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Barbecuing Bing’s

| November 30, 2018

Room for a view: the natural balance of Bing's Landing would be lost if a building were built in its heart. (© FlaglerLive)

Room for a view: the natural balance of Bing’s Landing would be lost if a building were built in its heart. (© FlaglerLive)

I was glad to hear one of the owners of Captain’s Barbecue at Bing’s Landing say that he’s willing to go back to the drawing board regarding his plan for an expanded restaurant there. The county should take him up on it despite its vote last week, because the plans both Captain’s and the county submitted to the county commission, such as they are, were half-baked at best: if Captain’s were serving barbecue the same way, its patrons would end up in the emergency room. Fortunately for the commission, the only victim here is the character of a public park, which current plans would radically alter.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive I have nothing against Captain’s Barbecue or its presence at Bing’s Landing. Restaurants have as much of a place in public parks as pavilions and visitors’ centers, assuming they don’t have a monopoly and their entry there is fairly and regularly put out to bid. Nor can Captain’s be faulted for doing and taking what it can to make its profits: that’s what businesses do. So to a large extent the criticism leveled at Captain’s has been misplaced. It’s the county’s responsibility to ensure the stewardship of a park. The county is failing that responsibility.

Right now Captain’s is a good fit. It’s been successful. It wants to expand. But moving the restaurant to the middle of the park would lobotomize the architecture of the park, turning Bing’s primarily into a restaurant (and bar) surrounded by greenery, as opposed to a park that happens to include a restaurant. The move would be done in complete disregard for balance and aesthetics that make a park what it is. It’d be like moving Tavern on the Green at the edge of Central Park smack into Sheep Meadow, ruining a centerpiece of the park. Sure the business is successful and attracts people. But by that logic so would an Outback or a Hard Rock Café. Thankfully we’re not there.


But close. The expansion’s indifference to the park’s design is the issue. That’s not what Flagler taxpayers had in mind when they spent $1 million in 1989 to buy Bing’s with Environmentally Sensitive Lands dollars. If the deal is going to be more palatable to residents and park lovers, it should accommodate a less intrusive location, north or south, assuming the restaurant cannot be rebuilt in place–a still very much unproven assumption.

The other problem with this deal is its hollowness. County Administrator Craig Coffey insisted to me that there was nothing sinister about it, that it was discussed openly, with no intentions to hide anything. Maybe so, but only because there’s been nothing to hide, in the sense that the county has produced no documentation backing up any of its claims or those of Captain’s Barbecue. They both claim that the current restaurant building is falling apart, even though just a couple of years ago they supposedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars renovating it. If it’s falling apart, prove it. Provide analysis and estimates by independent inspectors–not the county’s own. Show where the problem is, what it would take to fix it, what it would cost, and why, with phased approaches being all the rage, no such phased approach could apply to the existing building. Until then, the claim that the building is no longer usable is bogus, especially since Captain’s is willing to keep using it for as long as it takes to move into a new building. When the Titanic is sinking, you don’t keep serving beef on its decks for a year until Harland and Wolff get you a new hull.

Captain’s claims it will pay for the new building. That’s great. But there are no plans, no cost estimates, no contractual arrangements, so even the vague claim that it’ll be a $1 million investment is bogus until proven. That means we don’t know what it would cost the county to build a new building, the county that just boasted spending just a few hundred thousand dollars to build three luxury cottages at Princess Place. Just this morning on WNZF Coffey acknowledged that “maybe it’s not $1 million, maybe it’s $750,000.” Then maybe it’s not $750,000, either. And maybe the county should pay for the reconstruction of its own assets instead of privatizing its capital responsibilities on an unproven, unvetted whim.

