By Jane Smith
After months of butting heads on the future of the Old School Square grounds, the City Commission and Community Redevelopment Agency board sat down and agreed to redo the process to upgrade the green space, often called the “Central Park” of Delray Beach.
“Keep it simple,” Mayor Cary Glickstein said. “Don’t let the designers and architects drive the process,” he added, recalling the message delivered by Fred Kent at a Town Hall lecture last year. Kent, a part-time resident, is an authority on revitalizing city places.
“We need to stop using it as a fairgrounds,” the mayor said. The grounds host the Garlic Fest, Bacon & Bourbon Fest and the Craft Beer Fest. The city will limit the number of festivals there starting in the fall.
The city’s Green Market, run by the CRA, also uses the grounds weekly during the season.
The grounds are part of a four-acre historic area that includes the two former city schools and gym and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The CRA had budgeted $1 million for improvements and planned to get them started after the season ended in May, but city commissioners questioned that expense when other areas in the CRA district still need alleys and sidewalks.
The city owns the property and would have to approve the changes before the money was spent.
Plus, commissioners agreed the improvements proposed by Currie Sowards Aguila Architects of Delray Beach called for too much stuff squeezed into a small area — water features, more pavement to avoid annual sodding of the grounds and futuristic elements.
Commissioners also agreed with the mayor’s idea of restraint being needed when redoing the grounds.
Now the CRA will go back to the drawing board, holding community forums around the city to find out what residents want done on the Old School Square grounds. The outdoor restrooms and concession stand likely will be razed.
The joint meeting was held Dec. 8, just the second time the two groups met last year. At the April meeting, both groups talked about getting together quarterly so that they are on the same page when it comes to deciding how to spend residents’ tax dollars.
CRA board member Cathy Balestriere had pushed for the December meeting. Her first comment was, “I’m happy to be here.”
CRA Executive Director Jeff Costello put two Hershey kisses at each place at the table. Then he went out of the room to give the chocolate candies to residents and staffers waiting for the meeting to begin.
He started the meeting by giving a snapshot of the CRA budget, but Glickstein wanted to know the totality of the plan for each neighborhood in the CRA’s district. City Manager Donald Cooper said he would put together a list of alleys and sidewalks in terms of what’s done and what is needed.
The meeting ended before the two groups could set the next date, but staff will handle that scheduling.
At the end, Vice Mayor Shelly Petrolia asked, “Is everyone kumbaya?”
By Jane Smith