BOCA RATON - The revitalized Florida is perhaps no more evident than here, midway between Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale on Florida's east coast. Boca Raton, say residents, is where most come not to retire, but to restart.
Boca Raton was founded in 1925. Its present population is 118,800. Average income is $50,500, and average age is 43 years.
Recently the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce asked six advertising agencies in south Florida to capture this new youthful attitude. One ad features a black Rolls Royce Corniche license plate engraved with "Pearl Jam Rules".
In recent years, the downtown has been transformed by the development of a $250 million mixed-use retail, office and residential complex called Mizner Park. It is an urban village modeled after the European distribution of uses, retail on the ground level and residential and offices on the second level, all surrounding a park. Dusting off a master plan conceived in the 1960s, downtown redevelopment executive director Jorge Camejo said they overcame two obstacles: first Florida's "air-conditioning mentality" and second, eliminating the need to use a car.
Mizner Park, like Quincy Market, has spawned significant development. In the, last two years, a $40 million renovation of the Boca Raton Resort & Club golf course, tennis center and convention center, construction of the 70,000-square-foot Merrill Lynch Building and over $600 million of new home and condominium construction including the $30 million, 246-unit Mizner on the Green rental community by Trammel Crow have been completed. Since 1990, total development is estimated to approach $1 billion.
Built in 1926, the 966-room Boca Raton Resort & Club remains the city's landmark. President Michael F. Glennie said in a recent interview: "'One of the things that strikes me as interesting about Boca and our situation relating to the town, that if you go back 10 years, the only reason to come to Boca was this resort. Boca was not a destination. In the last five to seven years, there's been a tremendous amount of competition from resorts all over the country: 'Scottsdale, Palm Springs, Hawaii, and we found ourselves at a competitive disadvantage."
"But what has happened in the last three to five years, is that we now have a nice downtown with Mizner Park, great shopping, great restaurants. We are moving from a retirement community to a business community," Glennie said.
To know Boca today, you must know the history of The Boca Raton Resort & Club. An eccentric architect named Addison Mizner left New York in 1918 and headed to South Florida.
After designing several homes and communities, he recognized the opportunity to capitalize on Florida's land boom.
Together with his brother Wilson, he purchased 17,500 acres in Boca Raton to sell as house lots. On some of the land, Mizner dreamed to develop the greatest resort in the world.
Boca Raton is evidence of the new Florida
To carry out his plan, he formed the Mizner Development Corp. and went on to build the most expensive Florida hotel ever developed, the $1.26 million 100-room Ritz Carlton Cloister Inn. Mizner's reputation for the eccentric and the Cloister's for luxury quickly attracted the patronage of the rich and famous.
The hotel's architecture has to this day influenced Boca Raton, and Floridian architectural design, like no other single building. The Mizner Spanish Mediterranean style is characterized by orange barrel tile roofs, gothic arched windows, columns, and Mizner's lasting signatures, a pink stucco exterior and entrance drive lined with Palm trees.
Ironically, in 1926 Florida's real estate market collapsed, Mizner went bankrupt, and after just one season he was forced to close the Cloister Inn.
Over the next 30 years, the Cloister Inn passed through four owners, and during this time, was renamed the Boca Raton Resort & Club. It became one of the premier resort destinations of Florida.
Arthur Vining Davis, the former CEO of Alcoa and ARVIDA Corp., purchased the hotel for $22.5 million in 1956. It was at the time, the largest real estate transaction in Florida history. In 1983, the property was sold to the Boca Raton Resort & Club Limited Partnership and, finally, earlier this year purchased for $325 million from the limited partnership by entrepreneur E. Wayne Huizenga, owner of the Florida Marlins, Miami Dolphins and Blockbuster Video.
"When you think about the changing demographics of south Florida, all of the wealth moving into the area, air access, all these things point to long-term success," summed Glennie.