Delray gets tough in fight for starry new Old School Square

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DELRAY BEACH — Delray Beach wants to see more concerts, festivals and other events at Old School Square. And they’ve dumped the venue’s management to get it done.

After years of squabbles between the two sides, the dispute came to a head on Tuesday night. That’s when city officials terminated the lease with the popular downtown attraction.

Now the city wants new leadership for the venue to try to attract more big names for shows. Jimmy Buffet recently played a series of sold-out shows at Old School Square. Classic progressive rock band King Crimson also performed there last month. Art festivals have sometimes attract hundreds of people.

Mayor Shelly Petrolia said she wants to see more of these types of events, as well as private functions such as weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.

However, a spokeswoman for Old School Square said its efforts to attract top-tier performers are record-breaking in terms of talent booked. Anything implying dissatisfaction on the part of the city, or that something is not up to par, are a matter of opinion and not backed up by the facts, she said.

Rumors swirled on social media about Old School Square being demolished in favor of housing, restaurants or retail space, but Petrolia vowed to fight any such proposals.

“Not on my watch,” she said. “I absolutely would be 100% opposed to that. This has served as a city park for as long as it’s been there and … we want to keep it that way. I would absolutely be opposed to anything being commercialized on that property.”

“[Terminating the lease] was an extremely difficult decision but one that had to be made,” Petrolia said. “Everybody wants success for Old School Square, we just haven’t seen success [there] for a very long period of time and I think it’s time to make that change.”

City staff and the city manager are researching options for the next steps. The city commission will discuss the matter again at its next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 17.

Old School Square’s Chief Operating Officer Holland Ryan said the move was “truly a shock,” saying the decision was made based on “inaccuracies.” Ryan said Old School Square is exploring its options, including the possibility of legal action.

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The city commission vote to terminate the lease gave Old School Square 180 days notice. Old School Square said programming in that timeframe will not be affected, but events for the spring of 2022 are now in limbo.

“For now, all we can do is assure every ticketholder, stakeholder, patron and supporter that they will be notified of any changes,” Ryan said, “as soon as we understand how we can move forward.”

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