Last Updated: 2:49 p.m.
Flagler County’s tourism bureau is in discussions to buy a corner lot on State Road A1A and South 9th Street in Flagler Beach for a future visitor center.
The 0.37-acre lot, owned by Coastal Cloud Properties, a sister of the Hammock-based tech company, is listed at $1.5 million. “Conversations have been very positive with the seller’s agent, and so we feel good about working with them,” County Tourism Director Amy Lukasik told the Tourist Development Council this morning.
Coastal Cloud bought the property, along with an adjoining lot, in 2013 for $437,500 around the time when it launched its operation in Flagler, which has since grown well beyond its initial projections. Its role in this case though would be limited to that of seller.
The transaction would be recommended by the tourism board but approved by the County Commission, and presumably paid for with tourism dollars, which are generated by a sales surtax imposed on motel, hotel, short-term rental and other temporary accommodation stays, so local general fund dollars mostly drawn from property taxes would not be involved. Lukasik also mentioned grants.
The county’s tourism bureau has been on the hunt for a visitor center for two years. In July 2020 the tourism office was interested in buying the old Bank of America building on State Road A1A, opposite the pier, when the 6,600-square-foot building was listed at $1.1 million (and sold for $1 million in January 2021). The building was 41 years old at the time and would have required considerable renovations. The bank was also demanding a closed-bid process with a very brief window. It was not doable, “definitely not in government,” Lukasik said.
At the time, Lukasik spoke of the visitor’s center as also the future headquarters of the tourism bureau, which now has its offices in a rather drabbish, out of the way building on the grounds of the county airport off State Road 100–an office building ideal for many uses, but incongruous with a tourism office that depends on visibility and at least some geographic flash. The old bank building–an architectural hulk more suggestive of brutalist holding cells than sunny tourism offices–checked off at least one of those boxes.
But Dave Sullivan, the county commissioners who chairs the tourism council, was displeased about the bank-building proposal becoming public in the thick of his own re-election campaign, and so soon after the county had unloaded two other buildings it had bought only to then sell again after concluding it could not occupy them or re-occupy them (the previous Sheriff’s Operations Center off State Road 100 and the now-former Sears Building on Palm Coast Parkway, subsequently acquired by a religious organization.) “Buying old buildings is not one of my favorite things to do as a commissioner right now in the county,” Sullivan said at the time.
He spoke a different tune today. “We’re running out of possibilities. And this will be one soon,” Sullivan said. If the county had poor luck with “old buildings” in the past, the signal difference in this case is that the parcels are vacant. Construction would be the county’s responsibility, though that will add substantial cost at a time when construction costs are rising as fast as roofs.
“Obviously living and actually working in representing Flagler Beach,” Ken Bryan, the Flagler Beach city commissioner who sits on the TDC, said, “it’s a great opportunity because as a commission we too have been looking around at properties because of future plans for parking. And things of this nature and the lots are drying up very quickly. I think it’s a great opportunity to not only the city to actually be in discussion with future partnerships or whatever we may be in to do in order to make this happen.” He said the commission has been focusing on making Flagler Beach a more walkable city, especially because parking is becoming more scarce.
“We really needed to be in Flagler Beach,” especially on the south side of Flagler Beach, Lukasik said. “We’ve been very busy behind the scenes, we have a stack in our office of all the research we’ve been doing. But we knew that we had to be in a position to be able to act quickly if an opportunity presented itself.” Lukasik did not mention to the TDC members the listed price of the property when she discussed it.
To Lukasik, the expected construction of the new hotel downtown, next to Veterans Park and in place of the farmer’s market–where the Flagler Beach hotel used to stand until the early 1970s–has been another incentive to push the visitor’s center idea. “With the hotel,” she said, “I get the visual like I feel like I’m on a horse going really fast with the pole with the flag and you got to find your land to claim,” she said.
A council member wondered about whether the location has foot traffic there. Lukasik said the property is at the tail end of the boardwalk, enabling the location to “funnel” visitors into Flagler Beach businesses. “I used to live behind there,” Council member Lisa Robinson said, “so you absolutely can walk down to everything. It’s not far”
“We felt a very strong sense of urgency and we buckled down and said okay, now’s the time we need to secure a location,” Lukasik said.
The county has to secure two appraisals and an environmental impact study. The county would then secure an option on the property, giving the county time to do its due diligence on the property.
Sullivan polled every member of the council and got a unanimous consensus to move forward with the due diligence–getting the appraisals and executing the option agreement.
Since Coastal Cloud Properties has owned it, the company has paid $64,000 in county, city and school property taxes, averaging well over $8,000 a year in the last four years as the property has appreciated significantly. That revenue would be eliminated once a government concern acquires the property, though the tourism bureau’s aim is to generate tourism-tax and other sales tax revenue through higher visitor counts, presumably netting a higher return.
Eric Cooley, chairman of the Flagler Beach City Commission, reacted differently when he learned of the proposal this afternoon.
“To put it deep in the center of town on 9th street, it didn’t make any sense to me, and just from a financial point of view, it seems very excessive,” Cooley said, stressing he was not speaking for the commission. “There’s really no reason to have an oceanfront visitor center. Then you’re adding a government property owned by the citizens, you’re putting it right on the ocean, the ocean rising, and you’re exposing it to the hurricanes. It seems more of a potential emotional decision than a business-minded decision.”
Cooley said a victor center is better situated on the south side of State Road 100 on the approach of Flagler Beach, west of the bridge.