Update: The Flagler Beach City Commission this evening voted to send out a notice-of-default letter to Flagler Golf Management, giving the company 30 days to fix issues at the nine-hold golf course at the south end of town or face termination of the lease with the city. City Manager Larry Newsom said another golf-management company–the one that runs the golf course at Bunnell’s Grand Reserve–is interested in taking over. Details below.
Flagler Beach City Commission Chairman Rick Belhumeur has called a special meeting of the commission this evening at 5 to consider giving Flagler Golf Management, the company running the city’s golf course, a 30-day notice that the city will sever its lease with the company. Commissioner Jane Mealy was the second commissioner agreeing to the meeting.
Belhumeur said he inspected the nine-hole golf course this week in a golf cart and found it brown, unwatered, even though the city paid $70,000 to install a new irrigation system. “It was absolutely deplorable,” Belhumeur said. “It agitated the living crap out of me.” He said Flagler Golf Management wasn’t watering because it claimed not to be able to afford the power bill.
Terry McManus, the principal shareholder in Flagler Golf Management, calls the special meeting “hogwash” and disputes Belhumeur’s claims, with documentation showing that the pump house has been running, and the company has been paying its bills. “I agree it looks brown and we need to do something,” McManus said, but it’s not just about water. “The greens are completely dead.”
The reason, he said, is because of the city’s large stormwater project that tore through the grounds last year and stopped all activity on the course, preventing any revenue from being generated, followed by the contractor failing–in McManus’s view–to restore the grounds to their former condition, as contractually required.
Flagler Golf Management reopened the course two years ago after it had lain fallow for a decade, and after a long search by the city for a management company. The company generated just shy of $200,000 in the first year of operation, McManus said in an interview today, but then the city tore up the grounds for its planned stormwater project, which ran infrastructure through the course. He said he sustained a year-over-year loss of $108,000, with the city compensating $22,000 of that. He is seeking more: exactly how much more is to be negotiated, McManus said. But he is also seeking a $50,000 fix to the course’s greens.
Late Wednesday, McManus hand-delivered a letter to the city, giving it seven days to begin restoring the greens on the course and negotiate further compensation or else face binding arbitration or litigation “for damages and future lost earnings.”
“The gloves are coming off for a fight,” McManus said.
The special meeting and McManus’s letter are the latest, but gravest, turns in a relationship fraying since last October, after Hurricane Irma barreled through and added to the course’s woes. The course shut down in October 2017 and has barely been active since, hampered by repairs winding down and negotiating issues with the city. The two sides held a workshop the following month where they seemed to agree to a reset, with lingering skepticism on both sides.
By January, the commission was ready to end its lease but pulled back, placing the company on probation instead pending agreement over required paperwork and other issues. But disagreements continued even as commissioners seesawed between wanting to give Flagler Golf Management every chance to succeed and growing impatience with inactivity and unseemly conditions at the course.
Belhumeur was actually among the commissioners most inclined to give McManus and Flagler Golf the benefit of the doubt, making his change of heart a significant turn that bodes ill for the company.
Belhumeur said McManus has threatened litigation before. But that’s not what tonight’s meeting is about. The commission agenda is strictly to discuss whether to issue a 30-day notice. “This is not a discussion between the commission and Flagler Golf Management,” Belhumeur said. “This is a discussion among commissioners to decide whether we want to send them a default letter or not, because the attorney wouldn’t do it unless he has the consensus of the board.”
Flagler Golf management will not be at the table. Rather, McManus or his representatives will “get his three minutes like everybody else,” Belhumeur said, a reference to the three minutes members of the public get to speak on items before the commission. McManus in fact does not intend to be at the meeting. He is sending a representative, Patrick Varella, the clubhouse manager, who will testify as to when the course has been watered and for how long “to dispel any notion that we’re not watering the greens,” McManus said. But water, he added, “is not enough.”
McManus called the watering claim “complete BS,” because the irrigation system has been fully operational only for about a month. He documents a July 13 bill from Florida Power and Light showing a $568.67 charge for the meter connected to the pump house, and a $344 charge for the previous month, figures he says prove that the irrigation system has been running.
“It’s not just a matter of water, these greens need to be replanted and re-sodded, that’s the only way they’re going to come back,” McManus said. But the city “caused the misery” through the stormwater project, “and they’ve never brought it back.”
“Talk about BS, the irrigation was probably 90-plus percent done back in April, April and or May,” Belhumeur said, noting that the course had added help from “monsoon-like” rains. (The St. Johns River Water Management District, which includes Flagler, reported last week that the district has received above-average rain for nine of the past 12 months, with areas of unusually high rainfall in parts of Flagler and a district-wide 12-month rainfall total is 13.5 inches above average. But Flagler County had the highest 12-month rainfall total, with 72 inches.)
Belhumeur said the city has run out of patience. But whether it has any appetite for litigation may become apparent at this evening’s meeting.
“I doubt that they want to litigate,” McManus said. “The root of all this evil right now is the condition of the golf course and no one in their right mind can suggest that the condition of the golf course is due to anything but the course being shut down due to the stormwater project.”
The special meeting is at 5 p.m. (not 5:30, the usual time when the commission holds its meetings) at Flagler Beach City Hall, 105 South 2nd Street.