Sunday, August 14, 2022

Boca Museum of Art Offers Lifeline to Old School Square, Boca Rep Announces Retirement, and More

A Boca Raton institution soon may replace part of a Delray Beach institution.

On the agenda for today’s Delray Beach City Commission meeting is an item from City Manager Terrence Moore. It is titled “Innovative and Collaborative Opportunities Involving the Boca Raton Museum of Art at the Old School Square Complex.”

I had reported previously about preliminary discussions between the museum and the city. Old School Square for the Arts had managed the city-owned Cornell Museum, which is part of Old School Square, for 33 years. Termination of the lease for the Cornell and the rest of Old School Square became effective last month, leaving Delray Beach with no group to run the Cornell, not to mention the Crest Theater, the Fieldhouse and the Pavilion.

Boca Raton Museum of Art Executive Director Irvin Lippman told me Monday that he spoke with Moore on Feb. 14, six days after the Cornell closed. Three days later, the museum’s executive committee “approved our moving ahead with discussions to manage the Cornell Museum,” as Lippman said in an email to Moore on Feb. 18.

In a letter to Moore, Lippman and two board members said, “As advocates for the arts and their value to society, we are concerned to see any such institution close, in that experience suggests that, once closed, many never reopen.”

“Consequently, as the most geographically proximate major art museum, we believe it to be our obligation to discuss taking on the responsibility of operating the museum on an interim basis.”

Lippman and Moore said Monday that the “interim basis” would likely be at least 18 months. Lippman told me that the museum would want to see the effects over a full budget year. He also said the museum does not envision the Cornell as “an annex of the Boca Raton Museum of Art. We would focus on art for Delray Beach.” Any arrangement, Lippman said, would not involve art classes.

Terminating the lease required a commission vote. Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson provided it last August, even though Old School Square had not been on the agenda.

But hiring a replacement apparently will be Moore’s call. On Monday, Moore said he would “share with the commission” his discussions with the museum so commissioners could “evaluate possibilities.” He called it part of “a continuous process.”

Part of that “process” will be completing renovations at the Crest Theater that a private donor was financing until the city first stopped work on the project and then terminated the lease. Moore confirmed that he approached Community Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Renee Jadusingh about the agency – meaning the public — paying to complete the renovations. How much would that cost? A figure, Moore said, “is being estimated.”

This is one more sad development over the last few months as the relationship that had served Delray Beach so well seems about to end. Commissioner Ryan Boylston, who opposed termination, told me Friday that it “depressed” him to visit Old School Square recently.

For decades, Boylston recalled, anyone could enter Old School Square during the day. It was not locked. There was no need. Since the termination, Boylston said, the city has allowed entry for only two hours a day so artists could remove their material.

“You see all these older women carrying out their works,” Boylston said. “What are (city staff) worried about? What do they think these ladies are going to do?”

Petrolia, Casale and Johnson continue to ignore overwhelming public sentiment for negotiation. They refused even to discuss Old School Square for the Arts’ offer to settle the group’s lawsuit alleging wrongful termination and describing a conspiracy to rid Delray Beach of the group that helped make Delray Beach.

So the lawsuit goes on, headed perhaps to mediation next month. The group’s attorney said he plans to file an amended complaint by today, making changes after comments last month from the trial judge.

Lippman and the museum board members are aware of the politics. “We understand,” the letter said, “that there is an ongoing dispute” between Old School Square for the Arts and the city. “We have no position in that dispute and have no desire to comment on it. Our only interest is to preserve the operations of the Cornell Museum and maintain the community’s access to its arts programming and resources.”

Ted Deutch retiring, paving way for new Boca representative

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Congressman Ted Deutch

Boca Raton will have a new member of Congress in January.

Ted Deutch, who represents District 22 in the U.S. House, announced Monday that he will retire rather than seek a seventh term. Deutch becomes the 31st House Democrat to retire. Polls indicate that Republicans are likely to regain the majority in November.

Though the Republican-led Legislature and Gov. DeSantis will approve new congressional districts for the coming election, current versions of the maps show no major effort to gerrymander District 22 or District 21, which includes Delray Beach. The District 21 incumbent is another Democrat, Lois Frankel.

Deutch will become CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), one of the nation’s largest pro-Israel organizations. The move will mean a major financial boost from Deutch’s congressional salary of $174,000. David Harris, whom Deutch will succeed at the AJC, made nearly $1.2 million, according to the group’s 2020 tax filing.

Since winning his seat in a 2010 special election, the former state senator has been one of Israel’s strongest defenders. He chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and co-chairs the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism.

Deutch lives off Glades Road near South County Regional Park. His successor may not come from Palm Beach County. District 22 includes not just Boca Raton and West Boca but also parts of northwest and coastal Broward County as far south as Fort Lauderdale.

One likely Democratic candidate is former state legislator Jared Moskowitz. He represented Parkland and attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In a crowded primary, he could have problems because of his connection to Gov. DeSantis, whom he served as state emergency management director. DeSantis also recently appointed Moskowitz to the Broward County Commission.

Much will depend on the map, notably how much of Broward the redrawn district includes. County Commissioner Robert Weinroth, a former Boca Raton council member, told me Monday that he won’t run. State Sen. Gary Farmer, who lives in Broward, could be another Democratic candidate.

The primary is Aug. 23. Mail-in ballots go out roughly a month earlier. Given the tight timetable – Deutch apparently didn’t give much notice to insiders – the field could fill up quickly.

Delray commissioners to discuss improving pedestrian safety

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Delray Beach City Hall (Photo by Christiana Lilly)

Also on today’s Delray Beach meeting agenda is a presentation on how to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists at Atlantic and Swinton avenues.

According to the backup material, the staff held numerous public forums as part of a study. The work ended just before the COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing has happened for two years.

Among the suggestions is closing lanes, to slow traffic, at Swinton-Atlantic and nearby intersections. The memo notes that the commission may need to act promptly because of “proposed developments” in the area. One of those is Sundy Village, which will happen all around that intersection. Work is set to start soon.

Steven Abrams to stay on as Tri-Rail executive director

The Boca Raton Tri-Rail station. Photo by Aaron Bristol

Steven Abrams, former Boca Raton mayor and county commissioner, is still Tri-Rail’s executive director, and he will remain so for some time.

The Tri-Rail board discussed Abrams’ status on Friday after one board member criticized him over delays at the agency’s Miami station. I wrote last week that Abrams would present the board with a proposal about when he might leave.

According to Abrams, the board decided that Abrams should come back with a “transition agreement.” He would stay for eight months, during which time the board would choose his successor and “compensate” him for “transition services” to that successor.

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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