Delray’s Old School Square cultural hub pitches $12 million revitalization

DELRAY BEACH — More open space, an amphitheater that comfortably seats thousands and a decorative fountain centerpiece are all concepts being floated for a major revitalization at downtown Delray Beach’s Old School Square.

The historically designated cultural campus, on Atlantic Avenue at Swinton Avenue, has long awaited a renaissance, said Bob Currie, an architect overseeing the revitalization.

“It can’t stand still,” Currie, who championed the revitalization of Delray Beach’s Pineapple Grove arts district, said at a recent city meeting. “It’s got to move forward. It’s got to look to the future.”

The main goal, set after several rounds of public input, is to make the cultural center more open and park-like, to encourage downtown visitors to walk through the campus. 

Several trees that surround Old School Square would be replanted elsewhere, so they no longer block the view of the campus’ greenspace. 

They also plan to add artwork, benches and pavilions for shade.

The campus will provide a “respite from the rigors of Atlantic Avenue,” said Rob Steele, president of Old School Square.

The campus is home to Delray Beach’s iconic 100-foot Christmas tree during the holiday season. The tree traditionally went up at the south entrance of Old School Square, but this year was moved deeper into the campus.

That was the first step in transforming the space, said Mayor Cary Glickstein. Limiting the overwhelming number of festivals and events once held at Old School Square was another step.

About a year ago, the city limited the number of events permitted downtown, which forced several beloved festivals, such as the Garlic Fest and the Bacon and Bourbon Festival, out of the city.

Some of the changes proposed at Old School Square aren’t as welcome to city leaders.

The outdoor amphitheater at the site would transform from a space with room for a crowd of 300, to a covered arena with terrace seating for up to 3,000 people.

While the city has set aside funding for Old School Square’s revitalization, the amphitheater should be funded privately given that it will transform the space from “a mom-and-pop venue to something more sophisticated,” Glickstein said.

A centerpiece at the campus would be a ground-level fountain, similar to the fountain feature in downtown West Palm Beach, where children often play. The fountain would be operated during the summer months.

During late fall and winter, the fountain space would house the 100-foot Christmas tree.

The fountain could become “very expensive to maintain,” however, said Commissioner Shelly Petrolia. 

The plan could cost as much at $12 million, depending on what features Old School Square moves forward with.

Because the site is in a historic district, the plan must be reviewed by the city’s Historic Preservation Board before it moves to the city commission for approval.

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