Culture Clash at Mizner Park Amphitheater, and Who’s Running for Office in Delray Beach

Mizner Park Amphitheater. Photo provided by the City of Boca Raton.

In theory, it sounds great.

Turn the north end of Mizner Park into a cultural cluster. The Boca Raton Museum of Art would be on one side of the amphitheater and a performing arts center would be on the other. Each would complement the others.

In practical terms, though, it’s not that easy. Consider the museum’s request that the city alter the amphitheater to make the museum more accessible. Executive Director Irvin Lippman told the city council at a workshop meeting last month that the museum expects a major exhibition in 2021. The changes, Lippman told me Wednesday, would allow the museum to “do justice” to the exhibition.

Those changes include removing the colonnade that is on the west side of the amphitheater and thus on the east side of the museum. Other changes on Northeast Fifth Street would allow cars to drop off museum visitors and would mean lowering the height of the clock tower. That’s a location for city events.

Lippman said, “We want to be good neighbors.” But city council members have concerns. So do others.

“The colonnade can’t go,” said attorney Wendy Larsen, co-founder of Festival of the Arts. Removing it “will destroy the amphitheater.”

The amphitheater, which the city owns and operates, is home to many free events. Organizers of ticketed events, however, use that colonnade space for a VIP section.

“We depend on that VIP space for our bottom line,” Larsen said. “We can’t offer the VIP experience without that (colonnade) space.”

That feature also helps the amphitheater, which the city took over in 2010, attract more bookings. The busier the amphitheater, the better the city’s bottom line. The facility also hosts private events.

(Courtesy Mizner Park Amphitheater)

Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke, the board’s most vocal supporter of the arts, asked Lippman to that workshop meeting so the museum could “present their hopes and plans and invite conversation. “I do support them making themselves more prominent and accessible,” O’Rourke said. “I would absolutely like to find an alternative solution to blocking off the museum during paid-for concerts.

“In general, I understand their position on the colonnade for more visibility, as well as a new drop-off and the steps by the tower. However, that will have to be reviewed and discussed regarding the practicality and safety.” O’Rourke added, “I also look forward to hearing from others that this area serves as to the impact, both positive and negative. We will collaborate and hear all points of view before coming to a decision. I do support their effort to explore their vision.”

When Lippman spoke to the council, Mayor Scott Singer and Jeremy Rodgers were the most hesitant, citing potential disruptions to current programming. In a follow-up email, Singer said, “I expressed a concern at the meeting about the size of the expanded footprint sought by the museum and its potential impact on all events, including our free ones.”

Despite the amphitheater’s popularity, running it is a challenge. There’s no roof. When the city priced a retractable one about a decade ago, the cost was $5 million. So the city has rent a tent, which usually costs at least $100,000. There’s no box office. The fences that must no up for paid events are ugly.

According to a spokeswoman, city officials asked the museum for “modifications.” Lippman said, “We have scaled back considerably. The museum’s architect has been out of town. Lippman said he hopes to present a response to the city next month.

And more on the performing arts idea

Mayor Singer said the museum question “is a more immediate issue than anything that might happen with a hypothetical project east of the amphitheater site.” But that hypothetical is part of the discussion.

Museum Sculpture Garden, photo by Eduardo Chacon

The city’s cultural consortium could be back before the council early next summer with an update on plans that could include the group asking for the city-owned property on the east side of the amphitheater. The consortium would use that site for a performing arts center.

Such a facility could enhance Mizner Park’s cultural offerings. It also could pose issues for the amphitheater.

Like her council colleagues, O’Rourke notes the obvious challenges. The consortium would need to raise “a tremendous amount of money.” What about parking? What about the relationship with Brookfield Properties, which manages Mizner Park?

In an email, O’Rourke reiterated her public comment that “this is a full circle moment, as a cultural center was the original vision when Mizner Park was being planned.” She added, “I am committed to supporting their effort to explore their vision. I think the museum, the amphitheater and a new concert hall could all work well together, if planned right.”

Follow up on Town Center

During this week’s city council meetings, Mayor Singer said Boca Raton would do an “after-incident” report about the Oct. 13 shooting scare at Town Center Mall. It’s standard procedure for the police department.

The department also released 15 of the 911 calls that dispatchers received at about 3 p.m. on that day. A spokesman said there were about 150 in all. And the department released photos of a janitorial cart running over and popping a balloon. According to the department, some kids popped another balloon. Those pops became the “shots” that led to the panic.

You can hear that panic and confusion in the calls, and you feel for the dispatchers. One man claims to be calling from the “Boca Galleria Mall.” Callers refer to an “active shooter,” but no one reports seeing a shooter. According to the department, people mistaking popped balloons for gunfire “is not uncommon” in the United States.

I will update when the report is complete.

Delray commissioners looking at pay raise

Delray Beach city commissioners are lurching toward a vote on raising their compensation.

They discussed the topic again last week. It’s become a priority of Mayor Shelly Petrolia. She correctly notes that the overall compensation—salaries, expense accounts, auto reimbursement—is low compared to cities of comparable size. The mayor gets about $26,200 and city commissioners get about $22,300.

Shelly Petrolia

Apparently, Petrolia hoped that the commission could act on its own. Under the city charter, however, the commission can’t change salaries within six months of an election. The next one is in March.

So after last week’s meandering discussion, City Attorney Lynn Gelin will come back with a proposal that would include an amount. But what would be the comparison point?

In 2016, Boca Raton voters raised the mayor’s compensation to about $38,000 and city council compensation to roughly $28,000. The ordinance did not allow automatic annual increases. Even in an affluent city, the proposal barely passed.

It might make more sense for Delray Beach to wait until after the March election. There seems no consensus now on how to proceed.

Who’s up for Delray

Commissioners Bill Bathurst (Seat 2) and Shirley Johnson (Seat 4) are on that Delray Beach ballot. Challengers have filed to run in both races.

Newcomers Jennifer Jones and Debra Tendrich want to run against Bathurst, who was unopposed in 2018. Despite the six-year term limit, Bathurst could serve eight years. He ran for Seat 2 when Jim Chard left after just one year to unsuccessfully run against Petrolia for mayor.

Bathurst has loaned himself $5,000. Tendrich has raised about $5,000, most of it from outside the city.

Malikah Benoit and Angela Burns have filed paperwork to run against Johnson. Both also are first-time candidates. Qualifying is not until next year.

And Boca elections

In Boca Raton, no credible candidate has filed paperwork to challenge the three incumbents who are on the March ballot.

For the moment, Andrea O’Rourke in Seat B and Andy Thomson in Seat A have no challengers. O’Rourke is seeking a second three-year term. Thomson won the special election in August 2018 to fill Singer’s term after Singer left the seat to run for mayor. So if he won, Thomson could run for another three-year term in 2023 and another in 2026. As in Delray Beach, the six-year term limit rule applies only to full terms.

Similarly, Singer could serve two full terms, since he is filling out the term of Susan Haynie. She was suspended in April 2018 after her arrest on public corruption charges.

Bernard Korn has filed to run against Singer. He also ran for mayor in 2018. Korn, however, faced questions about whether he actually lived in the city. He got just three percent and used candidate forums more to make wisecracks than to discuss issues.

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