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Notes from the University District Visioning Summit Report (20th Street Update)



Greetings, Owl Nation.

The City of Boca Raton hired the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (TCRPC) to "conduct a visioning summit on December 2nd, 2016, with participation from a wide range of stakeholders. These included the Mayor, City Council, City Manager, and staff; FAU’s Board of Trustees members, President, and staff; property and business owners; citizens; and other interested parties." The outcome of these meetings is a 57-page document that's going to be presented in final form to the City Council on May 22nd. However, the document is available now and found online HERE.

Essentially what the TCRPC did was talk to everybody who could be impacted and see how people felt about re-purposing 20th Street as Boca's University District, with general notes and recommendations for how to move forward. As a fair warning, there were no concrete plans like "tear down this building and put up a bar" and there are no renderings included to get excited about.

Here's a summary of what the document found/recommends, with my comments in italics:

THE AFFECTED AREA
  • The University District aka 20th Street Corridor is defined in this document as a four square mile of land that's roughly I-95 to Federal Highway (east-west) and Spanish River to Glades (north-south).
  • That's not to say that everything in there is in danger of being purchased and redeveloped. But if you look at the map, there are a lot of small businesses in that area - which if you haven't been, houses a lot of warehouses, car repair shops, textiles, personal services, and local publications - that might be interested in selling down the line.
  • Recall that before, the 20th Street Corridor was defined as FAU to Dixie along 20th, just that street, with a narrow band north or south of it. They did talk about the corridor potentially extending to Federal Highway or down streets like 2nd if it was initially successful.
MEETINGS BETWEEN THE CITY AND FAU
  • The document notes that the Boca Mayor, City Council and FAU haven't formally met on this initiative since 2009which would have been back when Brogan was still the president of FAU.
  • Recall that the Ritter Art Gallery showing took place on June 10th, 2015. I wrote about it HERE and HERE. That wasn't a formal meeting, though it might have been the most thorough "imagining of what could be" for 20th Street to date. Here's an architectural model from that meeting:
  • One possible excuse for not meeting sooner is that the two sides didn't have anything to really discuss until the TCRPC completed their report; the TCRPC didn't have anything to talk about until now because they're hired to do planning initiatives for a lot of Florida cities and the 20th Street study might have been backlogged.
  • The City should begin University District Conceptual Master Plan in Spring 2017 and FAU would ideally be an equal partner in this.
  • "The City and FAU should collaboratively pursue establishment of a formal Town/Gown program, with charter, regular meeting schedule, balanced representation".
  • This is an excellent idea to solidify key players and cement a meeting schedule to ensure regular contact. Even without this project, it's strange this hasn't happened before. Could explain why some in the FAU community consider the university to be an "island" within the city. The two entities just don't meet often enough, and City documents often suggest that they've reached out to FAU to have a meeting and the university hasn't set a time to do it, so the City waits. Not good if we want to make more progress here in Boca.
  • FAU is called "the heartbeat of the city". If only.
ISSUES/OPPORTUNITIES/VISION
  • 20th street lacks architectural identity, 20th is “front door” to university.
  • “the corridor lacks visual cues to inform users the street leads to FAU”
  • This is completely true. Decades ago before I-95 was completed, 20th street was the main entrance to FAU. Nowadays you wouldn't necessarily know this was an entrance to FAU, and between the small bridge and old FAU sign across from the President's mansion, the whole thing is very unceremonial and a little sad. At minimum we should paint the bridge, replace the sign and add pavers near the entrance, then do FAU banners along the street from FAU to Dixie.
  • “University desires more walkability along 20th street corridor, branded in conjunction with FAU, with expanded university-related uses (e.g. retail, restaurant,  office, entertainment venues, housing)”.
  • Walkability is a common idea popping up noawadays; it's good for your health, gets people out to explore their communities and helps take cars off the road. The sidewalks need to be expanded, traffic slowed, more shade trees planted, more signs erected, hopefully the power lines buried too. Right now the sidewalks are cracked, the bike lanes inconsistent, just nothing about it says "hey, why don't you stroll down the street and see the stores?"
  • Here's an amazing graphic from StreetsBlogLA/CompleteStreetsPrinceAvenue (about Los Angeles, but still works here) that perfectly illustrates walkability and how good 20th could be:
  • How could downtown L.A. become more walkable? Image via
CITY CONCERNS
  • The City is worried about fire and police needs within the district, as the University Park complex apparently generates three times as many police/fire calls as similar multifamily housing projects.
  • What will most likely happen is that FAU's on-campus police force will be extended to 20th Street. The advantage here is that the City won't incur extra costs for police to cover this territory. Furthermore, students who could get in trouble could have issues resolved by FAU instead of through the local police/courts.
