Panelists Broward County Commissioner Lamar Fisher, Deerfield Beach Chamber of Commerce Chairwoman Betty Masi, Economic Development Council Chairman Bob Birdsong, Mayor Bill Ganz and JM Family Enterprises director Rick Jordan, and moderator Kevin Gale, editor-in-chief of SFBW

Deerfield Beach poised for thoughtful growth

Deerfield Beach is ready for the business spotlight—fueled by a progressive city commission and a new Economic Development Council.

The Broward County coastal city might be under the radar for many in South Florida, but it has some strategic advantages, including a laid-back beachfront,  transportation infrastructure, a rezoned downtown, developable land, and South Florida’s second-largest private company, JM Family Enterprises. JM Family is undertaking a $150 million campus renovation.

SFBW collaborated with the city and its Economic Development Council on a panel discussion at the Royal Blues Hotel, which was opened by Hollywood producer Edward Walson. SFBW Editor-in-Chief Kevin Gale moderated the discussion. The following transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

The panelists

• Deerfield Beach Mayor Bill Ganz.

• Broward County Commissioner Lamar Fisher, the former mayor of Pompano Beach.

• Deerfield Beach Chamber of Commerce chairwoman Betty Masi.

• EDC Chairman Bob Birdsong, whose OK Generators is headquartered in the city.

Rick Jordan, director of design, construction and real estate for JM Family Enterprises.

What are some of the top attributes of Deerfield Beach?

Ganz: While we have the finest beach in all of South Florida, in my opinion, it is really about where we are located here in the tri-county area, between Palm Beach International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. We are perfectly located right smack in the middle. We have easy access with our highways [Interstate 95, Florida’s Turnpike and the Sawgrass Expressway] that make it easy for logistics in our industrial areas. We have a huge tourism industry on the east side, but on the west side, we have a very thriving and important industrial area. 

We are the proud to be the home of JM Family Enterprises, a business that any city and state would kill to have within their borders. We’re very fortunate that we are also the primary location for all of the master development for SiriusXM radio.

We are a hidden gem when it comes to the business community. There are a lot of untapped areas within our city and because of our regional location and what we have to offer, it’s very unique. It’s a hometown feel. It’s a quiet beach community. It has a thriving business community.

Birdsong: We reportedly have 20 percent of the undeveloped commercial land in Broward County and that’s an eye opener. We have the personality of the beach. We have the industrial and commercial, and it all just blends so well together. You’re going to see a renaissance here in the next couple years and it is going to just totally be transformational.

Fisher: When we went through the development phase in Pompano Beach at the beach level, we actually modeled our boardwalk and our pier and so forth right after Deerfield Beach. They have done an incredible job in preserving it but also creating the right development, such as we are seeing here today, and not overdevelopment.

Masi: Certainly, the beach but what I think is unique about Deerfield Beach, where I’ve lived worked and raised my children for the past 35 years, is something about the soul of the community here. We aren’t Boca Raton. We’re not anybody else. We’re under the radar in a way that makes us unique and special.

Jordan: I’d like to respond based on our founder Jim Moran, and why he came here. He retired from Chicago to vacation in South Florida and I remember him saying, “You know, Deerfield Beach is absolutely the perfect place. It’s got the boating. It’s got the beach. It’s got the pier and I don’t ever see it becoming a big city out of control.”

What are some of the recent major developments or pending projects in the city?

Ganz: I will tell you the city, right now, is on the rise when it comes to new development and we’ve been able to do that in a very smart way. We have some smaller niche hotels—this [Royal Blues] is incredibly extravagant—that are on the rise. The UM Sylvester Cancer Center is expanding here. We have numerous single-family homes being built for the very first time in probably 20 to 30 years.  If you look at projects that are being presented by Ram Realty and by Toll Brothers, we have a lot of fantastic new development here in the city of Deerfield Beach. [Ram is developing Deerfield Station, a 226-unit residential project near the Tri-Rail station on Hillsboro Boulevard. Toll Brothers plans 201 townhomes on a former golf course.]

Rick, what did you see in Deerfield Beach for JM Family to stay here and embark on a $150 million headquarters revitalization?

Jordan: We did look at other sites. We looked at a country club that was rundown; it was being replaced by a state-of-the art technology center. At the same time, the city was looking at a giant rezoning project with the Pioneer Grove project [a revitalization of the city’s downtown near Hillsboro Boulevard and Dixie Highway]. I remember a lot of our executives said that is an unbelievable effort.

Across the street from our headquarters, we were staring at a rundown hotel that was unoccupied. We were asked to approve a narrative on that project [Deerfield Station], which is currently under construction, and at that point we started to realize from a development standpoint that Deerfield Beach was moving forward. When you combine what was mentioned about the transportation arteries, nobody was even coming close to having an I-95, Tri Rail connection like we have.

Betty, you invested a huge amount of sweat equity into the revamping of the chamber and the formation of the EDC. What did you see that led to crusading for these causes?

