Developer Jim Jacoby was always planning to donate the Palm Harbor Golf Club’s driving range to the city–the driving range without which the golf course would essentially have no heart.
But not as a straight donation. When he proposed it, Jacoby wanted something in return: clearance for a development plan that would change the complexion of Palm Harbor anyway, as it would result in the construction of five large condo buildings on the west side of the driving range–a total of 120 apartments.
Centex Homes had sold the land to Jacoby’s JDI Palm Coast subsidiary in 2016 for $5.5 million. The city’s unveiled Jacoby big plans with fanfare–but without Jacoby–in the fall of 2019, calling it, in what has since become an unfortunate turn of phrase, “the second golden age of Palm Coast.”
The city at the time tried to make the proposal palatable by comparing it to what Centex home had wanted to do with the driving range: build 16 apartment buildings totaling 159 apartments, on the driving range itself. That plan died in 2005, but it was still useful as a what-if scenario to sugar the pill of the new development.
The city did not bank on the immediate resistance the plan ignited. Lou Vitale, one of the city’s fiercer nemeses, organized A Save-Palm-Harbor organization that accumulated backers and pushed back on the city’s plans, just as he would months later when he and others stopped the city from building a cell tower at Palm Harbor. The city backed down on the condo development, though it was never quite clear what Jacoby–himself a fierce Atlanta developer who’s known opponents savvier, better funded and more fierce than Vitale–would do. (Jacoby at one point owned the Marineland attraction and still owns much of the land around it.)
Last week the city unveiled his answer: he was donating to the city the entirety of the 16 acres, including the driving range, that he’d bought in 2016, essentially washing his hands of the whole thing. Getting a federal tax benefit from the donation proved more lucrative than battling on over an uncertain fate
“There’s no strings to this agreement. They’re literally donating the land to us for their tax benefit,” Jason DeLorenzo, the city’s development director, told the City Council. It was timely: the donation is taking place on the 50th anniversary of the Palm Harbor Golf Course–a course more than twice as old as Palm Coast, carved out of scrubland by ITT when Palm Coast was still a cluster of a few homes along canals in the C-Section and its first generation of residents were still buying lots, sight unseen, over coffee with ITT sales agents along Sixth Avenue in New York.
The city has always owned the 143 other acres of the Palm Harbor golf course’s sprawling greens, a remarkable labyrinth of leisure around streets with names like Casper, Cooper, Cole and Crompton, the early attractions of a subdivision emerging out of nowhere at a time when, in the hedonistic 1970s, retiring and living on a golf course was its own Olympian reward. But there’d always been what DeLorenzo described, in an anatomical anachronism, as that “hole” within the property–more accurately, a
phalically-shaped gerrymander of the course’s driving range and a few associated scrubs to its west.
Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin, who of course had an inkling of the donation, had asked DeLorenzo for a “spectacular” presentation. DeLorenzo provided the necessary history of the land, repeating the old risk of all those multi-level apartment buildings marring the old grounds. He then showed the 2019 plan Jacoby had proposed.
“We got close to this one, or something similar, which would have located buildings more to the west and left the driving range open,” DeLorenzo said. He did not mention the opposition, the angry emails, the threats of legal action. Nor did he mention the “second golden age of Palm Coast.”
“We couldn’t come to a final agreement on that,” DeLorenzo said. “That was going to have a significant hardship on the owner, compared to the previous plan. Obviously it wouldn’t have the same value for the property. So we have been talking with them for quite a while, and they came up with this concept to provide a land donation for federal tax relief–a donation to the city” of the 16.32 acres.
The city will get the entirety of the land. Jacoby is donating all rights, title and interest to the city at closing. The city will, pay the title insurance policy, or roughly $3,000 to $4,000. “The city will acknowledge the donation of the property on an IRS form” as part of the deal, DeLorenzo said.
Alfin compared it to a “holiday gift,” and to put a bow on it, cited the more than 50,000 rounds of golf counted at Palm Harbor last year, a course record. The course may surpass that record this year. He said in the last fiscal year, the course generated $1.4 million in revenue–a significant turn-around for an amenity that for years had been plagued with deficits, its vast losses subsidized by taxpayers.
City Council member Eddie Branquinho recalled having many meetings with then-City Manager Matt Morton, and losing “many nights of sleep over this,” because of the proposed deal with Jacoby at the time. He also did not go into details about the resistance, and like DeLorenzo, he did not mention the second side of Jacoby’s coin: Jacoby at the time was proposing to develop the marina by adding nearly 200 apartment units and a 120-room hotel, plus 18,000 square feet of commercial space. That plan was dropped, too.
That plan has been dropped. “We are no longer in discussions for the marina,” DeLorenzo said. The marina land is up for sale.