There was too much vital information commissioners should have asked for before approving an irresponsible 21-year lease with their eyes closed (or 28 years, when all extensions are counted–to 2046), with Captain’s paying the insulting rent of $1,000 a month, no taxes, no impact fees, nothing for septic, nothing for parking. And no matter what revenue Captain’s generates, it won’t contribute a cent in profit sharing with the county, the way the Funky Pelican in Flagler Beach and any business on public land is expected to contribute to the government agency on whose subsidies it depends. Privately-run though it is, a business benefiting from public land and public subsidies owes its landlord, meaning us taxpayers, a full financial accounting: revenue, expenses, earnings, number of employees, what it pays them–so we’re not left to take on faith the business’ claims of being the next-best-thing since Henry Ford. Nor do we know what happens should Captain’s somehow close shop before the lease runs out. What then? A hulking carcass of a building in the middle of what used to be a park.

Let’s also not diminish the cravenness of the commission when it approved this deal, with ex-Commissioner Nate McLaughlin moaning about his “honor” and defending himself for taking contributions from Captain’s owners, never disclosing that he’d listed one of those owners as his top reference in a job application with Bunnell government. It’s one thing to take political contributions. It’s entirely another when your next job may depend on the good word of the same guy angling for your vote. McLaughlin the supreme back-scratcher cast the swing vote, his last.

Again, not Captain’s fault, but it’s a dirty deal, it’s the county’s doing, and even though the lease was executed, all sides should go back to the drawing board and come up with something more respectful of the park, the taxpayers, and indeed of Captain’s, whose reputation is taking a beating because of the county’s incompetent deal-making. I’m all for not punishing Captain’s for its success. But let’s not barbecue Bing’s Landing along the way.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.

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39 Responses for “Barbecuing Bing’s”

  1. Really says:

    Thx Pierre. IMO it should not happen.

  2. Lazaruis says:

    Can’t blame the captain for trying to get alot for a little …
    The full blame is on the politicians who would be dumb enough to do this ridiculous deal .

  3. Stretchem says:

    Small Town USA. Good ole boy network in all its glory. I still crack up when I see FlaglerLive wordsmithing these yeeha’s. Completely unique and I love reading about it!

  4. Kathy says:

    Thank you Mr. Tristam. A story that finally makes sense out of all of this foolishness. Back to (or to the) drawing board.

  5. Wishful Thinking says:

    Maybe Hansen or Sullivan will do the right thing and recall their vote by making a motion(as per Roberts rules) to revisit the original discussion and vote.

  6. Steve Robinson says:

    Well argued, and I agree wholeheartedly with Lazaruis. Captain’s has been good for the Hammock, a pleasant place to eat good food in an underserved area. Businessmen are in business to make a profit; government has quite different responsibilities. The county, through lack of candor and transparency, has managed to turn an asset into a tempest of bad feelings and bad faith. The county should do what it can to fix this, and Captain’s should pay attention to the outcry among residents, who after all are their customers!

  7. can't believe it says:

    Very well presented Pierre.

    There is a community action group called Flagler County Citizens Group, which just started because of this. They have opened a GoFundMe account (gofundme.com/flagler-county-citizens-group) to fund opposition to this and other poor, hasty, uninformed decisions made by the County Administrator and Commissioners. They need everyone’s help to take back control of our county. Thank you for bringing this and other issues, that The County doesn’t want us to know, to the people.

    to the people,

  8. Cindy says:

    I finally agree with you Pierre.

  9. Dave says:

    Is their no ethics of honor and standards expected when it comes to a business? I dont believe a buisness should take advantage just because they can. Some blame lands on Captains BBQ for even trying us like that. Not In Our Park!

  10. Resident says:

    Bottom line, Craig Coffey is responsible and his side Kick Nate McLaughlin supported it and helped push it through on his way out the door the day before he lost his seat on the board. It was sneaky, there were too many unanswered questions, and this is not what should occur with environmentally sensitive land! If the Captain wants to expand, buy his own land and have at it. Craig Coffey likes to slide things through at the last minute and likes to shove things through in the consent agenda. Like Ben and others have said in the past, what occurred is not even legal. You can bet your bottom dollar nothing would be done about it though if a ruckus wasn’t raised. Coffey has been a master manipulator and must be fired! Coffey has proven time and time again at our expense he is not a fit for this county. He and Sally Sherman both need to go back where they came from. Any commissioner that doesn’t vote for their termination should not be elected into public office again and should be publically challenged and everything that comes before them should be looked at under the microscope. Hopefully we will get the results we expect from the CDC and each will be accountable for their actions and inactions relating to our health and welfare. Heads need to roll!!!

