Like Elizabethan England’s cultural and sprightly rebirth after the dour despotism of Henry VIII and his diminutive Edward, there’s been a spring in the step of the Palm Coast City Council since it fired City Manager Jim Landon last fall. Mayor Milissa Holland, who lined up the firing squad, reflected that renewed energy and–yes, joy–in the State of the City address she was to deliver this afternoon at the Palm Coast Community Center, in the presence of a man who actually uses the word “joy” in the context of city business and government minutiae quite frequently: Landon successor Matt Morton.
Holland was certain to introduce Morton to the crowd. Less surprisingly, she does not mention Landon’s firing, either, the state of the city being in a more exulting mood. But the subtext is clear enough, if not overtly so with Morton’s presence: it’s not just a new day in Palm Coast. The 21st century appears, finally, to have begun. (See the full text of the State of the City here.)
“Close your eyes and visualize,” Holland says in her State of the City: “sleek offices abuzz with software engineers and small-batch manufacturing entrepreneurs overlooking the lake at Central Park; young professionals and retired neighbors sharing coffee in the sun on the patio next door; medical researchers testing advancements in knee replacement surgery, just a mile down the road; and high school students participating in a hack-a-thon in partnership with a top university. This hack-a-thon will bring together programmers, technologists, and others to our downtown to collaborate and develop a technology solution to solve a problem in an intense and exciting event.”
Unlike last year, when the State of the City was cast in the context of a money-making lunch catered by the Palm Coast Observer, with the non-eating plebes allowed in back of the room as if in bleachers. The manner of the event raised a few questions and eyebrows. “Last year we learned a lot,” Palm Coast Observer Publisher John Walsh said this morning on WNZF, “there was the community input, dialogue throughout, and what we realized was, yes, the message from the city of Palm Coast on its State of the City address is open to the public.” It was open then. But this time there’s no lunch, though $35 tickets and sponsorships were still sold for an invitation-only event after the address and choice seating during the address.
After acknowledging the “partnership” with the Observer, Holland starts the address by visualizing herself visualizing the pictures around her office, the view outside (still rather barren now, but so full of possibilities, some of them breaking ground as she spoke), then takes her audience on a tour of recent achievements, toggling between accomplishments and what’s to come while focusing on a recurring theme: connections.
Some of those connections are physical: the 130 miles of pathways and bicycle lanes, shared experiences made concrete through such places as the renovated Holland Park, among the city’s dozen parks, and the Community Center on Palm Coast Parkway (“In the past year we offered more than 1,300 activities and had 822 reservations for weddings, birthday parties and family reunions”). Some are more conceptual.
Holland highlights several items from the city’s annual progress report, a copy of which was to be provided to those who attend, including the opening of the city’s second sewer plant and expansion of reclaimed, or recycled, water capacity, and the just-completed installation of 42 streetlights on Lakeview Parkway at the north end of the city, where 16-year-old Matanzas High School student Michelle Taylor was killed and a friend severely injured as they walked along the then-sidewalkless and dark road two years ago. The string of lights is part of a newly adopted master plan to add more lights to city streets. The state Department of Transportation also approved funding for the first phase of Old Kings Road North’s widening, from Palm Coast Parkway to Matanzas High, a project that will begin next year.
Holland also touches on stormwater projects and public safety. “82 percent of our residents surveyed said they feel safe in their neighborhoods and rate our law enforcement services as excellent or good,” Holland says. “I have worked closely with Sheriff Staly over the past two years and have been incredibly impressed by his commitment to our citizens and to his efforts to decrease crime and to improve safety.”
Holland then turns to some of her favorite themes: the city’s new direction as a “smart city,” with Town Center as innovation’s epicenter and the city’s FiberNet, the broadband network, as the connector fanning out across the city to high-tech businesses and local governments. “But it has the potential for so much more – especially as we recruit high-tech businesses to Palm Coast that need this kind of technology. Eventually we hope to bring FiberNet to residences as we all become more wired and need more and more high-speed connections.”
Connections not just with broadband, but with improved cell service in the city (three new towers going up this year, after a nine-year hiatus), with a new citizen portal built by Holland’s own employer, Coastal Cloud, and donated to the city (there was to be a live demonstration), more automation within city offices, more innovation in Town Center. “Innovation Districts are a fusion of business incubators, hospitals, schools and universities and high-tech companies,” she says. “These creative firms and workers crave proximity so that ideas and knowledge can be transferred quickly and seamlessly. They are highly wired and share space supported by coffee shops and restaurants, public parks, clean industry, nearby housing and retail shops. Innovation Districts have the unique potential to spur productive and inclusive economic development. They provide a strong foundation for the creation and expansion of firms and jobs by helping companies, entrepreneurs and investors co-invent and co-produce new discoveries for the market.”
All of which led the city to be named a finalist in the 2019 North American Smart Cities Readiness Challenge, “competing against other forward thinking communities, such as Dallas, Baltimore, and San Diego, to help Palm Coast turn our smart city vision into reality.”
At the top and bottom of her address Holland devotes several lines to thanking partners and “stakeholders,” from businesses to private investors to schools to the arts community to political leadership in Tallahassee. Notably, county government is not included among the recipients of plaudits, or even mentioned beyond the acknowledgment of sitting officials at the top of the speech: perhaps in the sequel. “Please stay tuned, as I am sure many exciting developments are to come in 2019 and beyond,” Holland says at the end of her 3,900-word address, finishing with Mortonesque flourish: “We are One Palm Coast.”