Thursday, March 16, 2023

Delray DDA Considers Cornell and Mizner Arts Center Talks Continue

The Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority is interested in running at least the Cornell Museum and perhaps all of Old School Square.

The DDA’s board voted to formally express interest. During the Sept. 1 community redevelopment agency meeting, City Commissioner Juli Casale suggested that the city could give the DDA an amount approaching the $750,000 that Old School Square for the Arts got from the CRA when it was operating the city’s downtown cultural complex.

I’m told that Mayor Shelly Petrolia first raised the idea with DDA Executive Director Laura Simon. Casale said she then also “reached out” to Simon. She also spoke with Marusco Gatto, the DDA staff member who ran the Cornell when she was an Old School Square employee. “She had some brilliant ideas.”

The Cornell and the Crest Theater have been closed since Casale, Petrolia and Shirley Johnson ended the lease that Old School Square had for 32 years. The issue presents a political problem for Casale. She is up in March for a second term, and her vote remains very unpopular. She surely wants Old School Square open to some degree soon.

City Commissioner Ryan Boylston said he’s willing to consider the DDA’s offer, but he raised several questions.

The DDA levies an annual tax on properties within its boundaries—two blocks north and south of Atlantic Avenue between A1A and Interstate 95. Could the CRA give money to a taxing agency? Would such a donation even be legal under new rules the Legislature passed in 2019 that restrict how CRAs can spend money? If the CRA didn’t give the money, could the city, which also levies taxes?

How would such mission creep affect the DDA, which commissioners recently praised for its success at promoting downtown Delray Beach? The agency’s budget is slightly more than $1 million. Pre-pandemic, the budget for Old School Square ranged between $3.1 million and $3.5 million.

Old School Square for the Arts also recruited volunteers and donors. Gatto would be just one person. Boylston did note that the DDA has been successful at getting sponsorships for events—another form of donations.

Finally, Boylston said, “This should all be transparent.” Old School Square was not on the agenda when Casale, Petrolia and Johnson voted to end the lease. Similarly, the DDA/Cornell issue was not on the recent CRA meeting agenda. “This would all have to be vetted in the open,” Boylston said.

I’ll have more as the story develops.

Issues remain in Mizner arts center deal

bradec performing arts center
Boca Arts Campus rendering; photo courtesy of Luxigon Los Angeles

Negotiations continue between Boca Raton and the group hoping to build a performing arts center in Mizner Park.

Andrea Virgin, president of The Center for Arts & Innovation, said Wednesday that TCA&I received a “memo” from the city on the remaining issues related to a lease of land next to the amphitheater. Last night, TCA&I returned “comments” and is awaiting the city’s reply.

The main sticking point remains damages TCA&I could seek if the city breached the lease. Virgin is “hopeful” that the lease could be on the Sept. 28 council agenda. The group has raised $15 million toward construction and has said that another $25 million would come if the council approved the lease.

Boca postpones Chick-fil-A discussion

Rendering of proposed project at 2700 N. Federal Highway from RLC Architects

The Boca Raton City Council postponed its Tuesday hearing on the proposed Chick-fil-A on North Federal Highway.

Ele Zachariades, who represents the developer, said her client is seeking a compromise with residents of the adjacent Harbour East neighborhood who oppose the project. They worry that traffic at the restaurant’s popular drive-through will block access into and out of the neighborhood.

Larry Schner, who represents the homeowners, confirmed that he and Zachariades are negotiating. “I am hopeful,” Schner said Wednesday, “that we can agree on something that’s good for the developers and the residents.”

Even if that happened, however, it would not help the developer with two separate conditions city planners want added to an approval. One is when the three phases of the project would be built. The other is a requirement to bury power lines, which would require the developer to do so on some of the neighbors’ property because they live so close to the site at 2600 North Federal Highway.

Zachariades doesn’t believe that the latter condition is legal. She is negotiating separately with the city on that issue and the phasing, which would make the Chick-fil-A one of the first items in the project.

If the negotiations fail, Zachariades said, she and Schner will argue their respective cases at the Sept. 28 council meeting. “It will be all or nothing.”

Delray repeals conversion therapy ban

Like Boca Raton, Delray Beach has repealed its ban on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE), more familiarly referred to as conversion therapy. Like Boca Raton, Delray Beach did so at the urging of LGBTQ advocates.

All mainstream medical groups have denounced the idea that therapy sessions can cause minors to change their sexual orientation. Research shows that children subject to this practice are more likely to commit suicide, and LGBTQ youth already are at higher risk of suicide.

In 2020, a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that had upheld the bans in Boca Raton and Palm Beach County. In July, the full court denied the city’s motion for a rehearing.

Rather than risk having the U.S. Supreme Court overturn all bans nationwide, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council asked the city and county to rescind their bans but pass resolutions opposing conversion therapy. Both did.

Delray Beach’s ban dates back to 2017. At last week’s meeting, the city commission followed Boca Raton and the county. Rand Hoch, who founded the human rights council, had advised cities that the Liberty Counsel, which represented the plaintiff therapists, had threatened to sue local governments that kept their bans on the books. Defending such a lawsuit, Hoch said, would be “futile.”

Coincidentally, three days before the meeting a panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld Washington State’s conversion therapy ban. When appellate courts disagree, the issue often goes to the Supreme Court. No challenge to the high court has arisen.

PBC approves tenant notice ordinance

for rent
Photo by David Gales –

On Tuesday, the Palm Beach County Commission approved the ordinance that requires landlords to give tenants 60 days’ notice if they intend to end a lease, not renew a lease or raise rent by more than five percent.

The ordinance applies to cities, not just the county, though cities can opt out. Boca Raton City Council members discussed the issue briefly before deciding to wait and see how the ordinance plays out.

Given reports of rent increases up to 50 percent, five percent seems like a very mild response. County Mayor Robert Weinroth, who represents Boca Raton and Delray Beach, said the county’s legal team determined that five percent “was the highest we could go.”

FAU to break ground on new building

Photo by Alex Dolce

Florida Atlantic University will host a ceremonial groundbreaking at 10 a.m. Friday for the Kurt and Marilyn Wallach Holocaust and Jewish Studies Building on Friday.

The Wallachs, both of whom lost family members to the Holocaust, donated $20 million toward the building and related studies. This week, the Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-Semitic incidents in Florida rose by 50 percent last year.

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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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