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How Flagler Government Bought the $1.1 Million Sears Building Nobody Wants, With Scarce Money Needed Elsewhere

| March 20, 2019

The building nobody wants. (© FlaglerLive)

The building nobody wants. (© FlaglerLive)

Reversing its vote of just two weeks earlier, the Flagler County Commission this week approved buying the old Sears building on Palm Coast Parkway for $1.125 million, a building nobody wanted or had so much as publicly discussed buying before then-County Administrator Craig Coffey foisted the option on the commission at a November meeting.

Coffey claimed the tax collector needed the space. But the building’s 8,000 square feet was far more than the Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston needs (she’s somewhat cramped in a 1,000-square-foot satellite office at the Staples shopping Center in Palm Coast).


In fact, neither Johnston nor Coffey were shopping for a new facility to buy when Margaret-Sheehan Jones, the realtor who’s brokered most of the county’s big acquisitions in recent years, wrote Coffey last Aug. 23 to let him know about the rust-colored Sears building at 4888 Palm Coast Parkway.

“The owners are retiring, so they want to sell,” Sheehan-Jones wrote the administrator. (The owners had a second mortgage on the property.) “Their current [contract] with Sears expires in January 7, 2019, so it will be vacant after that date… Not sure if you were looking for any buildings, but just in case.”

Days later, Coffey put Tim Telfer, the county’s natural resources manager, in charge of the acquisition after what Telfer described as a “brief conversation.” By then Coffey had gotten some interest from the tax collector, who’s been feeling cramped at her satellite office in the Staples shopping center in Palm Coast. Telfer arranged to walk through the Sears building. “Apparently the owners do not want to upset the staff so they’re requesting we visit after hours,” Telfer wrote the tax collector. Sheehan-Jones pressed Telfer for an update in mid-October. By mid-November, a contract was drafted.

It appeared on a County Commission agenda at a Nov. 19 meeting–on the consent portion of the agenda, the portion generally devoted to routine items that are approved in bulk, without discussion, or that may have been previously discussed at workshop meetings. The Sears building had not been. Coffey may have spoken of it to commissioners individually and verbally, but there is no written record of any documented conversations about it between the administrator and commissioners–at least none that was provided FlaglerLive, after a request. At the Nov. 19 meeting, none of the commissioners were interested in discussing it except Dave Sullivan, who pulled the item from consent to have a brief discussion–and only to lend his support for the purchase. The commission unanimously approved the contract. A Sept. 30 appraisal had placed the price of the property at $1.225 million. The second appraisal report, required by law on purchases of that size, had yet to be produced.

Sullivan would later change his mind, after finding out details of the proposal that undermined its justification, not least that Johnston was not that eager for the building, that it would be bought with a loan, and that the county had no pressing need for it, though it could always finagle one. To Sullivan, the deal was too shaded by other property deals that have gone awry, among them the purchase of the old hospital that’s now the evacuated Sheriff’s Operations Center and, more recently, the purchase of an old mortuary and bank to be converted into a Sheriff’s Palm Coast substation: that building has proved to be a lot more expensive to renovate than initially advertised to the commission.

The record does reflect a hurried move from proposal to option-to-purchase, with all the technicalities handled between Telfer and Sheehan-Jones, and with County Attorney Al Hadeed reviewing the contract and making a few edits. “We’re full speed ahead on the Sears store project,” Telfer wrote Sheehan-Jones giddily, eight days after the commission had approved the option. (“Can we get a copy of the 2nd mortgage? I believe you said it was unrecorded so it’s not something the title company is going to pick up,” Telfer wrote Sheehan-Jones. The same day, the owners let Sheehan-Jones and Telfer know that the Sears employees were “on board.”)

Heffington and Associates sent its appraisal of the property to the county on Nov. 30. It came in at $1.1 million, a shade less than what the county paid for it. Telfer was quick to reassure Sheehan-Jones: “The option contract’s price is still valid as the appraisal values are averaged, and the average exceeds the option purchase price,” he wrote her. There was no attempt to lower the purchase price. Telfer assures her the county is “on track” for a January closing. “You’re the best,” she tells him. They also discussed leasing the building to Sears, at $8,000 a month, after closing and through March. That was made unworkable since a rental agreement couldn’t be put in place before the county commission ratified the financing package on the building.

On March 4, that package was put before commissioners at a meeting. It would have entailed the county using part of a state loan to pay for the building, but would have barred the county from re-selling the building if it didn’t find a need for it. Telfer and Hadeed told the commissioners in effect they’d committed to buying the structure at their November meeting, and that they could not back out unless they had intervened in January. To do that, the item would have had to be reintroduced by the administration at a meeting at that time. (The contract had an automatic termination clause that included “the passage of one hundred and fifty (150) days from the Option Date.”)

