decrepit Ocean Mall. But the rest of Riviera Beach needs the power brokers to demonstrate, finally, what they actually do want.

Some mainland voters chose Mayor Michael Brown and the city council candidates he supported: Fercella Davis Panier, Corey Smith and Elizabeth Robinson. Others chose incumbents Elizabeth Wade, Ann Iles and Vanessa Lee. But Singer Island money and absentee votes were crucial to the island's preferred candidates. Bishop Thomas Masters defeated Mayor Brown, while Cedric Thomas, Shelby Lowe and Lynn Hubbard got the most votes in council races and will face Mayor Brown's slate in a runoff.

Out with all four incumbents went the $280 million Ocean Mall deal. Mr. Catalfumo's 28-story hotel and 60,000 square feet of shops and restaurants would not have encroached on the public beach, and the city also had control over the site plan. But opponents fanned "Save Our Beach" sentiment into margins of 60-plus percent to limit buildings to five stories and leases to 50 years on the city-owned, oceanfront site. Joey Eichner is a senior vice president for Mr. Catalfumo's company, which now holds a $9 million lease on the mall. Before the vote, he said that if the charter amendments passed, "Economically, you can't do (the project)."

Though Mayor Brown lost to Bishop Masters, it is difficult to imagine that all the new housing on Congress Avenue and Military Trail could have happened if the bishop had been in office. The irony is that the mayor's position is ceremonial, yet some residents were angry with Mayor Brown for what they considered abuses of power.

Riviera Beach residents can reasonably disagree on what they would like to see on the Ocean Mall, and they have - reasonably and not - for almost a decade. The residents who turned out to oppose more traffic and noise on the island may have their way again in the runoff. But Singer Island's agenda has to go beyond "No."

In 1992, pressure from Singer Island helped to kill a $300 million redevelopment plan for the downtown waterfront area that Riviera Beach still is trying to redevelop. One way or the other, a new council majority will come out of the runoff. Without progress downtown and at the Ocean Mall, Riviera Beach will be more about potential than progress. Can Singer Island make that the priority?