Arts Garage on the Upswing, Talking Trash in Boca

arts garage

Arts Garage makes a comeback

The second act of Arts Garage is getting good reviews.

Eight months ago, the Arts Garage board brought in Marjorie Waldo as CEO (pictured). The perilous state of the group’s finances became evident when Waldo cancelled last season’s theatrical productions. She then began cutting expenses. Arts Garage may be a small organization, but Waldo faced the same challenge as a new CEO trying to save a publicly traded company.

“We have had a huge turnaround on the business side,” Waldo told me. We stopped spending unless it was necessary. We looked at all job descriptions. We are doing a whole lot with very few people.”

Waldo laid out those numbers in a report for the community redevelopment agency, whose reimbursements for programming form a key part of Arts Garage’s budget. For the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, Waldo cut expenses by nearly $540,000. The staff size dropped from 14 to 6.5. Waldo projects a surplus for the year. “I believe it will be very impressive.”

In addition to stabilizing the business side, Waldo had to change Arts Garage’s programming. In exchange for a new lease of city space for less than $900 per month, the city commission wanted Waldo to attract more minority patrons and thus reflect Delray Beach’s diversity.

In her March 31 memo to the CRA, Waldo said she had “begun to meet with community members to discuss musical genres that will engage our targeted, demographically broadened audience.” Waldo wants to attract students who love the arts but didn’t get accepted to Bak Middle School or Dreyfoos School of the Arts, the county’s two main arts-centered schools. There’s an open mike night for local talent. This summer, Arts Garage will host the African-American Brain Bowl. In January, Arts Garage hosted a benefit for a scholarship program named for Corey Jones, who was shot and killed by former Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja. Jones worked for the Delray Beach Housing Authority.

At this point, Arts Garage remains a venue for music. When it comes to bringing back theater, Waldo said, “I am not there yet.” Though several productions under previous management drew well and got good reviews, they lost money. Arts Garage recently took a tentative step with Radio Theater, but had to cancel it. “Very sad,” Waldo said. “I love theater, but I don’t want to lose any ground.”

Waldo has heard complaints that Arts Garage isn’t offering the traditional jazz acts that many customers like. She responds by noting that Arts Garage will offer about 150 music acts this year, compared to between 75 and 100 last year. Arts Garage, Waldo said, hasn’t cut back on jazz. There just are many other offerings.

Under Waldo, Arts Garage started its first development campaign. The centerpiece program is called Band of Angels. Donate $10,000, and—like Clarence in “It’s A Wonderful Life”—you get your wings. Waldo said she has found seven angels.

The CRA was impressed enough with the reorganization to approve Arts Garage’s money for the rest of this year. The lease in Pineapple Grove runs for five years. Waldo is rebuilding. Soon enough, however, she wants to reload.

Trash talk in Boca

It likely will be a packed agenda when the Boca Raton City Council returns from summer break on July 24. If Mizner 200 draws the most speakers, however, the most important item will be something that affects every resident of the city: trash.

At the June 12 workshop meeting, Municipal Services Director Dan Grippo laid it out simply: Boca Raton has outgrown the sanitation facility on Northwest Second Avenue. The city can look for other areas to expand or contract with a private trash hauler. Expanding in-house would cost more. Contracting could save money.

Unlike some cities, Boca Raton has been able to put off this decision. As Mayor Haynie told me, however, “We’ve come a long way from when people could pay extra for side yard pickup.” Grippo said the contract for Town Center Mall and the surrounding areas the city annexed in 2003 is up next year.

“We have to have a serious policy discussion,” Haynie said. Privatization might save money, but the city would lose direct control over the service that draws the most comments on social media. A city spokeswoman said the most calls come from residents after a holiday, when pickup is delayed for a day. Privatization also would mean uncertainty for sanitation employees, though the city would ask the contractor to hire them.

Delray Beach has used a private company for years. Haynie and the council members know, however, that there’s no margin for error. Any problems with trash pickup would come right back to the council.

Community Advisory Board

Boca Raton combined four advisory boards into the Community Advisory Panel with the hope that the new group would offer residents who don’t speak regularly at city council meetings a new way to offer suggestions. The most recent meeting offered less hope.

There was the usual speaker from Boca Teeca who wanted the city to get on with buying the Ocean Breeze golf course and thus subsidizing the revamp of Boca Teeca. There was the usual request that the city include a performing arts center in the downtown government campus. One resident wanted the city to ban plastic bags. Another wanted a grant program for neighborhoods—less grandiose, one assumes, than buying Ocean Breeze.

