A Guide on Delray's Old Square Square
Few issues in the recent history of Delray Beach have generated as much public outcry as the termination of the Old School Square lease in August 2021. There are still many, however, that are asking what all the fuss is about. This Question & Answer will try to clarify the issues surrounding Old School Square.
1. What is Old School Square?
Old School Square (OSS) is a cultural and arts complex located in the Old School Square Historic District located in the heart of downtown Delray Beach. Since 1990 it has been a popular destination for arts and entertainment. It's renovation started in the mid-80's, and it was, arguably, the main driver of the renaissance of Downtown Delray Beach.
2. What is the OSS Controversy all about?
The controversy centers on the termination of the lease between the City and Old School Square Center for the Arts (OSSCA). The City Commission - with no advance notice, public debate, staff work, or plan for alternatives - unceremoniously booted OSSCA off the cultural campus that they had built 30 years before and programmed successfully for decades. The Commission invoked a clause in the lease that they could terminate "without cause," despite the fact that some members of the Commission have badmouthed the OSSCA not-for-profit and its board members. The Commission chose "without cause" because that prevented the OSSCA an opportunity to cure any issues of concern.
3. Why is it a problem that the OSS contract was terminated?
There are several problems. First and foremost, the citizens of Delray have been deprived of top flight cultural activities for over 18 months. The buildings are dark. No theater productions, no program of concerts, no art school, and until recently no art museum. Many people have said they moved to Delray because of the cultural center and they are justifiably disappointed.
Second, there has been a negative impact on downtown's economy. Visitors to the cultural center eat, drink and browse downtown before and after events. Those dollars have gone elsewhere, not into the Delray economy.
Third, when (if?) an alternative solution is found for taking over the cultural center, it will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. As a non-profit, only 20-25% of the OSSCA's budget came from the City. Now City taxpayers will absorb the entire $3.5 million operating budget. In addition, the renovation of the jewel of the campus, the Crest Theater, will cost the City at least $1.5 million compared to the OSSCA's plan to fund this project entirely by donations.
Finally, the manner in which this decision was made is an example of the general lack of transparency and heavy handedness displayed by the majority of City Commissioners. The OSSCA termination was too big of a decision to be made without any public comment, and unfortunately, it is typical of the way many other topics are handled by the City Commission.
4. Who is responsible for the OSS contract being terminated?
The vote was taken without public notice or comment, and carried by a 3-2 vote. The three commissioners voting to terminate were Shelly Petrolia, Juli Casale, and Shirley Johnson. The two against were Adam Frankel and Ryan Boylston. Commissioner Boylston suggested a probationary period for the OSSCA to address concerns by the Commissioners. That was rejected. Several times reconsideration or workshops were proposed, then rejected. In January 2022, the OSSCA proposed what most would consider a reasonable settlement to the dispute. That was also rejected.
5. How does all of this affect me?
As was noted previously, ten of thousands of Palm Beach County residents and visitors have been denied the benefits of OSS for the past 18 months. It will likely be another 12 months before anything close to the previous programming will return. For Delray Beach taxpayers, the added operational costs will increase their annual tax bills, and it was all so unnecessary. Finally, this questionable decision-making by the Commissioners is a recurring problem...and to rebut the "Let's just move on" crowd, this is the bigger issue. We can see bad decisions in many other City issues such as high management turnover in the city, the loss of the multi-million dollar fire contract with Highland Beach, and the drinking water problem that was ignored for years. Each one of these missteps increase City operating costs and Taxpayer bills.
Hopefully you found this Q&A helpful. We encourage you to read up on this issue using the linked articles above. You can also watch our 2-part podcast series on this issue using this link.
Friends of Delray