By Jane Smith
Residents and art patrons waiting to hear about Delray Beach’s plans for its 4-acre Old School Square campus will have to wait until the Feb. 8 City Commission meeting.
At the Feb. 1 meeting, City Manager Terrence Moore told commissioners about the “efforts underway” for developing a plan for the Cornell Art Museum, creating a Delray Repertory Theater and restarting in-person arts classes.
“I’ve had several conversations with outside vendors, such as Live Nation, and will come back with interim agreements in a week,” Moore said.
Live Nation is an events promoter.
Commissioner Ryan Boylston asked, “Ever considered a relationship with the current OSS management as an interim solution?”
No, Moore said. “I made it clear that the city was open for all offers, but they never approached me,” he said of OSS managers.
Commissioner Juli Casale also spoke during the city manager’s presentation.
After voting Aug. 10 to end the lease, she left that meeting saying that if OSS turned over the necessary financial documents, she would reconsider her vote.
“But the OSS managers didn’t provide the required documents and two days later they sued the city,” Casale said at the Feb. 1 meeting.
The current operators of the campus, the Old School Square Center for the Arts, have been waging an emotional battle for the soul of Delray Beach. Commissioners, though, say they are accountable to taxpayers and must ensure that the money OSS gets can be documented.
The commission chamber was packed with OSS supporters after an email blast sent Jan. 30 by the OSS board chairwoman. It asked people to attend the meeting to tell commissioners how important the arts and cultural center is to their lives. Of the 19 public speakers, 17 talked about their love of the center.
“We’re not a management company, but a family,” said Melanie Johanson, curator of the Cornell Art Museum. She lives in New Orleans. “We work ourselves to the bone.”
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Shelly Petrolia expressed how painful the stand-off with OSS management has become because of the lawsuit and the nonprofit’s continuous public outreach.
“This is not easy,” she said. “This is very, very difficult.”
The OSS managers pay the city $1 in rent annually for the campus. The six-month termination notice in the deal means their lease ends Feb. 9.
Since receiving the notice on Aug. 10, the OSS managers abruptly ended the arts classes on Sept. 30 and ended events in the Field House.
They blamed the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency for not releasing the rest of its money for the last budget year. OSS has received only the first-quarter payment of $187,500.
Along with the city, the OSS managers named several other individuals in their Aug. 12 lawsuit. Petrolia, Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson, Commissioner Casale, City Attorney Lynn Gelin, former Executive Director Shannon Eadon and ex-board chair Joy Howell were named.
Petrolia and Johnson joined Casale in voting to end the lease on the advice of Gelin.
The OSS managers tried for an early mediation session, but their motion was denied on Jan. 20.
Casale was dropped from the lawsuit on Jan. 25. Her attorney argued that sitting commissioners are immune to lawsuits for their votes taken while on the dais. He also demanded that if she wins, then the OSS managers would have to pay her attorney’s fees.
The OSS managers’ lawsuit has a calendar call on Feb. 9, when their jury trial request will receive a date.
The campus carries a deed restriction.
It must remain an arts and cultural center. If it does not, the property reverts to the Palm Beach County School District.
The campus has five entertainment venues: the Field House, the Crest Theatre, the Creative Arts School, the Cornell Art Museum and the Pavilion.