Old School Square Update

November 22, 2023

“Time Reveals the Truth”

With the election of new City Commissioners in March of this year some of the smoke has cleared regarding the termination of the Old School Square (OSS) lease in the heart of downtown Delray. It is clear that the not-for-profit that founded and managed the cultural campus all these years was falsely accused of fiscal mismanagement and treating City property as its own.  All audits are current and clean, all 990 & 990T filings are current.

Last year, a 3-2 majority of the Commission voted to terminate the city's 35-year relationship with OSS on a non-agenda item, without cure, without an alternative plan, with no staff study, and without public input.

The attempted eradication of this prized, nationally recognized OSS organization was unnecessary and will, conservatively, cost Delray Beach taxpayers $4-5 million in capital costs and $2-3 million in annual operating costs.  OSS had previously been funded almost entirely from donors, members and programming. The City of Delray Beach is now responsible for previously donor-funded renovation, programming, operations, and overhead of 100-year-old buildings.

The downtown merchants of Delray experienced a reduction in economic activity due to the closures. The “midnight termination” stained the City’s reputation for cultural leadership, fractured cooperative relations among non-profits in Delray and created a chilling effect on future business migration and philanthropic contributions to our municipality.

Now for the good news.  A new 4-1 majority in the City Commission has invested substantial energy into figuring out this puzzle.  A year-to-year lease has been signed with the Downtown Development Authority to bring life back to part of our cultural center. Although the taxpayer is footing the bill, thanks to the DDA, we now have concerts and art exhibits.  Parks and Rec is working overtime to maintain the campus. Outside organizations can rent the Amphitheater and the Field House.

In addition, the Crest Theatre has been partially restored, and it is expected that Art classes will be resumed in the next six months.  The 324-seat theater still needs to be restored and updated.  That may take another 2 years to complete and to bring back a full schedule of events.

In the meantime, the 35-year-old not-for-profit has shown that any financial questions have been resolved with clean audits, up-to-date tax filings, and the “double dipping” charge apparently resolved by the Small Business Administration’s lack of concern over the matter.  To prevent a repetition of charges of financial misconduct, the organization continues to devote increased attention to its financial controls.

The new majority on the City Commission is aware that this cherished cultural center was an economic engine fueling the transformation of downtown Delray Beach which indirectly generated $100 million dollars in annual economic benefit.

Working with commendable speed, the City elected officials and professional staff have this week issued an RFLI (Request for Letter of Interest).  This streamlined approach provides a pathway to a fully functioning cultural center, a methodology for the campus to be utilized by community organizations, centralized management, and a possibility of lifting some of the financial burden off the shoulders of the taxpayers.

It is a rapid-fire way for those of us who love Delray to see it return to its previous position as a beacon of cultural excellence and creativity in Florida.  The “Delray Way” is to always strive for excellence based on community input, vision, diligent staffing, and timely execution. This week’s RFLI is the primary example of that principle at work.

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