Old School Square protesters fight to ‘save the heart and soul’ of Delray Beach

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DELRAY BEACH — Supporters of Old School Square in the heart of downtown Delray Beach are rallying against the city’s decision to dump the management of the venerable arts and entertainment venue.

A protest is planned outside the building this afternoon. Critics also plan to confront city commissioners during a meeting at 4 p.m., and a petition entitled “Save the heart & soul of Delray Beach: Old School Square Center for The Arts, Inc.!” had just shy of 6,000 signatures as of noon Tuesday.

Old School Square is home to the Crest Theatre, Cornell Art Museum, an art school and more. Much of the opposition seems to revolve around fears that the institution could disappear, but Mayor Shelly Petrolia said last week that Old School Square itself is not in jeopardy. She just wants a different organization to run it and make it more vibrant.

City leaders said Old School Square had violated the terms of its lease, failed to present required financial information to the city, began renovations without the proper permits and failed to attract a diverse range of talent to perform there.

“[Terminating the lease] was an extremely difficult decision but one that had to be made,” Petrolia said last week. “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.”

In response to the mayor, Old School Square posted a 4,000-word rebuttal to its Facebook page, disputing each of Petrolia’s criticisms, point-by-point. That full response can be viewed here:

In short, Old School Square’s leadership says city officials are lying or being misleading. They say they have helped attract “record-breaking” talent like Jimmy Buffett and King Crimson, that these events have helped generate $100 million for the city and that they host a variety of other events like 9/11 remembrances, Pulse NightClub and Marjory Stoneman Douglas vigils, Black Lives Matters rallies and more.

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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