Sunday, November 27, 2022

Delray Responds to Old School Square Lawsuit, CP Group Adds Partner & More

Delray Beach wants Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge John Kastrenakes to dismiss Old School Square for the Arts’ lawsuit against the city.

The city’s attorney calls the litigation a “shotgun pleading.” Courts have defined such lawsuits as being overly repetitive and vague. As the analogy suggests, a shotgun pleading aims everything possible at a defendant, hoping that something will hit the target.

As the city states, the lawsuit contains 206 allegations. Kastrenakes, the city argues, should order Old School Square for the Arts to make a more detailed statement about which allegations relate to which count. The city calls many of the counts “repetitive and irrelevant.”

The lawsuit contains 15 civil counts. Nine are against the city. Some of the others name Mayor Shelly Petrolia and city commissioners Juli Casale and Shirley Johnson. They voted in August to terminate Old School Square for the Arts’ lease of buildings that make up Old School Square. The lease has been in effect since 1989.

In addition, the lawsuit names City Attorney Lynn Gelin, Joy Howell and Shannon Eadon. Howell chaired the Old School Square board for three months this year before resigning in April. Eadon was Old School Square’s executive director before resigning a year ago.

The lawsuit alleges a conspiracy to replace Old School Square for the Arts with a group more aligned with the politics of the commission majority. Old School Square for the Arts claims that Howell and Eadon were involved. Howell and Eadon have not filed their responses.

There was no conspiracy, the city argues, because Old School Square has not supplied evidence of any “agreement to commit an unlawful act.” As a result, any claim of a conspiracy is “speculative.”

delray

Though this is a civil action, the city’s response makes several references to “unlawful.” Example: There was “nothing unlawful about terminating the lease.”

Further, no claim against commission members is valid, the city argues, because they have immunity as elected officials. The motion calls it “undisputed,” based on Old School Square’s lawsuit, that the defendants acted “within their scope of authority.”

The city also rejects the allegation that Gelin acted improperly by ordering the police department in October to inspect vehicles leaving Old School Square. Gelin has said that she worried about Old School Square for the Arts taking equipment.

The group says it owns all equipment within the buildings. Gelin disagreed, saying that the group had broken the lease and the property had reverted to the city. That is one of many disagreements between Delray Beach and Old School Square for the Arts.

Finally, the city rejects the allegation of “tortious interference” in Old School Square’s bookings and other business relationships. One was with Margaret Blume, who donated money for renovations inside Crest Theater.

The city claims that Old School Square for the Arts didn’t get a permit for the work. The group says it did, based on the lease. That’s another disagreement. The work remains unfinished.

Casale is using a different lawyer than Petrolia, Johnson and Gelin. In her motion, Casale says she acted within her official capacity and described the controversy as “a landlord/tenant dispute.” Her motion calls the litigation a “lengthy, rambling complaint.”

The defense motions do not directly address the central allegation: behind-the-scenes collusion that led to termination of the lease with no public notice. Casale wants Kastrenakes to delay any discovery. Old School Square has filed lengthy requests for documents and communications among the defendants.

Old School Square for the Arts has filed a motion seeking early mediation. Kastrenakes has not set any hearings in the case. The eviction takes effect Feb. 9.

CP Group has new partner in BRIC

Boca Raton Innovation Campus

CP Group just got a major infusion of capital for the Boca Raton Innovation Campus, or BRIC.

The new partner in the joint venture is DRA Advisors, a New York-based real estate investment company with $11.2 billion in assets under management. Though news reports said DRA had bought the 123-acre, 1.7 million-square-foot complex where IBM developed the personal computer, CP Group Managing Partner Angelo Bianco called the transaction a “recapitalization,” not a sale.

CP Group and its partners bought BRIC in 2018 for $179 million. The deal with DRA set the value at $320 million, an eye-popping figure. Bianco said DRA bought out the former partners. CP Group, Bianco said, remains the “operating partner.”

In that role, CP Group has asked the city to consider new zoning for the property that would allow residential development and other major improvements. CP Group is completing the first phase of renovations to the site. Bianco said Wednesday that the goal is create something “special on a national scale.”

New Boca golf/tennis facility coming along

boca country club
Boca Golf & Racquet Club, photo courtesy of the City of Boca Raton

At this point, the new Boca Raton Golf & Racquet Club still offers only golf. But there’s progress.

It’s been roughly a month since play began on the course that the owners of The Boca Raton donated to the city. Assistant City Manager Chrissy Gibson said rounds were limited at first because not all the carts worked properly. “We hope,” Gibson said, “that all of them will be up and running this month.”

Though the city “has had some good feedback” from golfers, Gibson said, the course is harder than Boca Municipal. So there’s talk of widening the fairways, though that work may not happen before the summer.

Other landscaping and upgrades continue. Work delayed the opening of the driving range. Other projects will improve views and provide buffers between the course and neighboring homes.

BRGRC landscaping, photo courtesy of Chrissy Gibson

Amenities are in the works. The city had to apply for a liquor license because the old one didn’t come with the donation. The city had hoped to have a food truck at the course. That didn’t work out, Gibson said, because “so few people were playing.”

Next spring, the clubhouse will get a new roof. Gibson said there probably will be “fewer tennis courts” because the city wants the club to have pickleball courts to meet the ever-increasing demand. Boca Raton also has its main tennis center downtown.

“We think (the club) will be really special” when the work is done, Gibson said. “We’re asking for patience.”

Delray (finally) gets FEMA money for Irma

It’s been more than four years since Hurricane Irma brushed this area on its path toward the Keys and the Southwest coast. Only last week, however, did Delray Beach get reimbursement from Washington.

The city will get back roughly $1.4 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That will cover expenses for debris cleanup and employee overtime. FEMA’s accounting practices are famously demanding, especially for removing downed limbs and trees.

A news release from the office of U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, whose district includes the city, said some money also will cover generator purchases. Delray Beach ran so short that the city came close to having sewage in the streets. In addition, the emergency operations center leaked. A storm-proof facility likely will be on the list of project next year if Delray Beach seeks a bond program.

Delray formally expands business district

The Delray Beach City Commission voted unanimously to expand the Central Business District to 40 acres near the Osceola Park neighborhood.

With the change, the city hopes to encourage investment but not overwhelm the area. What the city identifies as a sub-district will be called South Pairs. Commissioners praised Development Services Director Anthea Gianniotes for an effort that took almost three years. Former City Commissioner Jim Chard, who lives in the area, told me, “It will help that corridor go from blight to economically viable and well-designed.”

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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