Friday, July 12, 2024

Will Delray City Staff Run Crest Theatre?

Delray Beach may not use the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to open part of Old School Square after all.

On the agenda for tonight’s city commission meeting is an amendment to the current budget for money to “fund the activation” of the Creative Arts School at the Crest Theatre, according to the staff memo. The amendment would allocate nearly $120,000 for salaries and “initial startup costs.”

Delray Beach City Manager Moore signaled his intent at the June 18 commission meeting. He took the unusual step of moving from the dais to the table where staff members make presentations. Moore presented three “internal options” for opening the renovated classrooms. All would cost approximately $140,000 a year.

Until then, it seemed that the DDA would add the arts classrooms to its portfolio that includes other parts of Old School Square—the Cornell Museum, the Fieldhouse and the amphitheater. Moore said DDA Executive Director Laura Simon had estimated that added annual cost at $100,000. The city pays the agency roughly $1 million a year for the other work.

In an interview, Moore said his proposal “is consistent” with commission sentiment three weeks ago. A staff option would “showcase our abilities.”

Actually, it’s been hard to find consistency with how the current commission has approached Old School Square.

Mayor Tom Carney and Commissioners Juli Casale and Thomas Markert have ruled out any role for Old School Square Center for the Arts. In August 2021, Casale was part of the majority that ended the group’s lease of land that the group turned from fenced-off buildings into a regional destination. Casale returned to the commission this year as part of a slate that included Markert and Carney. They are aligned with former Mayor Shelly Petrolia, another vote to end the lease.

Politics having eliminated the group with the best Old School Square track record, commission dithering drove off the next-best candidate—the Boca Raton Museum of Art. That left the DDA as the only external option, but Carney made clear that he didn’t want a long-term deal with the DDA for the classrooms.

Simon said previously that the DDA was well-suited to run the entire Old School Square campus. But Carney has said he wants to “transition” from the DDA to…something else. The DDA’s current contract has been renewed through 2029. Either side can opt out with six months’ notice.

Given commission dysfunction, the staff option has become perhaps the only viable option. Carney forced the issue by ignoring caution from City Attorney Lynn Gelin and declaring that he wants the classrooms open this summer. Gelin said timing the opening with the new budget year would work better.

Though his scenarios show slightly higher costs compared with the DDA’s estimate, Moore envisioned that the city could make the programs “self-sustaining.” That would align with the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s prediction. His three scenarios assume that the city covers all startup costs this year.

Not everyone warmed to the idea. Commissioners Angela Burns and Rob Long wanted Moore to speak with Arts Garage Director Marjorie Waldo; Arts Garage operates a gallery in its facility. Carney said “programming,” not arts instruction, is the group’s expertise.

A DDA representative said Simon had “no comment at this time” about the staff option. I’ll have more after the meeting.

Update on cost to open Crest Theatre

At today’s meeting, Moore also will update commissioners on the projected cost to reopen the Crest stage, which would allow programming to resume.

The city estimated the cost at $5 million in this year’s unsuccessful attempt to secure state money toward the project. Carney wondered if that number is outdated. As the lease allowed, Old School Square Center for the Arts took equipment that it had bought with donations. The theater has been dark since early 2022.

I’ll have more after the meeting.

A question of Benson’s eligibility for DDA board seat

Speaking of the DDA, there is nothing on the agenda about the eligibility of Mavis Benson to serve on the agency’s board.

The commission chose Benson last month to fill the last two years of Rick Burgess’ term. Commissioners removed him in April for lying on his application about having a valid business address within the district. A judge just dismissed Burgess’ lawsuit seeking reinstatement.

But in an email to the commission and Gelin, Burgess claimed that Benson also does not have a valid address and thus does not qualify. Gelin agreed.

Long, who cast the only vote against removing Burgess, said he plans to raise the issue of Benson’s qualifications at today’s meeting. The next DDA board meeting will take place Wednesday.

Moore proposes property tax cut in Delray

Terrence Moore, photo courtesy of the City of Delray Beach

Moore is proposing another slight decrease in Delray Beach’s property tax rate even as he proposes a slight increase in the operating budget.

The presentation for today’s budget workshop meeting shows a combined rate of roughly $6.30 per $1,000 of assessed value. That includes operating expenses and debt service. The current rate is about $6.50. For a primary home assessed at $400,000, the new bill would be about $2,500.

Moore can make this proposal because Delray Beach’s tax roll increased last year by nearly $2 billion from 2022. Despite the rate cut, most property owners would pay more because of those higher values.

The proposed general fund budget, which finances most basic services except water and sewer, would be $191.5 million, an increase of one percent. The city lost $3.2 million from last year and from here on when Highland Beach opted out of its contract for fire-rescue services. Parking revenue dropped by $2.1 million, and money from the American Rescue Plan has expired. Delray Beach got $2 million last year.

As in previous years, the budget uses money from reserves. Moore proposes taking $8.3 million, or $2 million less than the current year, which expires Sept. 30. The city still would have $38.3 million in reserves, at the high end of what municipal finance experts recommend.

Police and fire make up the largest share of the budget, at a combined $100 million. The parks department is next, at $12.2 million. Among the added expenses are $1.5 million for contributions to the police and fire pension funds. Expect questions from commissioners about that. Also, contracts for unions that represent police officers and non-public safety employees expire this year. Moore said any effect of new contracts on the budget is “to be determined.”

A town hall meeting on the budget is scheduled for July 25. A second commission workshop will take place next month. Then the commission will hold two hearings in September.

Hearing scheduled for second “Delray Defacer” case

Dylan Brewer, photo courtesy of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office

A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in the case of Dylan Reese Brewer. He faces one felony charge and one misdemeanor charge for allegedly defacing Delray Beach’s LGBTQ Pride streetscape last February.

Delray pulls off last-minute Fourth of July firework display

week ahead
Fireworks over Delray Beach

Delray Beach came close to not having a Fourth of July fireworks show.

The city display usually comes from a barge just offshore from the beach. About two weeks before the holiday, though, the company said the barge would not be available because it was needed for Hurricane Alberto relief work along the Gulf of Mexico. “That is their bread and butter,” Moore said. “We are just the icing, so to speak.”

Without the barge, city officials had three options. They could move the display to the public golf course or Old School Square. But trees would obstruct views in both locations, which were separate from the city’s other holiday events. That left the beach as the least-bad option.

Because of the site, the city had to obtain new permits and could not use high-altitude pyrotechnics. The display could last only about 10 minutes, or roughly half the usual time. Still, the city pulled off the display.

Long said he has received many emailed complaints. At tonight’s meeting, he plans to praise city staff for their last-minute efforts to salvage the show. As for next year, Moore said, “We are evaluating all alternatives.”

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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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