Published On: Wed, Feb 10th, 2021

‘Expert’ to guide Boca officials with Mizner arts center proposal

By: Dale King

The Boca Raton City Council and municipal planning staff will employ the expertise of “an expert” as they move forward with the effort to draft a lease and other legal documents needed to create the proposed Boca Raton Center for Arts & Innovation at Mizner Park.

The Mizner Park Amphitheater at the north end of Mizner Park. (Photo by Dale King)

Council members discussed the project at length during their workshop meeting Monday.  Deputy City Manager George S. Brown outlined the genesis of the project in 2018 and traced it through its current stages and looked to the future, which will include a long-term lease for the property.

City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser advised several times that “no decisions will be made today. [The meeting is to] provide a general context. This discussion is very useful and productive.”

During the session, City Manager Leif Ahnell said Boca “will hire an expert to represent the city and the taxpayers, to make sure that all is OK. There is ample time to get more resources. This is not going to be a quick project.”

A committee of cultural arts enthusiasts led by designer Andrea Virgin, also a ballerina, has appeared several times before council members as the project has progressed. The venture, as so far planned, would bring a $126 million performance center to “a raw parcel at the northeast corner of Mizner Park, already zoned for cultural usage – [which] has remained undeveloped for more than three decades,” says an online description of the plan.

“The proposed center will finally bring to fruition Mizner Park’s founding promise to serve as Boca Raton’s cultural core while driving much needed foot traffic through Mizner Park and giving riders of Brightline an exciting reason to stop in Boca.”

When Mizner Park was created 30 years ago, it was to include the Boca Raton Museum of Art, an amphitheater and a performance center at the north end. The museum and amphitheater were built; the third element was not, and a vacant lot often used for parking remains. That site is being eyed by Virgin and her committee.

In fact, Virgin mentioned at Monday’s meeting that 40 percent of the Mizner Park multi-use center is supposed to be earmarked for cultural use.

Council members expressed concern about some elements of the performance center that could open by 2026 if all the funding is obtained and construction goes as planned.

The city of Boca Raton and its Community Redevelopment Authority currently own all the land at the north end of Mizner Park. They will lease the property to the cultural arts panel which is currently raising money for the development. 

One item still on the table is the idea that Boca will not lease the amphitheater to any other entity than the Boca Raton Center for the Arts & Innovation (BRCAI) for five years, giving the panel time to make its project work.

The term of the lease was the subject of many queries. Mayor Scott Singer said he felt a 99-year lease, which would be reached in increments, was too long. He said he wanted the lease tied more to the projected life of the buildings – between 30 and 50 years.

Council members Andrea O’Rourke and Monica Mayotte seemed more comfortable with a 79-year lease, which is what the Boca Museum currently has. Deputy City Manager Brown advised council members that “museums don’t change. Concert halls do.”

Clearly, council members indicated they don’t want to yield control of the amphitheater too soon. “We don’t want to pay them to produce our stuff,” said Councilman Andy Thomson. Mayotte and O’Rourke agreed, and Brown said, “We shouldn’t have to pay to get into our own place.”

The BRCAI wants eventually to take over the amphitheater, renovate it and use it as part of an overall performance center. If that works out, the city said it will make only emergency repairs to the facility in the meantime.

No events will be held in the amphitheater during construction.

A parking garage is also part of what the BRCAI wants to add to the performance center project.

In his presentation, Brown said the city should not put the Mizner Park facilities on hold for too long if the citizens committee cannot come up with the total funding. Virgin did say that if sufficient money can’t be raised, her group would consider downsizing the project or even terminating it.

The council generally agreed that “money in hand” is needed – no pledges — when the project begins. 

The city appears willing to give BRCAI some slack. Suggested, but not agreed upon, was the idea that if the committee raises 30 percent of the total funding in two years or 50 percent in three years, it could get two more years to finish.

“We are happy to work with the city,” said Virgin.

The BRCAI panel received praise for their hard work. “We have seen the tenacity of this group,” said Mayor Singer. “If we put reasonable terms before them, they will meet them.

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