This week begins Delray Beach’s attempt to replace Artists Alley with Arts Warehouse.
Friday is the soft opening—the official opening will take place next month—for the building the community redevelopment agency bought for $1.1 million in 2010 with the idea of making it an arts incubator. At one point, it might have served to complement Artists Alley just to the north. Artists had moved into what had been auto body shops, drawn by cheap rents.
In June 2015, however, a pair of Boca Raton lawyers bought the three buildings that made up Artists Alley, outbidding the CRA by $1 million. The new owners raised rents, causing some of the artists to leave. Despite predictions that they wanted to redevelop the properties, the new owners have submitted no plans.
So much anticipation surrounds Arts Warehouse. The CRA spent about $2.3 million renovating the 15,000-square-foot building, and over the summer the agency hired Jill Brown as director of Arts Warehouse. Brown held similar positions in North Carolina. Her most recent job involved starting an arts center in the growing town of Leland, near Wilmington. Leland’s population has risen from about 5,000 in 2010 to almost 20,000.
Still, Delray Beach is more than three times larger, with an arts presence that already includes Old School Square and Arts Garage. Brown saw an opportunity to create not just another arts center but a place that seeks to help artists “be their own business owners.”
Just as actors aren’t really actors until they get a role, artists aren’t really artists until they sell something. Brown said the warehouse wants to attract those who are good at art but less good at marketing. Among other things, they will learn how to incorporate themselves and to present their work.
“I believe in community art,” Brown said. “Everyone is recognizing the growing importance of the arts, and I think art can be like other startups.” She compares Arts Warehouse to buildings that bring together young tech entrepreneurs who exchange ideas.
Brown said “a scoring rubric” will determine who gets to use the studios and their subsidized rent of $2 per square foot. A seven-member panel—Brown, her assistant, Grace Gdaniec, and five others—will rate each applicant. Some may be overqualified, having established themselves at another location. Others may have talent but want to pursue art as more of a hobby than a vocation.
The warehouse will hold a maximum of 26 artists, who will have 24/7 access to the warehouse. Tenants can’t sublease their space or teach out of it. The leases are for three to four years. “These people,” Brown said, “can’t stay here forever.” With a nearly $3.5 million public investment, tenants must move up or out.
Brown said the warehouse also would offer exhibits, classes and special events. That will start with Friday’s event, which coincides with the regular First Friday when artists open their galleries. “We want to activate this as much as possible.” She has met with representatives of Old School Square and Arts Garage. “We all have our own niche. We’re all very complementary.”
Only the warehouse, however, exists primarily to make art more a part of Delray Beach’s economy, not just an addition to the Atlantic Avenue/Pineapple Grove scene. When I asked where Brown would like to see the Arts Warehouse in a year, she said, “The studio fully occupied, a lineup of exhibitions—maybe more cutting edge—and a full set of programs and workshops.”
The clock starts ticking on Friday.
Ethics committee update
I wrote last week that the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics would notify Boca Raton of its response to the city council’s letter seeking a review of the advisory opinion on Mayor Susan Haynie concerning votes involving James and Marta Batmasian.
As of Monday, according to a spokeswoman, the city had not received a formal response. The commission, though, has made a public records request for all emails between the city’s legal department and the commission in 2013 that relate to the opinion.
Review of Midtown coming up
Based on the discussion at Monday’s workshop meeting, the Boca Raton City Council in two weeks will start its review of three proposed changes for Midtown.
The proposals have been before the council twice in workshop meetings. At its last meeting, the planning and zoning board recommended approval of the two ordinances and a rezoning, but with changes to the staff proposals. On this schedule, the council could make a final decision on Midtown in late January.
Wildflower site opens as park
Boca Raton opened Wildflower Park on Monday, even though there’s still debate over what the park will look like.
The city bought the roughly 2-acre site in 2009, with the idea of leasing it for a restaurant that would feature a public walkway along the Intracoastal Waterway. Last year, however, voters approved an ordinance that restricts the city’s public waterfront to four public uses that would seem to exclude a restaurant.
As things stand, the city plans to make Wildflower the passive park that supporters of the ordinance claimed to want. City Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke, however, has expressed interest in combining Wildflower with Silver Palm Park to the south and possibly adding dining and retail. The city’s waterfront consultant is scheduled to give the council another update soon.
For now, Wildflower Park will be open from dawn to dusk. It also will be open on the evening of Dec. 16 as a place from which to watch the annual boat parade.
