By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Board members of a Delray Beach agency say they are tired of footing the bill for the city’s tennis tournament, but the group agreed to pony up the money anyway.
Next year, the board says the funding level for the 2019 Delray Beach Open will be on their terms not the city’s.
For a decade, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency has helped the city fulfill its contractual obligation for the annual ATP tennis tournament by contributing money as a sponsor. The city is also fighting the validity of the 25-year-contract in the court system.
This upcoming fiscal year, the agency has signed off on spending $1 million to help the city pay for the 2018 event that is set for Feb. 16-25.
But that decision was not made easily. Two board members voted against the amount. Others said they wanted to fund less in previous public discussions, but ultimately the full amount was approved in a 5-2 vote.
“At some point we need to draw the line in the sand about this tennis tournament and how much we are going to fund it,” board member Dedrick Straghn. said. “We need to decide when we are going to do it, if we are going to do it and we need to stick by it. Don’t give the money and then complain. No, dont give it, it is that simple.”
Board chair Annette Gray called her fellow board members hypocrites for supporting the full amount of $1 million after the board had previously supported funding $850,000. Some said they wanted to see the amount reduced to $550,000.
“We had the opportunity to send a clear message to the city commissioner and we kicked it down the road another year,” she said after the board agreed to fund the $1 million ask from the city. “I and deeply disappointed. It wasn’t going to be easy and it wasn’t going to be convenient and it wasn’t going to make us any fans. We are OK with talking about doing the right thing, but when it comes time to bleed for the right thing, we don’t, for whatever reason that is.”
Board member Morris Carstarphen said there are so many projects the agency can spend $1 million on, but he ultimately voted for the full funding request because the tournament is so close to taking place. He said he would have supported the $850,000 if the commission supported it.
“We are too late in the game now to go back to the drawing board,” he said, adding the amount the board agrees to pay can change year-to-year. “Come next year, we agree to whatever we agree to.”
Gray had proposed funding $850,000 with an additional $100,000 of funding to hire or work with a consultant that could pursue sponsorships for the 2019 tournament, with the possibility of generating some sponsorships through the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative for the 2018 tournament.
The $100,000 would be utilized as seed money for the cooperative to obtain sponsorships and would not be provided on a recurring basis. In addition, $50,000 would be allocated to put on a community event focused around the tennis tournament that would involve all community partners including, WARC, Delray Beach Sports Destination Committee, the Spady Museum, NW/SW Neighborhood Alliance, DDA, Chamber and DBMC.
The city is allowed to raise sponsorship money to help cover the costs of the tournament, per the terms of the contract. Her idea had garnered support from her board, but the recommendation from the agency staff was to fund $1 million—solely for the tournament.
Gray went as far as calling for a reprimand against agency Executive Director Jeff Costello for not properly conveying the boards’ consensus to the commission. Board members agreed to save any comments for his annual review at the advice of the board attorney.
According to a memo from the CRA staff on the funding amount, there were concerns raised about the tennis tournament operator not being cooperative in fulfilling the new sponsorship initiative and there was no consensus from the city on Gray’s plan.
After the vote, agency board members called the idea a great one for the 2019 tournament.
During a recent public joint workshop between the city and agency boards, the city attorney instructed both boards not to discuss the tournament and its funding because the city is in litigation with the tournament operator.
The city filed the lawsuit more than a year ago alleging it broke its own rules by not competitively bidding the tournament. The operator Match Point, Inc. states the contract can’t be bid because it is a sole source, according to legal documents.
“Discovery revealed that the City investigation and determined that Match Point was, and remains, the only available source for an annual ATP men’s tennis tournament in Delray Beach,” a motion to dismiss filed by Match Point states.
An amended complaint filed by the city states the city should have looked into women, youth and minor leagues as well when considering the tournament.
Board members said they were not allowed the discuss tournament funding amounts at all during the joint meeting or the mayor would “shut the meeting down.” CRA chairwoman Gray called it a “gag order” on her board.
In a text message conversation obtained through a public record request, city attorney Max Lohman tells Gray before the agency’s budget hearing that, “The case may resolve itself within the next 12 to 18 months” and tells her the commission does not want money going toward an event or to the marketing cooperative and “Jeopardizing the outcome will have a much great financial impact than $150,000.”
The two boards operate independently with separate staff, board members and budgets. The agency has been pressured by the mayor to fulfill the city’s budget requests or else possibly be taken over by the commissioners.
Commissioners considered sitting themselves as the agency board recently, but the idea failed in a narrow 3-2 vote.
The mayor sent the board a letter of items he wants to see fulfilled by the agency board if it wants his support as an independent board. The board responded on Sept. 28 and mostly agreed with the recommendations made by the mayor.
According to a public records request, the city has spent $121,170 as of July 17 on outside legal counsel for the suit against the tournament operator Match Point, Inc.
The city engaged Weiss Serota Hellman Cole & Bierman, which helped the city in its lawsuits against Waste Management and Edwards CDS, the developers of Atlantic Crossing. The city paid the firm nearly $517,000 for its services for the Atlantic Crossing litigation and about $151,000 for the Waste Management case. Total the city has spent about $789,000 since 2013 on hot ticket lawsuits with one law firm.
There is a hearing scheduled for Monday, Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. at courtroom 10-B at the Palm Beach County Courthouse. Judge Richard L. Oftedal will hear the defendant’s motion to dismiss the amended complaint. The hearing is scheduled to last 30 minutes.