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Landon and Council Say Palm Coast City Hall Is Not a Done Deal. Plans Say Otherwise.

| February 8, 2011

The city's timeline for a new city hall: Just don't call it a done deal.

There was a bit of backtracking over the proposed $10 million city hall at the Palm Coast City Council Tuesday as City Manager Jim Landon tried to explain why bidding out architectural services two months ago, bidding out construction services this month, shifting the money to the city’s capital budget and sticking by a timeline that would have actual construction beginning in summer—for late 2012 occupancy—doesn’t mean the project is a done deal.

But even as Landon strained to distance himself and the council from the timeline his administration was enacting, he used words and qualifiers that made his intentions clear: while city residents are still not convinced that a new city hall right now is not the way to go, that opposition is itself not a done deal, and Landon’s aim is to continue wearing it down, as he attempted to do in a series of town hall meetings leading up to the New Year.

“I know I’m not convinced the community is ready for it,” Landon said, “and I think there’s still going to have to be a lot of work out there to make sure the community—you’re never going to make everybody like any project we do, and this one in particular, but I do think there has to be a lot more work, education, discussion out in the community before this community would be ready for it if they ever get ready for it.”

In interviews with Mayor Jon Netts and council members Frank Meeker and Bill Lewis last week, none of them was aware that the city had advertised a request for qualifications for construction management services, though by then they were aware of the bidding for architectural services. They did not equate the bid process with their decision-making, saying that until a contract was signed, they were not yet officially favoring the new city hall. All three still favor building one with more or less conviction: Lewis is for it (though he hadn’t included a new city hall on his list of priorities at the city’s goal-setting session last year). Netts wants more information. Meeker isn’t sure Town Center, the proposed site for the structure, is the ideal place, now that the city is spreading north and west.

Landon’s repositioning Tuesday was prompted by a question by Meeker—a question whose answer seemed well prepared in advance: council and manager do much of their talking behind closed doors before meetings. “My understanding,” Meeker said, “is that is not the intent of what we’re doing here, we’re trying to get the information that the mayor and the rest of the council asked for.”

“I agree with you,” Landon said, eliciting laughter from the council members: Landon either seldom agrees with Meeker or has much patience for him. (“Mark this date,” Netts suggested to Meeker.)

“If you recall, we put together this conceptual idea, there really wasn’t any meat on those bones at all, just conceptual idea, went out and talked to the community,” Landon said. “A lot of questions about real cost, a lot of questions of capital costs, what the building is going to cost, operation maintenance compared to this facility, and what kind of impact it would have on our operating costs year in and year out, a lot of details as far as what size we need, and those types of questions.”

Most of those questions were actually answered: 40,000 square feet, $10 million cost, all of it financed in cash by using various internal accounts and calling in a “loan” to a different segment of the government’s accounts (the Town Center community redevelopment agency, which would then borrow nearly the same sum at commercial rates to stay afloat). The design phase’s cost was put at $1.2 million. That’s what the figure advertised in the request for qualifications from architectural firms, which landed Orlando-based C.T. Hsu and Associates. All those steps and details were outlined in Landon’s presentation, many times repeated around town, to the council last year.

The council never formally approved the timeline in the presentation, nor the concept, for that matter: it was careful never to vote one way or the other, thus purposefully creating the gray area that’s allowed Landon to proceed as if it had approved the “conceptual” plan without actually having to say it did. That’s the blueprint being followed. The public’s response hasn’t focused on the details so much as on the concept, the timing and the method: if the public rejected a city hall proposal in 2005 by referendum (as it did by an 82 percent majority), why wasn’t the public being asked to weigh in by referendum this time? The answer, of course, is that the proposal would likely fail again if it were submitted to a referendum, which is why the city is steering clear of that approach and while playing up the less formal “outreach” of town hall meetings, occasional discussions at the council, and willful determination behind the scenes.

