Art Show lawsuit & the need for transparent & competitive processes at City Hall

Disclaimer: I’m (obviously) biased to all things Clematis Street.

On the 16th of June in the CRA meeting, the City of West Palm Beach approved a deal to bring the “Palm Beach Modern + Contemporary” art show to West Palm Beach.

In the announcement from Art Miami:

The ownership team of the Palm Beach Modern and Contemporary Fair is committed to launching and producing a new world-class art fair in West Palm Beach during the height of high season to fill a current void in the Palm Beach collecting scene.

“We are extremely thankful to City of West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and the city’s Commission for their unanimous support. We are confident that the Palm Beach Modern and Contemporary Fair will be a long–term positive force for local businesses, residents, and the cultural landscape of the region. We are excited about calling downtown West Palm Beach home for our network of leading international galleries and international collectors to interact in an intimate environment to acquire the very best works from the 20th and 21st centuries during the height of season,” said Nick Korniloff Palm Beach Modern and Contemporary Founder and Partner.

Mayor Jeri Muoio adds:

“We are thrilled the city of West Palm Beach will be the Host City and bring the Art Miami quality, brand, style and ambience [sic] this upcoming January. Hosting a fair of this caliber falls in line with the City’s continued initiatives around cultural events that provide a positive impact for the entire community,”

The show is being thrown by Art Miami and the City has agreed to let them use the “tent-site” between Lakeview and Okeechobee to put on the show for the next 3 years. Art Miami came to the City after not being able to secure the convention center for the dates they wanted as they conflicted with existing art shows Art Palm Beach (celebrating 20 years in West Palm Beach) and the Palm Beach Jewelry, Art and Antique Show (At the Convention center since 2004).

These Palm Beach Post articles go into detail over this competitive rivalry which has spanned over the last few years.

Palm  Beach Jewelry, Art and Antique Show is produced by Palm Beach Show Group owned by Rob Samuels and Scott Diament who started their Art and Jewelry business with Provident Jewelry on Clematis. Rob Samuels is also on the Board of the Downtown Development Authority and their firm has supported downtown through the last few decades.


Within days of the city making this decision. Rob Samuels and his firm wrote a letter to the CRA board, which is made of the Mayor and Commissioners. They also  filed a lawsuit against the CRA. Read the Letter to the CRA here | Read the official Complaint.  The Palm Beach Post also covered the story here.

The issues that Palm Beach Show Group  has with this deal are well laid out, and the only thing that the Palm Beach Show Group is asking is that the City follow the rules that they have set for leasing their property: Give 30-days notice, and allow bids through a standard competitive RFP process.

I talked to Scott Diament, who is travelling in England, and he said:

“I’m a capitalist, and I welcome the competition, but all we’re asking is that the City follow their rules. Government is supposed to be transparent and for the benefit of the people of WPB. If we are willing to pay for the land and we put on a great art show, they should not allow a company to come in and not pay lock up a prime piece for 3 years and effectively support and endorse a commercial venture to the detriment of existing … without even giving them a chance.”


This decision will hurt the existing art shows in town. It’s like if the city approved a music festival on the waterfront with all the same bands as Sunfest a month before Sunfest. If this were an open and competitive process where an outside business brought more to the table and the local business lost a bid, then that’s a different story. But for the City to hand a competitive advantage to an outside business, without a bidding process, and to “license” the property instead of “lease” it so that they don’t have to follow their own rules, is simply unacceptable.

Back to Rob Samuel’s Letter to the CRA:

In fairness to the CRA, we believe it did not have all the information at the time that the CRA voted on this matter. In all candor, we feel that this deal was rushed through the CRA for approval without a full and real discussion, and that it was not noticed properly. It is our sincere belief that if all the facts had been brought to light, the CRA would have made a different decision and would not have chosen to tie up the property for three years, for zero dollars to hurt two long proven existing events in our Convention Center that is located in the very heart of our City.

Our local government needs to take a “West Palm Beach First” stance in each decision we make. I see so many times when an outside developer walks in (with their lobbyist) and tells a great tale about how much “economic development” or “international exposure” their project will bring to the City, that the City gives them whatever they want. In this case the City voted to give away the rights to property for free that local entrepreneurs would have paid tens of thousands of dollars for per year.

I guess the show owner, Nick Korniloff, felt the vote was already in the bag as neither they nor their lobbyist, Neil Schiller, even bothered showing up or addressing the commission publicly before the vote.

In the CRA meeting where this was voted on (in the last 5 minutes without any public discussion), the one thing that was discussed was the name. Since we live in WEST Palm Beach, and the whole point of this show was to “bring international attention to West Palm Beach”, the Mayor asked that the name of the show included West Palm Beach. The “compromise” was to keep the name “Palm Beach Modern + Contemporary” and add a “Hosted by West Palm Beach” to the marketing material.

Palm Beach Modern + Contemporary


A great example of the RFP process working is what happened recently when Christopher’s Kitchen wanted to lease the CRA-owned space on Clematis Street next to SubCulture Coffee. Because the City worked through their open process, SubCulture was able to come to the table and bring their own proposal. SubCulture showed that through their continued investment into Clematis Street they could continue to make an impact, and won the bid. Christopher’s Kitchen after initially walking away from the deal, saw the value that being in Downtown West Palm Beach would bring to their business, and now plans to open up in the Alexander Lofts. A transparent and open process is win/win.

I think the request from Palm Beach Show Group is fair. Open up the process back up through a competitive RFP process and get the best deal for both West Palm Beach, the local entrepreneurs & and our Art community.

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