A year into the negotiations, relations between the Palm Coast city administration and the Green Lion Café at the city-owned Palm Harbor Golf Club have again broken down on the eve of a scheduled City Council vote on a proposed five-year agreement with the popular restaurant.
Chris Marlow, who runs the Green Lion, calls the latest proposal “a joke.” Mayor David Alfin is more optimistic. “I have every hope that we will move forward after tomorrow’s meeting, and we’ll be able to offer the community a great amenity.” But he concedes, as he has stated previously–that “if it’s not a good deal for both parties, it will not hold up.”
Alfin happens to think that it is a good deal, and that differences are over details, not deal-breaking substance.
But Marlow is not inventing the claim that there’s new wording in the proposed contract that was either never discussed before or not fleshed out as it has been.
“This saga continues. It’s absolutely unbelievable,” Marlow said. “We’re at our wits’ end, and tomorrow we’re going to draw the line.” Marlow said that as the proposal stands now, “we’re not signing that agreement,” and foresaw a tense meeting ahead.
Jason DeLorenzo, the city’s development director who’s been the point man on the contract–and whose measured patience is one of the city’s assets–declined to speak beyond noting that the invitation went out on June 1, and that the city has not heard back since. Marlow said the Green Lion received the latest city version of the proposed contract four weeks ago. The Green Lion had issues with it. It sent back notes about it three weeks ago, and didn’t hear back.
Each side says the other is not communicating, though the Green Lion acknowledges that it got an invitation for talks with DeLorenzo. But Marlow says he doesn’t see the point. “I’ve already done that four or five times, it’s gotten us absolutely nowhere,” he said today.
The city and Green Lion entered into an agreement in 2017. Green Lion got the first few months rent-free, then started paying rent below $600 a month, with small adjustments each year. It is now paying $600 a year. The city administration has wanted to renegotiate the deal for a while, and was doing so ahead of the expiration of the first five-year agreement. Under the 2017 agreement, the city was paying for water and sewer, electricity, propane and solid waste, essentially subsidizing the Green Lion at taxpayers’ expense.
The Green Lion was willing to renegotiate and bring its costs in line with fair market value. There was some ugliness along the way. But it was worked out, not least because council members were confronted with a swell of outrage from Green Lion supporters when the city briefly opted to end the lease. In March, the restaurant, in an open and long negotiating session with the council, agreed that the city should break even or make a small profit within 24 months of the new agreement. However lengthy that meeting, everything that was said was said almost on the fly, leaving room for interpretation once it was time to spell out the terms of the new agreement.
That’s where the two sides have clashed again. Marlow is referring specifically to four changes in the latest proposal, the first one relatively minor.
According to the new draft presented by the city–the agreement the city sent the Green Lion four weeks ago–the city breaks even starting Sept. 1, 2021, actually making a small profit of $575, and makes a profit of $1,312 the following year. To the Green Lion, that’s jumping the gun by one year, since the agreement was that the break even point would be reached within 24 months. But it’s not the sticking point.
The new proposal also calls for the Green Lion to pay electricity, propane, telecommunications and internet costs. Based on the March session with council, Marlow said, electricity was not part of the pass-through costs. “Where did that come from?” he asked. Alfin says it’s a result of the way the city is calculating the square footage cost.
The city would still be fronting $24,000 a year in costs, according to the calculations being presented to the council Tuesday–the cost of water and wastewater. But rent would increase 3 percent a year, from $1,988 a month starting this September to $2,238 a month by September 2026, when the city would be clearing nearly $3,000 from the restaurant. But that’s assuming water and wastewater costs are constant. And the figures do not reflect other types of maintenance the city would be responsible for as the landlord, in what amounts to a repair-prone double-wide trailer.
A third change: the existing contract doesn’t include a clause about Green Lion employees who break the law. Those clauses are becoming standard in newer contracts. The new proposal states that “conviction of any principal, manager, officer or director of Tenant for any felony or second or third degree misdemeanor shall be violations of this Agreement if the Tenant fails to remove such persons from the Leased Premises.”
That clause is inaccurately written to start with: it isn’t second or third degree misdemeanors that it means to include, but first degree misdemeanors, otherwise the restaurant would have to fire anyone who’s been convicted of not having a valid driver’s license, of trespassing, of disorderly conduct or of stealing something of lesser value than $500 (all second-degree misdemeanors). And there’s no such thing as third-degree misdemeanor under Florida law.
A first-degree misdemeanor, however, can be a battery (as was the case with the recent conviction and sentencing of the Palm Coast man who beat up a Lyft driver, and who is serving three months in jail), or a drunk driving conviction. Marlow did not raise questions about the poor wording, but about a new clause that had not appeared in previous versions of the proposal: “if the Tenant fails to remove
such persons from the Leased Premises,” then the Green Lion would be in reach of its lease. That means Marlow would have to fire any top officer of the company who could have even a misdemeanor conviction.