Referring to Netts’ request for more details, Landon’s triangulations on Tuesday summed up the strategy: “You asked us to look into more of those details, and that time we talked about, well, you have to get professional help to do that, and the way you get professional help is obviously go out and hire an architect and construction management firm. In today’s world, in talking to them on the side, they are willing to help with providing some of that information with little or no cost, provided they know that if the project happens, they would be the one that would get the work, and so we are going through the process as if the project will go forward, but telling everybody that city council has not approved the project but they’ve asked for additional information before they make a decision on the project.”

The idea, Landon said, was to keep costs down. He reminded the council that staying in place—at City Market Place—would be costly to the city’s budget: rent is paid out of the general fund. But the city pays a mere $240,000 a year in rent. It would take 41 years to hit the $10 million mark, by which time the conceived city hall would have run up its own costs in expansion and maintenance while depreciating in value.

At no point, once Meeker asked his question, did either Meeker or other members of the council ask follow-up questions or challenge Landon.

“Not going into this with any preconceived notion that all this is going to be an easy one because it’s not,” Landon concluded, “therefore anybody says it’s a done deal, nobody is talking like that around our arena whatsoever.”

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13 Responses for “Landon and Council Say Palm Coast City Hall Is Not a Done Deal. Plans Say Otherwise.”

  1. K says:

    Is this legal? For some reason I am reminded of the smoke and mirrors used by Bert Fish Hospital and Florida Hospital in New Smyrna Beach.

    What are the Sunshine Laws limitations on manipulating the public?

  2. K says:

    How ironic. I leave this article and head over to the New Journal for more morning news and there’s an article about Flagler being the 20th most stressed county in America and the most stressed county east of the Rockys.

    And Mayor Netts says this in the article: “In retrospect, we should have known the growth we were experiencing was not sustainable,” he said, referring to the county’s housing boom. “We had all our eggs in one big basket and a lot of that basket had to do with speculation and the bottom fell out.”

    “We puffed our chest about it and now we’re suffering the consequences for it,” he said.

    OK Netts- stop talking out both sides of your mouth and put a stop to this City Hall nonsense right now and work to bring jobs here. Hiring an out of town firm to construct a City Hall we do not need is not sustainable growth and will result in ill will as well as the likely collapse of the complex formerly known as City Walk.

    We don’t need more commercial vacancies in Palm Coast.

    Please do something to stop Landon from pursuing something so wasteful right now. Many Palm Coast citizens are living paycheck to paycheck and watching our property values continue to plummet. We are watching our neighborhoods become blighted due to foreclosures. Tall grass, abandoned homes, unkempt landscape are becoming the norm here.

    The last thing we want to see is a taj mahal in town center while we worry about feeding our children and keeping roofs over our heads.

  3. Rob says:

    K says, further on in the article Frank Meeker states what most already know and that is residential real estate taxes never have and most likely never will pay for the cost of city services.

    So what is behind the wisdom of mass mailing lot owners to build in Palm Coast? Couldn’t that money have been used to solicit companies to move to sunny Palm Coast Florida?

    If this town hall wasn’t a done deal then the councilors would take a stand and say they are against it.
    Lewis is for it. Meeker is for it, just not in that location. Netts and Landon are joined at the hip. Moorman last heard from can’t make up his mind. If one can’t make up their mind in the face of so much economic uncertainty and the most distressing economy since the great depression then one should step aside. A possible no vote from DiStefano won’t change a thing.

    Is it a done deal?
    If it waddles, and quacks you know what it is.

    You can always tell when a politician and/or salesman is telling the truth.
    Their lips don’t move.

  4. Donn Pedersen says:

    Boy, it sure seems like our City Counsel members just don’t get it. But they will – in the next ballot box. I can’t wait to vote for the candidate who stands up and says, “fire Jim Landon”. Actually, Jim Landon does get it. He knows full well that the citizens of Palm Coast, overwelmingly, 82%! , do not want a new City Hall. Yet he goes on with his sneaky, backdoor plans to build a 10 million dollar building. Looks awfully “weaselly” to me. So- City Counsel- either “just say No” to Jim Landon now or face the wrath of the 82% later. it’s your choice- I sure hope you choose “Palm Coast”.

