Boca group’s plan for arts center at Mizner gets green light from City Council

Boca group’s plan for arts center at Mizner gets green light from City Council

The Boca Raton Arts District Exploratory Corp. (BRADEC) took a giant step forward this week in its ambitious plan to purchase and renovate the Mizner Park Amphitheater and lease adjacent land from the city for a proposed Center for Arts & Innovation — two interconnected developments with a price tag of about $100 million.

The Boca City Council, meeting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, decided at a special meeting Monday to give BRADEC the green light to continue its arts quest begun in 2018. The Council’s consensus follows up on a vote taken last October to move forward with the creation of a ground lease agreement with the group.

The five council members reached consensus Monday, but took no official vote, to back the ongoing BRADEC effort. City officials advised city staff to work with BRADEC and begin the process of turning over the amphitheater property to the arts groups, which must be done by means of the sale of city property ordinance.

For nearly three years, BRADEC has been the only organization actively working on an arts center for the north end of Mizner Park. However, when the city on April 30 advertised the proposed lease for the property, two other firms came forward with last-minute plans for an arts-oriented facility.

After listening to presentations from BRADEC, the Naftali Group and AEG Presents, council members decided to continue working with the Boca-based arts organization rather than bring in another suitor.

“I support BRADEC,” said CRA Chairwoman Monica Mayotte.

Deputy Mayor Andrea O’Rourke noted that “BRADEC paved the road for the other groups to come forward” by doing three years of legwork. She said the Boca organization “has the support of the community – and this has become a community project,” with elements for “education, innovation, technology and new ideas.”

Earlier in the meeting, Council members heard from Gary Cohen, executive vice president of the Naftali Group, who said his company learned of the proposed project “only 14 days ago.”  He apologized for not submitting a more complete proposal.

Cohen said the New York-based real estate company would redesign the amphitheater that the city would continue to own and operate. As to the adjoining site, Cohen said Naftali suggests a “mixed-use project” that could include “residential, retail and office use.”

Councilwoman Yvette Drucker seemed to echo the feelings of other Council members when she rejected Naftali’s plan. “There is no appetite for residential development” at Mizner, she said. She added: “Mixed use is not a great fit.”

In his presentation on behalf of AEG Presents, Scott Gartner, director of corporate events, said the firm sponsors hundreds of concerts and productions across the nation.  “I was part of your production team for the Mizner Amphitheater going back to its opening in 2002.”

He said the company’s plan would bring in seating for 1,500 to 2,000 people, an arrangement that could be broken down for smaller crowds at less-expansive events.

“We have a proven track record” of presenting stage programs, he said. “This is what we do.”

He also noted that the company “has the capital to bring a world-class center to a world-class city.”

The spokesmen for Naftali and AEG both said they would seek no money from the city for development of the arts center and neighboring revamped amphitheater.

When the presentations ended, Mayor Singer asked Andrea Virgin, president of BRADEC and longtime arts advocate who launched the drive for a center in Boca at least four years ago, to reiterate that the group will raise its own funding and will not tap Boca for any cash. She agreed.

In fact, during the BRADEC presentation, Virgin said her group is “funded by 21 area philanthropists” along with money from 100 organizations. It has a board of directors that “will meet quarterly for fundraising control of the center.”

As if to further cement his assertion that BRADEC will not use city funding, Mayor Singer posted an email Tuesday saying that a day earlier, the “Council agreed to continue with discussions for the nonprofit group to build at their sole expense a proposed $100 million project for a new performing arts center and updated amphitheater at Mizner Park.”

He went on to say that BRADEC plans “a new state-of-the-art complex with multiple venues. We will now move to lease negotiations.”

“Some key points on which I pushed back to protect taxpayer dollars,” Singer added: “The group agreed to seek no city funding for the project, must have all construction costs and an endowment in hand before they begin any site work and will not add residential units or other commercial space” at Mizner Park.

In a press release last October, BRADEC stated: “The arts center is designed as a permanent home for Boca Raton’s professional, cultural institutions, that will be flexible and adaptable for corporate, nonprofit and private events, along with conferences, festivals and conventions that cater to the creative industries.”

The statement said: “The center’s design envisions advanced broadcast and projection technology, and sustainable and adaptable building systems. Its venues are planned as right-sized for Boca audiences, while able to flex and combine to serve up to 6,000 simultaneous event attendees.”

When a ground lease is approved by the City Council, Virgin said, “active capital fundraising would commence in earnest, in conjunction with design development, with the goal of unveiling the reimagined Mizner Park Amphitheater first in 2025 — the same year of the City’s centennial. The full center would open in 2026.