Saturday, August 13, 2022

BRIC Poised to Create Tech District and Crest Theater Faces Delays

The owner of the Boca Raton Innovation Campus (BRIC) and the city apparently are making progress on the future of the site where IBM designed the personal computer.

As promised, CP Partners sent the city a draft of proposed changes that would allow it to create what the company calls a Technology, Arts, Innovation and Transit Oriented District, or TAITOD for the 123 acres on Yamato Road just west of Interstate 95. Responding to council concerns about other owners replicating the concept, the draft limits the changes to properties of at least 100 acres that are within one-half mile of a commuter rail station “in combination” with light-industrial zoning. Only BRIC would qualify.

The biggest change CP wants is to add housing, which current rules don’t allow. The company’s ask is for 10 units per acre, although CP wants higher densities in certain areas as long as the overall average remains at 10. No building could be taller than 85 feet. Live-work units would be two stories.

Conceptually, CP wants to create a fairly self-contained technology jobs hub by adding lots of amenities to go with the existing 1.7 million square feet of office space. To assure the city that the project wouldn’t create a traffic mess, the company wants to discourage as much as possible the use of cars. Thus the “transit-oriented” approach. Restaurants, for example, could not offer drive-thru service.

The 13-page draft got very deep into the weeds. CP offered ideas on how much parking would be allowed by type of building use. Among the many appearance issues: the company would not allow fluorescent paint.

City planners had many comments on the proposals. Many parts of it “need definition.” Others don’t conform to the city’s comprehensive plan. The draft lacked features to make it a true “transit-oriented” project. Example: higher densities should be clustered nearest the Tri-Rail station across Yamato Road.

I spoke Monday with CP Managing Partner Angelo Bianco. He said that representatives from the company and the city met again last week. “Everything has been moving in a cooperative manner,” Bianco said. CP revised the draft in response to the “very helpful comments.” Bianco acknowledged that CP needed to provide more details.

If the two sides agree, Boca Raton could see a massive capital investment in the northwest section of the city. I’ll have more as discussions continue.

Crest Theater work far from done

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The Crest Theater at Old School Square, photo by Carl Dawson Photography courtesy of the Delray Beach DDA

Delray Beach still has no idea how much it will cost to finish the renovation of Crest Theater.

During last week’s city commission meeting, Public Works Director Missy Barletto showed pictures of the interior. Some areas, she said, are in “very good shape.” Overall, though, the Crest remains far from being “a workable venue.”

Last year, a private donor to Old School Square financed the renovation. In July, however, the city stopped work on the project, claiming that Old School Square had not obtained a permit. Old School Square denies the allegation.

One month later, Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson terminated Old School Square for the Arts’ lease of the Crest and the other buildings that make up the cultural complex. The donor withdrew the balance of her gift, leaving the work undone.

Commissioner Ryan Boylston pressed Barletto for “an estimate” of the cost. Barletto did not provide one, but said she would “sit down” with individual commissioners. Roughly one-third of the theater “needs work,” which Barletto said could take six months.

In addition, Barletto told the commission, Old School Square needs exterior work, especially for new lighting. Under the lease, Old School Square for the Arts was responsible for all interior mainteinance, and the city handled the exterior.

For that work, Barletto said, Delray Beach could apply for a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The city could seek up to $1 million and would have to match 50 percent of any award. The NEH will not decide before December. Work could begin no earlier than next April.

That still leaves the Crest project. “Unfortunately,” Petrolia said, “it doesn’t look good.” No one pointed out that things had looked good until the city stopped the work and she, Casale and Johnson ended the lease.

Now the public, on whose behalf Petrolia claimed to be acting, almost certainly will have to pay for the remainder of the work. Johnson asked about “numbers.” Barletto said, “I will strive to have great numbers.”

Delray votes down the Boca Art Museum idea

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Cornell Art Museum in Old School Square; photo courtesy of the Delray Beach DDA

Last week, the commission voted not to have the Boca Raton Museum of Art operate the Cornell Museum, which also is part of Old School Square. City Manager Terrence Moore had proposed an agreement that would have paid the museum $125,000 for six months with terms to be negotiated for the following year.

Irv Lippman, the museum’s executive director, said he was “very surprised” by the vote. The city will hold a workshop May 17 on who might operate the Cornell. Lippman will not attend, but he will “wait and see” if the city still has any interest in the museum’s services. He suggested that Delray Beach hire a consultant to offer advice about the Cornell.

Boylston was “blown away,” he said, when Johnson cast the deciding vote against the museum deal. “I was not trying to change a vote,” Boylston said, by proposing that several arts groups cooperate in operating the Cornell. “I didn’t say ‘Summer of Delray,’ but I think (Johnson) liked the concept.”

Petrolia and Casale clearly did not. The mayor and Boylston sparred over how to define “The Delray Way.” Boylston sees it as the city’s traditional community-driven, bottom-up approach on issues. Petrolia dismissed it as small-time thinking that was driving away a top-flight organization, even if it was one from Boca Raton, not Delray Beach.

As usual, when it becomes clear that a vote will go against her, Petrolia grumped loudly. But Johnson didn’t change her mind. “Call the roll,” Petrolia finally said tersely.

Old School Square lawsuit proceeds  

Speaking of that Old School Square lawsuit, Delray Beach lost its motion to dismiss it.

After a hearing last week before Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes, Old School Square will again amend the lawsuit. But Scott Porten, who serves on the group’s board, said the case “now moves to discovery.”

Workshop on Delray support of nonprofits

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At Johnson’s request, the commission will hold a workshop meeting Wednesday to discuss Delray Beach’s contributions to nonprofit groups.

This is money from the city’s operating budget, totaling roughly $1.6 million. Separately, the community redevelopment agency gives money to nonprofits in return for contributions to downtown Delray Beach. Examples are the library and Arts Garage.

Most likely, however, the discussion arises from what happened with Old School Square. Johnson led the discussion that led to the lease termination.

Boylston justified the expenditures by saying that the groups “do what the city should be doing” in terms of services. I’ll have more after the meeting.

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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