Finally, what took Marlow aback was a new clause in the agreement that had never been discussed before, neither in that open session with the council nor, he says, with city staff: a clause that requires the Green Lion to pay property taxes.
The wording is unequivocal: “Tenant must pay all personal property taxes assessed on, or any portion of such taxes attributable to, the Leased Premise,” the proposed agreement reads–in underlined red, to signify an addition to the draft. “City may, but is not obligated to, pay the taxes and increase future installments of rent by the amount of taxes paid by City on Tenant’s behalf.”
“We’re the tenant in a shared space. We don’t own the property,” Marlow said.
The clause seems strange. But it is no fault of the city administration’s. Rather, it is the result of a court decision in Florida that the First District Court of Appeal handed down just two days before the council and the Green Lion had that open-meeting session on March 4. No one in the room yet knew of the decision, which surprised the legal community and could have broad ramifications. (See: “Court Says City-Owned Golf Course Managed By a Private Company Can Be Required to Pay Property Taxes.”)
The city administration could not ignore it. It had to make provisions for it.
On March 2, the First District ruled that a city could require a private company running a city-owned golf course to pay property taxes, even though the company doesn’t itself owns the grounds. The reason: the moment a company extracts profits from the grounds, then the city itself is no longer using those grounds exclusively for a municipal or public purpose, the judges found–and the property appraiser could deny the city an exemption from property taxes.
It isn’t clear to what extent that decision will or may be applied across Florida, or whether the Supreme Court will hear it. Last week Gulf Breeze, where the case originated, asked the high court to take up the case. That doesn’t mean it will.
“Personally I don’t believe it’s ever going to happen, so I haven’t give it that much weight,” Alfin said of the property tax ruling getting upheld. Alfin says Marlow is misinterpreting the clause in the contract. But the clause is pretty explicit and written without qualifiers, giving Marlow cause for worry, not unreasonably so. “They keep changing the deal,” he said.
The city has declined to ask for the restaurant’s profit-and-loss statements to better gauge its own position or consider a profit-sharing approach, though that’s a standard practice with, say, Flagler Beach’s lease with the Funky Pelican, which generates $140,000 a year for the city annually (including rent), as it had been with Flagler Beach’s own golf course managers, though that relationship is now in litigation.
It isn’t an exaggeration when Alfin says he estimates that the city and the Green Lion Cafe have spent so much time and money negotiating a new lease agreement–with both sides’ attorneys’ running up the bill–that it now “far exceeds” the value of the lease. The year-old negotiations could end on Tuesday. They should end on Tuesday. But it may take another tour de force for that to happen.
The council meets at 9 a.m. at City Hall.
The proposed lease and history:green-lion-concession-lease
Sounds like a sweetheart deal for Marlow for the city, not so much.
Marlow should be rewarded in some way for all the hard work he and his team have put into the business (and the space). but certainly the city should be able to make a much larger profit. I can’t see this as anything but a much larger loss for the city when facility maintenance is factored in to the cities costs.
Over It says
Just throw their lion butts out and put it up for bid. It amazes me all the bad deals these counties and cities get into. Capns Barbecue is the biggest screw job to the public Im aware of in this county. This green lion deal isnt good either. My question to all these city staffers and council members would be this… If this was your personal property that you were leasing out would you be content making that ridiculously low “profit” and be on the hook for all repairs that may arise and lets not forget liability (does the lion have to maintain a large liability policy that also names the City as co-insured)? If your answer is yes then you have no business being a landlord. I am sure there would be multiple parties bidding for that site and we would be making a real profit.
Don’t trust the city. I have found them not to be true to their word in my past dealings with them
Right on Greg they look you right in the eye and lie like h—
Craig Birkett says
It makes a lot of sense to have a restaurant there and I believe they’re doing good business now thanks to the tenants hard work. They got off on a bad foot with the city just wanting to throw them out and caused some bad blood. But the income should support a deal for both the city and the restaurant to make a profit. I hope the Green Lion stays. I’ve eaten there several times and like it.
Its time to do a lock out. They need to start paying there share and not freeloading off the backs of the tax payers. I sat behind the Marlow’s at the city meetings and they are I believe very caniving people. They know they are taking advantage of the tax payers to make a big profit.
