Will Arts Center Design Affect Festival of the Arts Boca?

Will Arts Center Design Affect Festival of the Arts Boca?

Festival of the Arts BOCA officials have concerns about how the new design for the proposed performing arts center in Mizner Park might affect their event.

The Center for Arts & Innovation (TCAI) proposes a complex that would include a new facility on vacant land next to the amphitheater and a renovated amphitheater. TCAI would lease the land and take over management and scheduling of the amphitheater from the city.

On March 27, TCAI officials presented a new version of their plan to the group’s advisory board. According to festival officials, this version would make the amphitheater too small for the festival’s events and less accessible.

Wendy Larsen, a lawyer with Grey Robinson, is co-founder and chairman of the festival, which began in 2007. She said the new design could present problems for the festival in terms of “capacity and configuration.”

Current seating capacity at the amphitheater is 3,232 on the lawn, 400 for general admission and 125 in boxes.

Festival representatives said the new design could reduce capacity to about 800.

Larsen and Executive Director Joanna Kaye said the festival, which this year ran from March 1 until March 10, is in sound financial shape. “We had a great year,” Larsen said. “We had a great year last year.” Kaye said the event appears solid for at least the next five to 10 years.

Dramatically lower capacity, though, would cut deeply into the festival’s revenue. Larsen said the only alternate site would be the Boca Raton Innovation Campus, the former IBM facility on Yamato Road. “I think the festival should remain downtown.”

During discussions about the lease, city council members asked about use of the facility by non-profit cultural organizations that make up Boca Raton’s cultural consortium. Council members also asked what would happen to popular events that the city sponsors at the amphitheater. TCAI representatives said they would try to accommodate all events.

TCAI representatives say the project would fulfill the goal, laid out when Mizner Park opened in 1992, to make it the city’s cultural hub and gathering place. Larsen’s co-founder, Charles Siemon, used his expertise as a land-use lawyer to conceive the plan for Mizner Park.

Larsen said TCAI’s new version is “not even close to fulfilling” that vision. The first version was “500 percent better.”

Last October, TCAI met its first fundraising goal under terms of the lease. The second goal comes this October. Larsen added, “I don’t want to appear negative. We need an interior hall and a roof for the amphitheater.” But the festival has begun raising its concerns with city council members. The council must approve TCAI’s plan.

TCAI plans to unveil its preliminary design at a Friday news conference. After I called about the festival’s concern, TCAI issued the following statement from Chairman and CEO Andrea Virgin:

“The Center for Arts & Innovation is and always has been deeply committed to putting the community first throughout each stage of its development. To reflect that commitment from the very inception of the project six years ago, the center brought together an advisory council made up of a diverse stakeholder group representing multiple sectors in the city and region, including the flagship arts and culture groups, to get valuable feedback to ensure the design meets the community’s needs.

“The advisory council received an early-stage preview of the initial concept design in advance of the required submission to the city. This included a presentation of how the Mizner Park Amphitheater could be reimagined to not only maintain its existing capacity in the upgraded piazza but also benefit from many upgrades that will elevate the visitor experience.

“This preliminary concept proposes reorienting the amphitheater 90 degrees to accommodate a more efficient building footprint overall and increase opportunities for better audience navigation and crowd control as well as added flexibility to utilize either indoor and outdoor spaces, separately or combined. Other potential improvements that may be incorporated over this iterative, collaborative 18-month design process include state-of-the-art outdoor acoustics, amenity upgrades such as food and beverage service, public restrooms, will call and more.

“Overall, the smart and thoughtful initial conceptual vision designed by the internationally acclaimed Renzo Piano Building Workshop will not only improve experiences for our community, but also bring tremendous opportunities for local cultural organizations to expand their offerings. Throughout the next 18 months we will continue to work together to refine a collective vision; our aim is to hone in on a design that will enable new synergies to be formed between all stakeholders to better serve our community and amplify programming at large.”

DDA Board member is removed

During Tuesday’s meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission removed Rick Burgess from the board of the Downtown Development Authority. The vote was 4-1, with Rob Long dissenting.

As I wrote Tuesday, though, the discussion revealed divisions among board members about the DDA’s operation and priorities. I’ll have more about that on Tuesday.

Would-be micro-unit champion spent big money to help defeat Boylston

Speaking of Delray Beach, new campaign finance documents show how much a business owner spent trying to defeat Ryan Boylston in the March 9 mayor’s race.

Kurt Jetta, who also lives in the city, wants to expand what he calls micro-units —basically modern rooming houses—aimed at people who can’t afford even subsidized apartments. In January, he pitched the idea to the commission. Boylston and others rejected the idea—as a previous commission had done—saying that the city is studying many other options to increase affordable housing.

Jetta then used an entity called the Florida Housing Innovations Council, which he founded last October, to campaign against Boylston. Jetta spent $20,000 in the last three months of 2023 to run anti-Boylston ads.

During the first three months of this year, though, Jetta spent another $50,000. For comparison, Tom Carney, who defeated Boylston, spent roughly $94,000 on his entire campaign. I can’t recall a single-issue, special-interest campaign in Delray Beach spending that much.

As mayor, Carney sets the agenda for meetings. He would decide whether to give Jetta another hearing.

More new school board candidates

Six candidates are now runnings to succeed Frank Barbieri on the Palm Beach County School Board.

The latest to file paperwork are Gloria Branch and Charman Postel. They join Mike Letsky, Suzanne Page, Shannon Komonsky Scaglione and Brian Stenberg, who filed less than a month after losing his Boca Raton City Council race.

Postel, who lives in Boca Raton’s Chatham Hills neighborhood, said all four of her children attend schools in District 5, which includes Boca Raton and West Boca. Having “advocated” for a decade, Postel said she wants to play a greater role by joining the board. She has worked in commercial real estate and has been an event planner.

Qualifying comes in June. The primary is Aug. 20. If no candidate gets a majority, the top two finishers will face off in the Nov. 5 general election.

City Hall campus input

Boca Raton City Council members considering the future of the area around City Hall got input recently from residents who attended a forum held by the community advisory panel.

Among the group of roughly 200, housing stood out as a priority—especially affordable housing to meet the citywide crisis that reflects what’s happening across South Florida. The city envisions new zoning that would encourage housing tied to the Brightline station.

Any plan would involve City Hall and the community center, the police station, the downtown library, the tennis center, the skateboard park and two athletic fields. Residents would like to see more programs and classes, presumably at an expanded community center. They also want a tree canopy and live music, to draw families. There was support for keeping the children’s museum, but the city already has decided to move it, to make room for the building department.