  11. palmcoaster says:

    Thank you Pierre with your Flagler Live realistic editorial in favor of Bings Landin preservation, the peoples park not the FCBOCC Park.
    Great investigative work Pierre! Kudos to your finding that Captain’s owner was one reference for lame duck McLaughlin for the Bunnell community developer vacancy.Glad that the manager passed on him. No wonder he made the motion to approve Cpt’s Bbq expansion!!
    Hope he stays out of public office and goes back to real estate were at least he can inflict less damage.
    Cpt’s Bbq will greatly benefit to stay put in the same location and stop the greed and county go back to the drawing board and back of this shameful approval.

  12. snapperhead says:

    Hansen and Sullivan should be the ones getting flooded with calls/emails. Capt’s, Coffey and McLaughlin did exactly what you’d expect. Shame on the other 2 commissioners who voted for this for all the reasons mentioned. Capt’s can pull the plug on this if they chose to and it may actually benefit their business. I can’t see how this helps. It’s just bad PR.

  13. Concerned Citizen says:

    The fact that the county “fears” redoing the lease is bogus.

    Having been a long time renter myself Leases come and go and are modified. They can be changed without much recourse to the renter.

    Captains has spent money by donating “campaign contributions” to make sure the lease is an issue. They also don’t pay fair taxes on the property. I.E catching breaks on where the smoker is etc.

    In short Captains and the BOCC tried to pull a shady deal rammed it thru and got caught. There still needs to be legal ramifications instead of back peddling and half felt apologies.

  14. Sherry says:

    Greetings from near Cairns, Australia! Pierre. . . as usual, you are spot on with your assessment of this situation.

    Dave and Resident says. . . I most certainly agree with your comments! This whole situation smacks of corruption. . . not only by Coffey, but by those commissioners who have enabled him over the years. What “favors” have the owners of Captains BBQ done to receive such a completely “Sweetheart” deal? The NEW BOCC should act very quickly to rescind the contract if at all possible. Coffey should most certainly be FIRED immediately! There should also be an independent investigation to determine the FACTS of precisely when and how this whole process rolled forward in such an unethical, and possibly illegal way.

    Last, but not least. . . . patronizing such an establishment should be impossible for any person of integrity and high moral values.

  15. Hammock Harry says:

    Thank you Pierre..well written.
    People, patronize other nearby restaurants and boycott the Captain..forever.
    Make Bings great again!

  16. hawkeye says:

    For the 1st time ever..I agree with Pierre,this whole deal stinks

  17. joe says:

    – captains owner gave cash contrib to nate
    – captains owner knows he stands to make a lot of money over 21 years in vote, gets Nate to pass it along in final hours
    – captains owner is reference on Nates job app

    How is any of this NOT captains fault? Sounds to me like you’re trying to get people to eat at captains again. Just going to call it as the facts support it, and I do not agree with your view here. Captains navigated this deal, Nate and company manned the decks and dropped anchor, right in the middle of the park.

  18. Flatsflyer says:

    The biggest problem I have is the boat ramp and lack of dock space. Giving Captain’s 4 docks for customers is 50% of the total space. Next thing we be required to pay for is dredging the habour, extending the basin and adding more docks. If this is the best we can expect from our County Commissioners, then we surely need to never again vote for graduates of Trump University.

  19. Roger says:

    Well said. Now let’s continue to hold the commissioners accountable. Some of them forget they work for the public.Folks don’t get complacent. show up at the commission meetings and voice . Don’t just complain on here.
    Most of you chose to elect a “ rich on paper “ carpetbagger from GA that has promised more than any commissioner in US history has. Can’t wait until he solves all the drug problems and delivers high paying jobs to us all as promised.
    Keep all the commissioners under a microscope.

    Awesome work Pierre! Don’t let up on keeping tabs on what the local government is doing without public consideration. Your going to be busy the next four years! You will need to create a a full time position just to keep up.
    It was a well or orchestrated election for a reason.

