Saturday, January 28, 2023

Old School Square/DDA Details & More on Boca Council Terms

On Tuesday’s crowded Delray Beach City Commission agenda, one item is noteworthy for its omission: the agreement between the city and the Downtown Development Authority for the DDA to operate Old School Square.

City Manager Terrence Moore had hoped to get the proposed deal before the commission in December. When that didn’t happen, he targeted Tuesday’s meeting. On Monday, Moore said the item would come up next Tuesday.

It has been nearly three months since the DDA offered to run the complex and the commission agreed. That will require the city giving the DDA $1.4 million—for starters—from this year’s budget. But other details have not been resolved. Among them is the DDA’s idea to rename Old School Square.

Moore said the DDA has the proposed agreement. “We hope to get it squared away next week, and off we go.”

DDA Executive Director Laura Simon said the two sides are “98 percent there.” The main issues are revenue from Old School Square and “language on who’s responsible for what,” such as maintenance and event coordination in the Fieldhouse and on the Pavilion.

Simon said the DDA wants any revenue the complex generates to remain for use within Old School Square, not go into the city’s budget. The DDA also wants a two-year agreement that would last through Sept. 30, 2024. If things were going well, the agency would seek a five-year extension.

The first phase, through Sept. 30 of next year, would cover just the Cornell Museum. The DDA reopened it last month for two exhibitions—nothing is scheduled for January—and has designated Marusca Gatto to run it. Gatto, who is a member of the DDA staff, ran the Cornell previously for six years as an employee of Old School Square for the Arts.

In August 2021, Mayor Shelly Petrolia and commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson ended the city’s lease with the group that founded Old School Square. The Cornell had been closed since February, when the eviction took effect.

Another key part of Old School Square, Crest Theater, remains closed for renovations. The city must pay to complete the work because Old School Square’s private donor pulled her money following the lease cancellation. The DDA would not seek to reopen the Crest until late next year at the earliest.

In a Dec. 12 memo to the DDA board, Simon outlined what she hopes will happen this month. Among her priorities are deciding the board’s role and hers in running Old School Square, activating the Cornell day and night, scheduling programs for the spring and summer, working on “branding” and, of course, signing the agreement with the city.

DDA board members will meet Friday to discuss the agreement. I’ll have more next week.

Highland-Delray fire service                                     

Highland Beach may be starting its own fire department, but the separation from Delray Beach is far from final.

For one thing, the new department won’t begin operating until May 2024. Between now and then, Delray Beach will continue to service the town. Highland Beach issued notice in 2021 that it would end the three-decades-old contract. Doing so requires a three-year notice.

Highland Beach officials cited rising costs as their reason to go it alone. And at tonight’s meeting, Moore will tell city commissioners that Highland Beach owes the city about $520,000 extra for those services.

Under the deal, Delray Beach does a “true-up” after each budget year of the actual cost to operate the station in Highland Beach. If the city believes that the cost exceeded the contracted amount, the city can ask Highland Beach to pay the difference.

In a Dec. 19 memo, Moore said Highland Beach owes $121,514 from 2021 that “remains outstanding.” In addition, Moore said, Highland Beach owes $396,140 from the budget year that ended Sept. 30.

Moore will offer the commission “a review of options that may become available. . .as to how to appropriately respond.” One is telling Highland Beach that town has breached the contract and giving “time to cure and resolve accordingly.”

And trash is up again                                  

Photo by Gary Chan

Preceding the 4 p.m. regular meeting will be a special meeting on who will collect Delray Beach’s trash.

The city’s current contract with Waste Management ends on April 30. Waste Management and two other companies submitted bids. City staff disqualified the top-ranked firm because of what Moore said in a memo was “non-responsibility and non-responsiveness.” That left Waste Management, which had been ranked second, as the top choice.

Moore’s memo did not specify cost, but he has made clear that this contract will be more expensive. It would last for seven years, which is generally the standard length. Given the looming expiration, Moore calls the issue “time-sensitive.”

Boca’s re-inspection initiative                                    

At tonight’s meeting, the Boca Raton City Council likely will change the city’s building reinspection program.

Boca Raton became the first city in Florida to create such a program, just two months after the collapse of a condo in Surfside. In 2022, however, the Legislature passed a statewide program that differs from the city’s version.

Examples: The city ordinance applies to tall buildings after 30 years. The state also sets a 30-year timeline but makes it 25 years for buildings within three miles of the coast. The city requires structural and electrical inspections. The state requires only a structural inspection. The versions also differ on how much notice to give homeowner associations and how quickly repairs must be made.

Boca Raton has begun to implement its program by dealing with the backlog. City officials estimate that doing so will take another three years.

Because of the Legislature’s action, any local government must align its ordinance with state law. The tricky thing for Boca Raton will be if the Legislature starts tinkering with the law every year. Legislators are hearing complaints from property owners about the cost of complying with the new law.

Looking into longer terms

Boca Raton will spend up to $225,000 to decide whether the mayor and council members will have longer terms.

That is the amount budgeted to hold an election on March 14. At one point, two council races might have been on the ballot. Now, there are none. One race drew only one candidate. In the other race, one of the two candidates who qualified has dropped out.

At Monday’s workshop meeting, Andrea O’Rourke proposed that the council change its decision to place on the ballot a charter amendment that would lengthen terms from three years to four years. She and Francine Nachlas opposed it. Mayor Scott Singer and council members Yvette Drucker and Monica Mayotte supported it.

The cost of a vote on this one issue, O’Rourke said, “is not money well spent.” Singer, who proposed it, disagreed. Because longer terms would mean fewer elections, the change would “pay for itself in two (election) cycles.” He noted again that all the state’s other 25 most populous cities have four-year terms.

Drucker and Mayotte agreed. They and Singer would benefit from the longer terms.

Site plan change for office building                                     

Also on tonight’s council agenda is a proposed site plan change that would allow an office building next to Bowlero Boca Raton just east of Town Center Mall.

According to the staff memo, Boca Midtown Place would be a five-story building with health care, financial and corporate tenants. It would provide Class A office space, which city officials say is lacking in Boca Raton. The planning and zoning board unanimously recommended approval.

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Randy Schultz
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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