[Hadeed in a subsequent interview on March 21 said Telfer and the finance director had brought the issue to then-Deputy Administrator Sally Sherman in January, saying the issue had evolved and commissioners could be so appraised. Sherman, according to Hadeed, said not to bring the matter to a commission meeting, thus eliminating the chance for the commission to back out. He did not proffer that explanation to commissioners either last Monday or in early March.]

Sullivan objected to going through with the purchase and convinced the commission to vote against it. On Monday, county staff returned with another proposal. It had not been posted to the web along with the rest of the agenda until much later than when the regular agenda was posted–again, a dissimulation that, intended or not, contributes to the county’s reputation for conducting business with less than full transparency.

To placate Sullivan, the financing terms were changed. The building would not be purchased with a loan, but with proceeds from the half-cent sales surtax the commission approved in 2012–money that the county has been using for major capital projects and that could have been used toward a fix for the sheriff’s operations center. The Sears building purchase now diverts a substantial sum to a less-than critical need, leaving a paltry $2.8 million in the sales tax fund.

The commission voted 4-1 Monday to approve the purchase, with Sullivan in the majority and Commissioner Joe Mullins the lone dissenter.

Closing is now scheduled for April 28. The building itself has long been vacated. Interim County Administrator Jerry Cameron cautioned commissioners that the purchase price doesn’t reflect additional costs to come, as the building needs to be renovated and fitted for whatever uses the county makes of it. If any portion of the building is to be used by the sheriff, those costs are expected to be steeper still.

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52 Responses for “How Flagler Government Bought the $1.1 Million Sears Building Nobody Wants, With Scarce Money Needed Elsewhere”

  1. David S. says:

    What another crappy move and a complete waste of our money…..

  2. Keep Flagler Beautiful says:

    It’s so easy to squander other people’s money, isn’t it. Any expenditure of this level should be approved by a voter referendum. I’m so sick of the spendthrifts in our county government.

  3. snapperhead says:

    Sell it to Captains BBQ, then they can give it to the county, then give them the same cheap lease and let’s see if the fans of their BBQ is great enough to survive without being in a park on the intracoastal waterway.It’s about the same $ they were proposing to spend anyway and much larger sq footage than what they were proposing to build. Problem solved, your welcome.

  4. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    In my close to 40 years as a licensed Florida Real Estate Agent, now Broker ( 1986) I have NEVER seen such a sloppy real estate contract ( my personal opinion).

    Never before has an OPTION contract, been converted to a full ‘ Purchase and Sale Contract without the addressing basic provisions of a normal sale -ya know – like when is the maximum closing date – time to close- is the seller willing to give the buyer?

    Nah… this was a waive of the pen of none other than Al Hadeed magically added an addendum – like Cindarella waives a wand – converting this is now ‘Exhibit B’ ” OPTION AGREEMENT APPROVAL” The commission voted to approve the ‘option’ but converted it in one sentence without any protections for us an renaming it to a ” a binding purchase and sale agreement (subject to additional conditions approved ” instead of drawing up a Bar accepted NORMAL purchase and sale agreement with all the protections afforded to us, the buyers,

    Just another example of idiotic gobbkydegiook designed by our ( my opinion) incompetent useless overpaid county attorney – just my opinion and I have never had a contract turned back that I ever drew up for a client but I sure could have had my license on the line had I written up a 19th century ‘bar room’ contract like this!

  5. Concerned Citizen says:

    And yet the BOCC foley’s continue.

    We now have a BOCC who has shown they do not give a damn about the citizens of this county. Nor does our highly over paid “interim administrator” They continue to throw away millions of OUR dollars on useless projects.

    Between hiring an over paid “interim manager” with a murky past in St. John’s and protecting Captains because they recieved bribes this Commission has no ethics or morals. Now they have blown 1.1 million dollars on a building no one needs much less wanted.

    The Sheriff’s Office Operation center is sitting empty and uninhabitable. The old bank that was a funeral home and was slated to be a Sheriff’s Precint has been dormant for months. Now how long will the old Sears building sit deteriorating even further?

    We need to start writing our BOCC and harrass them every time they do something stupid. We need to threaten them with votes of No Confidence and Recalls for failure to do their jobs.

    If we don’t take action as citizens we may wake up one day and find that Flagler County is broke.

  6. atilla says:

    Coffey still lurks among us.