  20. palmcoaster says:

    To “Save Our Park” supporters
    This is our first email to this group from the Mailchimp server, so please bear with us.

    If you attended the meeting last night, thank you. It was well attended and mostly orderly. There was a feeling of passion about saving our park that was palpable. A new reporter from the Observer (Becky Pourchot who lives in the Hammock) attended and so we’ll no doubt see an article written.

    Shari Gray started the meeting off with a request to attend the Monday, Dec 3, 9:00 AM Board of County Commissioners meeting at the Administration building in Bunnell. The agenda is posted on the flaglercounty.org website andHERE. There are 30 minutes allocated for Community Outreach early in the agenda. She asked that supporters be respectful and cause no harm to Captain’s BBQ. There were committee sign-up sheets and petitions.

    Shari called for another demonstration tomorrow Sunday from 2-4 at Bings Landing. If you attend, please don’t use the parking in front of Captain’s and stand back several feet from A1A for your own safety.

    Other speakers were Daryl Perrit, Bill Hannon, Randy Odom, Lynne Rosewater, and Dennis Clark.
    Marge Rooyakkers, President of Hammock Community Association and VP of Friends of A1A, relayed some compromises that might be offered in a revised lease:
    No increase in building footprint from the current building (a 2-story building could make up the difference).
    No new ground devoted to parking, but make the existing parking more efficient.
    The old building area will become green space after demolition.
    The bar would not open until 5 pm (avoiding the playground issue)
    No new signage
    More boat slips would be for the park and not be reserved.
    The new building would be up to Miami Dade (hurricane) code
    It was apparent that these concessions were not acceptable to many, who believe that the existing building can be repaired or replaced where it is now, the increased parking needed for 50 more seats seating, and a bar in a public park. The impact of a much enlarged septic field, which might require mounds, could be devastating to the park. Community members feel that they should have input since the park was purchased with taxpayer dollars Funding for a legal challenge took in over $1800 in cash with an online funding system to be available soon.

    Commissioner Greg Hansen will be at the Jan 8 HCA meeting with staff (7:30 pm, Hammock Community Center)
    County Commissioner’s emails are available HERE
    Charles Ericksen (cericksen@flaglercounty.org); Greg Hansen (ghansen@flaglercounty.org); Donald O’Brien (dobrien@flaglercounty.org); David Sullivan (dsullivan@flaglercounty.org); Joe Mullins (jmullins@flaglercounty.org)

    More later.

  21. Susan Moya says:

    Thanks for covering stories we would otherwise not know about, or after the fact.

  22. Hammock Bear says:

    Thank you for your input about Captain’s at Bing’s Landing. You have spoken volumes for all who are not in favor of this. The many reasons that you covered should be a great concern to every taxpayer in the county. Please keep us informed.

  23. palmcoaster says:

    This county has been systematically giving up our water front rights to developers and other special interest and that started in 1998 after ITT departure, when the county commission with Darby as chair gave Ginn our 33 acres ocean front public park on the original DRI from ITT-Admiral Corporation to Bobby Ginn for his Nicklaus style golf course. See on page 12 next:
    https://gotoby.com/userfiles/Recommended%20Order%204-6-11%20Dunes%20DRI%20NOPC.pdf
    “In addition,
    the 1998 amendment provided for the conveyance of 33 acres of
    beachfront land at the intersection of 16th Road and the beach,
    previously intended to be a County park, from the County to the
    developer to enable the developer to construct part of a Jack
    Nicklaus signature golf course”.
    Then in 1998 in an unattended meeting FCBOCC approved with flying colors and fanfare and applusse Ginn’s offer after getting 33 acres of our pristine ocean front park, his donation of$ 20,000 check for the construction of what is today the 16th street public beach access (park) FCBOCC.

    History is telling us that if we let FCBOCC they will do it over and over again. Imagine our berloved 33 acres ocean front park became and exclusive golf course were only the wealthy Ginn resorts owners can use! I still feel the same pain I felt attending that meeting back in 1998 that I felt while attending the Cpt BBq proposal “consent agenda” a great sense of loss.

