Pompano Beach company reinvents cities

by Marcia Heroux Pounds

Some South Florida cities are thriving with cultural activity, new businesses and jobs. But many are not, and that’s when they often turn to a Pompano Beach company.

Redevelopment Management Associates turns economically distressed cities into flourishing ones by creating a vision for redevelopment and carrying it out, piece by piece.

RMA employs 40 professionals who specialize in real estate, branding, urban planning and business development. They’re success is evident in their roster of clients: 40 cities, including many in South Florida — from Pompano Beach and Oakland Park to Davie, Margate and West Palm Beach.

RMA took form in 2009, when partners Kim Briesemeister and Chris Brown decided to bid for a contract with Pompano Beach’s Community Redevelopment Agency. RMA now manages Pompano Beach’s $8 million budget earmarked for redevelopment.

From the beginning, the first mission was clear to RMA: renovate the city’s beach area. “There was no public investment in their biggest asset, the beach. It was tired,” Briesemeister said.

RMA implemented a $10 million redevelopment of the beach, including the streets, beautification and addition of surface parking. As a result, parking receipts went from $560,000 in 2006 to $2 million in 2015, according to Pompano Beach’s finance director, Suzette Sibble.

Several condominium residents didn’t want additional street parking, worrying about unwanted traffic and noise. But city officials understood RMA’s overall vision for the beach and approved the garage last year. Now the city’s new Pompano Pier parking garage is scheduled to open in August.

RMA also has partnered with a private developer to build retail and restaurants for the project, called Pompano Fishing Village. That portion, which is already 50 percent leased, is scheduled to break ground later this year, Breisemeister said.

The project will further increase the city’s receipts, as well as bringing an architectural look reminiscent of Sydney’s symphony hall.

RMA also has turned its attention to historical buildings. Under RMA’s direction, the CRA purchased Pompano Beach’s Bailey Hotel, which hadn’t been occupied since the early 1950s and was slated for demolition. By 2014, the building at 41 NE First St. was turned into Bailey Contemporary Arts Center. Today, Bailey and the renovated Ali Cultural Arts centers offer arts classes, live dance and theater, and a gallery.

Now RMA is working on development of the Innovation District, a 750,000-square-foot commercial and office development planned at Interstate 95 and Atlantic Boulevard designed to bring in more businesses and jobs. RMA is getting ready to put out parcels to bid for office, technology, digital media and cultural uses.

“This will be a game-changer for Pompano,” which currently has no premium office space available, Brown said.

Each year, RMA “layers” or builds on a city’s redevelopment plan, Breisemeister said.

“Pompano right now in year seven is at the pinnacle of reaching that vision. They’re going to see the rewards of the private sector,” she said.

Assistant City Manager Greg Harrison credits city manager Dennis Beach and the City Commission for bringing in RMA to coordinate redevelopment efforts.

The company “has taken an impoverished area and turned it into a jewel that will be there for many years to come,” Harrison said, referring to the latest project, the Innovation District, as well as completed cultural arts centers.

Briesemeister, who formerly led West Palm Beach’s Community Redevelopment Agency, said the first step in economic development is determining what went amiss with the city’s efforts,

“We’re able to go in and identify not only what obstacles are in the way of redevelopment, but [also] identify opportunity,” Briesemeister said. “We have a very specific implementation plan — not one of those master plans that sits on a shelf.”

Brown, who formerly led Delray Beach‘s Community Redevelopment Agency, said it’s important to begin with a vision. “You have to brand a town,” he said.

Branding often comes from the existing culture and building upon it. He points to thriving downtown Delray Beach, with its Arts Garage, Old School Square and arts and crafts festivals.

The company’s initial success often hinges on the city’s political leadership.

“Where cities sometimes fall down is they don’t have a vision or it may not be the right vision — it may not be doable,” Breisemeister said. “If the elected body understands that vision and buys into it, then you’re off to a good start.”

RMA often is called in when a redevelopment plan hasn’t quite come together as city leaders envisioned.

Oakland Park had spent $30 million to beautify its downtown area with trees and fountains, but it didn’t naturally draw visitors.

RMA’s director of marketing and business attraction, Sharon West McCormick, noted through business tax receipts and observation that there was an existing cluster of culinary-related businesses, including cabinet makers, the expanding Allied Kitchen & Bath business and catering companies. So in 2012-2013, she went to community meetings and took to YouTube to rebrand the area as a Culinary Arts District.

The campaign helped draw the now iconic Funky Buddha brewery, which had been looking to lease bigger space in South Florida, McCormick said. The brewery has since increased its space in the former Sears center, which anchors the district.

In Margate, RMA is working on a $150 million plan for the Margate City Center, which includes a mixed-use town center. What came first was an economic analysis by RMA’s director of economic development, Kevin Crowder, that showed what would provide a return on the city’s investment and attract private developers. Economic analysis is a key to any city’s redevelopment plan, RMA says.

On the drawing board are downtown redevelopment in Davie and redevelopment near West Palm Beach’s Currie Park and waterfront.

Natasha Alfonso-Ahmed, RMA’s director of urban design, recently sold RMA’s vision for Currie Park to real estate investor Jeff Greene, a prime land owner in the area. Residents feared that tall buildings would block the park and waterfront, she said.

Alfonso-Ahmed redid the area’s zoning to accommodate land owners and the community, which is adjacent to the funky Northwood neighborhood.

After listening to RMA’s approach, Greene bought the property surrounding his to enable a roadway through his property, embracing a vision that is designed to enhance the park and waterfront — instead of obstructing it.

“She takes on a billionaire and says, ‘Your plan is wrong and this is how you have to do it,'” Breisemeister said.