Game, Set, Election in Delray? A Decision on Midtown, and More

Juan Martin del Potro with fans at the Delray Open.

Five years ago, a contract issued without bidding became an election issue in Delray Beach. Another no-bid contract is an election issue this year.

It’s the 25-year deal the city commission approved in 2005 with Match Point, which promotes the annual pro tennis event, the Delray Beach Open. This year’s version just concluded. In March 2016, the city sued Match Point seeking to void the contract on the grounds that the award violated Delray Beach’s requirement to seek bids on contract of more than $15,000. A similar lawsuit resulted in a new trash-hauling contract that saved residents about $8 million. Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioner Shelly Petrolia had campaigned against that contract in 2013.

If commissioners had been happy with how the tournament has evolved, there might not have been a lawsuit. But as the commission saw it two years ago, the tournament costs the city too much for too little, and the contract prevents Delray Beach from retrofitting the stadium to allow more events that might bring revenue. The stadium is not part of the recreational tennis center.

According to a recent staff report, this year’s tournament cost Delray Beach about $1.6 million in direct payments to Match Point. The first payment was about $920,000, but the contract allows for annual increases. The community redevelopment agency pays most of that. Another roughly $400,000 goes for the annual Chris Evert celebrity tennis event.

In addition, however, the tournaments cost Delray Beach another $350,000 in contract obligations and in-kind contributions.

“The issue is not the tournament,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said. “It’s the contract.”

He notes that city residents must buy tickets to watch an event “in a stadium they own.” Delray Affair, Glickstein said, “brings in more people, costs the city nothing and is free to taxpayers.”

Match Point owner Mark Baron has much at stake in the lawsuit. The company has given $1,000 to commission candidates Ryan Boylston and Adam Frankel. There’s been little movement in the lawsuit, and Match Point’s critics believe that Baron wants to stall until after the election. If Boylston defeats incumbent Mitch Katz in Seat 3 and Jim Chard beats Shelly Petrolia for mayor, no one would remain from the commission that approved the lawsuit.

During candidate interviews, Boylston and Frankel have defended the contract, claiming that Delray Beach benefits from the exposure. Chard has not received a contribution from Match Point. On Monday, Chard told me that he would “take a second look” at the lawsuit. He wondered why the commission didn’t try to renegotiate with Match Point before going to court.

Apparently, Match Point isn’t stopping with contributions. During this year’s tournament, the company “corralled” volunteers, as Glickstein put it at the end of the Feb. 20 commission meeting. The company asked those volunteers to vote for Chard, Boylston and Frankel.

At that Feb. 20 meeting, Petrolia charged Match Point with spreading rumors that she wants to “dismantle” the city’s tennis center. Glickstein confirmed the rumors and defended Petrolia. In fact, the lawsuit has nothing to do with the tennis center, which is one of Delray Beach’s best amenities and basically breaks even.

Petrolia called the contract “a noose around the city’s neck.” Glickstein called it “the dumbest contract” Delray Beach ever has signed. “And it’s illegal.” The annual expense for the tournament could become a bigger problem if the Legislature forbids community redevelopment agencies from making such expenses. The money then would have to come out of the city budget.

Baron told me in 2016 that the contract wasn’t new because he had been doing events in Delray Beach since 1999.

“We already had a contract.” Baron also claimed “exclusivity” because only his company could have attracted the event.

That argument sounds like the failed defense of the trash-hauling contract. Rather than seek a contract that allowed regular review of the tournament, the commission in 2005 approved a quarter-century commitment. If Chard, Boylston and Frankel win and propose re-examining or dropping the lawsuit, they will need a stronger argument than they or Match Point has made.

(Pictured above, Juan Martin del Potro mingles with fans. Photo by Peter Staples)

Campaign funds update

With the exception of Chard, fundraising in Delray Beach took a vacation early last month.

Chard took in $11,000 during the first 10 days of February. His total is about $80,000, which is about what Petrolia has raised from private donations. She loaned her campaign another $25,000. Petrolia’s latest report showed that she has $54,000 remaining. Chard has about $41,000.

As for Boylston and Katz, they raised only $585 and $550, respectively. They remain close in terms of money. Boylston has raised $52,000 compared to $55,000 for Katz. Each had about $27,000 left.

Meanwhile in Seat 1, Frankel reported no contributions for the 10-day period. He has raised $53,500 and has about $16,000 left. Frankel’s opponent, Eric Camacho, continues to eschew fundraising. He has raised just $200 and spent $140.

More ethics cautions

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie received a “letter of instruction” last week from the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics regarding what the commission called Haynie’s “inadvertent” acceptance of tickets to a Republican dinner from Waste Management.

Ethics rules prohibit elected officials from accepting gifts valued at more than $100 from vendors and lobbyists who do business with their city. Boca Raton provides its own sanitation services, but Waste Management picks up trash in some neighborhoods because of contracts that predate the city annexing the neighborhoods.

