Ousted group wants to trademark historic center’s name as its own
By Jane Smith
While Delray Beach tries to finalize a new manager for Old School Square, there’s now a question about whether the city is even going to be able to keep the name of its historic downtown cultural arts and entertainment campus.
After the City Commission voted 3-2 in August 2021 to end its lease with Old School Square’s longtime former managers, that organization then filed papers to trademark the Old School Square name.
The trademark issue didn’t show up on the city’s radar until an Oct. 20 workshop at which the Downtown Development Authority presented its proposal to help run the Old School Square campus at the northeast corner of Atlantic and Swinton avenues.
Following up on that news, City Attorney Lynn Gelin told commissioners at their regular Oct. 25 meeting that the city still had two days left to challenge the trademark request. A city letter requesting an extension was delivered the next day, giving the city until Nov. 26 to oppose the Old School Square trademark, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Old School Square patrons are finding a confusing situation where the former tenants, who go by the name Old School Square Center for the Arts, maintain the OldSchoolSquare.org website that asks for donations and says, “One year later still sitting empty.”
The private website does not say the city is the owner, but it implies the OSSCA nonprofit owns the 4.4-acre campus.
The website also says the campus is dark, but that is not the case. The Pavilion stage, the Fieldhouse and the grounds have events.
The city’s own website lists the updated events on the Old School Square campus.
During the Oct. 20 joint workshop with the commission and the Community Redevelopment Agency, the DDA presented funding figures that startled some commissioners.
Laura Simon, the DDA’s executive director, proposed a phased approach to reactivating the campus with the three entities contributing potentially $1.38 million. That is almost double the $750,000 requested by the former tenants from the CRA.
"That hit me pretty hard. It’s a big number," Commissioner Ryan Boylston said.
Likewise, Vice Mayor Adam Frankel asked whether the city taxpayers would foot the bill.
The amount includes $175,000 for marketing and rebranding, which may be related in part to the trademark issue.
“Is there a concern that someone else owns the OSS name?” Frankel asked Simon. Regardless of the various venue names on campus, “I still think of it as OSS,” he said.
It costs money to create a logo, and to develop and run a website, Simon said. She wants to create a new nonprofit to run the campus.
Frank Frione, a DDA board member who sold his engineering firm last year, said he wanted the new nonprofit to receive about $2 million. He offered his time to help the DDA reactivate the OSS campus. “We need to fund it accordingly to make it successful,” he said.
Simon said the big focus currently is the holiday season and the 100-foot Christmas tree on the Old School Square grounds near the Cornell Art Museum. The tree will be lit on Nov. 29.
She hopes to have a business plan done in January when the agreement between the city and the DDA will be ready for discussion.
The city ousted the former tenants after a series of financial miscues that culminated with the Crest Theatre building renovation. Commissioners were not informed of its start and the city was not properly covered by the renovation’s bond. The city rented the campus to the former tenants for $1 per year.
When commissioners voted to terminate the lease in August 2021, they gave the former tenants 180 days’ notice. Since then, the three commissioners who voted to end the lease have been criticized by the former tenants on social media platforms, email campaigns and in-person events.
OSSCA sued the city in November 2021 for wrongful termination of the lease. The lawsuit remains active, with the latest filing by the city on Oct. 20. The city objected to the request for a jury trial that was explicitly waived when the lease was signed.
The city also filed a counterclaim the same day to cover damages to the Crest Theatre building when the renovation was abandoned, and the premises not restored. The Old School Square buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
An earlier version of this story had an incorrect quote attributed to Commissioner Ryan Boylston regarding the money being requested to run Old School Square. His quote has been corrected.