By Ellen Paris –

The once sleepy town of Delray Beach, Florida about 50 miles north of Miami was a community people often moved to because glitzy neighboring Boca Raton’s was too pricey. Today Delray Beach is in-demand with a growing population of about 70,000.

Over the last decade or so development in Delray has gone upscale, transforming downtown Delray Beach . Take Atlantic Avenue, the City’s main drag which ends at the ocean. Every night on the tree-lined avenue with its outside restaurants and cafes, galleries, boutiques, and lively nightlife seems like a party. Three-story height limits on Atlantic Avenue and a concentrated effort to maintain that small-town feel attract visitors and residents alike. On Atlantic Avenue alone there are 50-60 eateries side by side with a variety of funky shops. Throw in 3 miles of beachfront on the Atlantic and Delray Beach is desirable.

It’s difficult maintaining Delray’s small beach town charm while growing a luxury and lucrative presence. Currently, there are 39 commercial and residential projects either in review, planning or under construction.

“It’s a very interesting position we are in right now. We are trying to hold onto the charm that brings people here. Yet at the same time we are growing and changing,” observes Shelly Petrolia, Mayor of Delray Beach. “We are on fire right now with 3 new hotels starting construction and a lot of luxury commercial and residential development. What’s happening is people come here and love it then return either for the winter or as full-time residents,” Petrolia said happily.

Bringing luxury residential development to Delray beach is John Farina, president & CEO of US Construction, co-developer of Ocean Delray, the City’s first truly ultra-luxury oceanfront condominium. The 19 luxury units all with ocean views are priced from $5 to $10 million. Ocean Delray’s residences are large ranging from 3,373 square feet to 4,473 square feet. “About ten to twelve years ago Atlantic Avenue started to grow and engage with the rest of the town. There was a shift in restaurants and shopping. The Seagate Hotel & Spa went in and set the town up for moving in a luxury direction. Low density and no high-rises made new product supply low and the demand for luxury residences strong. The luxury market is a huge economic driver for Delray,” Farina explains.

The award-winning architect Randall Stofft is designing Ocean Delray. Stofft a 30-year Delray resident is the architect behind many of the city’s high-end projects including the Seagate Hotel & Spa. Stofft is known internationally for the luxury resorts and commercial and residential projects developments he’s designed throughout Florida, South America, Europe, Russia, and the tropics. “Two years ago, John and I met, and we had true synergy in design and vision,” Stofft recalls.

“Randy was the creative visionary on the project,” Farina insists. The deal for Ocean Delray was an off-market transaction. It sits on the site of a former two-story motel. “We got through entitlements quickly because the City was excited about this project. We will break ground this summer,” Farina said.

Brett Forman, CEO of Palm Beach County-based Trez Forman, a private direct commercial real estate lender has financed a variety of projects in Delray Beach. Forman moved here 14 years ago to raise his family. “Delray a offers cool hip vibe and you can be a billionaire here or not and still enjoy the town and the beach.”

Custom homebuilder Marc Julien originally from Toronto has called Delray Beach home for 12 years. “I built my first spec home here in 2008. Oceanfront property here ranges from $15 to $40 million. Many of my clients are from New York who are making Florida their primary residence to get away from the tax burden in New York. Then I have locals that are moving from Boca to Delray Beach.” Delray Beach residents enjoy the low-key vibe the City offers and its golf cart friendly environment. “You can pretty much go to dinner here dressed any way you want,” Julien adds.

Look to Delray Beach to continue its leap into luxury—in a low-key Delray kind of way.