As the silver Mercedes crawls to a stop at Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, the bearded chin of a wheaten terrier pokes through the open window. The sight of other canines lazing under sidewalk cafe tables piques his curiosity. Atlantic Avenue is Delray’s energy epicenter. The pedestrian traffic and overflowing alfresco cafes, where Fido and Rover are right at home, are what residents — full-time and seasonal — love about this city nestled between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach on the Atlantic Ocean.
Sure, other Florida towns have both urban centers and beaches, but Delray, a city of 60,500, possesses a magnetic quality all its own. It is in part the result of progressive thinking decades ago, when the construction of view-blocking high-rises along the oceanfront was prevented. Commerce was channeled to Atlantic Avenue, a beach-to-business sweep that crosses the Intracoastal Waterway and pushes a dozen blocks westward. During the past 10 years or so, a living, breathing downtown has emerged, and people have followed, trying to live as close as possible to the city’s heart.
“The first thing people ask when they walk into my office is where can they live and walk to Atlantic [Avenue],” says Ted Brown, the managing broker for Prudential Florida Realty’s Delray office. “Delray is a walking town. People from other cities come here to walk, shop, eat or go to the beach.”
Delray’s dynamic downtown has helped soften the impact of the real-estate fallout. Although home prices in some neighborhoods have dropped 35 percent, the rate of foreclosure is lower here than in other parts of Florida. Buyers have returned, and they represent a microcosm of an affluent and upwardly mobile society of young professionals, investors cashing in on a hot rental market (single-family homes fetch up to $4,000 a month), and those like Chicagoans Kim and Kevin Radisewitz, who moved down here to escape the Midwest cold and plan ahead for retirement.
The Radisewitzes purchased a three-bedroom townhome last fall in Latitude, a relatively new condominium and townhome development. It cost them a fraction of the original $500,000 asking price. Since they both work from home, being five blocks from Atlantic Avenue wasn’t as important to them as the two extra bedrooms, which they’ve converted to offices. “We’re big runners and bikers and compete in triathlons,” Kim says. “Delray is a good area for us to spend the winter, and we’re only a mile and a half from the ocean.”
Besides the Atlantic, there’s the Intracoastal Waterway that separates Delray into beachfront and mainland. The beach side falls into a late-night lull, but come morning, power walkers, pedestrians and dogs return to the sidewalks, and bicycle racks fill quickly. However, on the mainland, the hum of Atlantic Avenue’s nightlife, west of the Intracoastal, continues into the early morning hours. The open-air restaurants and bars that cater to night owls attract a wide range of ages. Vic & Angelo’s is a favorite for crisp, charred-crust pizzas, and Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster Cafe scores for its lobster rolls.
The variety of properties is staggering. Delray Beach has multi- million-dollar waterfront estates, well-preserved 1950s bungalows and Intracoastal condos tucked into neighborhoods on each side of Atlantic Avenue. Inventory south of the avenue is limited, due to residents’ desire to be near both the ocean and the pedestrian hub. Currently, listings show condos in older mid-rise buildings, including the Venetian Village, where the occasional two-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot property runs around $250,000.
Hip Pineapple Grove is an area whose artsy cachet is pro- claimed by a wall mural at Northeast Second and Atlantic avenues. The neighborhood features two- and three-bedroom condos and townhomes adjacent to and above restaurants and boutiques. The 1,200- to 2,400-square-foot homes are just a walk from the new DU20 holistic spa, the home-furnishings store Beached Boat Co. and Max’s Harvest, chef Dennis Max’s farm-to-fork venture.
“Pineapple Grove is an ideal location for everyone who wants to be downtown,” Brown says. “New or relatively new homes with stainless-steel appliances and granite countertops, once priced at $400,000 to $500,000, are selling at $300,000.”
Nearby neighborhoods, such as Banker’s Row, have a mix of architectural styles, from pastel-colored early-1900s-era cottages to Mediterranean Revival mansions. Lake Ida, 10 blocks north of Atlantic Avenue, is a sought-after neighborhood with cul-de-sacs, canals and lakefront single-family homes. Prices range from around $300,000 to $1 million, depending on the age of the home and its proximity to the lake. “Lake Ida is one of the most active markets in the community,” Brown points out. “It has the charm of Old Florida. Buyers are making major improvements to older homes.”
Delray clearly buzzes with an urban energy, but for the Radisewitzes, the beach is still the hands-down winner. “One of our favorite things is spending time at the ocean, just sitting and relaxing in the sun,” Kim says. No doubt, other residents agree.