  24. Dale in the Hammock says:

    I have to agree with Joe, the owner’s of Captains took advantage of the situation. The Flagler County commissioners should NEVER have approved the lease agreement extension for 21 years at a ridiculous $1,000 a month. Smokey D’s is looking more and more like my place to get barbecue.

  25. tulip says:

    Maybe Nate could get a job working at the Captains restaurant with his good buddies.

  26. Edith Campins says:

    Excellent article. Thank you for keeping us informed. You perform an invaluable service to our community.

  27. Flagler Fan says:

    What a sham! Why wasn’t rent tied to revenue to begin with?

  28. Janet Sullivan says:

    For those of you who appreciate Pierre’s investigative skills and his updates on this issue and others, please consider supporting FlaglerLive. Whether or not you agree with him on all issues, I know you appreciate the professional journalism we are lucky to have. This is how Pierre earns his living. Even just a couple bucks a month from each of you would be helpful, I’m sure. If we think Captain’s should pay their fair share, don’t you think we should pay ours? Thanks for your consideration.

    https://flaglerlive.com/support-flaglerlive/

  29. Michael Cocchiola says:

    Everybody…show up at the county commission’s workshop Monday, 9:00 am, in the commission chamber -Government Services building. Ask why commissioners voted to approve the building proposal with scant knowledge, woefully incomplete information, little discussion, and a curiously rushed vote. The commission makes bad decisions in record time. Commissioners seem to care little about being fully and factually informed by the county staff, They ask few questions and sign whatever is put in front of them. Why do we need a board of commissioners if they sit on their hands and collect fat checks every month?

  30. KJ says:

    I agree with Dave who questioned the author’s assessment that you can’t blame the owners of Captain’s BBQ because they were just businessmen doing what businessmen do…I disagree wholeheartedly with that assessment. I’ve been a businessman for 35 years and I do not check my ethics and morals at the door when I go to work. What I preech on Sundays I practice every day. Perhaps that is the problem with America today, we think it is OK to use whatever perhaps legal angle there is to get ahead. The nuance between tax avoidance and tax evasion is sometimes a fine line and the difference between a campaign donation and a bribe is also a fine line. The idea of those opposed to the destruction of a public park expressing their distaste for Captain’s and pledging never to dine there is as much a part of America, capitalism and our independence as is the owners of the business wanting to expand. If the owners come to their senses and stay where they are located in the park I will patronize their business, if this plan comes to fruition I will do all in my power to convince everyone I know never to set foot in their establishment.

  31. Cheney says:

    Another protest is planned for tomorrow at 2:00. Please join us. This is not a “Hammock” issue. All Flagler residents should be concerned about a handful of people conspiring to steal public land and hand it over to a private industry.

  32. Ben Hogarth says:

    Pierre, I think you captured the essence of what this shady deal “feels” like for the average taxpayer. We have also certainly beat the proverbial dead horse by dragging the discussion out for days now, and across multiple articles. I’m equally frustrated that I had to publicly recommend legal action against the County – whom I worked for a brief period. I would never do so without just cause because I know the folks who have to respond to this and the position it puts both staff and the local taxpayer.

    But at some point we have to say enough is enough. Flagler County Administration have never had issues stepping over ethical lines as long as I’ve known them, particularly after my departure from the county, and certainly as long as I have been commenting on here. It’s when we see clear violations of law, however, that someone, somewhere needs to step in and be the “bad guy” and call it for what it is – illegal – and wrong.

    I’m sure I’ve said some things in the past that could have been put a bit more tactfully or politically – but enough is enough. The Commission can either agree, or agree to disagree with the sentiments of the public on this forum as within the public forum at public commission meetings. There are varying opinions out there, but facts are facts and the law is the law. At some point, we have to concede at least that much.

