Cool to Sudden Roma Court Proposal, Flagler Sheriff Restates Preferences for Proximity
FlaglerLive | August 8, 2013
Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre has been straining not to take sides or endorse one option over another in the wrangle over the Sheriff’s Office’s next location. At most, he says, he’ll lay out his preferences, which he’s done several times. But he was cool, at best, to the sudden proposal by the owner of Roma Court to lease 30,000 square feet of the property to the county, with an option to own that segment in 15 years.
“They’d have to have the county commission buy into,” Manfre said of the unexpected proposal. “I have preferences for what I’d like to see, but I don’t have the location. The county commission has to decide.”
Manfre has made those preferences clear: a one-level building (which Roma Court isn’t), ample parking (which Roma Court’s split 88 underground spaces and 187 above ground spaces might prove challenging), and proximity to county, court and jail operations, which Roma Court does not provide as other options the county administration submitted do. “Obviously I’d rather be close to that area for convenience purposes,” Manfre said. “I’d rather be near the Government Services Building and the courthouse because that’s where people are coming in to do other business.”
No one had contacted the sheriff about the Roma Court proposal—not its brokers nor the county administrator—before it was publicized.
Roma Court is the faux-Renaissance, canary-yellow strip mall on Palm Coast Parkway, just west of Belle Terre Parkway, that’s been begging for tenants since its completion in 2008, more than a year into the housing crash. Unlike City Marketplace, another troubled but more frequented commercial property, Roma Court has struggled to find and keep tenants. It’s courted Palm Coast’s city offices with no success (those offices have been at City Marketplace since 2008). It’s now courting the county.
The courtship is reflective of a still-stressed real estate economy and the desperation of property owners and real estate agents to land big, reliable tenants with guaranteed sources of money. None are as reliable as government agencies.
The Flagler County Commission on Monday agreed to move forward with a $1.23 million deal to buy the decaying 60,000 square foot Memorial hospital in Bunnel from local lawyer Michael Chiumento, banker Bruce Page, and a partner in Ormond Beach. Chiumento had bought the property in 2003 for $750,000.
Roma Court, a 55,000 square foot development was sold in June for $1.55 million to John Bills of Palm Beach Gardens, who operates Roma Court under the name of 515 Palm Coast LLC. He owns John Bills Properties Inc., also based in Palm Beach, where the company leases and sells numerous commercial properties.
On Aug. 5, four days after the county voted 4-1 to approve the hospital deal, Bills wrote Craig Coffey, the county administrator, to make the lease proposal, which was first reported in Wednesday’s Observer. Bills is offering all 57,000 square feet of the property on a 15-year lease to the county.
The lease would cost the county $500,000 in rent per year for the first five years, then $655,500 a year for the next five years, and $741,000 a year for the final five years, for a total of nearly $10 million over the 15 years. The proposed agreement would enable the county to sublease the 27,000 square feet that it’s not using for the sheriff’s office, “which sub-tenant shall be provided by owner,” Bills’s proposal states. Assuming that square footage is rented at the rates in the proposal, it would bring the county’s net cost down to $5.18 million, though given the difficulty of finding tenants for Roma Court in the first place, it’s difficult to imagine how either the county or the property owner would guarantee filling that remaining square footage.
After 15 years, the proposed agreement would yield the original 30,000 square feet to the county, “free and clear,” but not the remaining 27,000 square feet. The county was already hesitant to share the old courthouse with Bunnell, a government agency. It is not likely to enter into such arrangement on commercial grounds with a private property owner, especially if the sheriff is located there: the sheriff is notoriously particular about the sort of neighbors he likes, and doesn’t like, to have, for obvious reasons: sheriff’s operations require a degree of discretion. It would be odd to have a sheriff’s operation center abutting a Chinese restaurant, for example.
“It would certainly be more difficult than some of the other options that have been presented to me simply because you have retail establishments already in the building and it was built to be a retail and office center,” Manfre said.
Jerry Masiello, the real estate broker, described the proposal in an email to Coffey Monday as “an alternative option for the Flagler County Sheriff’s operational center and other ancillary departments. The owner has taken into consideration Florida Statute 30.10 and this proposal allows the Sheriff’s administration office to still remain in the County seat while at the same time saving the County and taxpayers a substantial amount of short and long term expenditures.”
Ironically, Masiello once had his office abutting that of Michael Chiumento, one of the owners of the old hospital, in Town Center. Another irony: Cornelia Manfre, the sheriff’s wife and a commercial real estate broker herself, once had the Roma Court listing, but that was several years ago. She is not connected with the building in any way at this point, the sheriff said.
Coffey hasn’t contacted Manfre about the proposal, suggesting to Manfre that the proposal is not getting much traction.
Roma Court paid $39,000 in total taxes last year, including $15,000 to the school board and $8,000 to Palm Coast. It was slightly more than the previous year, but considerably less than the $71,000 paid in 2009. The troubled property was repossessed in 2011.