Masi: I have been here for a long time and I love Deerfield Beach. I was asked to come back to the chamber in 2013. I had been there in a previous iteration and the chamber was in trouble. After the recession, we had lost a lot of membership. We lost our leadership. A few of us who are in this room came together and took a huge step to commit to investing that sweat equity and turning a chamber around from near death to now a super vibrant, rebranded, energetic chamber of commerce.

We identified that our city was one of the only ones in the state that didn’t have an economic development plan. Through our efforts, and with our collaboration with our city staff, leadership and commission, we identified that this was necessary. We were able to hire consultants to develop an economic development plan. The plan was approved by the city and one of the recommendations was we would form an economic development council to see through the goals and vision of that plan. And so today, we are here as the fruit of the mission that is going to take that plan all the way to the vision that our city staff, city commission and all of these community leaders have for this incredible community.

Bob, you were part of the grassroots effort to get the city to conduct an economic study and form the EDC. Since your business has been rooted here for over 40 years, why now?

Birdsong: Well, I think that the leadership of the city turned over a little bit and we have progressive thinkers, like City Manager Burgess Hanson and Mayor Ganz and our commissioners—people that had a real appetite for development. Development is kind of like death and taxes. It’s going to happen, and what you need to do is, you need to steward it through and make sure it’s correct. It has to be smart. It has to be planned. It has to be the right densities. We finally saw the tide turning within the city. The city was ready to step up and take on an economic development plan and form the Economic Development Council and march things forward.

I will tell you, without two things, it never would have happened. JM Family was the impetus and provided the initial funding to make this happen. We’re very grateful for that. Without our commissioners, our city manager, our economic development professionals and our mayor, we would have been dead in the water. They strongly supported us. They spent over $100,000 on an economic development study and then trusted us to form the organization that could help steward the economic development forward.

Mayor Ganz, what is it about Deerfield Beach that made you want to take on the responsibility of being a commissioner and then mayor?

Ganz: I was a homeowners’ association president for a few years. I started working with the city on a couple different issues and I started attending city commission meetings. I had been to every single city commission meeting since 2007 and in an office since 2009. It’s nice to be in a position here, now, to start reaping the benefits of some of the vision that we had many years ago.

What do you envision as a pathway for economic development and for the city? Andseparate Deerfield Beach from other municipalities?

Ganz: We’re perfectly located to be able to have business thrive within our city limits. We have a wonderful collegial body of colleagues that I sit with on the commission. We don’t always agree, but we have respect for each other. We are open-minded and listen to each other and have a wonderful group of people that represent their districts. Deerfield Beach is a hidden gem—not just our beach, but the brains that we have within our business community.

What are some of the recent wins that Deerfield Beach has experienced, and relocations?

Ganz:  SHL Pharma. [The company is adding 44 employees to a base of 30.] Sylvester Cancer Center is expanding. The Barwis Training Center is receiving not just local attention, but national attention, and relocating here. Peoples Trust Insurance relocated from Boca Raton to Deerfield Beach. The JM expansion and many of the other businesses that we’ve had here realize that going somewhere else is not what they want to do. They want to stay here in the city of Deerfield Beach.

What are some of the things that the city has to do to be in an even-higher echelon for relocations and business growth?

Ganz: For us, it’s about partnership. It’s not just about partnering with business in the city of Deerfield Beach. It’s about partnering with the other organizations we have in the county and the tri-county area. We’re very fortunate to have a county commission now that I feel is focused on bringing the cities together.

In our positions as a city, many times the municipalities are fighting against the larger entities in government. I’m very proud to say with Mr. Fisher on the county commission, and current Broward County Mayor Mark Bogen, who represents us, we have a wonderful relationship. We have partnerships with people like Bob Birdsong and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.

Commissioner Fisher, what qualities do you see in Deerfield Beach that lead you to believe that it can enjoy the similar success of Pompano Beach?

Fisher: Let me first talk about an EDC. The benefits of that organization, a public/private partnership, has been amazing. You not only are able to gain the thoughts and the interest in the goals—what the business community wants to do and the community in general—it also creates that vetting process.  When I was mayor, I could throw things to the EDC to let them vet it and come out with a solution that would benefit everybody. So, kudos to Deerfield for the EDC, No. 1.

No. 2 is, you have to create the vision and you have to get the community buy in. Then you implement that vision and what Mayor Ganz was talking about. This vision has been created several years ago that we were benefiting from, but it takes the leadership to do so. And bar none, when you have a cohesive commission and you have an incredible staff that implements your vision and sees it and has the mechanism do it, that is what it takes. The Chamber of Commerce is extremely important. It boils down to also buy-in in the community because the residents are the ones that elect us. So, it becomes a fine line to where you want to have that redevelopment that talks about mixed use, but you also have to have the buy-in of the residents, because if they don’t buy in, then you’re in doo-doo at the end of the day. ♦

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