Arts Garage Thriving, Midtown Delray, and Who Wants Airboats at Loxahatchee?

Last Friday night, Delray Beach was the Delray Beach that has become so popular.

On Atlantic Avenue, Old School Square was throwing its Beerfest fundraiser, with help from the Downtown Development Authority. In Pineapple Grove, a full house at Arts Garage heard J.M. and the Sweets and its blend of soul, funk, blues and jazz. I was in the crowd. The 10-member band was a steal at $15 a ticket.

Five-plus years after Arts Garage nearly lost its subsidized space, the organization continues to give downtown Delray Beach more than another eating and drinking spot, enjoyable as both are. Actually, Arts Garage also provides those options, since the organization still hasn’t received its liquor license. Many patrons bring food and drink to their tables.

Marjorie Waldo is Arts Garage’s relentlessly optimistic director. She just sent the community redevelopment agency, which supplies roughly one-fourth of the organization’s operating budget, a report on programming from January through March. Of the 26 shows, Waldo said, 16 were sellouts and 10 were nearly sellouts. She called the second quarter “terrific.”

For now, Arts Garage will stick to music and avoid theater, except for a possible one-nighter. The wrong call on a 10-night performance would hurt much more than one unpopular booking. Since taking over, Waldo has cut staff and continues to cut expenses, checking numbers and the budget monthly.

“If we’re a little under on revenue, we go a little under on costs.”

As Waldo notes, this is the first season she has scheduled all the programming. Acts are booked through February. Jazz lovers, the core audience, have lots of choices. Waldo, though, will mix in gospel for the summer and return Sunday programming. Students will work over the summer learning about performing and production. Donations will pay many of their “scholarships.”

When they approved Arts Garage’s new lease, city commissioners asked Waldo to expand the audience and reflect Delray Beach’s diversity. Forty-five percent of Arts Garage patrons, Waldo said, are over 61. “We need to bring in the 40 to 60 crowd and twentysomethings. Teenagers.” So Waldo has hired a—no kidding—Director of Wow, “to wow our customers.”

The Arts Garage space might have become a law office. That might have generated more in revenue but it would not have added what Arts Garage brings. Even as they monitor their investment, city commissioners will be hoping that Arts Garage succeeds.

(Feature photo of a play at Arts Garage)

Midtown Delray

Former Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein
Former Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein

Cary Glickstein left office in March, but the former Delray Beach mayor was back in City Hall on Tuesday at the request of his successor, Shelly Petrolia.

The subject was the Midtown project. Because Glickstein is a land-use lawyer and developer, Petrolia asked him to review new plans for three of Midtown’s buildings. Glickstein had conditioned his approval of the project—during his last meeting—on changes that he said would make Midtown less imposing on Atlantic Avenue.

Glickstein called the meeting, which included developer Steven Michael and other representatives, “productive.” Neil Schiller, one of Midtown’s lawyers, said the changes include restoration of some balconies and more detailed railing to improve the esthetics. Because everyone was sufficiently satisfied, city planners will be able to review compliance and bring the project back to the commission only if there’s a serious problem.

In addition, Michael will post a million-dollar bond that he will lose if he doesn’t start work within two years of the original approval on March 6. Schiller said Wednesday that Michael would post the bond “soon.” Like Atlantic Crossing, the first serious work will be an underground parking garage.

As was the case two months ago, residents who spoke Tuesday were about evenly divided on Midtown. Petrolia and new commissioners Bill Bathurst and Ryan Boylston were unenthusiastic, but they acknowledged that the only issue before them was the altered height on three buildings. Despite their feelings, they did not risk a lawsuit by seeking to overturn an approval. Petrolia, who voted against Midtown. Bathurst did so while on the Historic Preservation Board.

Perhaps Midtown and iPic, Delray Beach’s two most controversial recent projects, one day will be not only accepted but appreciated. Even Midtown’s critics acknowledge the need for redevelopment of that key property at Atlantic and Swinton. Michael has a chance to prove the critics wrong.

Canal bank clearing

Despite griping from residents, canal bank clear-cutting continues in Boca Raton and Delray Beach by the South Florida Water Management District and the Lake Worth Drainage District.

The flood control system that made South Florida west of Interstate 95 habitable has three tiers. The first includes the water management district’s large canals that were dug more than a century ago to drain Lake Okeechobee. The second tier includes canals managed by the drainage district. Your property tax bill has lines for each agency. The third tier is neighborhood canals that homeowners associations are supposed to keep clear.

Apparently, after Hurricane Irma both agencies made canal clearing an immediate priority. The issue arose in Boca Raton when residents along the C-15 Canal —it separates Boca from Delray Beach—heard that the water management district would remove trees, docks and anything else between the canal and homes. To keep trees, residents would have to move them to their properties.

Though residents knew that they had built structures on the public easement, some docks had been in place for years. Residents said there had been no similar clear-cutting after Hurricane Wilma, which also brought down many trees. They complained that the district had provided inadequate notice and wouldn’t meet with the city.

According to a city spokeswoman, Deputy City Manager George Brown did secure a meeting with the management district. The water management will put gates at each end of the C-15. Both agencies, though, have stressed that the work would go on. In a presentation to the Delray Beach City Commission, water management district officials said the goal is public safety. The C-15 clearing was less of an issue on the Delray Beach side.

Both agencies are supposed to give 90 days notice of such work. The drainage district previewed its Boca work during a presentation to the city council in December. Yet Boca Raton is still getting “a lot of calls,” the spokeswoman said. Former City Councilwoman Constance Scott, who works for Florida Atlantic University, attended a recent meeting to say that the drainage district—not FAU—was clearing canals near the campus.

Whatever problems the outreach might have had, the work is necessary and probably overdue. If we get another bad storm and the canals keep a neighborhood from flooding, losing a dock will seem minor.

Public use at Loxahatchee?

For nature lovers, the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge west of Boynton Beach is a gem. Within what remains of the northern Everglades, suburban South Florida seems distant.

Though the state owns the refuge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages it. When the South Florida Water Management District extended the contract this year, the agency asks the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider roughly two dozen new public uses of the refuge.

In the next week, the feds will hold what they call two “scoping meetings” to explain the proposals and hear comment. The first meeting will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Palm Beach County Extension Service office in West Palm Beach. The second will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday at the South County Civic Center, on Jog Road between Clint Moore Road and Linton Boulevard.

Some of the proposals seem silly. Allowing people to bring leashed pets? Only if you want to put your pet at risk. Airboats? That should be a non-starter. Other proposals involve expanded hiking and camping.

Those who prefer the refuge’s current emphasis on wildlife observation will want to follow this debate. There is no timetable for when the Fish and Wildlife Service might decide on any of the proposals.

Downtown post office

post-officeThere is no update from the U.S. Postal Service official who is the point person on whether the USPS will move the downtown Boca Raton office.

Robert Eisen works for Investments Limited, which leases the site near Mizner Park to the Postal Service. He told me Monday that there’s been no word from Damian Salazar, who ran the March 29 community meeting. The USPS public information officer told me Wednesday that she had spoken with Salazar, who said he has “no information to share and no timetable.”

The lease expires July 13.

Fallen officers

The Boca Raton Police Department just honored fallen officers. On Friday, it’s Delray Beach’s turn.

The city will pay tribute to former Officer John Kennedy and former Sergeant Adam Rosenthal. In 1974, Kennedy was fatally shot as he wrote a report. Sadly, that sounds like more recent ambushes of police. Rosenthal was the victim of a car crash as he drove to work in 2011. The 10 a.m. ceremony will happen at police headquarters.

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