The Flagler County Commission on Monday approved spending $227,500 in tourism-tax revenue on a slew of grants and a construction project in Marineland, all designed to enhance the county as a tourism destination. The spending was not unusual, but rather part of the county’s tourism division’s periodic doling out of tourism-tax revenue, now at around $1.5 million a year.
The largest of the grants was a $150,000 allocation to the town of Marineland as a local match for a $725,000 project that will add 300 feet of floating docks to the town’s marina. Dock construction and dredging will account for $400,000, restrooms, an office and a pavillion will account for another $300,000.
The marina has been in the works for almost a decade. The current project is its third phase. Marineland received $150,000 from the county’s tourism funds for phase one in 2010 (not without some controversy), and $150,000 for phase two in 2014. For phase three, county government’s share will complement a $575,000 appropriation roughly split between the Florida Inland Navigation District (to which county residents contribute as part of their property taxes) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Florida Boating Improvement Program, which draws its revenue from a fuel sales surtax and recreational vessel registration fees.
The marina’s original plans by Centex, the prior owner, intended for it to be mostly a private marina with just 15 percent of the marina’s boat slips for public, transient use. Later in 2010, the marina was transferred to the Town which converted into public marina. Because of the grant funding, the marina must remain accessible to the public for transient rental of the boat slips. The grant rules prohibits long term rentals that have the effect of excluding the public. “We don’t allow live-aboards but people can stay up to 30 days on their boat in Marineland,” Leslie Babonis, the town’s mayor, said. But the average stay is one week. (An earlier version of this story misstated the public access provisions of the arrangement.)
The marina has been busy. From October to May, more than 12,000 cruising vessels traffick the Intracoastal Waterway, leaving the marina at capacity for the duration. “Currently the Town of Marineland Marina is turning away transient cruising vessels with high demand for dockage at Marineland,” the town’s grant application to the tourism department states. The 300 feet of floating docks will service boaters “at the only municipal marina in Flagler County.”
Tourism dollars are drawn from the 5 percent sales surtax applied to all hotel, motel and other short-term rental transactions in the county. The tax is overwhelmingly paid by visitors. Revenue generated from the tax is intended to enhance tourism in various ways in the county, and is split between three pots: one for beach protection, one for capital improvements to structures that add value to the county’s tourism (whether it’s the Flagler Auditorium, the Flagler Beach Pier or Marineland’s marina), and one for promotion, advertising and marketing the county or subsidies for organizations that bring their events to the county and presumably add to the county’s visitor count.
Marineland’s project is paid for through the capital fund. Other grants were drawn from the promotional fund, including a $15,000 subsidy to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association’s “Showriters Showcase” at the end of September, a three-day event held at the Hammock Beach Resort and in Marineland and featuring about a dozen songwriters whose weekend performances will be open to the public.
The commission approved an additional $46,500 for eight local companies or organizations, some of them for-profit (three grants totaling $7,500 go to Flagler Broadcasting, the radio network, for three different festivals), for a variety of cultural, sportive or other special events. The Flagler Auditorium got $10,000, the Continuing Education Company got $16,000 for two conferences, the Rotary Club of Flagler Beach got $2,000 for a cycling event and the Palm Coast Tennis Center, run by the city’s government, got $2,500 for its Men’s Futures Tennis Tournament in January.
In a third round of grants, some 14 local organizations for $1,250 each in what used to be called quality-of-life grants, when the grants were a bit more generous. The organizations qualifying include Rotary clubs, the Chamber of Commerce (for its Creekside Festival), the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, Flagler Broadcasting, the Choral Arts Society and the Flagler Auditorium, among others.
The grant proposals drew only a minute’s discussion by commissioners (Commissioner Dave Sullivan had clarifying questions about the Marineland marina) and had been placed on the commission’s consent agenda, the portion of the agenda designed to be approved in bulk without discussion. The vote was 4-0, with Charlie Ericksen absent.
See below for documentation of all the grants.