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Gus Ajram, Embattled Bulldog Drive Business Owner, Collapses in Outburst Before Council

| November 20, 2012

Gus Ajram in a quieter moment, on Bulldog Drive, which the city will divert from his property, rather than buy the property. (© FlaglerLive)

It was supposed to be a routine update to the Palm Coast City Council of its Town Center developments, including an update on Bulldog Drive’s cosmetic reconstruction into a handsomer entrance to what was to be the city’s new downtown. That construction might begin either this summer or the next. But nothing has been routine with Town Center since its inception in 2004. Nor was it Tuesday morning.

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The council, sitting as the Town Center Community Redevelopment Agency board (a technicality with no bearing on the council’s authority), was to approve a huge change order to the engineering design contract of the Bulldog Drive reconstruction, the third such additional cost to the project.

Palm Coast had already engineered a widening of Bulldog Drive. But it’s been re-engineering the project, and paying the costs, because it could not acquire one final piece of property alongside Bulldog Drive from its owner, Gus Ajram, who owns GEA Auto.  Ajram wanted $1.25 million for his property. The city was prepared to go no higher than $1 million. The two sides deadlocked in a very long, very acrimonious battle that became personal between Ajram and Jim Landon, the city manager.

Landon threatened to condemn Ajram’s property. Ajram dared Landon to do so. After more than a year of (costly) legal maneuverings on both sides, Landon dropped the threat, because between legal and other fees, and the possibility that a judge would award Ajram the higher amount, condemnation could have likely cost the city more than paying Ajram the difference. So Landon literally took a detour. He would curve the reconstructed Bulldog Drive around Ajram’s property.

Yet the cost of the re-engineered design—$348,0000—was  well above what it would have cost the city to settle the acquisition with Ajram, and widen Bulldog Drive as it had originally planned. The engineering contract has already increased by $20,000. Tuesday morning, the council was set to approve yet another cost increase, this time of $213,000, bringing the total engineering contract cost to $582,000.

Ajram was in the audience. The latest developments set him off.

Audio: Gus Ajram’s Outburst
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He went up to the lectern when Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts opened the segment of the meeting to public comment, and, after introducing himself as “the bastard that owns the property on Bulldog Drive,” lashed out at the council, and particularly at Landon, in a viciously slur-laced tirade against what he described as the city’s “abuse, just for the simple reason I’m half a nigger, half camel-jockey” (Ajram is a native of Lebanon with darker skin), “just the abuse your management and your city attorney put and my family [through] for 11 years.” He referred to the time, documented in the city’s dealings over the property, when the city used CRA dollars as a sweetener to compel his tenants to leave the property. Though he paused initially and said he’d speak calmly, his voice rose immediately to nothing short of a scream, louder and more confrontational than anything the council has heard in memory, as he described what he perceived as purposefully discourteous, unfair treatment because he’d stood up to the city, and because of his origins. “If I had blond and blue eyes like the rest, I would have been taken care of. But I;m a dumb nigger, they underestimated me.” He then likened himself to an Arab spring facing the city, and targeted Landon.

“This is not American. I’m more American than he’ll ever be,” he shouted, referring to Landon. Ajram lost his land in Lebanon because of the civil war there, migrated to the United States, where he became a citizen, married, raised a family, and started several successful businesses in New York and Florida. The city has refused to allow him to sell cars at his Bulldog Drive location, forcing him to sell them from a property at the county airport across State Road 100, at an additional cost to him of $24,000. Today’s confrontation was the culmination of a six-year stand-off with the city, and a very costly one in legal bills for both sides. The city spent taxpayer dollars fighting it. Ajram had to spend his own, ruinously.

Ajram had spoken less than two minutes when, in the middle of a sentence, he collapsed over the lectern and, in the words of Charlie Ericksen—a frequent presence at city meetings who is to be sworn in as a county commissioner this afternoon—twitched and looked as if he was having a stroke.

Mike Beadle, the Palm Coast Fire Chief, and Flagler County Sheriff Mark Carman (who’d been set to stop Ajram moments earlier) came to his aid, as did Ericksen.

The council members and the city manager all stayed in their seats, staring down at the scene a few feet from them as others in the audience sprang up to help. Netts called out for a call to 911 and a recess.

Less than a year ago, Ajram had a heart attack. Ajram was refusing treatment this morning, but was eventually put on a gurney and taken to an Ambulance in the parking lot of the Palm Coast Community Center, where he was given fluids and Aspirin, but refused morphine and nitroglycerin. He was taken to Florida Hospital Flagler, but walked out of his own power as soon as he arrived.

He was back at his shop on Bulldog Drive a little after 11 a.m., no less angry than he’d been at the meeting, and defiant: he said he’d be at every subsequent meeting if necessary. He said the city’s dealings had “tagged” him and his property, making it impossible to sell, since it had been targeted for condemnation, while the reconstruction of Bulldog Drive would veer off his shop and box him in between the road and a ditch—moves, he said, purposefully designed to “screw me.”

Ajram promised not to go away.

