West Palm Beach Mayor touts economy, lowest crime rate in two decades and growth
At his fourth State of the City address, West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James declared “the secret is out” in touting the city as one of the country’s top destinations for residents and businesses, highlighting a 20-year low violent crime rate and rising property values.
He boasted about ongoing community redevelopment projects, better police engagement, and private-public partnerships as key reasons for why people are flocking to the city from the “high taxed northeast.”
And James said socioeconomic rifts from across the country during the early stages of the pandemic didn’t derail growth in West Palm Beach.
“We adapted in the face of a global pandemic only to be followed by a season of discord in politics, cries for social justice that nearly divided our country in an uncertain economy,” James said. “And, still, our city continues to thrive and maintain its status as a top choice in desired destinations for families, visitors, and for businesses wanting to relocate.”
He said 30 new companies brought 3,600 “highly compensated” jobs last year with plans to bring an additional 1,000 jobs.
James, first elected in 2019, delivered his address during a breakfast meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, where he doubled down on the claim that the city is the new “Wall Street South.”
But it wasn’t just x’s and o’s on the economic development front for the city of 170,000 people, the largest in the county. James hailed six city utility workers as heroes for rescuing a man who attempted suicide.
“During the recognition ceremony, the men were so humble and unassuming and simply said, ‘mayor it’s no big deal. We’re just doing our job.’ Well, you know, it’s a big deal to me,” James said. “They’re job as utility workers was not to save lives.”
He also praised the city’s first responders. In 2022, city firefighters responded to a record 30,600 calls, “which broke the previous record of 30,000 in 2021. “That's about 84 calls a day,” James said.
James will be sworn in for another four-year term in April. He’s running unopposed after a Judge ruled potential challenger, well-known restaurateur and businessman Rodney Mayo, as disqualified from running.
Alleviating housing challenges
In addressing the affordable housing crisis, James said the city “cannot leave any zip-codes behind” as it experiences growth and prosperity.
WLRN has previously reportedon the challenges of reducing rent and homeownership costs in Palm Beach County, which remains unaffordable for many long-time residents and new workers.
Through a new city ordinance, he said, officials are trying to incentivize “height and density for developers when they provide workforce housing in our downtown, and that does seem to be working.”
The city also aims to address homelessness, adding 10 full-time employees tasked with outreach and matching people experiencing homelessness with resources, such as temporary housing, counseling, and mental health treatment.
And through “Operation Clean Streets,” James said the city curbed illegal dumping in underserved communities, removing more than 170,000 pounds of illegally dumped trash, arresting 11 offenders and issuing 150 citations.
Addressing climate change issues
James stressed climate change issues surrounding sea level rise and stronger hurricanes and praised drainage improvements in flood-prone places such as Roosevelt Estates in the northwest part of the city.
He mentioned the “nearly completed projects to address coastal flooding, resulting from sea level rise by installing tidal valves and additional storm drain outfalls along our waterfront.”
Building new neighborhoods
The mayor described a few ongoing developments and revitalization efforts happening across the city, such as:
— The new Fire Station 8 in the western side of town to the $23 million streetscape projects in the Historic Northwest, which includes the replacement of a 100 year old water main.
— The $32 million renovation of Currie Park, which breaks ground later this year.
— Mixed-use developments in the District of Northwood to the $170 million Nora, “the next great neighborhood.”
Maintaining city budget
Skyrocketing property values boosted the city's budget. Property values in West Palm Beach have increased by more than 25% since 2019. Last fiscal year, it increased by 17%.
The city oversees a balanced $225 million general fund budget for the current fiscal year, the largest in the city’s history, according to James, who noted that a financially stable city helps entice more developers.
Said James: Housing affordability issues remain a huge concern, but developers “remain bullish on commercial development in the city.”