Mysteries Revealed: Why Do We Have A Stadium?

When it's rockin' it's good, when it's empty it's not so good.

When it’s rockin’ it’s good, when it’s empty it’s not so good.

Editor’s note: First in a series of posts that will reveal the stories and answer the burning question “what were they thinking?”  behind local mysteries including “the gateway feature”, special events and our favorite “conditional use.”

The Delray Beach Open was in the news last week.
News outlets all over the world reported that 5 of the top 30 players on the planet will be coming to Delray to play in the ATP event Feb. 12-21.  And the Sun-Sentinel reported that the city commission is challenging the legality of the tennis contract with the event’s promoter signed in October 2005 with the city.
Commissioners felt the need to hire outside counsel to review the deal even though it appears that perhaps two members of the commission had no idea that such a decision was made. They don’t remember voting and nobody can find a record of an agenda item. Ironic since the outside lawyer was tasked with opining on whether the city followed the proper process in 2005 in not bidding the contract.
So much for “process” I suppose.

At least when we approved the deal it was at a public meeting with 32 pages of back-up material available for public perusal.

I was mayor at the time. More on the process part later.

It’s my understanding that Delray is the smallest city in the world to host an ATP event.
It wasn’t my decision to build a stadium downtown. That was a decision made by a City Commission led by Mayor Tom Lynch. In my opinion, Mayor Lynch was as good as any mayor we’ve had in the nearly 30 years I have lived in Delray Beach.
As good as Mayor Lynch was, he’s not above criticism. Nobody is.
Over the years the public has questioned whether the tennis stadium was a good idea.
It’s certainly debatable and it’s healthy to debate because sometimes you might learn something that you can use to inform future decisions.
But in order to have a meaningful debate rather than a game of “gotcha” which does nothing but make bullies feel a little better you have to go deeper than platitudes and sweeping indictments of past decisions.
When the decision to build the tennis stadium and redo the old and blighted tennis center was made, Delray was not the Delray we live in today.
The downtown was promising, but not quite vibrant or sustainable. The West Atlantic corridor was plagued by crime, disinvestment and negative perceptions. There was no library, no Fairfield Inn, no Atlantic Grove, no Ziree, no Windy City Pizza. There was however, loitering and drug dealing and a drive through liquor store.

So when Mayor Lynch and his colleagues (which included a future mayor named Jay Alperin) decided against relocating the tennis center to suburbia and then made a deal to build a tennis stadium to host a Virginia Slims event it was a bold and dramatic decision. Mayor Lynch thought the decision changed how people thought of Delray. He believed it encouraged investment and drew visitors to a city that was ambitious and was trying to turn the corner and become a vibrant and prosperous place.
He believed that decision, along with the restoration of Old School Square among other decisions and investments, set the stage for Delray’s renaissance.
I know how he thought, because I covered his commission and later tried to build on his and others work when I was elected to the commission.
Note the words build on–it’s the opposite of reverse. Not that prior decisions are sacrosanct or that we didn’t reverse many things that were done by prior mayors and commission’s but we did so with the benefit of either knowing or trying to understand the rationale of the original policy.
The Virginia Slims event lasted 2 or three years before Kraft pulled out of women’s tennis. The event and it’s long term deal went away. We were left with a stadium without an event. Concerts were tried and mostly failed at the facility. Boxing failed too. An arena football team took a look and then went away.
The stadium was an issue on the campaign trail and in the various meetings with the community that we held regularly during my term in office. It was called a “white elephant” and severely underutilized. It was considered a costly drain too.
So the commission’s I served on made a decision.