    The Captains BBQ deal for me was the last straw. It’s “corruption of public purpose” run even more amok – and would have totally been avoided had due process been followed. While I do believe County Commissioners (and most public officials) try to make the best decisions they can for the public, they also too often rely on the professional expertise of their administrators. In this case, that trust was misplaced because the people charged with protecting the public interests – sold them out. And it’s just tragic…

    I also don’t want to see Captains BBQ suffer as a result of public comments and actions, but we have to remember that each and every other business has to take risks that the owners of Captains would not with the current agreed upon lease. The same could be said even about the prior arrangement. It’s an “exclusive use” agreement that serves no public interests and certainly has little public purpose. Florida Courts have already held that such (subsidized) private use on public land must serve a direct public benefit and not simply have a cursory (or ancillary) one. The fact that the lease agreement only inures to the benefit of the private owners is a testament to why the law has been this way for hundreds of years – going back to common law in England.

    As a former employee of Flagler, I truly do not want to see court action on this issue. I could only hope that the commission find a means of reversing their decision and going back to due process – and find some kind of reasonable alternative that still meets legal and ethical standards. I pray the Commission heeds our collective public commentary and call to action. And I hope that they will make the right decision moving forward in giving the people of Flagler a new way forward.

  33. mark101 says:

    @ Cheney “”handful of people conspiring to steal public land and hand it over to a private industry.””. Where have you been. Captains opened in 2012 The county took care of this years ago.

    Also, here is an old article : https://flaglerlive.com/94549/captains-bbq-expansion/ with a title
    Scaling Some Opposition, Captain’s BBQ at Bing’s Will Expand Seating Areas, But Not Capacity

  34. Cheney says:

    mark101, what I mean is that the owners of Captain’s have personal ties to members on the county commission and other county officials. That is a conflict of interest. I’m also referring to the fact that the plans for a new building have clearly been in the works for months without informing the public. Why didn’t they put up a notice in the park and in our papers so the public could participate in the proceedings. Even on the county’s agenda, this was only described as a renegotiation of the lease. Most of us had no idea a new building was being planned until Flaglerlive published their article three days before the commission meeting. If you attended that meeting, you know that despite the obvious concerns expressed by the public, commissioners rushed to approve the the new building before even basic questions were answered about the cost and impact of this new structure. If everything really is on the up and up, why has the whole thing been done in such an underhanded way?

    The article you referred me to reported on the addition of Captain’s porch area. It says nothing about doubling the size by constructing a new building in the middle of the open, green area that belongs to the public I don’t think most people, including myself, had an issue with the expansion. Right now, Captain’s sits at the back of a parking lot that isn’t utilized by the public except to park their cars. Therefore, it is being run in a very unobtrusive way. By moving it, the restaurant will become the centerpiece of the park. It’s not just a matter of the footprint of the building. Once the views are blocked, all the land behind it gets devalued. Who wants to have a picnic or family gathering in an area where you’re staring at the side of a restaurant?

  35. tulip says:

    @ Michael Co I watched that meeting about Bing’s and I couldn’t understand why the very question you pointed out in your post was not asked, especially from the people that spoke very passionately against the restaurant and were upset that it was being shoved through.

  36. Dave says:

    Until this deal is rescinded I suggest everyone hit captains where it hurts and leave a 1 star review on google for Captain’s BBQ!

  37. mark101 says:

    Cheney , you miss the whole point of the article I included. Fact is Commissioners and citizens voiced concerns years ago. about remodels /expansion changing the view of the park.

    Commissioners were concerned that the physical expansion of the 3,140-square-foot facility might increase congestion at the county park.”
    “The Hammock Community Association is opposed to the expansion”
    ““When there’s growth there will always be some opposition,” Chris Herrera, the owner of the restaurant,”

    So this is not the first time Captains owners and the Commissioners have played this game.

    And what was the outcome, it happened anyway. The problem is elected country Commissioners will not stand up to Coffey or listen to the voters.

  38. Maffamike says:

    According to the original lease Capts violated their lease on 2 issues . Lease says capts must open daily in the month of Nov at 6:30 am They don’t they open at 10:0am. The second violation of lease they don’t carry Bait . They have a limited amount af frozen bait in freezer . They are not a Bait store. Lease violation cancels lease

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