  5. palm coaster says:

    Flagler just made it to the list of most financially distressed counties east of the Rocky Mountains. and we are still wasting paid labor time and our funds on pursuing this City Hall and the Coquina Desalinization Plant. Two mega dollar projects that will deteriorate even further the limited reserves of our city and will further in debt it.
    The one more intended outsourcing of this city hall engineering proposal in Orlando, proves once more that Palm Coast as well as the other government entities and schools outsource our big contracts based in unsubstantiated motives, other than personal particular interest to benefit the ones in control only and not the jobless county residents paying for those tax generated contracts. Our big tax generated jobs go elsewhere, Orlando, Jacksonville, Deland, Tampa, Alabama, New Jersey and even the Florida prison technical labor. For sure will end up generating more prisoners caught stealing out of the need of some residents to get food and fuel. Giving our contracts to the Florida prison system with the excuse of being cheaper (not truth all the time) as of course prisoners get paid peanuts, we just use our tax dollars to fund wealth to our prison businesses corporations other than generating the jobs we desperately need here. Aren’t enough our tax dollars sucked up to maintain these prisons and inmates that on top we have to compete for jobs with them. I suggest again that our elected officials research the buying contracts on file from their purchasing departments and find out where all needed is bought or contracted out! Even our local professional lawyers, engineers, architects, builders loose many of our contracts to outsourcing from administrators in government and schools and with the approval of our elected officials. Reasons unacceptable. They always manage to convince the local citizens that is cheaper that way and is mostly a lie. These ignored professionals could employ more secretaries and labor but outsourcing prevents it. Now some of our local hospitals are even sending our X-rays to be read in India and Australia with the excuse that we do not have enough professionals available here to the task..actually also a lie. They do it to save 25% plus in the cost while, we the patient and doctor wait much longer for the results.
    Our elected officials can create hundreds of jobs by stopping, the outsourcing only profitable for the very few, if they care seriously to improve Flagler.

  6. Mike says:

    The city hall for some reason has become a symbol of bad government or government out of control. Some just seem to be against it because the city proposed building it, just like some didn’t like the trails and parks being built, not to mention the golf course and tennis courts .

    The new city hall is an investment in our city, for the future. The economy is improving, we will grow again, along with the town center. We have an ideal setting for our beautiful city, close to the ocean and the big city attractions, but far away enough to not have the problems of those cities. All those baby boomers will be looking for a place to settle and we have just about everything they need.

    Lets look ahead, get the city hall built and move on.

  7. bill says:

    I thank Palmcoast is growing just fine The city is beautiful. To back off on city hall now is not the thing to d o . If George Washington had said not now We would not be A country. You must take chances to grow
    Now is the time for city hall.
    Start building bill

  8. Liana G says:

    Bbill says: ‘The new city hall is an investment in our city ‘- How so??????

    ‘ not to mention the – golf course – and tennis courts’ . Do you know what has happened to the Matanzas golf course ? Well let me tell you – it has been closed for almost 4 years now. Decripit and overgrown with giant sink holes! The citizens were right to decry this venture. Same with the tennis courts over by Frieda Zamba, and same with some of the parks. They are all suffering from lack of basic upkeep and the city’s solution is ???? Let’s build us a 10 million dollar city hall.

    If you want to sway opinion you’ll need to do some convincing rather than just parroting for Landon and Co.

  9. jimmythebull says:

    remember the B. S. when you vote.

  10. Justice for All says:

    It stinks the way this is being handled. Reminds me of Dick Kelton, who thought he knew what was best for the City, yet triggered annexation wars and set up our expensive utility (don’t forget the “proposed” desalinization plant) while allowing developers to “improve” all things that made Palm Coast a community. Not much has changed!

  11. Recall says:

    These town councilors seem to have their own agenda. It does not appear to be the same agenda as the majority of voters who voted against a new city hall. At least against using bond to complete the construction. So this group has made an end run to siphon the money elsewhere.

    Has anyone heard of the word RECALL.

    Would the passive voters in Palm Coast even begin to think about such a change.


    There is NO reason to go out for RFQ’s at this point…noe at all….

  13. jimmythebull says:

    If 82% of the people are against building a new city hall, and the city goes ahead and builds it, isn.t that a dictatorship?

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