The expectation for Monday was a key milestone towards a performing arts center in Mizner Park.
Now the deal is in serious doubt.
Four months ago, it appeared that Boca Raton and The Center for Arts & Innovation (TCA&I) had resolved all remaining issues with the group’s proposed lease of land next to the Mizner Park Amphitheater. The city scheduled two special meetings for Monday to formalize the deal.
Then Deputy City Manager George Brown told city council members that the staff opposed TCA&I’s terms for seeking “actual damages” if the city defaulted on the lease. This issue apparently emerged during final discussions between the city’s legal team and attorneys for TCA&I.
City Attorney Diana Frieser said there would be “no limit” to the city’s legal exposure and added that she could not support such language. After which Ele Zachariades, who represents TCA&I, advised that council approval of the staff’s position would be “a deal-breaker.”
Hold the champagne.
Under the proposal, TCA&I would renovate the amphitheater and combine it with an arts venue on the vacant site to the east. The group also would operate the amphitheater, with the city getting 24 days to stage its own events.
Andrea Virgin is TCI&A’s president. She has led the five-year effort towards creation of the center. Virgin said one example of a breach that could cause damages would be the city holding an event with a sponsor in competition with a donor to the center. Think Coke and Pepsi.
But Virgin is thinking much more ominously, and she cites a nearby example. “What if the city were to go rogue and try to kick us out?” That happened last year in Delray Beach to Old School Square for the Arts.
Virgin also imagined a scenario in which the city committed many small breaches, amounting to “death by a thousand cuts.” TCA&I, Virgin said, is speaking with eight-figure donors with sophisticated legal teams. Such people will not contribute, Virgin said, without adequate protection for their investment. The city’s demand is “unreasonable.”
Mayor Scott Singer raised another issue. Under the lease, TCA&I must meet fundraising goals before construction begins. Those goals are based on a percentage of costs.
Singer noted that pandemic-related supply chain and labor issues have pushed up building costs. I wondered if the formula could leave TCA&I short, causing the group to ask the city for money—which the council has declined to give—or building a smaller project.
After several attempts to negotiate the damages issue, the council postponed the issue to Sept. 28. Andy Thomson said staff had alerted the council about the dispute, but because of procurement rules council members could not discuss the issue before Monday’s meeting.
Still, what happened came as a surprise. Andrea O’Rourke, the project’s most vocal supporter on the council, said, “I had every expectation that we would be able to get this done.”
When we spoke Wednesday, a clearly angry Virgin said two things must happen to complete the deal:
“We need to compromise on the damages.” The legal teams will talk. “I am not going to have a loose noose around my neck, wondering when the city is going to pull it taut.”
Also, referring to Singer’s comments, “We have to stop moving the goalposts.” Singer was “asking questions at the 11th hour” that he could have asked “months ago.” Because the fundraising goals are percentages, Virgin said, TCA&I will raise more if costs dictate. She noted that the group must present a credible cost estimate and thus could not lowball the city.
Virgin said TCA&I has raised $14 million and expects another $25 million once the city approves the lease. The group has another $3.5 million in “working capital,” Virgin said, and is “fully funded for the next two years of work.” TCA&I has spent nearly $2 million to reach this point.
Monday’s comments, Virgin said, forced her to needlessly reassure donors. Responding to council members’ comments that they are protecting the city’s interest, Virgin said that if the deal falls through, “Think of all the hotels that won’t have heads in beds and the restaurants that won’t have customers and the Brightline visits that won’t happen and the property values that won’t increase. Is that in the city’s interest?
CRA approves hotel at Royal Palm Place
Earlier on Monday, the city council—acting as the community redevelopment agency—approved an extended-stay hotel for a portion of Royal Palm Place.
The 144-room facility will be on the roughly one-acre site bounded by Federal Highway, Southeast Second and Third Street and Southeast First Avenue. James Batmasian, who owns the site, will then incorporate the hotel into Royal Palm Place, which he also owns.
Compared to previous proposals for downtown hotels Hyatt Place and the Mandarin Oriental, there was relatively little discussion. Councilwoman Monica Mayotte asked for conditions to ensure that the hotel would not be converted to an apartment or condo. Other conditions related to design and walkability. By following downtown architectural guidelines, the hotel can be 160 feet tall.
Overall, though, council members saw the hotel as complementary. It might compete with nearby apartment complexes where people rent for a year so they can stay for a few months during the winter.
“I think it will be a lovely addition to downtown,” Thomson said. Said O’Rourke, “I hope it brings something special.”
Results for Tuesday’s primaries
Tuesday’s primary narrowed the field for November’s general election.
Joe Budd is the Republican nominee for US House District 23, which includes Boca Raton. Ted Deutch is retiring to become executive director of the American Jewish Committee. Budd defeated six challengers.
The five-way GOP race for US House District 22, which includes Delray Beach, will likely go to a recount.
Dan Franzese and Deborah Adeimy finished one-two. As of Wednesday afternoon, they were separated by 0.38 percent. Anything less than 0.5 percent goes to a machine recount. If the margin then is 0.25 percent or less, a hand recount will follow. The winner will face incumbent Lois Frankel.
Highland Beach Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman won the Republican nomination for Florida House District 91, which includes Boca Raton. Thomson is the Democratic candidate. Steve Byers became the GOP nominee for Florida Senate District, which includes Boca Raton and Delray Beach. He goes against incumbent Lori Berman.
Yvonne Odom recognized by Delray
Her granddaughter might be on the cover of ESPN Magazine—Coco Gauff: The New Look of Greatness—but Yvonne Odom was a legend in Delray Beach decades ago.
In 1961, she joined Seacrest High School, now Atlantic High. As City Commissioner Ryan Boylston pointed out at the Aug. 9 meeting, doing so meant that Odom gave up the many extracurricular activities she had lined up at Carver, which then was the city’s high school for Black students.
Boylston proposed a proclamation that would name the first day of school in Delray Beach after Odom. Many residents have requested it, Boylston said. Although her granddaughter plays on one of the world’s biggest sports stages, the pressure is nothing like what Odom faced 61 years ago.
Charges reduced in Boca Bash case
I wrote Tuesday about Cole Preston Goldberg. He had been charged with attempted first-degree murder related to an incident at this year’s Boca Bash in April.
On Wednesday, prosecutors reduced those charges. Goldberg now faces one felony count of domestic battery by strangulation and one misdemeanor battery count. Goldberg has pleaded not guilty. A calendar call is set for Jan. 4.