Management company could be forced out by Thanksgiving

By Jane Smith

After shutting down all activities, the Old School Square Center for the Arts managers late last month announced a series of free, community concerts which is almost certain to test the strained relationship between the city and OSS. On Oct. 23, managers posted this note on the OSS website: “The City’s impulsive termination of our lease forced us to make some very difficult decisions with regards to our existing calendar of seasonal events and programs.”
The website of the city’s most beloved cultural institution noted that there were no upcoming events, performances, museum exhibits or art school offerings.
Six days later, OSS managers said on the website they would hold four free concerts by tribute bands in November and December. The concerts are an Eagles tribute Nov. 11, a Billy Joel one Nov. 18, Grammy hits Dec. 9, and a Tina Turner tribute Dec. 16.
Yet, according to the lease termination notice the city sent to OSS, no new events can be scheduled without prior approval of the city, Mayor Shelly Petrolia said on Oct. 26.
City commissioners voted 3-2 on Aug. 10 to terminate the lease, telling OSS managers to comply with long-standing requests for audits and other financial documents and giving 180 days’ notice.
Since that vote, OSS managers have attempted to sway enough public support to get the commission to reconsider its vote. In yet another effort, managers announced a special art and cultural show titled “Heart of the Square,” opening Nov. 5 in the Cornell Art Museum.
“Let our voices be heard,” the announcement’s cover page notes.
Delray Beach taxpayers own the nearly 4-acre campus, in the heart of the Old School Square Historic Arts District, which is deed restricted. It must remain an arts and cultural center. If it doesn’t, the property reverts to the Palm Beach County School District. The campus has five entertainment venues: the Fieldhouse, the Crest Theatre, the Creative Arts School, the Cornell Art Museum and the Pavilion.
OSS managers did not return numerous phone calls and email messages. The Coastal Star attempted to contact Emelie Konopka, who was OSS chairwoman during much of the dispute with the city; Holland Ryan, chief operating officer; Carli Brinkman, its outside publicist; and Marko Cerenko, its outside attorney.

Time running out for fixes
On Oct. 8, the city sent a notice of default to Cerenko, giving the nonprofit 30 days to fix four problems. One was minor, to provide a list of events and programs for the remaining months of the lease.
But one can’t be fixed easily. It involves finishing the Crest Theatre building renovations. Safety violations exist there, such as an unattached handrail on the main lobby staircase and the unfinished fire sprinkler system in the new kitchen.
If they can’t be fixed in 30 days, then the city could issue a notice to vacate within 15 days, Gina Carter, city spokeswoman, wrote in an Oct. 21 email response to a Coastal Star question.
As for whether the OSS managers can make the necessary repairs by Nov. 8, “that is a question for OSS Inc.,” she wrote. If the city then issues the notice to vacate, the OSS managers would have to be gone by Thanksgiving.

Cancellations stun groups
Another uproar began on Sept. 29.
That’s when show organizers received form letters from Ryan, canceling all events as of Sept. 30. The events were scheduled for the Fieldhouse or on the OSS grounds.
This time, the OSS managers blamed the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency for withholding $375,000, six months of funding, for the last fiscal year.
But what the OSS managers failed to say is that they have yet to provide financial documents required by the CRA before receiving any more taxpayer money. The CRA had extended the deadline several times.
After receiving the email, the nonprofit Delray Beach Orchid Society reached out to city commissioners. They immediately contacted the city manager, who dispatched the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to rescue the event.
“It’s our largest fundraiser,” said Michele Owens, president of the Delray Beach Orchid Society. “We couldn’t hold it last year [due to pandemic restrictions] and the prospect of not being able to hold it again — we would not be able to exist.”
The orchid show was Oct. 23-24 in the Fieldhouse and drew one of the show’s biggest crowds. The society did receive back its $1,000 deposit from OSS.
There was one glitch, Petrolia said. The society members counted on use of the refrigerator in the OSS kitchen. But the refrigerator doors had been taped closed, forcing the city to pull one of its refrigerators out of storage and move it to the Fieldhouse for the show.
The city has also stepped in to allow the Delray Chapter of the Southern Handcraft Society to hold its 28th show Nov. 18-20 at the Fieldhouse.
“I’m thrilled,” said President Pam Warren. “There’s not that many facilities that can accommodate us. With less than two months, most places were booked or too expensive.”
The organization received its deposit back from OSS, Warren said, but she would not disclose the amount.
Along with the orchid and handicraft shows, Delray Beach’s Parks and Recreation Department agreed to facilitate several other events after they were canceled by OSS. These include weddings, a bat mitzvah, a Pets of Broward Dog Day Afternoon, and a Roots and Wings educational event.
The city and CRA will also continue their scheduled menorah lighting, Christmas Tree Village and Green Market.
About the same time the events were canceled, the OSS managers also canceled their arts education classes for the remainder of the lease. Students typically pay about $200 for six-week sessions on photography, painting and drawing.

Craft beer festival fizzles
OSS managers had touted a ninth annual Craft Beer Festival on its website as a money-raiser. The festival was to be held at Old School Square, but then was to move to Sunset Cove Amphitheater in suburban Boca Raton on Oct. 30.
But it disappeared from the OSS website by Oct. 22.
One likely reason is that OSS managers’ full liquor license, issued by Florida, is not transferrable to another site.
Meanwhile, Delray Beach is moving forward, trying to find a new operator for the Old School Square venues.
The city issued its “invitation to negotiate” on Oct. 18 with a mandatory pre-proposal session at 10 a.m. Nov. 5. Bids must be submitted by 5 p.m. Dec. 17.
The current OSS managers won’t be bidding, Brinkman told other news outlets without explaining why.

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