For every step forward the Palm Coast Arts Foundation takes with its ambitious plan to build a conference and arts center, it is lassoed back to more pedestrian realities by competing forces the foundation can’t control.
The arts group will be struggling against one more lasso at tonight’s County Commission meeting. The county administration is recommending against funding so much as a $50,000 marketing study for the foundation’s proposed conference center. Shooting down that proposal essentially demolishes the foundation’s best chance at getting its conference center going. That in itself is one of the main reasons the city and the county are leery of the foundation’s plans: if the foundation can’t rely on itself as the principal force behind the project, especially when it entails so much as a marketing study, public money shouldn’t be put at risk for its sake.
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The Tourist Development Council in July approved spending up to $50,000 on such a study, and forwarded its recommendation to the county commission for approval. The county administration, however, is raising “serious concerns relative to the value of a study at this time to either the Tourist Development Council or the Board of County Commissioners.” The administration says conference-center needs for now can be met by existing facilities, though aside from the Hammock Beach Club, there is no conference-center facility in the county. The administration says the proposed marketing study’s parameters are too vague and project too far into the future (20 to 30 years) to have much validity. The administration is on firmer ground in that regard, though county and city administrations in Palm Coast and Flagler County routinely rely on 20 to 30 year projections by developers when approving their plans.
There’s little question that the kind of plan the foundation is proposing is not feasible at the moment. That plan initially entailed a huge, $30 million, three-stage arts and conference center seating up to 2,200, plus art galleries, classrooms, a gift shop and a sculpture garden. It sounds (and would be) grand. But it’s not as if Palm Coast or Flagler County are able or willing to support what arts venture there are now. The Flagler Auditorium struggles to fill its 1,000 seats even when it draws national acts. Two art galleries have opened at City Walk—the Hollingsworth Gallery and the Flagler County Art League’s—but their art works aren’t flying off the walls.
So the arts foundation scaled back its original vision to just a conference center as a start. It presented that plan to the Tourist Development Council, which has public money to underwrite capital projects that would draw visitors. The council was divided, with skeptics raising several issues—including the foundation’s own money issues: it’s been unable to show that it can raise significant amounts. Pam Walker, who headed the council’s conference center committee, was not opposed to the concept, but questioned the foundation’s reliability and business plan. So did others, among them Mary DiStefano, the Palm Coast City Council representative on the tourism council.
There were other issues, such as the foundation using a Daytona State College marketing study in ways that the college had not approved. By the time the tourism council had agreed to send its recommendation for a study to the county commission, the proposal was virtually divorced from the arts foundation’s own.
Sam Perkovich, the Palm Coast Arts Foundation president, in late June had asked Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon to sign a letter of intent enabling the foundation to lease land in Town Center. That idea rears back to the foundation’s original, and unhappy, association with the city, in the middle of the last decade, when the city agreed to give it land in Town Center as long as strict fund-raising milestones were reached. The milestones were never met. The agreement was dissolved. The city hasn’t been keen to work with the arts foundation again, not even under the foundation’s new direction.
“I consider a banquet and event center a substantial change from what council as (sic.) authorized in the past on city property in the Town Center area,” Landon wrote in mid-July. “As such, I do not plan to sign your proposed letter-of-intent without council consideration and direction. I also believe it premature for council to consider this concept as there appears to be too many issues and questions being addressed by other entities. As such, I do not plan to address this request until we find out if the latest proposal seriously moves forward.”
The commission meeting takes place at the Government Services Building in Bunnell at 5 p.m.