By Mary Hladky

The City Council and a cultural arts organization have cleared a major hurdle to finalizing a deal that would allow a $130 million performing arts complex to be built on city-owned land in Mizner Park.
Having resolved sticking points in the deal, the city and Boca Raton Arts District Exploratory Corp. are expected to finalize development and land lease agreements in May, with the project going before the Planning and Zoning Board in June and the City Council for final approval in August.
The city and BRADEC have been negotiating for nearly one year and have reached agreement on a host of matters. But they remained at loggerheads on two key points, and city staff asked City Council members to make the call at their April 11 workshop meeting.
Council members acted surprisingly quickly and with little debate, signaling once again their strong support for a state-of-the-art cultural complex with a completely revamped amphitheater.
“I will be happy to see Mizner Park what it was imagined to be at the beginning,” Deputy Mayor Andrea O’Rourke said, referring to never-realized 30-year-old plans to make Mizner Park the city’s cultural center.
The most critical point of disagreement was the length of the lease of 3.6 city acres. BRADEC wanted a 99-year lease term, but dialed that back slightly during negotiations to 74 years with two 10-year renewals. The city wanted a 30-year lease with two 10-year renewals.
Brett Egan, president of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management and a BRADEC consultant, said a lengthy lease was crucial to attracting donors who will finance the project.
Many other cultural centers in the country have 99-year leases, as does the Boca Raton Museum of Art, which also leases city land in Mizner Park, he said.
“Without that leverage, we feel the project would be laughed out of the room,” Egan said.
To back that up, the BRADEC team submitted a letter from supporter and philanthropist Richard Schmidt, who wrote that a 50-year total lease term is insufficient to attract financial support.
“Those who are willing to invest hard-earned capital for community projects will require a commitment well beyond 50 years, as will any financial institutions which may be required for interim financing,” he wrote.
Mayor Scott Singer was the only council member supporting staff’s insistence on a 50-year lease.
“I have a lot of heartburn with the concept of a 99-year lease,” he said. A shorter lease would give future city councils more flexibility if it is needed and would give the city greater control, he said.
But with four other council members saying they had no problem with a longer lease that conforms with lease terms elsewhere in the country, the debate was over.
BRADEC’s attorney, Ele Zachariades, quickly announced that her client was dropping its objections to a second city demand.
BRADEC has committed to having reserve and endowment funds totaling nearly $22 million. But it wanted donation pledges, rather than cash, to count, while the city wanted no more than 50% to come from pledges to ensure that BRADEC has money on hand.
With BRADEC conceding on this point, the deal was done, and BRADEC supporters in the audience applauded.
Even if the city approves the development and land lease agreements, BRADEC will have to meet its fundraising goals in order to maintain city support.
The cultural complex, named the Boca Raton Center for Arts and Innovation, will be able to accommodate a total of 6,000 people in a performing arts center, jewel box theater, renovated amphitheater, rooftop terrace and outdoor performing arts spaces. A parking garage also is part of the project.
The theater buildings will have no fixed seating, walls, ceilings or floors. Instead, all these elements can be reconfigured to meet the needs of whatever they are used for.
BRADEC’s most recent timeline shows construction beginning in 2030, with the entire project to be completed in three years.

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