Caution: this is another story about Flagler Beach’s city-owned, privately-run, perennially troubled golf course. The story is almost identical to the stories that have run about the course since last fall, when it ceased most operations. The city and the golf course have since engaged in a war of words, with the city threatening to terminate the lease and the golf course threatening to sue, and both sides always finding a way to pull back from the brink in a fog of conditions and promises.
That’s what happened again at a special meeting of the Flagler Beach City Commission Thursday evening.
The city commission in a 4-1 vote found Terry McManus and his Flagler Golf Management Group in default of the lease he signed with the city almost three years ago. But the vote was neutered as a subsequent vote to terminate the lease failed, 3-2, leading to another 4-1 vote to delay termination while city staff and McManus negotiate “objective standards” to fix lease violations and presumably go forward with a restored and playable golf course.
“So we’re kicking this down the road again,” Commissioner Marshall Shupe said.
“Yes,” Commissioner Jane Mealy immediately replied. She and Shupe had voted to end the lease moments earlier, but this time Shupe joined the majority to give McManus yet another chance. Whether that chance extends to 60, 90 or 120 days was never made clear in the end, the uncertainty this time having to do with the approaching end of the growing season, making a 120-day window “unrealistic,” as ex-City Commissioner Joy McGrew told her former colleagues during the public-participation period.
The city is still loath to risk losing a management company at a time when golf courses more often go out of business than make a viable go of it, and when McManus appears still willing to invest money in the property, try a different management approach–and not sue. Even though less than two months ago the commission had given McManus 30 days to fix all problems, the city Thursday evening tried to save face by declaring the course officially in default, but on probation. It was the exact outcome of a commission decision last January, minus the default portion.
McManus made a promise: “I’m for throwing the money at it and fixing it as much as we can,” he said. “In 90 days, by November, certainly mid-November, I believe that we’re going to have the golf course back to at least where it was in June of 2017. Other than the greens, we’re almost there now.”
Aside from greener sprouts, there’s been some substantial changes at the course. McManus bought out his cousin, Dwayne McDaniel, who had previously been the in-person manager of the nine-hole golf course at the south end of town. McManus said all nine holes have been resodded. “We want a good, green golf course with nice, smooth putting greens,” he said. “We’ve done a ton of work, we purchased new equipment as well, the daily routine of extensive watering, extensive fertilizing and mow it down.” The replanting of the greens cost more than $40,000, he said, work that started 60 days ago. He said he hired new management–“a golf professional that knows the restaurant business also.”
And this time he’s not making any more demands for subsidies from the city, or compensation for lost dollars caused by the city’s stormwater construction, which tore up the course last fall and into this year. McManus said he did not dispute that the condition of the course got to “deplorable” levels, but disputed how it got to that point: in that regard, he blamed the city and its contractor, and said he has been doing his best to restore playing conditions. “There’s no one on the earth that could put forth more of an effort to grow the golf course and get it back to its best condition,” he said.
City Manager Larry Newsom spoke little, but intervened when McManus started laying blame. “We can blame the contractor all you want to, we can blame the city all you want to, my goal is to move forward with this project and do a golf course,” Newsom said.
Commission Chairman Rick Belhumeur last month had been the one to start the last round of attempting to end the lease when he called a special meeting to approve a letter of default. He was now changing his mind. “Technically they’re still in default,” Belhumeur said. “They’ve been working diligently to improve the condition of that golf course.” He said separately in a text that the golf course had “never looked so good.”
Commissioner Eric Cooley wanted to stick with the original concept, floated months ago, of giving the company until the end of the growing season–or 90 days–by which time they’d have to bring it up to the standards outlined in the lease.
“I’m just hearing the same things I heard at the last meeting except now we’re making it 120 days instead of 30 days,” Mealy said. The default letter issued last month might as well be thrown out, she said.
Shupe was equally frustrated. “I’m looking at a copy of the ordinance that we passed on November 20th, 2015, which approved this lease,” he said. “If you gave 90 days, 120 days, which is what you’re talking about, that’s three years. I think three years to prove that you can grow grass and turn that into a playable golf course is extensive and I’m going to go back and say the same thing I said since January: I think we need to dissolve this lease and move forward.”
But the deciding vote to do that just wasn’t there, in part because Commissioner Kim Carney, who had also wanted to be rid of Flagler Golf Management since January, flipped–just as Belhumeur had. After a long, not entirely clear screed that targeted the lease, the city, Flagler Golf Management and McManus personally (“That’s the biggest problem that I have with this whole scenario, is Terry is not one of us, Terry lives in West Palm or in that vicinity,” Carney said, “I do believe that some of the culture of West Palm is trying to be played off in Flagler Beach and that’s not going to work for me”) Carney voted against Mealy’s motion to end the lease and proposed the motion that finally carried the evening, extending McManus’s chances further.
After the 4-1 vote, Mayor Linda Provencher, who had been silent until then, summed up the case like a prosecutor in closing arguments. She looked at McManus and told him: “These people are the ones that supported you in the beginning and you’ve lost their confidence,” Provencher told him. “All we want you to do is to make them happy and we’ll be happy, because then we won’t be getting the phone call saying it’s not going well down there. So please, I don’t care about grass, I don’t know any of this, if they’re happy, we’re happy. So make them happy.”