Discover more from Stet Media Group
Riviera Beach’s $665 million rebuild: ‘This is our Everest’
City to ask voters to back $115 million in bond issues; lease land to pay for new City Hall.
For years, Riviera Beach has been a city of bickering politicians, failed projects and unceasing conflict between the mainland’s majority Black residents and their majority white Singer Island neighbors.
With its Reimagine Riviera Beach campaign under a once-fired, now restored city manager and a mostly unified City Council, its finance director is serious when he lines up $665 million in city projects and says “I’ve been telling you this for years: This is all doable.”
With aging buildings and parks dating to the 1970s, City Manager Jonathan Evans says the city no longer can wait.
“We know that we have to do this and we have to do this now,” Evans said in an interview.
“The longer we let these facilities languish, the poorer these conditions become for the employees, but also for the people we serve.”
After years of promises, the city is proposing what could amount to the most ambitious municipal rebuild in Palm Beach County over the past 50 years.
“Let’s be honest, this is our Everest, right? This is the mountain that we have to try to climb,” Finance Director Randy Sherman told the council in a July 22 workshop.
“We just have to figure out how to stack all of our revenues, and take every resource that we have, get creative and we’ll be able to get all of these projects done over time,” he said.
Work has begun, with a fire station built and the city library moved.
Now, the council is ready to ask for taxpayer help.
Voters to weigh in
The city is proposing not one, not two, but three bond issues to raise $115 million.
They would be general obligation bonds, meaning the city would add a separate line to property tax bills. City officials estimated it would add $187 a year in tax payments for the owner of a home valued for tax purposes at $142,173, the city’s median value.
Here’s what residents would get:
One referendum calls for $25 million to rebuild a Singer Island fire station.
One asks for $35 million to build a police station on the Blue Heron Boulevard site of Barracuda Bay Aquatic Center.
The third calls for $55 million to work with the Palm Beach County School District to build an athletic complex at Inlet Grove Community High School ($45 million), rebuild the Dan Calloway Recreation Complex ($6.5 million) and pay for other park improvements ($3.5 million). The school district already plans to spend about $30 million renovating Inlet Grove, part of a $69 million investment in Riviera Beach schools.
The council voted Aug. 2 to put the first two questions on the March 2024 ballot. Members delayed a vote on the parks bond until Wednesday night.
(Editor’s note: The council did not have time Wednesday to discuss the bond referendum, postponing the issue until a future meeting.)
The city put those three projects on the list because those types of issues are more universally supported in referendums.
But that’s not all the council is pursuing.
$100 million City Hall
Sherman’s reference to creativity could easily refer to plans to cobble together $100 million to rebuild City Hall.
The city selected a developer in April to erect an eight-story City Hall on Broadway south of Blue Heron. The developer, OHLA USA, is negotiating to lease and develop the old City Hall complex and the Wells Recreation Complex, nearly 40 acres straddling Blue Heron east of the FEC Railway tracks.
OHLA also would be responsible for building the $45 million athletic complex, complete with a new water park, on the school district-owned Inlet Grove site (the old Suncoast High campus) adjoining the existing City Hall.
A $25 million chunk would come from the countywide 1-cent sales tax surcharge. While other cities bonded the money to move forward with projects and pay later, Riviera Beach banked it to use on City Hall.
The city would borrow the rest, pledging the proceeds from the OHLA lease on the old City Hall site. OHLA, with $1.2 billion in 2022 revenues, is a division of international construction giant OHLA Group, of Madrid, Spain.
The new City Hall would go on city-owned land between 22nd and 23rd streets on the west side of Broadway.
But that’s not all.
The city is moving forward on a $200 million rebuild of its aging water plant, paid for by higher water rates.
Also, the city paid $2.4 million in September 2020 to buy the old Walgreens site at Congress and Blue Heron. Fire Station 88, a $20 million project, opened there in July. The city is also rebuilding Station 87 at its current site in the City Hall complex.
In January 2021, the city paid $2.2 million to buy a building at Congress off Blue Heron. The library moved there in July 2021, the first step to vacating the old City Hall complex.
Are parks worth $55 million?
The only doubts raised at the July 22 workshop centered on the parks bond.
Are parks important enough to spend so much money on in a city with so many pressing needs, Councilmember Tradrick McCoy asked.
He criticized the city’s maintenance record, asked for feasibility studies and questioned whether kids even use parks anymore.
“There’s tons of stuff for kids to do as far as recreational activities that don’t include actually going to a facility,” McCoy said. “I’m hard-pressed to even include all those (park improvements) because if I had a choice right now I'm going with public safety and I'm going to ax the parks.”
But parks are an important factor for new and existing residents, Evans responded.
“Investments in your parks facilities will help improve quality of life,” Evans said. “These facilities are so inadequate that we’re losing our kids to other communities. … What we are trying to do is really put our heels in the sand and stop that.”
Pressed by McCoy, he promised the facilities would be state-of-the-art.
“If we are going to make this investment it can’t be the recreation centers where we used to recreate in the past,” he said. “It has to have the modern amenities. It has to have the creature comforts. It has to be on the forefront of technology.”
The proposal calls for two gymnasiums, the aquatics park, basketball and tennis courts, baseball fields, football fields and a running track.
It’s all about showing the rest of the world that Riviera Beach can deliver.
“We want to be a beacon of hope and prosperity for those of us who have lived here a long time,” Evans said in an interview. “We can’t be a premier city with substandard facilities.”
Council meetings run by Chairperson Doug Lawson reveal a new level of respect for speakers and the city has become more transparent online. Unlike West Palm Beach, all backup for council agenda items is easily accessible on the city website.
Now he is overseeing a team of staff and consultants to do even more than he anticipated.
“Part of the reason I was interested in coming back was I always felt it was unfinished business,” he said. “I didn't think it was this much unfinished business.”
You’re reading a story from Stet Media Group. Support our original local journalism with a paid or free subscription.