Storm delays meetings; project leader confident venue will get final OK
By Mary Hladky
A blitz of negotiations has culminated in a compromise that could clear the way for an ambitious performing arts complex to be built at Mizner Park, but Hurricane Ian derailed a scheduled Sept. 28 City Council vote on the deal.
Yet with city staff recommending approval and council members and cultural arts groups eager for the Center for Arts and Innovation to be built, it seems likely that the council will approve it during rescheduled meetings Oct. 12.
Related story: Becoming a home for local arts groups is center’s goal
Two council members asked center officials additional questions recently, but it was not immediately clear whether they posed new hurdles.
In an email, center President Andrea Virgin said her team would answer those questions and they “feel confident that on Oct. 12 we should be able to proceed forward.”
The City Council must approve a pre-construction and development agreement that includes specifics on the center’s and city’s obligations as well as the lease of city-owned land at Mizner Park to the center for 74 years, with two 10-year renewals for a total of 94 years.
Champagne corks were expected to fly on Aug. 22 when the council was first scheduled to cast its vote, but the optimism proved premature when new obstacles emerged.
Center officials wanted the city to be liable for actual damages if the city was found to be in default of agreements the two parties had reached. Without that, no deal was possible, they said.
This demand arose out of concerns that a future City Council might terminate the lease, as happened in Delray Beach last year when its City Commission ended the lease for Old School Square.
Donors, who will finance the construction of the center, wanted legal assurances that would safeguard their investments in the project.
But Boca Raton officials refused, saying that would expose the city to great liability.
Under the compromise, if the city seeks to end the development agreement or lease, it will provide center officials with a 30-day notice, giving them time to go to court to seek a preliminary injunction that would halt the action. The city would not object to a request for an expedited court hearing.
Mayor Scott Singer surprised center officials in August by raising two other matters that had not come up during negotiations. He wanted a new construction cost estimate that took into account inflation and a reduction in the amount of time it would take to complete the project.
Center for Arts and Innovation backers balked at providing new cost figures, saying they would be meaningless since prices for construction materials are changing so rapidly. They also were beside the point since center officials have promised to foot the entire cost no matter what it is.
Even so, they provided a cost update. They are now estimating the project cost is $115.4 million. The 30% increase over their initial estimate is in line with construction cost hikes nationally.
They had no objection to shortening the building timeline since their intent always has been to open the center’s doors as soon as possible. The new maximum amount of time the project will take is 10.5 years, down from 13 years.
Approval of the deal is critical for Virgin, who has said fundraising cannot start in earnest until donors are assured that the project can be built.
Her group already has raised $13 million and has pledges for $25 million more once the deal is done.
If the Center for Arts and Innovation fails to meet a schedule for raising money, or if it can’t raise the entire cost of the project, center officials or the city can terminate the deal.
The center’s board has proposed a complex that features the latest in theater design and innovation with the intention of reinvigorating Mizner Park and fulfilling its original mission to be the city’s cultural hub.
As planned, the complex will accommodate 6,000 people in all its venues. They will include a complete renovation of the run-down amphitheater and construction of a new performing arts center, jewel box theater, rooftop terrace, outdoor performing arts spaces and a garage.
Steve Plunkett contributed to this story.