Arts Group Closer to Mizner Park Lease & Other News From Boca, Delray

mizner park

Everything went as expected on Monday when the Boca Raton City Council discussed the future of Mizner Park’s north end.

Council members asked staff to negotiate a lease with the Boca Raton Arts District Exploratory Corporation (BRADEC) for the 1.8-acre parcel next to the Mizner Park Amphitheater. Two other groups made presentations, but one is from West Palm Beach and the other is from New York. BRADEC is a community group that for two years has pitched its plan for a community arts center.

Under that plan, BRADEC would upgrade and operate the amphitheater and build a complementary venue on that vacant, city-owned land. BRADEC President Andrea Virgin reiterated Monday that her group would not seek direct operating expenses from the city. BRADEC’s only ask, Virgin said, is the land.

Virgin told me Wednesday that only “a few finite points” remain to discuss about the lease. BRADEC and city staff have worked for many months. To satisfy state law, the city had to advertise the property to any bidder—not that there was any doubt about the choice.

The lease must go to the planning and zoning board and then for two readings before the council. Virgin estimated that BRADEC and the city could resolve the remaining points in June and July. Under the shorter summer meeting schedule, that would get the document to the planning and zoning board in August and to the council in September, assuming no major problems.

Though Boca Raton is an affluent city, this is a very ambitious project. BRADEC wants to raise as much as $130 million in two years for construction and to create an endowment that would get the center through its first years of operation.

Twenty-one donors have financed the campaign that has brought BRADEC to this point. Monday’s result “adds weight” to the larger fundraising campaign. But only approval of the lease, Virgin said, will allow BRADEC to start announcing what she said will be eight-figure gifts.

“I am fully confident,” Virgin said, “not just in Boca Raton but in this region. This is a community project, and I believe that the community will get us there.”

Tree removal complaint

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Mystery surrounds a strange event scheduled for Friday in Delray Beach.

A magistrate will rule on what the city calls five “irreparable or irreversible” code violations. They concern alleged illegal tree removals by Pebb Capital as part of preparation for its Sundy Village project.

No one with the city wants to talk much about the hearing. A Pebb representative said, “We are working with the city to address the tree removal and look forward to moving the project forward to deliver a unique community destination.”

From what I can tell, the complaint seems to have arisen from public comments at a city commission meeting last month. Several residents slammed PEBB for cutting trees near the intersection of Swinton and Atlantic avenues within the project boundaries. Callers to the virtual meeting laced their comments with the usual vitriol that some in Delray Beach reserve for developers.

Staff members said only that they would examine the accusations. Commissioner Adam Frankel seemed to dismiss the idea, given the source of the gripes.

Little about the case makes sense. Pebb’s principals understand that their project will be controversial enough, since it involves historic properties, including Sundy House. Why invite a controversy?

In addition, Pebb contributed 50 of the roughly 200 trees planted this year at Pine Grove Elementary School. That was part of the company’s agreement to mitigate citywide the loss of trees from construction of Sundy Village. Again, why would Pebb make trouble for itself?

It was hard to tell watching the meeting, but I sensed that the accusations surprised city staff members who were present. Pebb might have received approval for the tree removals—or believed that the company had approval—at a lower staff level.

Perhaps the mystery will be cleared up on Friday. I’ll have a report after the hearing.

Delray closer to choosing city manager

Delray Beach appears ready to move ahead with the choice of a permanent city manager.

Though the five recommended candidates—four of them from outside Florida—struck me as nothing special, Human Resources Director Duane D’Andrea said he expected to get more names and last week began proposing an interview format.

Most of the commissioners seemed to agree, urging D’Andrea to involve the public as much as possible. Adam Frankel remains the outlier. “We need a different process,” Frankel said. He continues to tout Interim City Manager Jennifer Alvarez. She has not applied.

Delray to vaccinate city employees and families

vaccine

Also at last week’s meeting, Alvarez announced that Delray Beach has secured 1,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and 300 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Alvarez said the city would use the supplies to vaccinate employees and their families.

CRA permanently under city

When the city commission abolished Delray Beach’s independent community redevelopment agency, there was talk that the change might be temporary. Apparently, the change is permanent.

During Tuesday’s workshop meeting, Commissioner Ryan Boylston said City Attorney Lynn Gelin had provided a memo showing that state law allows just one change. Her research showed that three Florida cities had lost in court after trying to reverse their decision.

So Boylston wants the commission to discuss the CRA-city relationship. It might seem redundant. After all, the CRA board is the commission and two other members whom the commission appoints.

But the budgets remain separate. So does the annual fight over which agency will pay for what service. Boylston wants to talk about this push-pull in light of what he sees as a new reality. The CRA, which the city formed in 1985 to eradicate blight, is not scheduled to go out of existence— “sunset” is the legal term—until 2039.

Boca back to in-person meetings

If you want to comment during a Boca Raton City Council, you soon will have to show up in person.

Council members had decided to end the virtual format for the June 7-8 round of meetings. They will shift from the council chambers to the city facility at 6500 North Congress Avenue, where the auditorium has more space.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, a resident asked whether the city could continue to allow call-in comment when the old format resumes. City Manager Leif Ahnell said doing so would require the hiring of new staffers. The current team can support one format or the other, but not both. The council agreed.

Boca Helping Hands expands

Boca Helping Hands continues to expand outside its namesake city.

As part of what a news release calls the agency’s three-year plan, Boca Helping Hands will expanded its service at First Baptist Church in Boynton Beach from four days to five. People also can receive health care vouchers.

The group’s largest operation remains in East Boca. In addition to Boynton Beach, however, Boca Helping Hands has distribution centers in West Boca and Lantana.