By Jane Smith

With a lawsuit looming and no suitors to manage Delray Beach’s historic arts and culture center, the city is trying to cobble together a team to manage the Old School Square campus once the lease — canceled last year by the city — expires Feb. 9.
No company responded last month to the city’s “invitation to negotiate,” a process that allows the city to enter discussions with interested firms.
“With a pending lawsuit against the city, it’s not surprising,” Mayor Shelly Petrolia said last month. “We continue to keep the campus active with events organized through our Parks and Recreation Department.
“Once we get on the other side of the lawsuit, we will see some interest,” Petrolia said.
In the interim, the city will use its parks department, which has managed several weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events during the past several months, and back it up with the Downtown Development Authority and Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce, City Manager Terrence Moore wrote in a Dec. 17 weekly roundup.
Moore added that he would update the City Commission on Jan. 4.
OSS managers sued the city Nov. 5 and claimed the City Commission’s Aug. 10 vote to terminate the lease was improper and did not allow the OSS managers to remove their equipment, paintings, furniture and accessories acquired by the nonprofit organization over the past three decades.
It further alleges the city stopped a $1.2 million renovation of the Crest Theatre and failed to allow them “to quietly hold, occupy and enjoy the premises.”
The city countered on Dec. 9 that the suit should be dismissed “with prejudice” because it was little more than a “shotgun pleading,” throwing more than 200 allegations against the wall and hoping something would stick.
The response notes the suit is “comprised of 206 factual allegations, with each of the fifteen Counts incorporating and re-alleging all of the Complaint’s 206 factual allegations, leaving the defendants to speculate as to which allegations relate to which Count,” the response notes.
Petrolia and commissioners Shirley Johnson and Juli Casale voted to terminate the contract because OSS managers had repeatedly failed to provide accounting of how they had spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars given to OSS over the years.
The city contends Petrolia and Johnson were entitled to immunity for decisions made in their official roles.
Casale hired her own attorney “that is personally known to me,” who contends in court filings that she, too, is entitled to immunity.
OSS supporters claim the vote was taken without public notice. The city contends the commissioners followed the terms of the lease.
The vote, and the resulting public outcry orchestrated in no small part by OSS directors and supporters, prompted eight former mayors to write a letter that the OSS publicist sent on Dec. 8 to media outlets.
“While the Old School Square termination is what’s on everyone’s mind, we see a similar pattern in the general culture of division and polarization in our city politics that has led to costly turnover and litigation,” the former mayors wrote. “It’s not the ‘Delray Way.’”
They suggested holding “a charrette to gain public input on the future of Old School Square.”
Petrolia declined to comment on the letter because of the pending suit.
Joy Howell, a former OSS board chair, also was named in the suit. Her attorney contracted COVID-19 and received an extension to file a response, as did Shannon Eadon, a former OSS executive director. Neither response was available at press time.

Hearing set
A Jan. 18 hearing is scheduled before Circuit Court Judge John Kastrenakes to decide whether OSS managers can receive expedited mediation in the case.
Delray Beach taxpayers own the nearly 4-acre OSS campus. It is deed restricted and must remain an arts, cultural and educational 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.
Sam Metott, the city’s parks and recreation director, wrote in a Dec. 16 email that his department can oversee the Field House events.
“We may require some assistance with the Cornell Art Museum as that involves a more distinct set of capabilities for curation and the daily functions,” Metott wrote. “Lastly, outdoor events” — such as concerts on the Pavilion stage — “involves additional planning, scheduling, and on-site logistics. Any support in that area would be beneficial.”
Toward that end, the DDA is expected to host its annual Fashion Week in February on the OSS campus instead of the Colony Hotel, Petrolia said.
“We are looking forward to helping guide and bring more community events to our downtown and city,” Laura Simon, DDA executive director, wrote via a Dec. 21 text message in response to a Coastal Star question about the DDA’s role.
Meanwhile, even though its lease expires in less than six weeks, the OSS board sent out a pre-Christmas email seeking contributions, noting that “with your help we will rise stronger than ever to bring generations of friends and patrons all the joy Old School Square has to offer.”

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