In 2013, however, an agreement signed by then-Mayor Susan Whelchel made Waste Management a city vendor. Haynie said she wasn’t aware of that when she accepted $600 in tickets from the company to the Republican Party of Florida’s Lincoln Day dinner in 2016 at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. When she learned of the connection, Haynie reimbursed the company.

The tickets never were a secret. Ethics commission staff members investigated when Haynie listed the tickets on her gift disclosure form. She has asked staff for a list of city vendors—“There are a lot, in a city of 90,000”—and has asked City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser to make changes that will bring “more scrutiny” the many requests council member get to attend events of all kinds.

The Grossman file

Armand Grossman’s resume has become an issue in the Boca Raton City Council Seat D race.

Monica Mayotte, Grossman’s opponent, claims that Grossman is a former senior vice-president for Penn-Florida, developer of Via Mizner and the planned University Village. An Internet search shows that title on Grossman’s ZoomInfo profile and a news release when he joined the board of the Gold Coast Tiger Bay Club. A new mailer calls Grossman “a developer.”

Grossman denies it. He told me that he worked only as a contractor for Penn-Florida. His work took him to China, where Grossman said he sought investors under the EB-5 vise program. Foreigners who invest at least $1 million can earn a green card in return.

So who’s right?

Last week, Grossman’s consultant sent me a sworn statement from Penn-Florida Chief Operating Officer David Warne. In the statement, Warne said Grossman did that EB-5 work in 2012 and 2013.

“At no time,” Warne said, “did Mr. Grossman play a role in the construction or development of Penn-Florida properties.”

The mailer is part of the recent anti-development demagoguery in Boca Raton politics. Mayotte’s mailer calls Grossman a “commercial real estate broker.” He is. The mailer accuses Penn-Florida of building “some of downtown Boca Raton’s tallest buildings.” (All three phases of Via Mizner conform to downtown development rules.)

“The last thing Boca Raton needs is a developer on the city council,” the Mayotte mailer said. In 2013, however, Delray Beach elected a developer as a mayor. Under Cary Glickstein, the city has approved new development rules that include tighter restrictions for downtown projects.

Every city needs development. Without private capital, cities die. The debate is over good development versus bad development. But that doesn’t make for a campaign mailer.

Delray gun control resolution

Two issues—one mostly symbolic, one very substantial —will dominate tonight’s meeting of the Delray Beach City Commission.

The symbolic is the proposed resolution asking the legislature and Congress to enact several gun control resolutions—such as banning military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February that killed 17 students and teachers.

Glickstein wants the commission to approve the resolution at what will be his last meeting. He spoke at a rally in Delray Beach after the shooting and his remarks drew much praise.

Delray Midtown on the agenda

The substantial issue is Midtown, the $20 million proposal to redevelop the former Worrell properties and more along and near Swinton and Atlantic avenues. Six Midtown-related items—including the site plan—will go before the commission. Hudson Holdings wants to build 35,000 square feet of retail space, 22,500 square feet of restaurant space, 22,000 square feet of office space, 45 condos and 39 residential-inn units.

Midtown had been on the Feb. 6 agenda, and the chambers were packed. Hudson Holdings, however, asked for a delay so staff could review changes. The developer has redesigned some residential-inn buildings and is asking for fewer waivers. The staff recommends that the commission approve all six items, which include requests to demolish some buildings and approve others.

The project will draw much opposition, especially from the most ardent historic preservation advocates. Yet there is general agreement that the area, which forms the seam between the east and west sides of Atlantic Avenue, needs redevelopment.

I don’t like to make predictions. Still, I’m going to venture that the commission approves Midtown, with Mayor Glickstein and commissioners Chard and Johnson in favor and commissioners Petrolia and Katz opposed.

Remembering Vince Canning

Delray Beach has lost a civic treasure.

Vincent Canning, the owner of his eponymous shoe store on East Atlantic Avenue, died last month. His obituary appeared Sunday, though the commission had discussed his passing at the Feb. 20 meeting. As the obituary noted, Canning would give out $2 bills to customers on Valentine’s Day. The Indianapolis native came to the city in 1957.

Within and without Delray Beach, Canning’s service was broad and deep. It included, among others, the Delray Beach, Greater Boca Raton and Boynton Beach chambers of commerce, the Atlantic Avenue Association, the Delray Beach Library, the Delray Beach Playhouse, Old School Square, CROS Ministries and the St. Vincent DePaul Society. The city issued two proclamations in his honor and likely could have issued many more.

Glickstein said, “Like a few others that arrived when Delray was just another South Florida wide spot in the road, Vince jumped in with both feet, helping where he saw a need or whenever he was asked.  He never sought the spotlight, content to be a small business owner helping others wherever he could. If there were an illustrative local dictionary, Vince Canning’s photo would be under the word ‘volunteer.’ ”

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