  7. robert traister says:

    move the homeless in

  8. Christopher Goodfellow says:

    So they paid $150/sq ft. For a building that could probably be replicated new for 50% of that. I guess only Mullins because he is a developer gets it and voted it down. Like the Sheriffs ops center there will be another bundle spent to bring it into conformity.

  9. Donnie Riddle says:

    I could’ve figured Coffey had a hand in this somewhere. Maybe this building won’t have mold in it like the sheriff operations center had and still does!

  10. john dolan esq. says:

    Another example of the corrupt Coffey/Mayer regime and the harm they did to this County.

  11. Freddy says:

    Another case of under the table real estate deals that this county is good for. Where is the oversight from the county commissioners allowing the county manager to make these purchases without their consent? Mr. Mullins is the only one that had the guts to stand up to this shady deal.

  12. Maffamike says:

    Another of Coffeys million $ purchases . Sheriff building ? Property in Bunnell 1.3 mill ? Princess property buildings ?Coffey spent money which we don’t have and created more debt than we can afford . Oh yes I forgot plantation Bay water purchase For 5.5 mill ???that Man along with Hadeed belong in Jail.

  13. Wow says:

    Where to start? Every step they took seems shady. Makes zero sense.

  14. oldtimer says:

    I have a 2 acres In Flagler estates I’ll sell the county for only $ 500,000 they can have the swamp next to it for free!

  15. Palm Coast Resident says:

    I wonder if there are other county services which can share that space–other services which are growing but have limited space for which there might be a need to have satellite or extended space on that side of Palm Coast, like maybe Social Services–Senior and Human Services. Especially how there’s a need to connect services to individuals.

    Maybe they could lease some office space to other agencies or service providers–nonprofits and others.

  16. crowdy says:

    With whats coming up and down US-1 the municipality’s are going to need that building. You newbies just getting here don’t have a clue.

  17. Disabled Amputee says:

    Unbelievable. The county pays Flagler County Transportation starting wages of $10 an hour and there is a huge shortage of drivers. This money could have been allocated to attract new drivers and give a good wage to existing drivers. Furthermore, the entire transportation infrastructure sucks.

    You can get a job at Target at $12/hour.

  18. Amazed Once Again says:

    Are you people running this county for REAL???? Are you even remotely serious??? You’re all nuts and as crooked as they come!!! Worthless SCOUNDRELS… every last one of you.

  19. palmcoaster says:

    Another punch to the taxpayers pockets for something not needed. Meanwhile palmcoasters keep overpaying double the county to what we pay the city in our ad-valorem taxes. Home many more county blunders do we need? Why to buy this building when yet was not resolved the sheriff offices location?

  20. tired of the waste says:

    Seems the only ones to profit are the attorneys and the Real estate agent getting her cut.

  21. The original woody says:

    The ghost of king Coffey still haunts us.What was the asking price $750,000?Bring it to a public vote naa that won’t work it would just get voted down like the city hall and that worked out great-for THEM.

  22. Agkistrodon says:

    But We can’t afford Street Lights in the residential areas. SAD SAD SAD!

  23. atilla says:

    Since the location is on city property will the county pay property taxes on it to the city? The betting booth is open.

  24. Concerned Citizen says:

    Couple of questions here directed at Al Hadeed and our BOCC

    1.) Was an inspection done before purchasing the building?

    2.) How long has the power and AC been off?

    Having a current background in building maintenance if that building sat dormant and stale for any certain amount of time you’re going to have another mold issue.

  25. marlee says:

    They can move Bing’s BBQ there.

  26. capt says:

    One name continues to stand out ; Craig Coffey. Yep he is gone, but his mistakes and shady dealings remain,.

  27. deb says:

    Its a perfect place for Captains BBQ move them there :)

  28. Michael Cocchiola says:

    This is another egregious example of the BOCC’s lack of good sense and good governance. This board has shown they have a cavalier attitude about spending our tax dollars. They pushed through a procurement for which there is no stated need and no knowledge of future costs. Did everyone note that citizens were allowed to speak before we knew of these issues but not after?

    Call or write your commissioner and give them an earful.

  29. whoknowsflagler says:

    Margaret Jones has been involved with many deals gone wrong with Flagler County and Craig Coffey. From the defunt CAPT program at the airport to selling the old hospital and now two additonal buildings that are not in usable condition and who knows what else. Her husband was a trusted advisor of Craig Coffey.

  30. vonda says:

    Great place for the homeless. Taxpayers had no say in this huge financial decision. (So wrong) House our homeless!

  31. AMEN says:

    Amen to the comment about Captains BBQ- if it weren’t for their location, they would not survive. Mediocre food.

