An issue that reared its head during the election campaign has returned just two days after the city elected a new mayor and one new commissioner.
Gerry Franciosa, president of an organization called Delray Citizens Coalition Board, sent a March 14 email to current mayor Tom Carney, mayor-elect Cary Glickstein, city commissioners, the city manager and the city attorney that questioned whether state law allows the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency to channel money to the Arts Garage.
The Arts Garage became an issue in the March 12 election when Carney opponents painted him as favoring a law firm to buy the 10,000-square-foot space now shared by two arts groups, the Arts Garage and a puppetry arts workshop.
The law firm, Kanner & Pintaluga, has outgrown its offices on Pugliese Way near the Arts Garage, and made a $2.5 million bid on the Arts Garage space. Bob Schmier, a developer and a member of the board of Creative City Collaborative, the nonprofit that runs Art Garage, also made a $2.5 million bid. Both the law firm and Schmier said they would allow Arts Garage to stay in its current location.
The building, on the ground floor of a city-owned parking garage on Northeast First Street, is at the entry to the Pineapple Grove arts neighborhood. Arts Garage supporters said moving the popular music and arts venue would remove the neighborhood’s keystone.
The issue also affected commission candidate Kurt Lehmann, a real estate broker. Campaign literature pointed out that Lehmann accepted campaign contributions from Kanner & Pintaluga. Lehmann lost to Shelly Petrolia, a fellow Realtor and a critic of Carney’s administration.
In his email, Franciosa wrote that by using CRA dollars to support the Arts Garage, “the CRA is operating outside its scope … and I must ask that the CRA cease funding to the Arts Garage immediately and the City authorize an outside audit firm to examine the expenditures of CRA tax dollars in this matter.”
Franciosa, a retired law-enforcement officer, added that he plans to file a formal complaint to the Florida Attorney General’s Office.
The issue has already been raised in the case of the City of Sanford CRA. In 2010, Sanford asked the attorney general if it was appropriate for that city’s CRA to use its money for festivals, street parties and grants to nonprofit entities.
Franciosa pointed out in his email that the Arts Garage is a nonprofit entity. As with many legal opinions, that one left room for interpretation.
“Grants to entities which promote tourism and economic development, as well as to nonprofits providing socially beneficial programs, would appear outside the scope of the community redevelopment act,” wrote then Attorney General Bill McCollum.
Sanford’s city attorney said his city is taking a conservative approach. The CRA can pay for only that percentage of an activity that takes place in a specific “brick and mortar” part of the CRA district. That’s a hedge against an investigation by the state Auditor General, said the attorney, Lonnie Groot.
By contrast, the city of Daytona Beach takes a much more liberal view, despite a steady stream of attention from the state Auditor General’s Office, Groot said.
In what appear to be unrelated decisions, three members of the Arts Garage governing board have resigned in the last month: former mayor Jeff Perlman, husband of CRA director Diane Colonna; developer Chuck Halberg and insurance executive Connor Lynch, son of former Delray Beach mayor and current Village of Golf commissioner Tom Lynch.
Arts Garage director Alyona Ushe said the resignations were “part of the natural progression” of nonprofit boards and that all three had left to spend more time with their families and their businesses.
“I find it interesting that the only nonprofit he decides to question is us,” Ushe said. “I have more questions than answers about this.
“The CRA and Diane (Colonna) would never do anything that would even cause a question of negative perception.”