By AARON WORMUS
Palms West Monthly
Posted April 2, 2019
Over the last eight years and through the entire history of this column, Jeri Muoio has been Mayor of West Palm Beach.
Elected in 2011, Muoio stepped in as the economy was coming to terms with how badly we were affected by the 2008 economic crisis. The 2011 budget was $20 million less than the budget just two years prior, police pensions were underfunded and technology was antiquated. City staff had gone from 1,700 to 1,471.
Muoio has presided through the downturn and into one of the most prosperous times of West Palm Beach history as outlined in last month’s column.
I was at the city’s downtown GreenMarket recently and asked people I knew what they felt were some of the most significant changes made by the Muoio administration during the past eight years.
Here are the highlights from those I talked to.
FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches
When the Washington Nationals came looking to bring its spring training to Palm Beach County, they looked at Jupiter and Lake Worth Beach. Mayor Jeri Muoio was instrumental in bringing the ballpark into West Palm Beach.
She negotiated a trade with the county that resulted in the city owning new valuable land downtown. Now we are in the third season of spring training and every day we see people walking through our downtown who came to town for baseball.
Palm Beach Outlets
When the Palm Beach Mall opened in 1967 it was the first mall in Palm Beach County and the largest mall in the Southeast United States.
In 2010, the neglected and aging mall closed. The city worked to get the right concept in – toying with Bass Pro Shops or IKEA, but found a developer who was up to the task. Phase One of the Outlets, anchored by the Saks 5th Avenue outlet, opened in 2014. The second phase, which brought in Whole Foods, opened one year later.
Safety upgrades and financial resilience
Fire Station No. 5 was built to service the Palm Beach Lakes area. This high-tech building includes the city’s Emergency Operations Center, which sprung into action during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Fire Station No. 4 was built on Parker Avenue. This new station draws inspiration from Spanish Mission architecture and fits in beautifully with the neighborhood.
The funding of police pensions was a large issue in Lois Frankel’s time as mayor. In 2016, under Mayor Muoio, the city issued a $60 million bond to fully fund the police pension fund. The city accurately expected that the interest rate on the bonds would be less than the rate of return on the investments providing immediate and long-term economic benefit to the city.
Art in Public Places
AIPP is a program that requires private developments to contribute to public art by commissioning artwork on their site, or contribute to the public art fund. This program has funded much of the Canvas mural art that our downtown is now known for.
It also brought art into the north and south ends of the city, as well as the much-loved musical swings exhibit to the 500 block of Clematis Street. The program is now bringing a permanent set of musical swings to Currie Park – all with no funding from the city.
Brightline and Quiet Zones
Brightline was coming to town, tracks were being laid and the station was being built. The city worked with the All Aboard Florida team to ensure the city got what it wanted – quiet zones and no train horns blowing at all hours of the day and night.
SkyBike Bike share
Lots of cities have bike share programs and they are usually funded by the city. West Palm Beach is unique in that it is 100 percent privately funded and no city money was used for the build-out and operation of the program.
In 2011, the two-year-old aGuyonClematis blog supported then-city Commissioner Jeri Muoio in her bid for mayor. Here’s what I wrote before the election:
“Jeri has a clear vision for the future of West Palm Beach. Jeri looks forward. Jeri understands how the city of West Palm Beach runs and is fully focused on what we need to do to take this city from its infancy as a “big little city” to a robust and flourishing city in which we the people of West Palm Beach and our local businesses will thrive.”
There is much more that I wasn’t able to touch on, but if you’ve read this column each month you’ll be familiar with them. Clematis Streetscape, economic development efforts, preservation of our water supply, support of the West Palm Beach startup efforts, technology upgrades at City Hall, Open Data, Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, the mobility study and the bicycle master plan.
I may not have always agreed with every one of the city’s projects, but looking back it’s easy to see that overall, the last eight years have been hugely prosperous, and Mayor Muoio leaves a legacy to be proud of.
Pictured above: West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, second from left, helps unveil SkyBike in June 2015. The city’s bike-sharing program allows customers to rent bikes for the day or purchase monthly or annual memberships that allow unlimited use of the rental bikes. Photo by Aaron Wormus