  32. John Kent says:

    It’s not “them, at the county or city government “, it’s you PEOPLE! You are the guilty party here! For years you let “them” sit comfortably and paid handsomely and do crappy things in every level yet YOU vote “them” in! You have the government you DESERVE! So go look in the mirror and see Coffey there!
    Yes, you vent your anger here yet do nothing about it, not showing up at the meetings, no protesting.
    But remember Princess Place ordeal? Little bit of push reversed the path to park destruction!
    Or Bings Landing? When people want to be heard they act. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that those you elected will do a good job at representing you and don’t need supervision. They know you are lazy, they know you won’t bother. So they pull that crap 24/7.
    And you perfectly know there is plenty of corruption and shady deals done with YOUR money. Yet DO NOTHING!

  33. Concerned Cititizen says:

    County goverment is at it again. How many times must you get burned, before you learn.There’s many more important projects that I see in Palm Coast that need to be address immediately instead of spending money unneccessarily. Government wake-up and get a clue.

  34. Concerned says:

    Could it be another “sick” building?

  35. Seanpeckham says:

    Here we go again another leaking mold infested Bld doesn’t anyone remember the buckets on the floor right before they closed? Who is giving the advice on if it is a good purchase or not? Let me guess another Bld just to keep Flagler county’s good old boys working on the remodels ! Right in front of everyone face they do it over and over we as taxpayers do nothing.

  36. Robjr says:

    How come the county is the only entity that these too good to be true deals fall to?

    Sounds a lot like the old hospital.
    Somebody calls somebody and says have I got a good deal for you.
    Better hurry it won’t last long.

  37. James says:

    Enough is enough.

    They ALL have to go in my opinion… a clean sweep. Vote them ALL out, next election!

  38. atilla says:

    Prior to this last election there was a lot of tough talk from the canidates like Mullins and Howell to clean up some of these duty politicians and this sort of crap. It didn’t take long for them to follow the leaders. I think the state should get involved and inspect and audit the books. These guys and gals are lining their pockets at our expense

  39. John R Brady says:

    All of us who have raised children remember how we removed or restricted use of something the children enjoyed eg. phone, tv,or computer when the children misbehaved. BOCC has misbehaved again concerning real estate purchasing. So maybe we need to restrict the ability of the BOCC to purchase. I have 2 suggestions. The first is to limit their real estate purchase to real estate to under 1 M. Anything in excess must be pit on a ballot.

    The second is the stupid mistake option and how this would work is if a real estate goes south and the county has to turn around and sell the property at a loss, the BOCC members who voted to approve the purchase would have to personally split the amount that was lost.

  40. Concerned Citizen says:

    A lot of folks are blaming Coffey. Coffey is gone and this happened under a new watch. Blaming Coffey will only go so far until we have to hold current BOCC members accountable.

    We don’t have to wait until next election to demand changes. Start acting now. Set up petitions to demand votes of No confidence. Threaten recalls. Flood their emails and phones.

    Ths 1.1 million dollar blunder rests solely on Al Hadeed and the BOCC

  41. palmcoaster says:

    The contaminated hospital they bought had the same realtor listing it, Margaret Shehan Jones…What else they bought from this realtor? What gives them the right to get another loan with our taxes? Yet bigger debt! And John Ketn above is right, this happens because most vote for crooks here and then raise cane but do not even show up to do that attending the commission meetings. So they do whatever they fit their interest best not ours.

  42. thomas says:

    When I started reading this article. I thought it would be just another stupid action by the County. Now I must admit I was wrong.
    IT SMELLS OF CORRUPTION AND BRIBERY.

  43. Ben Hogarth says:

    I’d like to applaud John Kent for his comments. You never make any friends showing people that they only have themselves to blame, but it’s the truth. The majority of voters in the County have continuously voted into office, commissioners who did not put the public’s best interests at heart. That is certainly a major part of the problem. However, Flagler County also has far too many people who choose not to participate, including the simple act of voting – and they are culpable in a different way, but guilty nonetheless.

    At some point, if you live in Flagler and are disturbed by what you see – you need to go to a meeting and express that. If you don’t understand the issues, talk about them with someone you know who does and learn. Try to participate and educate yourself as best as you can. THAT is called being a part of Democracy – voting should be the start of your participation, NOT the end of it.

    The Commission that you have now has at least accepted that things need to change and partially held the last administrator responsible for some of this. Unfortunately, they cannot pursue accountability in that regard anymore as the last administrator was forced to resign – and he was the major player in all of this corruption and mismanagement. For those of you who are upset that this building was purchased – you can’t change that now, but let it stand as an example for why YOU need to remain an active participant and not allow this to ever happen again in Flagler. Engage with your elected officials and offer your opinion freely. But do so from a position of knowledge, NOT ignorance.