Meanwhile, back at the council, Netts described the incident as “a very unfortunate circumstance,” and added: “By way of explanation, he is a property owner in the CRA, and there have been extensive negotiations between Mr. Ajram, his attorneys and the city over a number of years regarding potential acquisition of his property. Clearly he’s not happy with the position the city has taken. Our best wishes for a quick recovery go out to him.”

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48 Responses for “Gus Ajram, Embattled Bulldog Drive Business Owner, Collapses in Outburst Before Council”

  1. Tired says:

    If you put the purchase price aside for a minute, I’d like to address the bullying. What right does the city have to harrass this man when he decided not to sell to them for their price? Why does he have to relocate part of his business out of the city, across 100, in order to do the type of work he’d been doing all along? Why are they allowed to bully and harrass this man, who is paying taxes and living a normal life? This isn’t the first time this has happened in this city, and until we get rid of Landon and Netts it will continue.


  2. I reviewed an appraisal report on this property for a lender in 2006. I did an appraisal on this property for the city in 2007. The city has since had several appraisals made of this site. I believe the appraiser was out of Jacksonville, that is a matter of public record. They should have gone ahead with the Eminent Domain proceeding. The value is determined by a jury of 12, not the judge. In Florida the property owners attorney fees and expert witness fees are paid by the condeming agency. All parties take a chance, you can never predict what a jury might do. Mr Ajram still has recourse through Inverse Condemnation. I have no knowledge of who represented Mr Ajram but I do know most of the best Eminent Domain attorneys in this state having ben cross examined by many of them. The city has purchased several parcels in this area at what most owners felt was a fair price. Land in this location is not inexpensive.


  3. Lou Reis says:

    Come on Gus hey karate expert collapsing in front of the City Council you better than that give them hell those assholes don’t deserve that B strong man.


  4. PJ says:

    Ok let’s face it.

    Kelton left the city fat with money in reserves.

    Then Landon shows up and now we are spending money in plam coast like a drunk sailor in port.

    Palm Coast is now broke, wait till you see how much your water rates will be soon.

    Gus is an American so a Lebanese American who cares, and that’s fine with me.

    Gus using the ‘N” word in any context never get’s anyone anywhere anymore.

    The camel jockey thing not something you should call yourself or for that matter your fellow heritage.

    Let’s think about this for a minute? “pondering” Hmm,

    America right, this is America?

    So Gus wants 1.25 m and the city wants to spend less. Hmm whats wrong with this picture?

    NOTHNG THIS AMERICA THE LAND OF being and doing business. Gus is just doing business. Nothing wrong with this. Don’t you think?

    Here is the problem. Landon’s EGO.

    Get rid of this guy and we can save money as he and his staff under his guidence tries to force us to do things at his will.

    Gus stay focused you should get paid the money your asking because when you started this deal all of the propery values were at your asking price 5 years ago.

    It’s Landon’s ego that is making the proerty cost more not poor old Gus………………


  5. Cyd Weeks says:

    this whole fight between him and Langdon disgusts me. Give him the money…you already over paid for the other two properties and you have screwed this man more than was necessary. Enough is enough…we REALLY don’t care who can pee further. PAY HIM.


  6. Biker says:

    Just curious but their website states moving back to 108 Bulldog Drive. Does that mean that he wasnt located at the property on Bulldog selling cars? I am really very curious but did this guy ever have a car sale lot located at that location? Did his tenants that he claimed to have lost have a car sale lot? I really dont remember one at that location. I rememeber an auto mechanic shop there. I do remember the car sale lot on the corner of 100 and Bulldog. Did the city buy out that property? What did they sell for. Is this a case of the City being bullies, or something else?


  7. JonQPublik says:

    At this point, Mr. Ajram shouldn’t get less than 3 million.


  8. Reality Check says:

    When will Landon be disciplined for his actions? Is he above reproach? Come on City Council get off you lazy, politically afraid asses and do what we voted you in to do, TAKE ACTION!!!!


  9. Anonymous says:

    i am very glad that i have changed my mind about opening my own business in palm coast–itll still be in flagler county most likely-or in the southern most part area of st augustine….but i will not subject myself to the bullying of palm coast


  10. Geezer says:

    Just more effing filthy political maneuvers by the creeps Palm Coast elected.
    Gus is right about everything he says. Bigotry is never too far below the surface.

    Gus is smart to have speculated that his property was going to be a gateway to Town Center.
    He needs to cash in now, as it is all fair and square. If he was a local politician or had one in his pocket, he’d pull in $3,000,000+ for this investment. This is a fact.

    But no, the city wants to screw him over. They are truly drunk with power, Landon and the gang.
    Drunk with power running a 3rd rate, financially insolvent city. (with lovely landscaping)

    Hang tough Gus! Don’t have a heart attack because of those sc***ags.
    I hope that you prevail and can partake in the American Dream – you’ve earned it.
    You work hard, unlike our elected officials.


  11. P C says:

    I wouldn’t sell that property for less than 2 million. Location Location Location. Good for him. Your not buying a peice of land. That’s his living. Place is a gold mine. Great cars. Great repair business .


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