Delray Beach has escalated its war against the group that created Old School Square.
With Old School Square for the Arts having sued the city for wrongful termination of its lease, the city now wants to file a counterclaim. If a judge allows it, Delray Beach will argue that Old School Square violated its lease by damaging the Crest Theater, which is part of Old School Square.
Not coincidentally, this motion comes just after City Manager Terrence Moore estimated that it will cost the public at least $1.3 million to complete renovation of the Crest that a private donor to Old School Square had financed. Moore said he would put the money in next year’s budget.
The new motion claims that Old School Square made “misrepresentations” in its permit application for the Crest work, a charge that Old School Square denies. When the city stopped work on the project last July, the motion alleges, Old School Square “abandoned” the renovation, leaving the Crest “largely demolished” and “intentionally” damaging city property.
Last Aug. 10, Mayor Shelly Petrolia and city commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson voted to end the lease that Old School Square for the Arts had had since 1989. They claimed that the group had failed to provide all financial documents, which Old School Square also denies. They also cited the Crest project.
If a judge allows the counterclaim, which would ask for damages of more than $30,000, Delray Beach will try to turn Old School Square’s argument against itself: We weren’t wrong to end the lease; you violated it, thus giving the commission no choice. We aren’t the problem. Old School Square for the Arts is the problem.
You can see how the commission believes that a counterclaim would help its defense. You can see how the commission believes that a counterclaim might help its political problem, given public opposition to the lease termination.
It’s harder, though, to understand how a counterclaim would get the commission closer to its stated goal of reopening the Crest and the Cornell Museum. They have been closed since the eviction took effect last February.
In his letter to the commission last week, Moore attached an email from Public Works Director Missie Barletto. She said the Cornell will be “tenant-ready” by late September.
Still unknown, however, is who would run the Cornell—or the Crest. The commission rejected Moore’s proposed contract to have the Boca Raton Museum of Art operate the Cornell. Museum officials then informed the city that they had no interest in further negotiations until the commission had reached “consensus” on Old School Square.
Petrolia, Casale and Johnson refused to consider Old School Square’s settlement offer. A trial might not happen until early next year. There is no date for a hearing on the city’s counterclaim motion.
Delray requests an OSS investigation
In addition to seeking the counterclaim, the city wants the Small Business Administration (SBA) to investigate Old School Square for the Arts.
The community redevelopment agency made that decision at its meeting last month. The five city commissioners and two appointed members make up the CRA board.
As part of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress in 2020 approved Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Old School Square applied for and received one of those loans.
In its letter to the SBA, the CRA says “it appears that [Old School Square for the Arts] may have inadvertently ‘double-dipped’ payroll expenses” that the agency claims already were covered by money from the CRA.
The letter continues a dispute that began early this year. Old School Square for the Arts has denied the allegation. Patty Jones is the group’s chairman. In a statement, she said:
“The city’s decision to challenge the integrity of our PPP loan is mean-spirited and yet more proof of a political vendetta against Old School Square. The same city politicians who have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on this and other spurious issues continue to double down on their atrocious, ignorant, and uneducated decision to destroy a beloved community asset.”
Boca delays Mizner arts center decision
The Boca Raton City Council, acting as the community redevelopment agency, has delayed until Sept. 28 a decision on leasing land in Mizner Park for a performing arts center.
Going into Monday’s meeting, it seemed almost certain that the CRA would approve the lease. But two snags arose. One concerns liability if The Center for Arts & Innovation, which is seeking to build the center, believes that the city has violated the lease. The other concerns how much money the group would have to raise before getting approval to build.
I’ll have much more in my Thursday post.
Boca to declare conversion therapy opposition
At its meeting tonight, the Boca Raton City Council will declare its opposition to conversion therapy while acknowledging that the city can’t ban it.
The practice seeks to change a gay or lesbian person’s sexual orientation. Mainstream medical groups have denounced it. A trial judge upheld the ban, but a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling and the city lost its bid for a hearing before the full court.
Rather than risk losing at the U.S. Supreme Court and invalidate bans nationwide, Boca Raton will make a strategic retreat. The city will go on the record as criticizing conversion therapy, citing reports by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association and other groups.
The resolution states, “The city council believes that [conversion therapy] is potentially harmful to the physical and psychological well-being of “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning persons, and therefore strongly opposes and discourages such practices on minors.
“However, the city council acknowledges the 11th Circuit decision and does not intend to take any action in contravention of such decision.”
Design changes to Boca condo project
Also on tonight’s agenda is a proposed change to One South Ocean, the 70-unit oceanfront condo project on the south side of East Palmetto Park Road.
The developer received approval in 2017 to demolish an office building and 20 townhomes on the 3.5-acre site. Now the developer wants to amend that plan with some design changes, more parking and a new location for a driveway. According to the staff memo, that last change is to conform with Federal Emergency Management rules about flooding.
The staff recommends approval of the amendment.
Status check on Boca Bash case
On Wednesday, there will be a status check in the criminal case against Cole Preston Goldberg. He is charged with attempted murder from an incident arising out of this year’s Boca Bash. It is the annual event in Lake Boca that draws many boaters and irritates the city, which has no control over Boca Bash. Goldberg has pleaded not guilty.