Group looks to consult for Riviera

RIVIERA BEACH While Riviera Beach's $2.4 billion waterfront redevelopment plan still lacks condos, a hotel, aquarium, marina, shops and restaurants, the city does have good bones.

Not as in human remains. In the language of urban planners, "bones" means a city with a good structure of streets and neighborhoods, said Michael Busha, executive director of the Treasure Coastal Regional Planning Council.

On Wednesday, Busha will make a pitch to win a contract to tell the community's redevelopment agency how to make better use of its bones, and how to reinvent a stymied redevelopment plan.

"They have the bones of an authentic city," Busha said from the council's Stuart office. "When you have that kind of structure, you have good fabric. It's now a matter of reknitting things together."

Two projects loom as the catalyst for Riviera Beach's rebirth: the $280 million revamp of the Ocean Mall on Singer Island, and Harbor Village, the redevelopment of 400 acres of mostly blight along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Both efforts are stalled. The Ocean Mall project, which is backed by builder Dan Catalfumo, is tied up in civil court after a March referendum limited the project's height and lease. Harbor Village was gutted when state lawmakers struck down eminent domain as a legal tool the city could use to take private property and give it to master developer Viking Inlet Harbor Properties.

Both projects prompted a revolt among residents. In both cases, private citizens took to the courts to stop the redevelopment and preserve the right for the public to have a say in the process.

That's why Floyd Johnson, executive director of the city's community redevelopment agency, says its necessary to re-engage the community in the planning process. It was Johnson who pushed the CRA commission in June to look at re-evaluating the redevelopment plan.

"This plan must be reality based," Johnson told the CRA board, which consists of the city council. "Some past plans were not based on reality."

Another key reality, however, is the board's new majority. In March, the backlash carried over to the election where voters ousted three incumbents and former Mayor Michael Brown, the self-proclaimed architect of the redevelopment plan.

The new city council majority is money-conscious. They don't want to be accused, like the previous board, of having little control over consultants whose fees reached over a $1 million last year.

That was the initial appeal of the Treasure Coast group. The city council thought that the public agency, which specializes in land planning for counties and cities, would come with a cheaper price tag than a private company.

But that might not be the case.

The planning council would go broke if didn't charge for its services, Busha said. He estimated it would cost between $150,000 to $200,000 to reevaluate Riviera Beach's plan.

Viking was pushing for Urban Design Associates, a Pittsburgh firm, to get the contract. The company assisted the CRA in the master developer selection process in 2004.

This month, the CRA board, after hearing a well-researched and thorough presentation, voted against hiring Urban Design Associates. At the time, Urban Design's fee was not discussed.

"I think Treasure Coast can lead us to where we want to go," CRA board member Cedrick Thomas, one of the newly elected council members in March.

Whoever does the work, Viking has agreed to pay at least $50,000 of the cost.

Mike Clark, president of Viking Associates, the company's real estate and development arm, believes the scope and size of the projects must change.

"The plan as its configured can't be done," Clark said. "We believe that the entire city should be involved in the process and feel they are part of the redevelopment."

Thomas is eager for the redevelopment to start.

"I want to make sure its responsible redevelopment," Thomas said. "We want to show that we've been good stewards of what we've been given."

The planning council can embrace that mission, Busha said. If picked, the planning council will bring a staff of 10 to 12 employees to the city. The workers will meet for a week to 10 days.

The goal is to get feedback from the community on its ideas and have designers ready to immediately draw what residents envision.

"All of the planning is done in the public," Busha said. "There is no invitation list. No closed door sessions."

Being transparent helps take the mystery out of the plan, Busha said. Allegations of secrecy often dogged city officials involved in the former redevelopment plan.

The schedule also is set up to allow working residents to make comments. The studio where the planning process takes place will be open from 9 a.m. to midnight, Busha said.

The process to get community input is designed to go quickly and not drag on for weeks or months.

"It's difficult for people to stay motivated in a governmental process for eight, nine, 10 months," Busha said. "That's why we encourage the community not to take six months to make a decision."

Tony Gigliotti, chairman of the Singer Island Civic Association, feared that bringing in another consultant would cause a rehash of old issues and further delays.

But Gigliotti supports using the planning council because the group is a neutral party that can keep both city officials and residents focused on the goals of the redevelopment.

"I think they will take a lot of tension out of the council chambers," Gigliotti said. "We've got to get something done. We've been at this far too long."