Related Story: Old School Square announces new chair, board members
By Jane Smith
The city and the managers of the Old School Square Center for the Arts Inc. are parting ways. The only question remaining is when.
The separation between the city and the nonprofit group that has managed the historic site for more than three decades has been far from amicable.
On Nov. 5, Delray Beach held a mandatory walk-through for potential bidders to manage the site. OSS managers declined to participate. Instead, they filed a 42-page lawsuit against the city, three city commissioners, the city attorney and two former OSS managers — Joy Howell and Shannon Eadon.
The lawsuit alleged city officials “conspired” to wrest the contract from the board as well as breached the lease held by OSS managers.
The city did not allow the OSS managers to remove their equipment, stopped the renovation of the Crest Theatre building and failed to allow them “to quietly hold, occupy and enjoy the premises,” according to the lawsuit.
Commissioner Juli Casale said that the claims against her and two other commissioners to terminate the lease were “groundless. The claim against us for conspiring falls short because you cannot conspire to commit a lawful act.”
Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioner Shirley Johnson declined to comment.
Contenders to manage the facility included representatives of several entertainment industry heavyweights. Bids for the “invitation to negotiate,” a procurement process that allows the city to enter discussions with developers, are due Dec. 18.
The City Commission voted 3-2 on Aug. 10 to terminate the lease, giving the OSS managers 180 days to leave.
The reasons cited included the absence of or problems with financial and diversity documents, outside audits and other paperwork requirements added to the lease in 2016. The financial documents also are required by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency to get funding.
Delray Beach taxpayers own the nearly 4-acre campus, 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. On Oct. 8, the city sent a default notice to the OSS managers’ attorney, giving the nonprofit organization 30 days to fix four problems. One required finishing the million-dollar Crest Theatre building renovations within 30 days.
To ensure the city complied with its lease terms with the OSS managers, City Manager Terrence Moore had a new notice of default hand-delivered on Nov. 16 to the nonprofit. Holland Ryan, the chief operating officer of OSS, signed for the organization. Ryan resigned his position on Nov. 18.
That gives OSS managers until Dec. 16 to fix the problems and if they do not comply, the city can order them to vacate the campus within 15 days.
The OSS managers continue to appeal to city residents through social media and by holding semi-monthly free concerts on the Pavilion stage. The next concerts are scheduled for Dec. 9 and 16. These feature tribute bands of nationally known music acts.
In late September, OSS managers abruptly canceled events in the Field House and on its grounds, prompting the nonprofit show organizers and families hosting weddings and bar mitzvahs to appeal to the City Commission for help.
Danielle Pearson, the city’s Parks and Recreation events coordinator, stepped up to allow the events to continue. She was honored as employee of the month at the Nov. 16 City Commission meeting, and got eight hours off with pay.
OSS publicist Carli Brinkman explained the disconnect between the two scenarios.
“The free concert series is 100% fully funded by community and sponsor support,” Brinkman wrote in a Nov. 16 email. “The canceled events you reference did not have the financial support required to carry out, as the CRA had not released the more than $560,000 in funds owed for a grant that is paid in arrears and was slated to support many of the previously budgeted events and programming on the OSS schedule.”
Search draws interest
Also on Nov. 16, city commissioners voted 4-1 to hire attorney Howard DuBosar, of the Weiss Serota law firm, to represent the three commissioners and City Attorney Lynn Gelin. Adam Frankel voted no because he wanted to put conditions on the representation.
The city received an extension to file its response by Dec. 9.
As of press time, no response was filed by the three city commissioners, the city attorney, a former OSS board chair or its former chief executive officer.
Howell, who resigned from the volunteer board chair’s position in April after serving barely three months, hired attorney Michael Monteverde from Fort Lauderdale to represent her.
“I’ve been an OSS supporter, art student and volunteer. I was elected chair of the board for my business skills,” Howell wrote in a Nov. 21 email to The Coastal Star. “As chair, I identified what I believed to be financial and operations issues and tried to get the Executive Board to address them. They chose not to do so while I was there, so I chose to leave. Now I’m being sued. Like myself, almost half the volunteer board in place earlier this year resigned.”
Eadon, a former CEO of Old School Square, and Gelin could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, the city continues its search for a new manager for its OSS campus.
Representatives of AEG, Spectra and VenuWorks were among those at the Nov. 5 tour, as was Kolter Hospitality of Delray Beach.
Spectra provides venue management for the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
Under the AEG Presents brand, AEG claims to be the world’s second-largest presenter of live music and entertainment events after Live Nation.
VenuWorks, based in Iowa, manages public facilities nationwide.