With Revels Chairing, County Puts Its Imprint on Committee to Study Fate of Old Courthouse
FlaglerLive | June 2, 2014
After much discussion and a a touch of testiness, the Flagler County Commission on Monday unanimously agreed to name Commissioner Barbara Revels chairman of the seven-member committee that will recommend whether to sell, demolish or redevelop the old county courthouse again saddling county taxpayers, after Bunnell rejected its ownership in April and the county angrily took it back in May.
The county is now on the hunt for qualified members for the committee, with strict limitations on who may serve and equally strict parameters on the committee’s functions, which are to begin in mid-June, submit a recommendation to the commission by Oct. 16, and disband the following month.
“We tried to come up with some options and some ideas,” Count Administrator Craig Coffey, who drew the parameters and himself recommended that a county commissioner chair the panel, said. “We viewed this as not a general citizens-taxpayer committee that you might normally have or a long-term standing committee, we view this as a very immediate task force with specific skills we want brought to the table to try and figure out if there’s other options.”
The decision to demolish or sell the property is entirely the county’s. That leaves the committee focused on whether and how to “redevelop” the building for private or public-private uses, Coffey said, understanding that a majority of the commission is jaundiced at the thought of continuing to subsidize the building in any way, year after year.
“I don’t mind sustaining it until we can figure out something, but if we can’t figure out something in a period of time we need to have a plan in place so it doesn’t linger the way it has,” Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said. He’s not interested in subsidizing the building’s existence anymore, even and especially not when it might be turned over to private, business uses. “Personally, my opinion was to take it back and immediately put it up for auction. If there’s a feeling that it can become profitable and take it off the taxpayers shoulders, in that sense, I’m in favor of that, but one way or the other, this is a building that I don’t think that we can absorb.”
“Well, let’s vote on getting rid of the building, then,” Commission Chairman George Hanns said.
But commissioners are not all ready to go that far yet, though McLaughlin’s and Hanns’s comments are the first to explicitly state what Bunell did: that taxpayers cannot shoulder the burden of the building’s anticipated costs. If the county cannot do so, Bunnell could do so even less, as Bunnell commissioners themselves told the county when they rejected the building.
Creating a committee to decide the courthouse’s fate is the latest such attempt after several like it over the past seven, almost eight, years, as the building has sat, unoccupied, sucking taxpayer dollars and needing a steady dose of repairs.
“I’ll be interested to see if this one gets off the ground after four months,” Comissioner Frank Meeker of this latest committee.
“The committee will get off the ground if you guys approve a committee today. There’s no doubt about that,” Coffey said. “Now, whether or not there’s a viable recommendation that’s financially stable or not, that remains to be seen. Staff took a stab with trying to come up with membership and structure. However you guys want to do it, the door is wide open. It’s a very short-term committee. We’re open to your suggestions and how you want to handle it.”
Revels raised two issues: first, it may be difficult to find people who’ve been involved in this sort of thing—finding suitable occupants for a property or a building. Second, the county has to caution against the possibility of conflicts of interests, if committee members are interested in bidding on some of the space, or have clients who might be.“It’s a fine line,” Revels said, “but I thought we’d try to say that the committee members would not plan on coming in and wanting to access space or be a user or be a bidder or a subcontractor or any of those areas, if the space were to be able to be developed. So that’s going to further complicate people applying, because as you said commissioner Meeker, we’ve heard of a lot of people in the community that jumped up real fast, and said I want to I want to, I want to b on the committee but I also want to move in there.”
“Yeah, I just want to see the check that goes along with that,” Meeker said.
“I would like to see the committee be a group of people that are taking the blinders off of government property,” Revels said, “and looking at this as space as if they had just driven into town and were wondering where could they land as a business entity, or what other thing might go there.”
At the moment, the guidelines call for volunteer members to include an architect, a general contractor, a real estate professional, a mechanical contractor, a nom-realtor with experience in space procurement, company relocation and acquisition for public or private entities, and one citizen at large. (That last position may be occupied by Mary Anne Clark, who chairs the Flagler County Historical Society, who’s long been involved in talks concerning the old courthouse, and who was among the few people who indicated an interest to be on the committee, as she did to Hanns.)
It was Commissioner Charlie Ericksen who raised the question of having a member of the commission chair the committee, triggering the only disagreement of the morning.
