Thursday, May 23, 2024

Delray Approves DDA/OSS Deal and Reviews Golf Course Bids

The Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority officially is in charge of Old School Square—at least until Sept. 30, 2024.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the city commission approved an agreement for the DDA to operate the cultural complex until that date with two five-year renewals possible. Approval came after the agency and city compromised on some issues and whistled past others.

Regarding revenue, the two sides agreed that, for now, any money after expenses will go back into Old School Square. In practical terms, there likely wouldn’t have been money to argue over. Arts centers operate at a loss. Donations and grants generally make up the difference.

DDA officials first had asked for $1.3 million in city money, since the DDA has no revenue to take up this ambitious new mission in addition to its traditional role of marketing downtown Delray Beach. The agency’s request came down to $1 million, which City Manager Terrence Moore said he can find without taking any from reserves. The DDA will get $750,000 and the balance will come later.

But that amount will increase. In this first phase, the DDA will focus on the Cornell Museum. When the Crest Theater reopens, the DDA will need more money. Commissioner Ryan Boylston hopes that city officials at least will know the amount soon enough to plan for it in next year’s budget.

Regarding marketing, the DDA must give Moore copies of marketing plans and ads, but the city does not get final approval. The city will get approval of “rebranding,” which could include a name change. The city must “coordinate” marketing of city-sponsored Old School Square events with the DDA.

Commissioner Adam Frankel raised the issue of a video that shows DDA board members criticizing the city as being desperate to approve any agreement. “I’m outraged,” Frankel said. “I need to put that on the record.”

Mayor Shelly Petrolia quickly said, “I’m going to step in here.” She then did damage control, saying, “We have to do something great, and these are the people to do it.”

As I noted Tuesday, the Old School Square debacle is a problem for the city and a political problem for Petrolia and Commissioner Juli Casale. With Shirley Johnson, they formed the majority that evicted the eponymous group that founded Old School Square and ran it for 33 years. When the city first tried to find a replacement, there were no bidders. Old School Square is the only option.

Johnson is term limited. Casale, however, is on the ballot in five weeks. Petrolia is trying very hard to get Casale reelected. Petrolia said the commission needs to let the DDA “run with it.” Of the video, Petrolia said, “I’m OK with it.” She added, “I say things that I don’t mean.” Casale enthused, “It’s going to be amazing, and it’s going to happen fast.”

Mark Denkler called the DDA board, on which he serves, “a passionate group.” He spoke of “donations I’ve lined up.” Board Chairman Mavis Benson and Executive Director Laura Simon spoke of the need for better communication. There was a lot of nervous laughter.

The vote to approve the agreement was 4-1, with Frankel dissenting. He told me Monday, “I can’t forget how this went down,” meaning that Petrolia, Casale and Johnson voted to end the lease without the matter being on the agenda.

Though Boylston voted yes, he said Wednesday, “I’m not happy.” Shifting to the DDA will mean the city laying out money it didn’t have to spend under previous management. “But what choice did we have?”

Delray commissioners review bids for golf course renovation

delray beach golf club
Delray Beach Golf Club

The commission could choose a developer to renovate Delray Beach’s golf course as early as next month.

On Tuesday, commissioners got a summary of the six bids that I reviewed in my post for that day. They want to schedule a forum for the bidders to explain their proposals and take comments from the public. A special meeting of the commission would follow, with bidders each getting an hour to make their case before commissioners decide.

City Attorney Lynn Gelin wanted to schedule that meeting for March 7, but some commissioners will be in Tallahassee for Palm Beach County Day. It seems certain, though, that the meeting will happen before April 1.

The March 14 elections will mean at least one new member—Shirley Johnson is term-limited—and a second if Casale loses to Rob Long. There was general agreement that waiting for a new member or two to learn the many details of the proposals would take too long. The organizational meeting of the new commission takes place on March 30.

Petrolia asked if the bidders would be able to make changes before the special meeting. They won’t. Any changes would happen only during negotiations with the chosen bidder.

Commissioners can’t offer many opinions about the proposals before that meeting, but Petrolia did suggest Tuesday that golfers might not like the E2L Real Estate Solutions plan for an executive—short—course rather than a standard 18-hole layout. E2L also proposes to shrink the size of the clubhouse by one-third. Frankel said he didn’t like that.

Rep. Frankel highlights federal program concerns at SOTU

Rep. Lois Frankel (D)

Each member of Congress gets to bring a guest to the State of the Union Address. Many use that choice to highlight a partisan position on a major issue.

Democrat Lois Frankel represents Delray Beach and West Delray. Her guest was a retired nurse whose Medicare and Social Security benefits, Frankel said in a news release, “are threatened by the MAGA Republican agenda.”

Fla. Sen. Rick Scott specifically called for “sunsetting” all federal programs in five years. Biden raised the issue in his address, noting—as some GOP lawmakers booed—that not all Republicans agree with Scott and finally joking that he had achieved consensus that cuts were “off the books.”

Local offices for Florida representatives

During the prolonged election for House speaker, I wrote that the delay had prevented lawmakers from opening their offices. Frankel and Democrat Jared Moskowitz, who represents Boca Raton, now have local operations.

Moskowitz, though, now has only a satellite office in the city, at Florida Atlantic University in Room 278 of the Administration Building. Because the district that Ted Deutch represented now includes so much of Broward County, the main office is in Coral Springs. The phone number for both offices is 754/240-6330.

Though Frankel’s district goes north to West Palm Beach, her only local office is at 7499 West Atlantic Avenue. The phone number is 561/998-9045.

FAU to name interim president

Photo by Alex Dolce

Tuesday’s meeting of the Florida Atlantic Board of Trustees could be a big one. They must name an interim president while searching for John Kelly’s successor. This comes after the controversial hiring of former Sen. Ben Sasse to lead the University of Florida and as Gov. DeSantis and other Republicans target what they consider “indoctrination” at state universities. I’ll preview the meeting in my Tuesday post.

Boca begins search for new city manager

Boca Raton officially has begun the search for a city manager to succeed Leif Ahnell.

The information is in Monday’s presentation for the city council workshop meeting. It’s part of an update on the council’s goal-setting sessions.

Ahnell has held the job since 1999, by far the longest of any manager in Palm Beach County. He can’t work past 2024 because he’s in the state mandatory retirement program. According to the meeting material, the city has hired an executive search firm.

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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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