Right or wrong we decided not to raze or sell the stadium. But we did decide to pursue events.
Mindful of the departure of the Slims we thought it was wise to try and lock in a tournament for a long term deal. We also agreed to try concerts again (that didn’t work), approved a deal to bring the Chris Evert Pro Celebrity Classic to the stadium and eagerly approved adding national junior events during “off season” to put heads in beds. That worked well.
We also pursued and won Davis Cup and Fed Cup ties which were highly successful.
We did these things not to ring city cash registers but to market our city (the deal included TV coverage and TV ads) and to help our downtown businesses grow.
Considering the hot summer and the hurricane season (we had a bunch during that era) we thought if we could have events from November through April it would suffice. We could breathe life into the white elephant and market our city.
You may think that makes sense or you may think it was the worst business deal around these parts since IBM shunned Bill Gates and something called Windows, but that’s the rest of the story as Paul Harvey might say.
If there is a desire to get rid of the event or to renegotiate it so be it.
If there is a desire to sell the stadium, tennis center and City Hall–yes City Hall have at it. Personally, I think those ideas are ridiculous.
But regardless, it’s helpful to understand the history, context and rationale of decisions so you can best plan for the future.
Again, I don’t think selling public assets to pay for recurring expenses is prudent. I can promise you future policy makers will be looking at that and scratching their heads if indeed any of these ‘out of the box’ concepts come to fruition.
I also don’t buy into the assessment of the current administration that we are broke. Spiritually and morale wise maybe–financially no way. With nearly $30 million in reserves and a growing tax base and people still willing to invest here despite a Byzantine and never ending approval “process” I’d say we are in decent shape. Not because of current policy and “leadership” but because of vision and leadership going back to the mid 80s that was able to build a pretty cool city with growing property values and a ton of amenities that has made future progress possible citywide including Congress Avenue. (But not if you shut down or take your eye off the downtown).
We may have made a bad business decision in 2005. I would happily debate the current mayor or any elected on that point and many others including the Byzantine never ending approval process, flawed LDRs and the  lack of transparency on the fire merger and the decision to hire outside legal counsel to look at the tennis contract. As I mentioned earlier,  I’m told two commissioners didn’t even know about it. I talked to one and he said he didn’t. I didn’t call the other.
So we have outside counsel investigating whether a contract was entered into in violation of a process without a process to hire outside counsel. Interesting.
As for the opinion that the contract should have been bid, I disagree.
Here’s the ordinance we worked off of. You decide. Or maybe a court will. Our commission didn’t build the tennis stadium, we did decide to try and put things in it.



Specialty Goods and Services. Acquisitions of or contracts for specialty goods and services (including but not limited to performing artists, artwork, special events, entertainment, and food and beverage) may be made or entered into by the City Manager without utilizing a Sealed Competitive Method or the Written Quotations Method. Acquisitions of specialty goods and services, where the expenditure by the City is estimated to be twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00) or greater, shall be subject to approval by the City Commission.


  1. makes sense to me

  2. Jay Alperin says

    My recollection is that Matchpoint owns the tournament. If the contract is void the most likely result is it will move to a friendlier location. We my save some money (except for the law suit expense and award) but loose National and International recognition.
    We have already lost all of our institutional knowledge and this action is a perfect example of that.
    What will this Commission do with the stadium and tennis center? Are they even aware there exists deed restrictions on much of this property?
    The Commission seems to be over concerned with immediate political popularity and not long term impacts. It reminds me of Delray politics in the 1970’s and early 80’s. Our City nearly died during that era.

    • Sandy Roberts says

      I have been trying for the past few years to express what I feel the commission is “doing” to the City. Jay, you hit it right on the spot when you said above “The Commission seems to be over concerned with immediate political popularity and not long term impacts.” Thank you.

  3. Margie Walden says

    Thank you Jeff Perlman for this informative article. It is important to add that last year the Delray Open was responsible for 936 hotel room nights and 44,000 attendees with an estimated economic impact of $5 million. This figure does not include the value of media exposure in the USA and international markets that could total an additional $10-$20 million. Moreover, it is usual and customary that ATP sanctioned events are not sent out for RFPs. Cities compete for ATP events just like the Olympics or the Super Bowl for their economic impact and marketing power. Delray Beach invited this prestigious tennis event in 1998 and again in 2005 and won the opportunity to host this event. Delray has invested greatly to attract professional athletes and sanctioned sports events and it has paid off. Hopefully, we do not create an atmosphere where these events go elsewhere.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Thanks Margie.
      If you run a business and only focus on costs you will never see the value of your enterprise. If you have a city without amenities you will not attract investment, create value or enhance quality of life which should be your main objective as a city.

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