“Being in my district I’d be very interested in it but I was kind of hoping none of us would be on the committee,” McLaughlin said. “I would rather we’d just have it be a citizen’s committee, let them come back with us with a recommendation, because all we’re looking for is a recommendation, not a committee to do something. I would ask that we pull that requirement.”
“The only concern is though that we’ve had real good success in at least one project I think of where a commissioner did sit in on that, and did get the ball going, and obviously that’s Carver,” Ericksen said. He was referring to Revels, who, after voting to kill county support for Carver Gym in Bunnell, successfully chaired the committee that resuscitated Carver Gym as a youth center funded in part by the county and in part by private contributions. Carver is also in McLaughlin’s district.
“I’m interested in serving on it because of my professional background,” Revels, a general contractor and Realtor, said. She owns Coquina Realty in Flagler Beach. “I think the estimates that had been put together for both the county and maybe the city were highly elevated because they’ve got to cover all the bases, and so there’s lots of contingencies and what ifs and the degree that that building, the annex, was going to be developed for the Sheriff’s Ops center, had a lot of things in it that you wouldn’t put in it if it was just normal office space.”
For a time, several years and until last winter, the county’s plan was to move the sheriff’s operations center to the old courthouse annex. That plan fizzled when the county opted to buy the old Memorial Hospital building nearby instead, and move the sheriff there.
“I agree with that,” McLaughlin said, “but I just think the general contractor community, the interested community should do that because again it’s a recommendation to this board as to the disposition of that building. It’s up to them to crunch those numbers and bring that back to us.”
Coffey then intervened on Revels’s behalf. “It would bring some historical perspective to the development of this project over many years,” Coffey said. “Also, the financial aspect of the county, I know there’s a number of folks out there who’d like to recommend space for the public to have and the public to use, but really to me when I hear those things, I hear that’s county dollars going back into that building, and I was hoping a commissioner would be able to help with that aspect of it as well, in bringing the knowledge of government to the table.”
Hanns claimed that the county turned away from the old courthouse only when Bunnell spoke its desire to take over the building. “We went out on a limb and purchased another facility for the sheriff’s operations center, and it’s just a shame that we’re going through the same thing again,” Hanns said. “It’s hard not to get upset over this because it’s going over something that we shouldn’t even be dealing with, and because of the decision of Bunnell giving us back this facility, we purchase another facility for the sheriff.”
But Hanns is wrong. Bunnell at no point denied the county the opportunity to keep and use the annex for the sheriff, and the county went ahead with the very controversial and expensive Memorial Hospital purchase long before Bunnell committed to the courthouse.
In the end, even McLauhlin accepted Revels’s chairmanship, which Hanns had also strongly supported.
“One thing I’d like to say, when you all are talking, I never, ever interrupt you,” Hanns said at one point, after Revels had interrupted him when Hanns was showering compliments on her handling of the Carver matter. “And I pretty much said what I wanted to say, but if want to compliment a commissioner, that’s my prerogative, and I do that by a long history of knowledge over a long-time period.”
Only on person from the public, the eternal and epigrammatically precise Jack Carrell, who attends most county and Palm Coast meetings, spoke: “I understood that this was supposed to be for a limited time,” he said of the latest committee. “Now, you sitting up there and you’re dilly-dallying and you’re talking, and time is passing. Every day that passes is going to cost us money. You’re going to come back in another two weeks to pick out the people, then another two weeks to form it. This four months is going to turn into a year. So I would say get off your asses and let’s move.” Hanns asked him if he could be more specific. Carrell demurred.
County Guidelines in Call for Committee Members:
The professionals to serve on the committee must include: an architect or similar design professional, a real estate professional, a general contractor preferably with commercial construction experience, a mechanical contractor with air conditioning or other mechanical experience key to redeveloping the building, and a non realtor with experience in space procurement or relocations and acquisitions for public or private entities.
Applications should be submitted to Christie Mayer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Acceptance of applications will close at 10 a.m., Friday, June 13. The applications will be submitted to the County Commission for approval at their meeting on Monday, June 16. See below for an application, or click here to download it.
The committee will be directed to study the Flagler County Courthouse/Annex as to disposition for future use including by not limited to: sale of the facility, demolition, and redevelopment . The committee is also directed to analyze any existing funding sources, including grants, private funds or new funding sources.