Boca Mayor Scott Singer hustles to help city grow
3For Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer, ensuring the city’s success requires constant hustle and a desire for more.
For Scott, “hustle” isn’t just a word or the theme of a speech: it’s an imperative.
“We have a great brand in Boca but we’re in a competitive market. We’re competing with other cities up and down South Florida. We’re competing for jobs with people fleeing the high taxes and high crime areas of the Northeast and beyond. Even Amazon in Seattle just this week announced that they had to move employees. People in South Florida know Boca Raton’s value and our special place in the geography, but we have to get on the radar screen to attract those who don’t know.”
Thanks to Scott’s hustle, Boca Raton is getting a brand new Brightline station, a game-changer for the city. He recalls, “More residents spoke in favor of this initiative than any other I’ve had at a City Council meeting in the last eight years. More than 50 of them showed up to tell us how excited they were about it and the measure was passed unanimously by the City Council. How did we get there? I called Brightline President Patrick Goddard and asked for a meeting. When we met, I told him, ‘You need to be in Boca. We’re a different business market and you need the ridership.’ I gave them tours of different areas in Boca to show them where we had contemplated a site and talked about what it would mean. At the January groundbreaking, Patrick Goddard informed us that it was weekly calls from the Mayor that helped move the needle. Hustle is going to propel us forward. I’m constantly looking and calling new businesses to get them here. We’ve had success, but I want more. I’m greedy for our town.”
Despite the city’s impressive growth, Scott is proud that it has maintained its small-town character. “We punch above our weight in business strength, yet we still have a small-town feel. That’s a rare mix. We emphasize quality of life in terms of green space with nearly 1,400 acres, which is about two-and-a-half square miles of park space in our city, and only 29 square miles. Nine percent of our square mileage is park space. That’s incredible. Unfortunately, some of our strengths are also a weakness. Boca Raton is fully built out. We’ve got lots of Class A office space but it’s not new, and our property values are high. So if someone wants to build a build to suit building, there are only a few areas left in Boca where you can do that. Otherwise, you’ve got to scrape an existing building. We can’t just rely on our brand alone. It only gets us so far. It’s hustle.”
Scott also takes pride in the slight reductions to Boca’s already low tax rate, one of Florida’s lowest of any full-service city. Still, the city maintains a quality of services unmatched by any other. “We’ve got the best first responders here,” he notes. “In 2018, we budgeted for one of the highest starting salaries of any police department in the United States, I think the highest by far in the southeast, to ensure that we attract and retain the best police officers. Once again, it was perfect timing because we took the initiative before the Parkland tragedy, which necessitated a huge demand in private security and police presence for schools and other public entities. The day after Parkland, we partnered with the school district to make sure that we had our police officers in every single school. And they’ve been there ever since.”
In the four years since he became Mayor, Boca Raton property values are way up and crime is down 31 percent—nearly 90 percent in the past two years alone. “That’s really impressive, considering that crime rates have been on the rise elsewhere. And we were already at near 40-year lows four years ago,” Scott says. “We’ve dramatically increased streamlining of our processes. Our permitting time is up 45 percent over the last four years, yet permitting time is way, way down. We’ve moved to mostly electronic permits. I’ve constantly sought system improvements, even though I’m an Executive Mayor. That is work. And I think the results speak for themselves.”
The 45-year-old South Florida native was born in Miami Beach and grew up in Fort Lauderdale, where he attended Pine Crest School before earning his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his Juris Doctorate from Georgetown Law School. Like many of his peers growing up in the 90s, Scott didn’t want to stay in the area, though he loved Boca Raton. “I spent many weekends there as a kid and knew it was a special place,” he says. “But at that time, my friends and I didn’t feel there was enough here for young professionals in terms of job opportunities, so we went elsewhere.”
After his Georgetown graduation, Scott began his legal career in New York City, where he met his wife Bella. When the time came to start a family, they realized they didn’t want to stay in Manhattan. “We looked around and I said, ‘If we’re going to leave Manhattan, let’s move back to Boca Raton. Luckily, my wife, who had never contemplated leaving the northeast, was brave enough to come down and take a look. After a few days, we decided to move here and relocated at the beginning of 2011.”
Over the next few years, the couple welcomed two children, Daniel and Rachel. At the time, Scott was in private practice (as he is now), but he had an epiphany when his son turned a year old. “I looked at him and thought, ‘I’m a grown-up now. What happens when he goes away to college? Will he want to come back?’ It made me consider what we had to do to ensure Boca Raton remains on the cutting edge with a thriving job climate and enough opportunities to keep young people here. In my 30s, I recognized that this was a great place to raise a family but I wouldn’t have felt that way in my 20s. And I didn’t want my children to grow up and believe this was not an optimal place to be unless you were married and settled, or at a certain age or pace in life. That’s what I have honed in on.”
Scott is proud of the success he has had in growing Boca Raton’s business space, but he still wants more. “I’m glad that at least as a byproduct of the pandemic, people are rethinking where they want to work and live, and realizing when you could work from anywhere, why not work from paradise? We’ve seen dramatic growth in the number of school-aged children over the last 10 years. And that’s not because of new construction. According to a school district study a few years ago, more than 90 percent of it was people moving into previously existing single-family neighborhoods.”
While attracting new business to the city remains a top priority, Scott has also hustled to make strides in education, including a brand new public school. “When I was a Council Member back in early 2018, there was money in the budget slated for a new school in the southwestern part of Palm Beach County. When that land fell through, I approached our School Board Chairman and asked, “If we give you the land, will you give us a school? We worked for a year to get it done, despite obstacles from the state and about fifteen different designs and places. It was a huge win for taxpayers because we’re getting a $35 – $40 million school we would not have gotten otherwise. It came at a good time because we collaborated on the deal a month before the Parkland tragedy. In the aftermath, the school district decided they would no longer have construction sites on an existing school campus, which meant the rebuilds we previously had in mind probably would have been delayed. With this new school, we gained 1,200 student seats for the K-8 levels, an incredible amount that addresses potential crowding. Schools are a big driver for economics, even though we don’t run them. Having Grade A schools in our city matters a lot.”
In a first for a city in Palm Beach County, Boca Raton paid for mental health counseling at two area high schools, thanks to Scott’s proposal of a mental health pilot program, something he’d like to expand.
In the end, perhaps Scott’s impressive term as Mayor of Boca Raton stems from more than just hustle alone. “We’ve had a level of respect on the dais and found common ground much more than other cities and prior Councils,” he says. “There was tension in the previous Council and I’ve worked hard to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table. It’s about giving everyone a voice in government and making government more accessible.”
Watch Mayor Singer’s Boca Raton State of the City 2022:
To learn more about Scott Singer, visit his website: https://www.singerforboca.com/
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