Old School Square Goes Dark
Updated: Feb 16, 2022
This past Thursday, City staff, with the oversight of the Delray Beach Police Department, padlocked the doors of Old School Square, ending the OSS non-profit’s uninterrupted 32 year run as the cultural heart of Delray Beach.
With the future of the Old School Square campus in question, the community now waits to see what steps the city will take to address a situation seemingly of its own making – an outcome that began last August when the Commission voted to terminate Old School Square’s lease without cause, despite the item not being on the agenda and without any public input. With the guidance of City Attorney Lynn Gelin and despite Commissioner Casale’s apparent confusion about what a lease termination without cause would mean, Mayor Petrolia, Vice Mayor Johnson and Commissioner Casale voted to terminate without cause.
“If we submit the 180 days’ notice to them,” Casale asked Gelin before the vote. “…one, we ensure there’s no entertainment scheduled in the meantime, so that limits our concerns in that regard and also if they become in compliance, then we can renegotiate the contract and make the amendments you thought were needed to it. Is that something we could do?
“…I think if you’re going to give them 180 days’ notice,” Gelin responded. “It would have to be done in good faith. It shouldn’t be done to renegotiate the contract.”
“I want to apologize,” Casale said as the vote was being taken. “But I’m going to go yes with the ladies and I think that if, um if something happens in that we find amazing compliance or some, uh, bond negotiation. I know Attorney Gelin, I’m not supposed to do that but, um, so I’m yes.”
“Is this building going to sit empty?” Boylston asked during the discussion before the vote. “...Why are we rushing to do it? We’re a few discussions away from making an educated decision, a very big decision.”
Commissioners Adam Frankel and Ryan Boylston voted against the motion to terminate. The motion passed with a 3 to 2 majority.
City Manager Terrence Moore subsequently was instructed to craft a “Request For Proposal” with the intention of attracting a “Management Company” to manage the Old School Square campus. Not one organization responded to the RFP, which now leaves the city, and thus its taxpayers, responsible for its operation.
Before the August vote, Attorney Gelin had cautioned the Commissioners and the Mayor: “You understand, if the lease is terminated and we’re no longer the lessee, it’s us who have to finish the work (on the Crest Theater) and bring it to the position they feel it can be utilized.”
To which Mayor Petrolia responded at the time, “The money that was used at the CRA, that’s what we use to finish what was started.”
Later, it was disclosed that the Delray Beach CRA was holding back $562,500 in funds owed to Old School Square for past programming. Commissioner Casale stated that Old School Square was not in compliance and had not turned in the requested financial records, a claim discredited by the CRA’s own executive director Renee Jadusingh at a CRA meeting where Commissioner Casale was in attendance.
There appeared to be a glimmer of hope as 2022 began when the city was given two opportunities in January to walk back its August decision. The first, mediation, was declined by the city. The second occurred when Old School Square sent a letter to the city seeking a settlement, to which the city responded by canceling a meeting scheduled to consider it.
"It is truly heart wrenching to see what the three Delray Beach City Commissioners have done to a 32 year nonprofit,” said Patty Jones, Chairman of the Board for Old School Square. “A nonprofit that has contributed so much to the local and surrounding communities. The Commissioners can speak from the dais, but they have failed to listen to the citizens - they have closed their ears. They are not willing to come to the table to talk about any issues. They have swung the axe and severed ties of what “All America City” means - collaboration between the city and its Citizens - open dialogue. It is a sad day for the Citizens of Delray."
It seems little outside of the existing litigation can be done to remedy the situation. The annual economic impact, just north of $101,000,000 annually, according to the Palm Beach County Cultural Council, will take a toll on local merchants already negatively impacted by Covid and the ongoing labor shortage.
When asked why the padlocks were placed on Old School Square, City Manager, Moore said, “The lease terminated midnight on Wednesday February 9th.“
On February 10, 2022, padlocks were placed on the doors of Old School Square and the campus went dark.
To watch the Commission meeting during which these events occurred, go to:
Comments from prominent citizens:
“Old School Square was the original catalyst that jumpstarted Atlantic Avenue. But even today, the activity at OSS generates crowds that spend dollars downtown by patronizing local businesses.
So many people come for a free concert and stay for dinner or take an art class and top off the night with a late bite. There’s a lot of visitors who support our hotels because they build weekends around events and shows at Old School Square.
Cities are complicated places, if we keep pulling threads, you run the risk of unraveling a lot of success. Through careful planning over decades, Delray has built a sustainable economic engine. We are the envy of other cities that aren’t as vibrant. But we are not bullet proof and taking away the soul of the downtown, which is the community non-profit, is a big mistake. It’s risky to replace a dedicated group of passionate volunteers and donors. We are throwing away 32 years of goodwill and hard work. It’s a mistake and that certainly doesn’t help local businesses.” Jeff Perlman, former Delray Beach Mayor
“Despite my seeking to understand why the three commissioners decided to kill Old School Square by lease termination, I’m still at a loss for understanding the decision and their refusal to take any action to remedy.” Donna Walsh, Internationally recognized artist and longtime Delray resident. “During the pandemic, there was no other venue to relax and feel safe in, within a thousand miles of Delray Beach. Recent events have been heartbreaking, to say the least. Honestly, it is, more than, noticeably missing from our community right now and, the vast majority of us don’t see why.” Steve Martel, a local Delray resident As of this date: Friends Of Delray received no response to our request for comments from Mayor Petrolia, Commissioner Casale, Commissioner Johnson.