Still Sitting Empty
On August 10, 2021, the Delray Beach City Commission terminated the lease with Old School Square Center for the Arts, Inc (OSS). The City’s action abruptly ended a 30-year partnership that provided exceptional arts programming for our residents and visitors and established Delray as a destination for cultural activities.
Curiously, the Old School Square relationship was not on the agenda for the August 10th Commission meeting. The termination by a 3-2 vote gave OSS 180 days to vacate the historical buildings it saved and restored over the past three decades. The vote by three commissioners to terminate was made “without cause,” without any discussion with the cultural center’s management or Board of Directors, and without any forewarning to the public. As news of the termination spread, public outcry from the community overwhelmed the three elected officials. They then claimed their action was prompted by OSS’s improper financial management, a claim that has never been documented or substantiated.
During the Covid pandemic, most cultural centers were forced to close down or severely cut back staff, and OSS was no exception. Limited resources and social distancing made it virtually impossible for OSS to meet the performance and reporting requirements of the lease. However, the City did not notify OSS about any concerns.
Several months of random requests for information from the City and the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) followed the notice of termination. The requests appeared to be designed to be punitive rather than informative. OSS provided responses and repeatedly asked to meet with City officials to address any concerns they had. The City and the CRA chose to ignore every one of those requests. As a consequence, OSS was forced to file a lawsuit to assert its rights with the goal of resolving the City’s concerns so it could continue to offer quality cultural programming to the citizens of Delray Beach.
However, on February 7, 2022, the Old School Square nonprofit organization was forced to vacate the premises, and the campus venues went dark. The Old School Square facilities have now been sitting empty for over six months with little to no maintenance or programming.
A privately funded $1 million renovation to the Crest Theatre building, in progress at the time, was halted midstream and left unfinished, leaving the building unusable. Donations, members, ticket sales, volunteers, and grants which sustained the 5-acre campus have all vanished. Over 11,000 people signed a petition in support of OSS, and every one of the living elected past mayors of Delray Beach signed a letter requesting the City to resume the lease. Yet, the three commissioners responsible for the termination refused to acknowledge any of them.
The fragile nature of the restored historical buildings hinges on consistent maintenance schedules. The city has not kept up with repairs and maintenance, and the $7 million of restorations to the center over the years is now in jeopardy. Despite repeated assurances that the community would not suffer from their decision, one year later, the City still has no plan for completing the halted restoration work or for regular maintenance of the buildings. Nor is there a stated plan for replacing the many cultural programs previously performed. A recent workshop held by the City with public participation asked what the citizens wanted. The answer? They said they wanted what they previously had.
Here’s what the City lost with the closing of Old School Square:
- $12-15 million annual economic impact to the downtown
- Educational and community partnerships that benefit hundreds of school-age children
- Community gathering place and facilities for organizations and other nonprofits to support their programs and operations
- Over $200,000 of reduced fees and services to the City and area nonprofits to support their activities
- A thriving heart of the City which is now sitting dark and unused
- A non-profit steward of the fragile 100 year-old building is now at risk of jeopardizing its designation as a nationally registered historical site.
The OSS not-for-profit continues with media communications, small-scale programming, and limited fundraising, but it needs continued public support to re-establish the unrivaled cultural programming it brought to the Delray Beach community. Please click on the following links to see the benefits previously provided by Old School Square and a sampling of the widespread comments in the public media.
As Citizens, We Have a Voice and a Choice
Talking to friends and neighbors
Speaking up in public meetings
Emailing to Delray’s elected officials
A Year of Darkness – Your Delray Boca
Debacle of the Year – Delray Beach Magazine