Friday, July 12, 2024

Designs for The Center for Arts & Innovation Await City Approval

In October, Boca Raton must approve or reject the conceptual plan for a proposed arts center in Mizner Park. With that in mind, The Center for Arts & Innovation (TCAI) is addressing questions from the city about changes to its plan.

In a May 20 letter to TCAI CEO Andrea Virgin, Deputy City Manager Christina Gibson noted that the staff must recommend to the city council “approval or disapproval” of what are called the Landlord Plans. The council has approved a lease with TCAI of city land for the project. “At this time,” Gibson said, “we are not able to provide written approval” because “so much has changed” from the original plan.

In an interview Tuesday, City Manager George Brown listed some of the more notable changes: underground parking would replace a proposed garage; the amphitheater, which TCAI would renovate and make part of the center, would face west, not south as it does now; there is no mention of the small “jewel box” theater that was in the original plan.

“The design,” Brown said, “has evolved significantly.” The changes are “not unexpected, just unexplained. We are not saying no. We just need to understand.”

I spoke Wednesday with Virgin. Coincidentally, she was on her way to New York to meet with the design team. Virgin called Gibson’s letter “totally expected” and thanked the staff for “looking at as many things as possible early and often.”

TCAI CEO Andrea Virgin

Virgin said the original concept predated the hiring in late 2023 of architect Renzo Piano. He revealed his design in April. TCAI now must satisfy the city, Virgin said, that “this is the same kind of project on the same scale” as when the city approved the pre-construction development agreement. Site plan approval would come later.

Of the parking, Virgin said Piano believes that the “first layer” of such projects should be “dedicated to the public.” That couldn’t happen if the first layer were a garage. In addition, Virgin said, a rectangular garage would not be “efficient.” The vacant site to be leased is on the northeast corner of Mizner Park—between the amphitheater and the Boca Raton Museum of Art—and on the curve of Mizner Boulevard.

Underground parking on that site is “more feasible” than elsewhere, Virgin said, because the water table is between 8 feet and 12 feet. TCAI consultants also are working with Brookfield Properties, which owns Mizner Park, on how the project would work with the existing garages to the south.

The view from The Belvedere, a 100-person space that will have 360-degree views. (Courtesy RPBW)

The reconfigured amphitheater, Virgin said, would create an indoor-outdoor venue like the famed Tanglewood in Massachusetts. When the weather cooperated, the center could accommodate a crowd of 5,000, with 3,500 outside.

For that to happen, the amphitheater would have to face west. Virgin said TCAI has hired Threshold Acoustics, a Chicago-based sound engineering firm. Virgin said the goal is to make the sound “the same or better” as it is now for residents west and east of the amphitheater. Facing west also would allow “better access” to the museum, which is to the west.

Virgin is correct that the city raised many issues. The staff comments cover 16 pages, down to such details as how TCAI would preserve markers that honor donors to the amphitheater. The staff lists every marker.

A rendering of a concert in the amphitheater next to The Piazza. (Courtesy RPBW)

The city had 30 days to respond after TCAI submitted its new plans. Though TCAI isn’t under the same deadline, Virgin said the group will act promptly. She expects that the group will send its response “next week” with an “updated narrative.”

Brown would like to update the council in August on the design changes. For that to happen, he said, the city would need responses from TCAI by mid-July. Virgin foresees no problem, anticipating “two or three” exchanges by October.

Virgin said, “We want to keep the process moving.” Brown noted that under the most drawn-out timetable, the facility wouldn’t open until 2032. TCAI’s website estimates groundbreaking in 2027 and an opening in 2029.

October is a big month for TCAI. The group must meet its second fundraising goal, having met the first last October. And the council must decide whether the Landlord Plan, in Brown’s words, “meets the original concept.” The council likely will base its decisions on the staff’s decision. Virgin said, “We want the staff to be excited about recommending it.”

Delray police chief to stay on for another two years

Delray Beach Police Chief Russ Mager, photo via City of Delray Beach

Delray Beach Police Chief Russ Mager will hold the job for another two years.

Mager had planned to leave this year, having entered the state retirement program that sets a mandatory departure date. There are two assistant chiefs, and Delray Beach has promoted from within the department even as city managers changed.

Moore, though, noted that the city has an interim fire chief, after Moore dismissed Keith Tomey in May for what he called “a pattern of willful, insubordinate behavior coupled with poor decision-making…” Given the vacancy, Moore said he wanted some stability in the city’s first responders.

Delray detective honored for swift arrest in murder case

Speaking of the police department, the city announced recently that Det. Michael Liberta has been honored by the First Responders Foundation for quickly making an arrest in the murder of a woman whose body had been chopped up and put into suitcases.

On July 21 of last year, the department got its first call about body parts in suitcases that had been dumped into the Intracoastal Waterway. Eleven days later, William Lowe was booked on first-degree murder charges for killing his wife, Aydil Barbosa Fontes. Lowe has pleaded not guilty.

Partisan school board races

The move toward making non-partisan elections more partisan in Florida continues.

Though school board candidates don’t list their party affiliations, Gov. Ron DeSantis has openly backed Republicans who agree with his agenda. In November, voters will decide whether to make school board elections partisan statewide. The measure needs 60% for approval.

Then last week, the Florida Supreme Court allowed judicial candidates to publicly state their ideology as long as they don’t declare their party affiliation. As critics pointed out, that is a distinction without a difference. Since judges who are elected the first time are three times more likely to draw judicial sanctions, this change will increase that trend by drawing more candidates who campaign on politics, not competence.

In Palm Beach County, there is only one contested judicial race this year—a county court seat. All the other court incumbents including 12 circuit judges, got new terms after drawing no opposition.

New construction in PBC tops $5 billion

I wrote recently about the increased property values in Boca Raton and Delray Beach, based on preliminary estimates for 2023. This week, the property appraiser’s office listed another significant number.

For the first time, new construction in Palm Beach County last year topped $5 billion. That surge explains why cities will have more revenue for next year’s budgets. To hit that number while interest rates remain comparatively high compared to three or four years ago is remarkable.

Happy Fourth of July

My next post will be July 9. Happy Fourth.

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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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