Newsletter: May 2nd, 2024

Controversy in the Delray Beach Downtown Redevelopment Agency

Recently the Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has been the center of some controversy with the removal of board member Rick Burgess. It’s important that residents understand the core function of the DDA and how that’s changed, given some of the concerns that surfaced during the Burgess hearing.

Rick Burgess, an appointed board member of the Downtown Development Authority was removed from the board by the City Commission at the meeting held on April 16, 2024. The commission voted 4-1 to remove Mr. Burgess for misrepresenting his address on his application for DDA board membership.

The DDA’s seven-member board must have at least four members that are owners of realty within the Downtown area or a lessee which makes them tax-qualified, while three members can be “at large” (outside the CRA taxing district). Mr. Burgess’s application showed a tax-qualified address. An ethics complaint was filed against Mr. Burgess by a former board member, Mavis Benson, alleging that he falsified information on his application to become a member of the DDA. Ms. Benson had served two terms on the DDA board and had been campaigning for a third term, which was denied. An investigation by the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics resulted in a negotiated settlement. Mr. Burgess admitted to violating count 1.  Honesty in applications for positions, of the Palm Beach County Code of Ethics.

The DDA charter states that the City Commission may remove a board member of the Authority for good cause, including willful neglect of duty, incompetence, or unfitness to perform his or her duty, or conviction of an offense involving moral turpitude. A member so removed shall be entitled to review by the circuit court of the action taken.

The address on Mr. Burgess’ application for the DDA was 110 E. Atlantic Avenue, a building owned by Menin Development Inc.  Mr. Burgess’ attorney said that when Mr. Burgess applied for the DDA position, that he was relocating his business and was going to take space in the Menin Building but later decided to relocate to 301 W Atlantic Avenue.

Several people spoke at the quasi-judicial hearing including, Aaron Hallyburton, owner, and manager of Luna Rosa, a new DDA board member who voiced concerns that when the four new board members began on the DDA nine months ago, they asked a lot of questions. The board members were concerned about core mission responsibilities of the DDA:  about cleanliness, homeless problems, and areas of disrepair in the downtown but said, “while their focus was Old School Square”.

Hallyburton continued saying, “For the past eight meetings, it’s always the same thing, what about homeless, what about clean, what about the other side of Swinton?” …and we get back to….Old School Square.”

“If DDA wants to continue to move onto Old School Square…I don’t think we can support it without not taking care of the other taxpayers in the DDA area., because they are gonna ask for more staff which means more money. Our focus is lost  as far as the direction our mission.”

At the DDA special board meeting and workshop on April 10, 2024, other board members also brought up concerns about focusing on Old School Square instead of the DDA mission.

The DDA is a taxing authority, created by state statute in 1971, with the authority to levy a maximum of 1 mil tax on property owners within the DDA District (Downtown). The millage generated $1.7 million dollars according to their 2023-24 budget.  The DDA is expected to invest those funds back into the DDA District for the purpose of stimulating the economic vitality of the DDA District.


Prepare an analysis of the economic conditions and changes occurring in the Downtown area, including the effect thereon of such factors and metropolitan growth, traffic congestion, lack of adequate parking and other access facilities, and structural obsolescence and deterioration.

Formulate long-range plans for improving the attractiveness and accessibility to the public of Downtown facilities, promoting efficient use thereof, remedying the deterioration of Downtown property values, and developing the Downtown area.

Recommend to the City Council and to Downtown businesspersons and residents the actions deemed most suitable for implement the Downtown development plans, including removal, razing, repair, renovation, reconstruction, remodeling , and improvement of existing structures, addition of new structures and facilities, relocation of any of those existing, and changes in patterns of facilities for getting thereto and therefrom.

Participate actively in the implantation and execution of Downtown development plans, including establishment, acquisition, construction, ownership, financing, leasing, licensing, operation, and management of public facilities deemed feasible and beneficial in effecting implementation, but this paragraph shall not give the Authority any power or control over any City property unless and until assigned to it by the City Council under the provision of paragraph (f) of this section.

Participate actively in plans and programs to encourage economic development and promotion of the Downtown as a prosperous Downtown Area.

Carry on all projects and undertakings authorized by law and within the limits of the powers granted to it by law, and such additional public projects and undertaking related to the Downtown as the City Council may assign to it with its consent.

So how did the DDA get involved in running an Arts and Culture Center? In August of 2021, the sitting City Commission voted 3-2 to terminate the lease of Old School Square facilities with the not for profit that had been running campus and programming for over 30 years. After the buildings sat dark for nearly a year, the city entered into an interlocal agreement with the DDA to begin programming the Cornell Museum and later the rest of the OSS campus.

The city agreed to pay additional taxpayer dollars beyond what the DDA collects from its millage rate, to pay for the art museum programming and some outdoor concerts. In addition, the City agreed to pay for maintenance and some physical upgrades

The city is paying DDA $1.5 million for the year. In last year’s budget they paid that plus $126,750 for bands for concerts and $5,000 for special events costs. It is unclear how much Parks & Recreation and Public Works budgets are affected by increased responsibility since expenses are not broken out by specific duties and expenses for the 8-acre campus. It is estimated that the Public Works budget now covers approximately $500,000 for water, security, trash, electric, pest control and other items. The previous not-for-profit paid for these from their own budget, not taxpayers’ dollars.

OSSCFTA, the previous not-for-profit, paid for three full and part time maintenance employees to upkeep these 100-year-old historical buildings. The floors in the historic gymnasium were treated monthly and cared for by limiting the rental use. In the April 10th DDA meeting, Laura Simon, DDA Executive Director, stated that there was $40,000 floor maintenance needed for the gym and was unsure where the funds would come from. She also indicated that increasing rentals could raise more funds.

The board’s question remains whether a taxing authority charged with the health of our Downtown businesses should be running a Cultural Arts Center and at what ADDITIONAL costs to taxpayers. The newly elected City Commission is faced with challenging questions: How to put Humpty Dumpty back together again? Can a cultural center pay for itself or does it require taxpayer support. And whether a governmental agency should be making decisions regarding what constitutes art and what is relevant in today’s art and culture scene? But most importantly how does Delray get back to the scale and quality of programming it enjoyed before the lease termination. How does the City return to its position of an epicenter of art and culture in Palm Beach County?

Best Regards,

The Friends Of Delray Board

Judy Mollica - President

Steve English - Treasurer

Gregg Weiss - Secretary

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