At its Monday meeting as the community redevelopment agency, the Boca Raton City Council held two typically meandering discussions.
One was about the lack of downtown parking at peak times. A consultant discussed the idea of using private parking to augment the public supply. City Manager Leif Ahnell reminded council members that the city has found little interest from private owners in sharing their space because of liability worries and tenant restrictions.
From there, talk veered back to the idea of a new garage, either traditional or mechanical, using lifts and requiring less space. Scott Singer said again that he would support a garage west of Dixie Highway as part of a new government campus. As before, he didn’t get majority support. So the consultant will try to a better fix on where the city needs more downtown parking. Again.
The other discussion concerned a connector to replace the Downtowner. Yet another new carrier with a business model based on advertising, not fares, has started offering services. The owners hinted strongly on Monday that they would love for the city to be one of those advertisers. The council continued to show no interest.
Robert Weinroth again proposed putting out a proposal for a company. He again didn’t get majority support. When it comes to a downtown connector, hope remains the council’s plan.
City Council agenda
Nothing on the agenda for tonight’s Boca Raton City Council regular meeting should draw a chamber filled with critics, but there are some notable items:
- Before the council is a proposed rezoning for nearly two acres on Yamato Road just west of Boca Raton Boulevard. The change would allow multi-family housing on land now zoned for single-family homes. Yamato Villas PUD would build 20 townhomes and three houses.
At every hearing, all those who live south and east of the area have spoken against the change. They contend that apartments would attract college students and otherwise disrupt what they say has been a stable neighborhood.
Yet the staff recommends approval, saying that multi-family would work better than allowing single-family homes with driveways that would back onto Yamato Road. The planning and zoning board recommended that the council approve the changes.
Still, we hear often that the council should be “resident friendly.” Monica Mayotte is using that catch phrase as part of her campaign against Councilman Robert Weinroth. No residents have spoken in favor of Yamato Villas PUD. Would a vote for the developer be “resident friendly?”
- The council will introduce two ordinances. One would codify changes to how elected and appointed officials seek advisory ethics opinions. That grew out of the Haynie-Batmasian controversy. The other would require generators at all adult congregate living facilities. That grew out of the deaths at a Hollywood nursing home after Hurricane Irma. Those deaths have been ruled homicides.
- The council will approve $200,000 to market the Festival of the Arts and agree not to bill organizers for services such as security and cleanup.
- The council will approve another tripleheader of meetings, this time on Jan. 8. That’s a Monday. Most weeks, the council meets as the community redevelopment agency and for its workshop meeting on Mondays and then holds the regular meeting on Tuesday. That week, however, Tuesday conflicts with Palm Beach County Days during the legislative session. Council members want to attend, especially since the House is preparing another attack on home rule. To let the council members go, the regular meeting will shift to 6 p.m. on Monday.
According to a city spokeswoman, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to hear the appeal from two residents who challenged Boca Raton’s approval in 2015 of Chabad East Boca.
The arguments will take place the week of Jan. 29. Gerald Gagliardi and Katie MacDougal—a regular on BocaWatch—contend that the city unconstitutionally aided Jewish residents at the expense of Christians. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra dismissed the plaintiffs’ first lawsuit and their amended complaint.
Since a separate lawsuit in state court ended with a victory for others who opposed the chabad’s plan to build on Palmetto Park Road near the beach—and had the effect of killing the project—you might wonder why these plaintiffs persist in federal court. Most likely, they hope to prevent the chabad from building anything in the area. The plaintiffs live near the proposed site.
What’s the MPO?
Residents of Delray Beach and especially Boca Raton have heard regularly about the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization, usually by the acronym MPO. Many residents, though, still may not know what the agency does.
The mission is to set transportation priorities for Palm Beach County and allocate federal and state money to finance them. The projects range from the new Interstate 95 interchange at Spanish River Boulevard to improvements along Palmetto Park and Glades Road and to a plan for making U.S. 1—Federal Highway—more pedestrian-friendly throughout the county.
To end that confusion, the agency soon will change its name to the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency. Perhaps the new acronym will be TPA. Residents may note the agency’s most recent contribution when they don’t hear train whistles from trains on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The MPO/TPA provided money for safety improvements that will create a “quiet zone” when the Brightline passenger trains start running.
I originally stated that rents for artists would last one to two years. Director Jill Brown said the rents can last up to three or four years. I also quoted Brown as saying, “These people can’t stay here forever.” Her preferred sentiment is, “This is an incubator, and the artists will max out after three or four years.”