Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Boca Arts Center Deal Moves Forward and Ag Reserve Catches a Break

In four months, Boca Raton likely will approve the lease that would allow construction of a performing arts center at Mizner Park.

After a surprisingly short debate during Monday’s workshop meeting, city council members and representatives of the Boca Raton Arts District Exploratory Corporation (BRADEC) worked out their two remaining differences. Barring something unexpected, the lease and development agreement will go to the planning and zoning board in July and the council in August.

As I reported last week, three issues still separated the two sides before Monday. Deputy City Manager George Brown, however, began by saying the provision about insurance coverage for the project had been resolved.

That left the length of the lease and how much money BRADEC would have to raise in cash—as opposed to pledges—toward the endowment for the center’s operating expenses. Council members want to avoid a scenario in which the complex can’t sustain itself and the city has to take it over, as happened 12 years ago with the Mizner Park Amphitheater.

BRACDEC wanted a 94-year lease of the vacant 1.8-acre site next to the amphitheater. City planners recommended 50 years.

Brett Egan, president of DeVos Institute of Arts Management, is BRADEC’s consultant. He told the council that BRADEC is having “delicate negotiations” about seven-figure and eight-figure donations from people who are considering “their legacy and their family’s legacy.”

A 50-year timeline, Egan said, would be too short. Future councils might seek different naming rights after the lease expired, as he said is happening with a part of Lincoln Center in New York.

Without the “leverage” of that longer lease to give donors “a level of seriousness, Egan said, “we fear that the project would be laughed out of the room.”

Mayor Scott Singer said the longer lease gave him “heartburn.” He questioned whether the effect on fundraising would be as dramatic as Egan suggested.

A majority of the council, however, agreed with Egan. The lease would be for 74 years with two, 10-year renewals.

Having received that concession, BRADEC’s attorney said the group would concede to the city on the amount of cash required for the reserve fund. BRADEC’s many supporters in the audience clapped.

The fundraising goal of roughly $120 million remains ambitious. Construction can’t begin until BRADEC reaches certain thresholds.

If the group succeeds, however, Boca Raton will have an arts complex that includes a revamped amphitheater and rivals many of the country’s best regional cultural draws. And with the Boca Raton Museum of Art as part of the cluster on north end, Mizner Park will become the cultural hub that the city envisioned three decades ago.

Kushner Companies withdraws warehouse bid

ag reserve
PBC Agricultural Reserve Area

It’s been a rough year for efforts to protect the Palm Beach County Agricultural Reserve Area, but better news came last month.

Kushner Companies withdrew its proposal for a 1 million square foot warehouse near West Atlantic Avenue and the Florida Turnpike. Star Key, as the company called it, would have been the largest commercial/industrial project within the reserve.

The Alliance of Delray Residential Associations, the quasi-governing body for West Delray, strongly opposed Star Key. So did the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations, which long has monitored development within the reserve. Conservation groups also opposed it.

Kushner representatives defended the project, citing the demand for warehouse space and jobs that Star Key would provide. Critics, though, noted that the project would greatly increase traffic and was incompatible with the goal of the 1999, voter-approved bond issue—to retain as much farming as possible in the reserve.

The company offered no explanation. But Karen Marcus, who served on the county commission for 28 years and now is president of Sustainable Palm Beach County, said Kushner had failed to make its case. “I think they saw that there was no chance of approval.”

Kushner’s decision came nearly a year after the commission approved a deal that will allow GL Homes—the biggest developer in and around the reserve—to build 313 homes that current rules don’t allow. GL also may get permission to build almost 1,000 homes in the reserve near Boca Raton that also aren’t allowed now.

Though Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, had been CEO of his family’s company, he is no longer part of the management team. The company hired a new CEO last fall. The position went vacant when Trump became president.

Boca housing authority gains two new members

During Tuesday night’s meeting, the Boca Raton City Council appointed two new members to the city’s housing authority board.

Fabiola Bernier will serve until November 2024. Adel Hachmi will serve until November 2023. Their appointments came after the council voted to expand the board from five members to seven.

Bernier will be the second resident of Dixie Manor, the public housing apartment complex near Pearl City, on the board. Interest in the board spiked last year after board members decided to renovate or demolish and replace Dixie Manor. Residents complained that the authority had not provided enough information about what would happen to them during construction.

Other complaints concerned conditions at Dixie Manor. One speaker Tuesday tearfully recounted how rats chewed up her furniture. Affordable housing advocates from outside Boca Raton praised the council for expanding the board and listening to tenants.

Though the council appoints the board, it functions independently from the city. All the money for Dixie Manor comes from the federal government.

Ukraine invasion hits home

ukraine
Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

In a small way, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came home during that city council meeting.

Residents asked for city money toward a benefit concert at the amphitheater for Ukraine relief. Council members were sympathetic, but Mayor Scott Singer noted that the city couldn’t grant every such request, no matter how worthy, because of the impact on the budget. Singer met with the residents to suggest other groups to which they might appeal for money.

Gun regulation bill headed to Supreme Court

florida supreme court
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock

The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments next month in the lawsuit by cities— including Boca Raton—and individuals challenging the 2011 law regarding local government regulation of firearms.

Thirty-five years ago, the Legislature pre-empted regulation to the state. Then, at the urging of the National Rifle Association, the Legislature approved and then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that subjects local officials to fines and removal from office if they impose any regulations.

Boca Raton has not proposed any firearms rules. But the plaintiffs worry that regulations which otherwise might comply with the 1987 law could leave them in jeopardy. They argue that the 2011 law is unconstitutional.

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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