And one resident suggested that Boca Raton elect council members from single-member districts. Candidates would run from certain areas, and only those voters would decide the council seat. The idea might have seemed tempting before the last election to residents who live east of Interstate 95. Only Mayor Susan Haynie lived east of the highway. Now it’s Haynie and Andrea O’Rourke.

The problem with such a system lies in Boca Raton’s weak-mayor system. The mayor has more ceremonial and parliamentary powers—such as running the meetings— but his or her vote counts the same. The manager is the city’s CEO, and the manager reports to the whole council. But voters don’t elect the manager; the council appoints the manager. Residents thus deserve to choose all the people who make decisions, including the choice of a manager. If Boca Raton had a strong-mayor system, it might make sense to have council members represent certain geographic areas because they would also be voting for the CEO. Without such a system, single-member districts would disenfranchise residents.

Delray bike-sharing?

Bicycle sharing seems like an item made for Delray Beach, with the city’s Human Powered Delray and all. The city commission, however, whiffed in its first at bat to secure a company to provide the service.

Consider Commissioner Jim Chard an optimist. “The process was solid,” he told me. “I think we could have negotiated something. But it’s not dead.” The commission will go back out in a month or two with a proposal for bidders. “The discussion was healthy.”

Consider Mayor Cary Glickstein a skeptic. “The staff had a hard time,” he said, “reconciling the commission’s intent. The idea that this could be a revenue producer (for a private company) in a small town like this was an impossibility.” Glickstein believes that the new attempt will be in more of a “streamlined fashion.”

Chard believes that such a program is inevitable, in part because so many outside organizations support bike-sharing. “And there’s no real risk to the city.” West Palm Beach started a program two years ago. Broward County and Miami Beach have bicycle sharing. “You have to make it really easy,” Glickstein said, “for people to think, ‘I don’t have to drive.’ “ Delray Beach does have its clustered downtown. The Tri-Rail station west of I-95, however, might be too far from downtown in the hot months.

Caring Kitchen move?

If Delray Beach is having a tough time with bicycle sharing, the city may be facing a much tougher time with the Caring Kitchen.

The city commission has resolved to move the food-for-the-poor program, which CROS Ministries runs, from its city-owned location just north of Atlantic Avenue on Northwest Eighth Avenue. Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus recently told the city commission that Caring Kitchen is now on a month-to-month lease, which would make a move easier if another site became available. Previously, there had been no lease.

Commissioner Shirley Ervin Johnson pressed de Jesus for more. “I’ve been trying to have this discussion” since being elected in March. For all the good work Caring Kitchen does, its neighbors have complaints. Unspoken but understood throughout this debate is that Delray Beach would not have allowed Caring Kitchen to operate in a non-minority neighborhood.

Though the city considered moving Caring Kitchen to the former train depot near Atlantic Avenue, there is general agreement that the location wouldn’t work. It’s too far for most people who use Caring Kitchen, and those whom Caring Kitchen serves would have to cross I-95.

The plan still remains to seek bidders who would use the depot for a business. Because they would get the site at a good price, the new owner would have to find a new location for Caring Kitchen. “I think we should let that process run its course,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said. It could take two months to prepare the proposal. “Nothing will happen,” de Jesus said, “by the end of the year.”

Dogpatch?

While Boca Raton tries to decide whether to sell its main golf course, Delray Beach tries to fix up its course.

At a recent meeting, City Commissioner Shelly Petrolia referred to the condition of the course as “Dogpatch,” though the commission also held its goal-setting session at the course. Residents had especially strong complaints about the course bathrooms. Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus sent me a report of how Delray Beach has responded to recommendations in 2015 and this year by the United States Golf Association.

Landscaping around the parking lot and grounds has been improved. By the end of this month, the city expects to have quotes from two new food and beverage companies. Better tee, yardage and hole markers are due at the end of August.

The bigger problems, though, have been the condition of the course itself. One issue is water delivery. These upgrades are not so quick and not so cheap. The report sums it up this way: “Long-term improvements to the irrigation system and turf need to be addressed as funds are available. These improvements could be funded through increased user fees, permit fees, or golf impact fees that would be assessed to the patrons of the golf courses.”

In other words, golfers likely will have to pay more if they want a nicer course.

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