The golf course is run out of the same building that the restaurant runs out of, the pro shop and their offices. The Marlow’s have never had an issue with a rent increase or paying their share of the bills. If they are asking the Lion to pay rent, electric, internet, propane, telecom, and half the water, in a building that is shared with the golf course, how does that sound fair. So, the Lion will be paying the majority of the bills that are also run up by the course, including paying rent on top of that. How much money is the city saving a month on electric, internet, telecom, and propane a month, including a high rent that they weren’t getting before. Sounds to me like they are saying you can stay here for an increased rent and you can pay most of our bills too on top of that. One thing the Marlow’s are not is freeloaders. These people would give the shirt off their back to help anyone! They just want a fair deal, I do not think that is too much to ask for.
Alfin is a disgrace to the City of PC. He scammed to get himself a raise which all taxpayers disapproved of and he didn’t care and did it anyway.
He is destroying our town get him out of office.
Percy's mother says
Green Lion Cafe LLC received . . . TWO . . . PPP loans totaling $170,100.00 . . . all forgiven by the federal government.
More government handouts.
GREEN LION CAF LLC
Palm Coast, FL
Forgiven as of Nov. 5, 2021
Jan. 27, 2021
GREEN LION CAFE LLC
PALM COAST, FL
Forgiven as of March 1, 2021
April 30, 2020
Over It says
Got to give these Marlows credit, they even found a way to sucker the federal government as well. So when Marlow cries about all the money he sunk into upgrading the property what he really means is look at what your federal dollars was able to create for me. Everyone should head to the Lion to get the free lunch that the owners got. Sounds like its the least they could do.
Sounds like a good use of the money. I’m certain there were very few patrons during some part of the pandemic.
If you want to complain about misuse of public money look to our illustrious Senator Rick Scott. His co which he started and was CEO of stole $1B from medicare. Go tell him you want your tax dollars back and stop picking on some deserving service workers.
Lion Tamer says
If this is true these Marlows have some nerve. It isnt like they dont make enough money in Flagler. Let someone else take their chance at making their fortunes in the green lion building. I heard the guy running the Lion in Flagler has had everything handed to him by mommy and daddy and he is doing just fine down there. Why come to Palm Coast for more money grabbing? Greed?
Anthony Foster says
It’s really sad to see why there’s always someone that runs down hard working people that have only been successful after putting in 35 years of hard work and 7 days a week,
I remember the son washing dishes and serving tables when he was younger and was never given
a silver spoon
Maybe you should try it sometime before given an opinion
Loans that paid restaurant employees while no one was dining out and kept the restaurant in business. Handouts that kept the restaurant staff off of unemployment. Loans that were forgiven because the employer provided proof that the funds went to employees.
Let the Green Lion close up, the City dropped the ball from day one and continues to drop the ball. Go back to the drawing board and have a contract in place for potential bidders. Or just let a food truck park there.
Weekend Golfer says
The Marlowes should walk away from the current restaurant location and open up elsewhere. I know that my friends and I will lining up to dine at their new location. The Marlowes walked into a double wide dump and turned it into a jewel. The Palm Coast government should be negoiating a profit sharing agreement with these folks. That would save the tax payers of Palm Coast a bundle over having to try to bring the existing facility up conditions that a commercial lease would require (separate water, gas, and electric meters and additional telecomm drops). Let the Palm Coast City Council try and run the golf course and a restaurant themselves.
The dude says
The problem is the assumption on the part of our idiot council (and many of the posters here) that the success of the Green Lion at that location (a doublewide trailer) is a given and can be easily replicated.
Green Lion should just close the doors and cut their losses here.
Let the Palm Coast council find someone else to pay $3000 a month to rent that doublewide.
Or maybe one or more of the esteemed PC council members could forgo that hefty raise that they voted themselves to cover the losses on the popular amenity that brings value to the city?
D. Pritcget says
They are trying to intimidate them! They don’t have anyone who would be willing to pay the new monthly rent!
I wish the Marlows and the Green Lion restaurant continued success, as it is one of this city’s BEST restaurants, owned and operated by a long-time, successful, local restaurant family. I will gladly keep being a customer if they stay where they are or if they decide to move to another location where they are not under the thumb of the city administration that is and has been negotiating in what I believe is bad faith. Had it not been for the huge mob of Green Lion devotees showing up en-masse at a previous city council meeting, it is apparent that they would have done the restaurant owners wrong way back then. It is not only sad, but ridiculous that an amical agreement has not been reached as of yet. I would not blame the Marlows if they threw in the towel and told the city to go pound sand and run their own hot dog and soda stand at the city golf course instead of having a successful dining establishment.
Linda Morgan says
It doesn’t appear that the City of Palm Coast is negotiating in good faith. It seems like they are trying to wear the Green Lion owners down with time and legal fees. It has become a game to them.
It cost more to eat there than it does to play golf. Goodbye Marlowe!