There's one reason to advertise your city, like Delray Beach does, with a quaint nickname like "Village by the Sea." It's to draw tourists and new residents to your sleepy beachside town. The only problem is, when word spreads too efficiently about the perks of inhabiting that city, the village by the sea may start to more resemble sprawl by the sea. That, of course, brings an entirely new and unexpected set of problems.
Kevin Rouse, owner of Kevro's Art Bar, learned this the hard way. Eight years ago, he opened his quirky live music and art spot in a deserted part of Delray Beach. He said that south side area at the time was "in ruins." Rouse reminisced about having to place his own light fixtures on the street so that patrons would feel safe coming to his spot. "We were the pioneers here," he explained.
Providing this cultural hot spot naturally helped revitalize the neighborhood. Customers began visiting a part of town they previously had avoided. Kevro's Art Bar received so much attention, it was recently featured on the reality show Barmageddon. "We think of ourselves as the classy dive bar," he said proudly.
Like many other neighborhoods in South Florida, whether South Beach or Wynwood, one successful business can transform a neighborhood from the wrong side of the tracks to the most desirable.
And soon, big time developers came calling, including Jorge Perez's The Related Group. They viewed Kevro's Art Bar as a vital reason to develop in that area. In a March 31, article in the business section of the Palm Beach Post, The Related Group's then Vice President of Development, Uri Man, name-dropped Rouse's business as one of the reasons they were moving in. He saw "the area becoming an artsy community, particularly with the popularity of the nearby Kevro's Arts Bar on S.E. 2nd Avenue."
Rouse, for his part, claims he put out the welcome mat for The Related Group. "We own this property. We were happy values would go up." Rouse said he worked with the developers to get their plans approved. Rouse was quoted as recently as September 19 in an article in the Sun Sentinel as saying, "Having all these extra people will help the downtown."
But this past October, construction for the two apartment buildings known as SOFA 1 and 2 began. Rouse featured the construction prominently on his bar's website displaying the hulking new construction overshadowing his now seemingly tiny drinking establishment. But it isn't the fact that the walls of SOFA are about a foot away from the walls of Kevro's Art Bar that rankles him. "They can build up to the property line. When we spoke to the commissioners, we had it written in that in the renters' leases that they could not complain about noise from the neighboring bar that has been here for years."
Rather, it is many little indignities due to the construction that is making Rouse skeptical The Related Group sees Kevro's Art Bar as vital to their plans. "They're not pushing me out, but they're making it a lot more difficult to run a business. We had a fantastic alleyway for garbage that they closed off from us. Every day there is a mess from the construction that we have to clean up."
Then there are those streetlights Rouse painstakingly installed so his customers would feel safe in what was considered a blighted area. The Related Group took them down and replaced them with less bright LED solar lights which Rouse claims often times aren't even turned on.
The biggest threat to his business though is that the construction has closed off sidewalks and robbed the area of over 50 parking spots, making the bar far less accessible and giving it a reputation that it's not a convenient place to go to anymore. "The loss of parking and sidewalks were done behind my back. We never knew they needed all this space for their giant cranes."
Arturo Peña, Vice President and Development Manager at The Related Group, admits "Construction is cumbersome, but that is the price of progress." He says the 172 units will be finished currently ahead of schedule this November. Peña says that after the construction is completed, The Related Group will pay for an extensive cleaning of Kevro's, that he still has access to the alley and that while a sidewalk on one side of the street has been closed for safety, the sidewalk on the other side of the street is still available. "Kevro knows this will be good for the neighborhood and his business," he assured.
As far as the noise residents might deal with living so close to a bar Peña says, "We pride ourselves in building in urban areas. If you want to be able to walk to places, you're going to hear those places when you're not there."
"I've been at Related for 13 years. I always wanted to do a project in Delray." He added about the development. "We're excited to meet with local artists and have their murals on the building. Delray is like Palm Beach, but more young and hip."
And now, it's also sounding less and less like a village by the sea.