Friday, May 17, 2024

DDA Wants Nearly $1.6M to Manage Old School Square

An air of unreality permeated Tuesday’s meeting between the Delray Beach City Commission and Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

The topic was the future of Old School Square, parts of which the DDA has been operating since the end of 2022. Last April, the DDA’s contract automatically renewed for five years. Either side can opt out with 180 days’ notice.

With the city set to present its preliminary budget next month, commissioners and administrators wanted to know how much the DDA will ask for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. They heard Tuesday that the agency will ask for nearly $1.6 million, or an increase of about $500,000.

The city already has paid the DDA $1.7 million to run the Cornell Museum and other parts of the cultural complex at Atlantic and Swinton Avenues. You could tell that the new request didn’t go down well. City Manager Terrence Moore said he would meet with DDA Executive Director Laura Simon and seek to “strike a balance” on the budget request.

For most of Old School Square’s 35-year history, operating costs came from the Old School Square Center for the Arts (OSSCTA). The group turned a cluster of abandoned buildings into the attraction that led to downtown Delray Beach’s revival.

In August 2021, however, then-Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson ended the group’s lease of the property. A vote was not on the agenda. They cited financial issues that OSSCTA continues to deny,

When Mayor Tom Carney’s turn came Tuesday, he said, “In an ideal world,” the DDA would do only what “you used to do”—marketing downtown Delray Beach. Operation of Old School Square, Carney said, would return to a private, non-profit group. As Carney described it, that group sounded very much like Old School Square Center for the Arts.

“I’m not diminishing at all,” Carney added, what the DDA has done in reopening the Cornell Museum and taking over event scheduling for the Fieldhouse. But he would prefer “some sort of external group” to run the whole campus or parts of it. Carney ran in March as part of the slate that included Casale and got support from Petrolia. Of the past, Carney said only, “However we got here, we got here.”

After returning to the dais, Casale is the only current commissioner who voted to end the lease. So as talk of how the DDA could generate more revenue from Old School Square proceeded, it was ironic to hear Casale suggest that the agency get “bigger names” for performances.

In May 2021, under previous management, Old School Square landed Jimmy Buffett for concerts that generated worldwide publicity as South Florida emerged from pandemic lockdown. Three months later, Casale ended the contract with the group that drew one of music’s biggest names.

Though all commissioners praise the DDA for its work so far, Casale gushes. The agency, she said, has been “amazing.” People are enjoying the Cornell “like they never did before.” 

Casale and Commissioner Thomas Markert even sought to rewrite history during talk of the DDA’s budget request. Markert noted that OSSCTA had received money for programming. True, but that annual $750,000 came from the community redevelopment agency, similar to money that goes to other cultural groups and the library. None of that money came from the city budget, which finances essential services, such as public safety and parks.

There clearly remains division among commissioners about Old School Square and who will run it. Long agreed with Carney, calling for a “transition plan.” Casale said any talk of a “phaseout hinders” the DDA’s ability to recruit sponsors and book acts on a long-range basis.

After Petrolia, Casale and Johnson evicted OSSCTA, the city tried to find another “external group” to run the complex. None of the entities that showed interest, though, offered a realistic plan. Running the entire campus means fundraising, finding volunteers and many other functions.

There was no long-term backup when Petrolia, Casale and Johnson cast the vote that led to the closing of Old School Square. There still isn’t.

Moving forward on the Crest Theater

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

Next up on Old School Square is a special commission meeting Tuesday to decide who will operate that part of Crest Theater that is ready to reopen.

In addition to evicting Old School Square Center for the Arts, the city stopped work on renovation of the theater that a private donor had financed. The city has spent $1.3 million to reopen some of the Crest’s interior—classrooms and a new, enlarged kitchen.

Groups that want to run programming and other functions will make presentations. I’ll have more before the meeting.

Martin Manor in Boca Raton approved

Rendering of Martin Manor project

During Tuesday night’s meeting, Boca Raton City Council members approved the plan for Martin Manor, which will replace the Dixie Manor housing complex.

The vote was unanimous. Council members sided with staff on all issues, such as whether Marin Manor should have elevators. On the issue of preserving part of a building, the compromise was that it would happen if private money were available. Mayor Scott Singer said Martin Manor will be “much better than what exists.”

Boca ranks as a top meeting destination

Event and hospitality technology company Cvent has ranked Boca Raton one of North America’s top 50 meeting destinations. The announcement came Wednesday from Discover The Palm Beaches, the county’s tourism marketer.

According to Cvent, the company bases its destination rankings on total rooms booked, the number of unique requests for proposals sent to meeting venues, the value of those RFPs, and the value for meetings that are booked.

Boca Raton ranked 50th. Leading the list of North American destinations were Orlando, Las Vegas, Nashville, Dallas and San Diego. Just ahead of Boca Raton is Savannah, Georgia. Other Florida cities on the list were Miami (13th), Fort Lauderdale (20th), Kissimmee (24th), and Tampa (26th.)

Fundraising for District 91

Fundraising by the two main candidates for Florida House District 91 could not be more different.

Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman

Peggy Gossett-Seidman, the incumbent Republican, had raised about $54,000 through March 31. Most of her donations were for $1,000 and came from state-based individuals and entities with business in Tallahassee. Gossett-Seidman won the seat, which includes Boca Raton and Highland Beach, in 2022.

In contrast, Democrat Jay Shooster had raised $195,000, with $25,000 coming from a personal loan. Almost all Shooster’s contributions are from outside of Florida. In addition, Shooster has raised $320,000 through a committee called Future Leaders Florida. Most of that is also out-of-state money. That’s an eye-popping sum for a state House race.

Gossett-Seidman faces no opposition in the GOP primary. Shooster faces token opposition. In 2022, Gossett-Seidman got a big boost from spending by the Republican Party of Florida.

Boca Lago under contract?

According to published reports, Boca Lago Country Club’s golf course is under contract to Lennar, one of the area’s largest builders. The course covers about 200 acres.

If the sale went through, it would represent the closing of another aged-out golf course. This one dates to 1981. The course is on either side of Lyons Road north of Palmetto Park Road.

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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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