  • Along these lines, I'd have to think the FAU would consider a police station embedded somewhere in the district to alleviate these concerns and keep the peace.
  • Boca pointed out that students use parks and beaches (because they’re public) but FAU doesn’t contribute to the upkeep of these places.
  • This public area bill may seem slightly ridiculous, and come off like the City is trying to milk FAU for money, but remember that upkeep is paid by resident taxes and fees, and students living on-campus don't pay for these things because FAU is technically on state land that just happens to be in Boca Raton. My understanding is that FAU has paid and continues to pay for burdening the city, especially in regards to traffic and needs of the stadium.
STUDENT HOUSING
  • FAU should increase student housing on campus if possible; 4,300 on campus now with goal of 10k on or nearby.
  • Not sure how close we are to that 10K number now since nobody seems to really keep track of students living near campus. The document does say there are 1,500 student beds on 20th street now, so that's 5,800 (including the 4,300 on campus) right there.
  • Housing with 3-4 people per unit should only be on campus.
  • Future off-campus housing should be developed in collaboration with FAU; FAU housing staff should be assigned to off-campus housing projects as well.
  • The more FAU can populate 20th street with its own staff, whether as RAs or police or "professors-in-residence", the better. This is how we expand our reach.
  • Off-campus housing should be older students (juniors, seniors). Maturity concerns. But underclassmen SHOULD live on campus the first year at least, get that experience.
  • Long term FAU envisions the establishment of a Greek village.
  • Considering how long we've been talking about a Greek Village, yeah, I'd say long-term. Disheartening to not have a more concrete date suggesting that we're going to build something in, say, the next 3-5 years. You think they would have specifically mentioned a target year if that were the case.
  • “FAU is currently conducting a housing study to better understand student housing demands and opportunities”
  • Could more on-campus housing be on the horizon? If it was, doubt FAU would pay for it, so look for a private developer to build something (like they did with Innovation Village). If so, it would be nice to see more diverse housing options on-campus, something less boxy, vertical and crammed in, something more akin to off-campus apartments.
  • In addition to student housing, 20th could include housing geared to accommodate young professional/millenials…
  • Not sure why since the University Village and Midtown Boca projects are going to accommodate these groups. Why house people on 20th street who don't have a connection to the university? Last thing we need is somebody flying a Gator flag from their street-front balcony on OUR university district.
UNIVERSITY DEVELOPMENT ISSUES
  • “there are state bonding constraints that have prevented the university from developing student housing on-campus”; FAU and City should lobby together for these funds.
  • FAU will publish invitation to negotiate for small conference center and hotel with ancillary retail and office uses along Glades Road frontage; “In recent years, the state of Florida has prohibited public/private partnerships that include university-owned properties, which limits the development potential on Glades Road frontage”; City may need to work FAU to get this to happen. Did not know that; explains why we stalled on the on-campus hotel project.
TRANSPORTATION
  • Boca is apparently exploring a new trolley service that could connect FAU to the downtown area.
  • I've heard about the trolley around the downtown area but this is the first I've heard of it connecting to FAU. If they do so, FAU could be expected to share the expense of the trolley service, so that's probably the political play here.
  • Between the Palm Tran and mandated shuttles to the student housing complexes on 20th Street, does it make sense for FAU to ALSO pay for a trolley to downtown? It's nice, and in the grand scheme of things it absolutely should be part of a master transportation plan, but that doesn't seem particularly relevant to 20th Street unless there's somehow a trolley station on 20th or the trolley stops on 20th on its way to downtown.
  • Could that be confusing with so many different options? "Is this the transport to University Park? Or downtown? Or just around campus?"
  • Remember that 20th Street succeeds if its easy to leave your cars at FAU and get back/forth to 20th; for instance, you have a class that ends at noon and you have a class again at 2 or 3, so you jump on a shuttle, hang out on 20th and eat lunch, then take the shuttle back.
  • If it's just one trolley, it's not worth it. That won't run often enough to be useful. The goal is EVERY TEN MINUTES. Fifteen max. Whatever it takes to get that schedule, because that's often enough for students to use it. If you slip to 30, 45, 60 minutes, that's not convenient. It just isn't. Students will use it sparingly, the trolley cons will outweigh the pros, and it will be canceled. That's just the reality.
FAU MOVING FORWARD
  • Campus master plan update will begin in 2017
  • New medical building on the horizon due to a gift?
That's it for now. Remember this visioning report will be presented late next month to the City Council, if you care to listen or speak on our behalf - the agenda and meeting times are available on the City Council website.

Thanks for reading and as always,

GO OWLS!

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