    This building can actually serve a purpose for the County and hopefully limit the fiscal bleeding down the road. There may come a day in the near future where other investments must be made to further limit the bleeding, but you are going to have to be willing to compromise with the officials who are working to solve them. Flagler County allowed an administration to run wild for more than a decade – and it’s going to take a very very long time before it ever realizes “normal” again. And before that happens, there will be far more crises that will need to be addressed thanks to the prior administration and prior commissions.

    But the future is and always has been up to YOU, the resident. Accept blame for not holding these people accountable, learn from it, and move forward with the intent to make sure this never happens again.

  44. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    Unless we can get the statute F.S. 100.361 amended recalls are only allowed in ‘Charter Counties’ – which Flagler is not. Only the governor can remove an elected official from office – fair isn’t it? I have lobbied both Hutson and Renner to file to amend the statute as it is very unfair.

    Way before I tried for the District 4 county commission seat I inquired about starting a Recall petition against Nate and was shocked to find out that non charter counties are STUCK for 4 years or at the mercy of the Governor who has to be convinced ( by his legal staff of course) that. Malfeasance and/or misfeasance, or both are valid reasons.

    Then of course, our gobble dee gook attorney Al Hapless Hadeed , ( my personal opinion) will hire an outside attorney ( ’cause we need to get rid of him too) who will file extensions and charge the taxpayers well beyond our lifetimes,

    So…. unless statute is amended we are caught in quicksand

  45. Seminole nation says:

    Wars have been faught for less

  46. Foatsflyer says:

    One real simple question is how does the County not consider parking for an 8,000 square foot facility.there is very limited parking for a retail facility employing 5 people and maybe 20 customers a day. What happens with 25 to 50 employees and many additional visitors every day. The people the County employees to validate and verify building suitability have no common sense and display the fact that they flunked out of our education system while not completing 3rd grade,

  47. Percy's mother says:

    How about an investigation into Margaret Sheen Jones’ real estate deals with Flagler County, Palm Coast, Coffey, Landon, et al? So her husband has been involved in “advising” Coffey. Interesting.

    How about rummaging around in your closet, Pierre, for that investigative reporter’s hat and putting it on post haste? We need you to start investigating from a news reporter’s perspective to find out how far and wide the corruption goes in this county and town.

    Who knows? This could all end up on 60 minutes. I hope the corruption and the numerous players who’ve quietly gained financial benefit from all this graft are exposed for indirect theft of taxpayer money.

    Ditto for doing some investigative nosing around to find out why Toby Tobin is pushing so hard for low income housing in Palm Coast. Who’s he working with? I remember he had Manfre on his radio show discussing a real estate project. I’m sure the taxpayers would like to know what’s going on with him.

    Lots of shady behind-the-scenes dealings here at taxpayer expense. This needs to be exposed and publicized.

    Please start investigating all the above.

  48. Richard says:

    When any government be it local, state or federal is never transparent in their actions or business practices then they should be held accountable and removed from office immediately. Who the hell do they think they are and why do they feel they are above the law? They are power hungry and thrive on control! To me they are the scum of the earth.

  49. mark101 says:

    @Concerned Citizen If you read the article, yes Coffey is still in the picture on this county purchase. HE directed it. HE might be gone, but what he managed is still taking place. Now maybe one day when ALL the Coffey deals fall by the wayside this county can get back toward some common sense or logical thought approach and listen to the voters and tax payers.

  50. ralph moniello says:

    WHAT A WASTE. EMPTY BUILDINGS CREATE MOLD & VERMIN. VOTE ALL THE INCOMPENTS OUT.

  51. Flagmire says:

    Mr. Hadeed now claims that the former deputy administrator made the decision to not put the building deal on the agenda. As a county employee and an attorney was he in anyway obligated to inform the commissioners? He works for the commissioners and he didn’t look out for them in my opinion. How is the county attorney’s performance evaluated?

  52. Little Bird says:

    I got an old barn. It’s been on the market for months. Nobody wants it. Nobody’s even looked at it. Soooo, I was thinking if my buddy helps me to get a high appraisal then my sister-in-law whose in real estate can sends a few emails and this government in the South I’ve heard about will agrees to buy it for more than I originally asked the public for it. They’ve done it before. In fact, Those fools won’t even step foot in the barn with all the money they got to burn! After the sale I’ll buy buddy a case of beer and my brother n I will go on a fishing vacation on those 6% real estate kickbacks. Too bad this is only fiction…

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