July 28, 2023 8:00am

West Palm Beach marina proposal

Power Poll influencers are the latest critics to blast West Palm Beach officials for launching a major downtown project without first seeking public input.

Photo of Joe Capozzi
By Joe Capozzi
Palm Beach, FL Correspondent
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Palm Beach Power Poll influencers are the latest critics of an ill-fated attempt by West Palm Beach city officials to build a $16 million marina on the downtown waterfront without first asking city residents if it’s something they even wanted.

After overwhelming outcry from residents opposing the project, city commissioners July 24 voted to end their negotiations with a developer to build the marina, a process that started nearly two years ago without public input.

The results of the latest Power Poll, concluded on July 27, echoed the same sentiments voiced three days earlier by opponents who packed an emotional City Commission meeting.

Of the influencers who responded to this month’s poll, 72 percent said city officials erred when they launched the marina idea in August 2021 by approving a resolution tucked on the consent agenda without discussion or public input.

Anyone who read the consent agenda would have seen the proposal, but items on the consent agenda are usually considered minor and are passed with no comment. Since the marina proposal was a major ask, influencers said, it should have been openly discussed with the public before city officials sought proposals from developers.

Members of the public learned about the marina project for the first time on June 5 when commissioners, at a special meeting that offered no opportunity for public input, ranked the prospective marina developers.

“It’s too bad the mayor and commission screwed this up. Shame on them for thinking this is a project to hide,’’ said Sid Dinerstein, former chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party, who supported the marina idea.

Seventy percent of the poll’s respondents want city officials to ban future development along the downtown waterfront and preserve it in perpetuity as a public recreation area for future generations to enjoy.

Among the influencers with passionate comments against the marina plan was Jorge Pesquera, the retiring executive director of Discover the Palm Beaches, Palm Beach County’s tourism marketing department.

“The WPB waterfront park area is uniquely beautiful due to the access it gives residents and visitors to wide and expansive views of the Intracoastal Waterway and the island of Palm Beach. It is a treasure that must be managed and preserved,’’ he said.

“There may be projects which, properly vetted, may add value to this area, but they must first get strong support from the community,’’ Pesquera added. “From a tourism standpoint, access to water views is a key attraction. Great cities and port areas have learned that waterfront parks are a vital community asset and visitor attraction. Surely, city leadership will be open and transparent the next time an idea for waterfront activities or assets is considered.’’

The poll had a 21 percent response rate.

Fifty percent said they don’t want to see a new marina anywhere along the city’s waterfront, even north or south of downtown. Twenty-six percent said they were open to that idea; 24 percent had no opinion.

“A marina is a great attraction and it's low-rise,’’ said Dinerstein. “Everyone enjoys gawking at fabulous boats on a fabulous waterfront in a fabulous city…”

Leading the public opposition was Power Poll influencer Rick Rose, of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, who launched a petition drive against the marina and helped organize concerned residents who spoke at the July 25 commission meeting.

“In a city with a strong mayor system like West Palm Beach, the City Commission plays a vital role in providing guard rails for the city administration to ensure that the actions by the city are in the interest of the public. In this case at least, the City Commission forgot that responsibility and it took a relentless, forceful community response to remind them,’’ said Rose, proprietor of Palm Beach Vacation Rentals.

“My view is that the commissioners are good people and I hope they will be more vigilant moving forward,’’ Rose said. “I know the Downtown Neighborhood Association will definitely be watching closely.’’

Influencer Timothy Hullihan offered a reminder that the city’s early leaders considered the waterfront was so special that they designed the east end of Clematis Street, the main downtown road, in a way that takes advantage of the Intracoastal Waterway.

“Hopefully in the future, the history behind Clematis Street splitting into a Y before reaching Flagler Drive will be remembered. The intent was to create a public space with a panoramic view of the water and the island of Palm Beach beyond, not a marina,’’ said Hullihan, president of TFH Architectural Services.

Influencer Jody Young blamed the fiasco on Mayor Keith James.

“The strong mayor title has overinflated the ego of the current office holder, but he finally overstepped his boundaries and got smacked down (at the July 25 meeting),’’ said Young, a political and non-profit marketing consultant.

“It became abundantly clear that this mayor has no regard for the importance of this particular open and environmentally friendly space, nor of its historical stature in the psyche of the city, not just for downtown residents but for county residents visiting and for tourists and business travelers.’’

(Earlier this year, Young represented a candidate who tried to challenge James in the mayor’s race. James filed a lawsuit that persuaded a judge to disqualify the candidate, Rodney Mayo, from running for office. The judge kicked Mayo off the ballot, ruling he’s technically not a city resident, a requirement for candidates under the city character.)

“While there is nothing wrong with planning for the future of the waterfront, the city must involve the public at the very beginning of the process and not undertake an ongoing two year secret project with scant notice to the public of the intent,’’ Young said.

“Let's hope the newly re-engaged commission will begin to force more sunlight into City Hall.’’

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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