Delray Beach taxpayers will have to spend at least $1.3 million to reopen the Crest Theater.
City Manager Terrence Moore released that figure last week. He wants to include the money in next year’s capital budget. In his newsletter to commissioners, Moore said his office will “approve transactions necessary to support plans and permitting services.” He wants the work to start in October. The budget year begins Oct. 1.
As City Commissioner Ryan Boylston pointed out Monday, this is money the public should not have to be spending. Last July, when Old School Square for the Arts was running the cultural complex, a private donor was financing the Crest project.
Then the city stopped work, alleging that Old School Square had not obtained a permit, a charge the group denied. A month later, Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson voted to end the organization’s lease of the property. The donor withdrew her money, leaving the work half-done. The Crest and the Cornell Museum have not reopened since February, when the termination of Old School Square for the Arts’ lease took effect.
Boylston said the vote last August “looks as bad as I thought at the time.” Ironically, Petrolia has attempted to defend the decision by saying that the majority was acting on behalf of taxpayers, even though the decision will cost the taxpayers at least $1.3 million.
Boylston assumes that the actual cost will be higher. “When is the last time that the final number didn’t go up?” He added, “I don’t want to vote down the whole budget, but I don’t want to approve that item when we still don’t have a plan on how to open” the Crest.
More irony came last week when the commission heard from the consultant who ran the June meeting during which the city asked residents what they wanted to see at Old School Square.
According to the consultant, the public wants concerts, movies—free, if possible—music, art—local, when possible—art lessons, plays, concerts, and events such as weddings, bar mitzvahs and quinceañeras. These thoughts came from about 70 people, which the consultant called “a tremendous turnout” for the event, known as a charrette.
After the presentation, Commissioner Adam Frankel stated the obvious: “They want what they had.” He meant when Old School Square for the Arts was running the complex.
Frankel also referenced the comment by one charrette participant that Old School Square should not be political. Yet Petrolia, Casale and Johnson, Frankel said, “turned [Old School Square] into the most political thing in 10 years.”
Petrolia acknowledged the sentiment without acknowledging her vote last August. She said the community wants the same sort of Old School Square but more “amped up” with an “active campus.” It would be hard to imagine a less active campus than one where the two main buildings are closed.
Meanwhile, Old School Square’s wrongful termination lawsuit against the city continues. Late last month, the city listed what it considers many defenses against the allegation and the suggestion of a conspiracy. The city also opposes a jury trial. Old School Square rejected all the city’s defenses.
Petrolia, Casale and Johnson refused to discuss Old School Square’s settlement offer. The public that will pay to finish the Crest Theater also is paying for the litigation.
Mizner arts center developer changes name
The entity seeking to build a performing arts center in Mizner Park has changed its name. At tonight’s meeting, the Boca Raton City Council will begin to review documents that the city must approve for the project to happen.
Boca Raton Arts District Exploratory Corporation has become The Center for Arts and Innovation, or TCA&I. The change likely reflects that the effort has progressed beyond concept to execution. TCA&I proposes to renovate the Mizner Park Amphitheater, which the city would sell to the group. In addition, TCA&I would lease the city-owned, vacant property east of the amphitheater for the new building.
According to the staff memo, the arts center would have at least 720 seats and likely between 900 and 1,100. The renovated amphitheater would have at least 2,400 seats and probably between 3,000 and 4,200.
Tonight, the council only will introduce the ordinances that would allow the sale and codify the proposed lease and construction agreement. In the memo, Deputy City Manager George Brown said a new issue has arisen between TCA&I and the staff.
Brown said the group wants a change that would allow it to “recover actual damages” in addition to its right to end the lease. TCA&I must raise enough money for construction and an operating endowment before work could begin. The staff does not want that change. Staff also opposes the suggestion by the planning and zoning board that the city waive permitting fees.
Council members probably will decide on those requests tonight. Public hearings will take place next month.
The cost of smoking on Boca’s beaches
With the Legislature this year allowing cities to enforce smoking bans at public beaches, the city council tonight will consider an ordinance that would impose a $100 fine for smoking at Boca Raton beaches. Previously, cities could prohibit smoking but could not punish anyone for doing so.
Boca ALF pending final approval
Also on tonight’s agenda is final approval of a senior living center in the north end of Boca Raton.
It would have 200 beds—150 for convalescent care and 50 as part of an assisted living facility, or ALF. There also would be a dialysis center. This plan replaces one for 151 beds.
The proposal would require a land-use change for the site on Congress Avenue just south of the Delray Beach city line. So, four of the five council members—not just a majority—would need to vote yes.
According to the staff memo, city planners have no problem with the land-use change in what has been an industrial area. The issue is how many emergency medical calls the project might require. According to the developer, the center would always have six nurses and 10 nurse assistants on duty, plus two doctors.
This could be an interesting discussion. City Manager Leif Ahnell has warned about the financial impact on added service calls from such facilities. Yet there’s also a demand for them.
Boca Raton is involved in a lawsuit with the owner of a property where a developer envisions an ALF. The city rejected the proposal because of the potential impact on a single-family neighborhood. That is not an issue with the proposal on tonight’s agenda.
A new addition to the Alina condo project
Acting Monday as the community redevelopment agency, Boca Raton council members approved the addition of a ground-floor pool to the second phase of the downtown Alina luxury condo project.
After the vote, council members praised Alina and its design. Andrea O’Rourke called it “one of the most beautiful” buildings to go up recently downtown. Before the CRA approved it in 2017, Alina generated lots of controversy. More controversy followed when El-Ad Properties asked to build Alina in two phases. Apparently, the Alina doomsayers were wrong.
Correction: Last week, I referred to Susan Vogelgesang as the chairwomen of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District. Erin Wright is the chairwoman.