Thursday, June 20, 2024

Who’s Going to Run the Crest & More on Delray’s American Legion Post

There’s no telling when all of the Crest Theater will reopen in Delray Beach. At a 3 p.m. special meeting today, though, the city commission may decide who will open part of that key piece of Old School Square.

Five entities and one city resident have submitted letters of interest in operating the theater’s renovated classrooms and kitchen, which is large enough to teach culinary classes. The city announced in late February that work on that part of the building had been completed.

The Crest Theater has been closed since early 2022. That happened after a previous commission ended the lease that Old School Square Center for the Arts had held since creating the complex out of historic but fenced-off buildings more than three decades ago.

Old School Square Center for the Arts is one of those five entities seeking the contract. Until late last year, it seemed that the group might get the return to Old School Square for which it has been hoping. Four of the five city commissioners had declared that they wanted the group to have a role in the complex with the Downtown Development Authority, which is operating the Cornell Museum and the Fieldhouse.

But in April, city staff rejected all the applications, without offering an explanation. The email, though, said the city “reserves the right” to solicit offers again.

A month earlier, the election and term limits took two of Old School Square Center for the Arts’ supporters off the dais. After the election, interest came again from a familiar place—the Boca Raton Museum of Art.

In 2022, City Manager Terrence Moore negotiated a contract with the museum to run the Cornell. It seemed a done deal until then-Commissioner Shirley Johnson dropped her support, killing the plan. Executive Director Irvin Lippman said the museum was backing away from Delray Beach.

As Lippman told me last week, however, the museum remained “very interested.” He called the Crest a “fabulous” facility, noting again that museum board members live in Delray, as do many of its members.

Commissioner Juli Casale, who favored the Cornell contract, returned to the commission in March. Lippman acknowledged that he sent an “unsolicited” letter to Moore after the March 9 election.

The museum needs space. It has outgrown its school west of downtown Boca Raton. Lippman said the board has not decided whether to expand on that site or look for more space elsewhere, perhaps at the Boca Raton Innovation Campus.

“It would be very much a Delray Beach operation,” Lippman said of the museum’s proposal. Previously, there was criticism of an outside group running Old School Square. As for money, he said the operation would be “self-sustaining.”

Patty Jones chairs the Old School Square Center for the Arts board. Jones told me that she will make the group’s presentation and cite its experience in running a venue that would not exist without the group.

Jones was surprised and skeptical when the city rejected all the first offers. My sense is they believe the fix is in for the museum. Moore said the first solicitation had been to “ascertain the marketplace,” and that at its May 7 meeting the commission “solidified” its wish to hear from all bidders.

As for the rest of the Crest, including the stage, city officials estimate that renovation work at $5 million. The city tried unsuccessfully to get $2.5 million for it in the state budget.

I’ll have more after the meeting.

Delray looks to fill DDA board vacancy—again

delray

At today’s regular meeting, the city commission will try again to fill a vacancy on the Downtown Development Authority board.

The previous choice, Damara Cohn, resigned because of an ineligible address, the same problem that led the commission to remove Rick Burgess. Three people have applied this time. One, Realtor Robert Dockerty, applied previously. Another is Al Costilo, owner of Big Al’s Steaks. I’m told that he is a supporter of DDA Executive Director Laura Simon. Her performance has been the subject of debate about the agency.

The third applicant is lawyer Daniel Rose. He represented Burgess at his hearing and is Burgess’ attorney in a lawsuit challenging Burgess’ removal. I’d say that his chances are slim.

EJS Project withdraws bid to take over Delray’s American Legion Post property

Former American Legion Post 188 building in Delray Beach

What appeared to be a perfect solution for resolving a Delray Beach lawsuit has collapsed.

That lawsuit comes from members of the Sherman Williams American Legion Post, which Black veterans founded after World War II. The post alleges that the city wrongly evicted it from a city-owned building. The city won at trial, but the post is trying to appeal.

The promising solution was that the EJS Project, one of Delray Beach’s most successful non-profits, would get the property from the city. EJS would renovate the building and use it to expand the group’s programs for at-risk youth. EJS also would allow the Post to hold meetings there.

Today’s regular city commission agenda had included an item to review the agreement between EJS and the city. On Friday, though, EJS notified the city that it was withdrawing.

On Monday, EJS Project Founder and CEO Emanuel “Dupree” Jackson declined to discuss specific reasons for the withdrawal. He said only that the decision is permanent. The city commission had supported EJS’s attempt to get a $250,000 allocation in the state budget toward its programs, all of which are free. Jackson said the money is in the budget, which has not gone to Gov. DeSantis.

Many of the post’s supporters have criticized the city, but the facts and the law have been on the city’s side. Indeed, an April 3 order from the 4th District Court of Appeal casts doubt on whether the post’s attorney even made the proper filing to challenge the trial court ruling.

Population figures for Boca and Delray

Based on new, 2023 Census estimates, Boca Raton’s population remains just under 100,000. The current count is 99,974. For Delray Beach, the estimate is 67,536.

West Palmetto Park Road slated for completion by summer

Construction on Palmetto Park Road bridge

Farcical is one way to describe the much-delayed rebuild of a bridge on West Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton.

Though city officials regularly hear complaints about the project, over the El Rio Canal, the city isn’t doing the work. It’s a county road and a county project.

When the work began in August 2021, county officials said completion would take a year. According to the county, unforeseen problems have arisen continually. Meanwhile, the normal four-lane road—one of the main entrances to Boca Raton—is down to two lanes just west of downtown.

County Commissioner Marci Woodward represents Boca Raton. In February, her newsletter said the bridge would be complete by “spring.” But her April newsletter said the bridge would be only “substantially complete” by “summer.” Given the last two years, “summer” could mean October.

I called Woodward’s office Monday to see if she had a more detailed explanation for the delay and a better fix on when the work might be done. An aide said she would text my request to Woodward. I have not heard back.

Goal setting in Boca

Delray Beach confined its annual goal-setting meeting to one day. This week, Boca Raton will take its usual three days.

The sessions will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday in the city complex at 6500 N. Congress Ave. Members of the public can comment each day from 9:15 to 9:45 a.m. Comments are limited to two minutes.

City council members, top administrators and department heads attend the meetings. Typically, the session begins with a review of what’s happening in those departments. Discussion then moves to priorities for the coming year.

Recently, council members have tried to reduce the list of priorities, to make the best of the staff’s time. Staff will update council members about progress on the priorities from last year, which included economic development and mobility.

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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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