Riviera council votes to shift cash
for U.S. 1 move to beautification

RIVIERA BEACH The city council voted unanimously to pursue $14 million that's been set aside for the relocation of U.S. 1 and use the money to resurface and beautify the road instead.

The money was slated as part of the city's $2.4 billion waterfront redevelopment.

Moving U.S. 1 one block west would provide more land to create a new marina on the Intracoastal Waterway. Councilman Cedrick Thomas discovered the money when he attended his first Palm Beach County Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting. Thomas is the city's representative on the MPO, which consists of elected officials.

"We're not elected to sit back and do nothing," said Thomas, who was elected in March.

Thomas sent a letter to the MPO last month requesting the $14 million. But to get the money, the council had to endorse Thomas' request, which it did Wednesday night.

County Commissioner Karen Marcus, who sits on the MPO, attended the council meeting and suggested that the city pursue the money to make improvements along U.S. 1.

Marcus also said that asking for the money now wouldn't keep the city from relocating U.S. 1 at a later time.

"I don't see it as an either-or," said Marcus, who said she alerted Thomas to the money while he was campaigning for his council seat.

In 2001, the city approved its plan to redevelop 400 acres along the Intracoastal. As part of that plan was relocating U.S. 1. However, the city's redevelopment plan has been stalled for the last year because it lost the use of eminent domain.

Without eminent domain, the city was unable to acquire land on behalf of its master developer, Viking Inlet Harbor Properties.

Viking had planned to build a hotel, condos, shops and restaurants and an aquarium along the Intracoastal. The city and Viking are renegotiating the plan in light of the loss of eminent domain.

Chairman Shelby Lowe supported going after the money. However, Lowe also wants to make sure the city doesn't jeopardize the opportunity to use the money as part of its revised redevelopment plan.

"We don't want to eliminate any of our options as it relates to our plan," Lowe said.


Riviera Beach official wants to
divert funds set for U.S. 1

RIVIERA BEACH Call it the $14 million question.

City Councilman Cedrick Thomas wants to know whether the $14 million he wants from the Palm Beach County's Metropolitan Planning Organization is the same $14 million the MPO set aside for Riviera Beach to relocate U.S. 1.

Randy Whitfield, the MPO's executive director, said it is. And if Thomas wants the money, the council is going to have to take formal action in order to use the money for anything other than the relocation of U.S. 1, Whitfield said.

The money is earmarked for the relocation of a 1.4-mile stretch of U.S. 1 that runs through Riviera Beach. But Thomas wants the money to resurface the road and plant flowers and trees along the highway.

"We've got to have some official direction from the city," said Whitfield, whose agency is the county's transportation planning board consisting of elected county and city officials.

Such action might come as early as tonight during the council's regular meeting. The five-member council is expected to discuss and possibly vote on Thomas' request.

Whitfield also noted that the money wasn't allocated for spending in one lump sum. According to the plan, $5 million was slated for use in 2009 to help acquire land for the right of way, and the remaining $9 million was budgeted for 2011 for resurfacing the road and other costs, he said.

In 2001, the city approved its $2.4 billion waterfront redevelopment plan, which called for moving U.S. 1 one block west. The goal was to create a CityPlace-like environment and a "working waterfront" on about 400 acres along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Four years later, the city picked Viking Inlet Harbor Properties as master developer to do the project. Last May, amid negotiations over private land, state lawmakers struck a serious blow to the plan by stripping local governments of the right to use eminent domain.

The city's redevelopment plan hinged on the ability to take private land and give it to Viking for the purposes of redevelopment. Eminent domain also was slated to be used to take land to make way for the relocated U.S. 1.

Bob Healey, Viking's chairman, said Tuesday that the loss of eminent domain has made relocating U.S. 1 less vital to its redevelopment plan. Viking has been quietly working on a scaled-down version of its project, which has yet to be made public.

Healey said the city still has the power to use eminent domain to move U.S. 1. That's legally possible because the city can justify taking the land for a public purpose such as rerouting a road.

It's a decision the council must make if it wants to proceed with redoing U.S. 1.

"As far as moving U.S. 1, we're (Viking) not going to be involved," Healey said.

Moving U.S. 1 was also critical to other parts of the city's redevelopment plan. Under Viking's plan, moving the highway would have allowed it to dig a harbor about the size of four football fields to create a new marina. That expansion would give Wayne Huizenga Jr. enough space to build his proposed mega-yacht servicing center near the new marina.

Thomas and three other candidates, including Mayor Thomas Masters, were elected in March by voters who opposed using eminent domain. Shortly after the election, Thomas was tapped to be the city's representative on the MPO.

When the rookie councilman learned that the $14 million was "sitting there," Thomas wrote a letter to the MPO requesting the money to "resurface and beautify" U.S. 1, which is also known as Broadway in Riviera Beach.

"I want our U.S. 1 to look as good as those U.S. 1's that are around us," said Thomas. "I want it to be a place we can be proud of."