By Karen Lustgarten*

Repave, Repair, Remodel 

End of life structures, crumbling roads, antiquated utility technology, a shuttered water supply plant, old storm drains–Deerfield Beach has aging infrastructure going back to the 1960s.  The capital improvements bond that passed a few years ago allows for upgrading and modernizing facilities and utilities as they reach maturity to meet the needs of the city’s growing population. Repaving Deerfield Beach is one of the aging priorities.

Working with FDOT, along with repaving comes aesthetics such as beautifying gateways into the city, entrance ways into neighborhoods, improving curb appeal.  MLK Blvd. from 10th St. to Hillsboro is slated for improvements next year. The stretch from Federal Hwy to Dixie Hwy is part of Complete Street project. These are streets designed for mixed use—pedestrian crossings, walking paths, bike lanes, vehicles–rather than traditional streets designed for vehicles.

“Residents want to be able to cross the street safely, they want to see improvements to roadways, safety on foot, by bike or in a vehicle,” said Mayor Ganz.  For example, pedestrian crossings and LED lights were added along the S-curve at the beach and decorative fencing will be added around the FEC railroad track for safe crossing.

Mayor Bill Ganz at a 1953 photo of Deerfield Beach     (Photo: Karen Lustgarten)
Mayor Bill Ganz at a 1953 photo of Deerfield Beach (Photo: Karen Lustgarten)

Mayor Ganz and city officials recently completed a walking audit along Dixie Hwy. with a planning organization, taking note of sidewalks, trees, landscaping, old crosswalk boxes, bus benches. The audit walk was to find opportunities and ideas to make some simple functional and aesthetic improvements along the route. There’s no overall beautification plan along that corridor he says.  They are taking these walking audits in other areas of the city as well to feel them up close and get ideas on how aging infrastructure, antiquated technology and decades-old designs can be improved. “As those are improved, neighborhoods start to pick up,” he said.

Other capital improvement bond projects are The Center for Active Aging, remodeling the Johnnie Tigner Community Center and City Hall renovations

The Center for Active Aging provides supportive services and activities to seniors to help improve their quality of life, promote independence and encourage involvement with the community. “Looking to the future, you have an active aging population and if we build a more state-of-the-art facility people will want to use it,” said Mayor Ganz.

“The Tigner Community Center is in desperate need of remodeling, not just as a community center but for all types of programming that can be hosted there. We do not have enough community facilities to meet the needs of our growing population,” said the Mayor. “It will be a huge boost to the city and our residents to have a nice facility.”  The capital improvements bond will make that possible. It will also give Deerfield Beach City Hall a remodeling boost with structural improvements, such as repairing the leaky roof (e.g. buckets come out when it rains to prevent indoor puddles).

Pioneer Grove: Developing Downtown

Future redevelopment is in the Pioneer Grove area where City Hall resides.  “We are trying to get more focus back to the central area of our city,” said the Mayor.  The goal with Pioneer Grove and for the improvements in the central area is to bring back downtown Deerfield Beach. “We want to inject energy into the central area of the city that includes the Dixie Hwy corridor and create a more vibrant downtown. It’s been a long time since that’s been a focus in the city.  It’s perfect timing now to improve facilities in need with the ability to make those changes for the long term, decades ahead,” he said.

New development in the downtown zone is encouraged and nurtured but within certain guidelines that add value to the city overall.  “There’s a great deal of undeveloped land in the central area of the city so there’s a great opportunity to have an overall vision rather than a hodge-podge of fitting in different projects that don’t come under an overall master plan or vision for what we want to see here,” said the Mayor. The city’s award-winning Sullivan Park is an example of creative redevelopment without overdoing it.

Pioneer Grove building (future image)
Pioneer Grove building (future image)

“We have a lot of people very interested in the downtown area and new projects coming forward,” he said.  “When you work with developers with projects that don’t dissolve a neighborhood but enhances and improve it, and it becomes an anchor in the area, then you get a few anchors in the area and you build on that energy, then people are going to start coming.”

Slow and Steady Growth

A recent study found that 20% of the privately-owned undeveloped land in Broward County is located in Deerfield.  “That gives us some opportunity to grow but we don’t want to overbuild… we want to grow responsibly,” said Mayor Ganz.

It’s been a slow and steady growth that has picked up over the past several years.  “We’re no longer in the position that we’re desperate for development,” he said.  “We can be selective about what we want to do in the city—what works for us and the residents as opposed to more exploitive projects offered.

“We have a wonderful village-type atmosphere that we love about Deerfield.  With that comes its challenges that are a lot different than other cities,” he says.  “It’s difficult to maintain that atmosphere and not overdevelop and kill the surfside community with a village feeling. That’s why we’re unique in the approach we’ve taken.  No skyscrapers. We’ve been able to hold back overdevelopment and irresponsible development in the beach areas.” Deerfield’s S-curved beach is ranked #13 by Fodor (travel and tourism guides) as “coolest beach in Florida with a hip vibe.”

“Our residents deserve to have the city invest and reinvest in itself, in these improvement projects each with a dire need, as a way of showing our residents that their tax dollars are going to something they use.  And when other businesses and developers see that we’re willing to invest in ourselves, then they’re willing to come and invest in us as well.”

With a growing tax base, Deerfield Beach is experiencing a resurgence focused on enhancements. “We’re looked at as a city on the rise,” says the Mayor. “New projects are improving our tax base as people are deciding there’s a great opportunity in Deerfield Beach. Other cities and investors are approaching me asking how we do this, we want to create the feel that you have. It’s been slowly building up.  I can’t tell you what is the one single thing that created the spark but we can certainly feel it.”

*Karen Lustgarten is president of Multi-Media Works, a multiple award-winning media company specializing in video, PR, print and social media with offices in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. She founded a newspaper in Washington, DC, was a syndicated columnist and a bestselling author.

The main photo: Deerfield Beach and pier