On paper, it looked like a 4-0 vote by the Palm Coast City Council to approve a new, 5-year lease agreement with the Green Lion Cafe at the city-owned Palm Harbor Golf Club, pending a 10-day deadline for the Green Lion to sign on.
In reality, it was one of the more rancid segments of a Palm Coast City Council meeting in a while, in a room that’s seen its share of rancid moments over the past two years. Green Lion owner Tony Marlow on two occasions called city officials “a bunch of crooks” before walking out. His son Chris Marlow, who runs the restaurant, was almost thrown out of the room.
The city added another roughly $1,000 a month to the restaurant’s obligations, increasing those to $3,000 a month. It preserved other items in the lease that the restaurant raised questions about. And the Green Lion now has 10 days either to take it or leave it.
If it leaves it, the city will terminate the existing arrangement with the Green Lion and issue a request for proposals, inviting other companies to make a pitch for the space. In sum, relations between the city and the Green Lion reached their lowest ebb in 15 months of negotiations this morning. A resolution is still possible. But it did not appear likely.
“I feel that this is a deliberate effort between Palm Coast staff to undermine my business,” Tony Marlow told the council. “For some reason you want us out of there. I don’t know what we’ve ever done to you people. We’ve only ever done what you’ve asked. What agenda you have, I have no idea. Why you want to get rid of us, I have no idea. We bent over backwards to help you. I’ve been accused of being a robber, of backstreet dealing. It’s fake news. What you have given is fake news to the public. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
When the timer beeped, signaling the end of Marlow’s three minutes, and Alfin thanked him for his comment, Marlow shot back: “Thank me? Thank me, indeed. We’ve slugged out guts out for five years.” Alfin tried to cut him off. “You’re putting 30 people out of work,” Marlow said, waving off the mayor, before accusing the city of being “a bunch of crooks.”
That, and Marlow twice pointing at Jason DeLorenzo, the city’s development director and lead negotiator on the lease, didn’t sit well with Council member Eddie Branquinho.
“I personally don’t see any deliberate effort to throw you out of there. I don’t see it,” Branquinho told Marlow later in the segment, explaining that he had not contacted Marlow or others at the Green Lion because he’d been advised to leave negotiations in city staff’s hands. “But now being called the crook I don’t think you should even be in this room right now.”
“Well done. Thank you very much,” Marlow said from the floor. “This is disgusting. I’m leaving. Bunch of crooks.”
Mayor David Alfin had sent repeated signals during the meeting, in an email he’d sent Marlow Monday afternoon and in an interview around the same time, that his patience with the restaurant had all but run out.
“If the profit and loss of the operation are not in line with your expectations, we should accept that the venture does not satisfy both parties’ expectations and undermines the potential for long term success,” the mayor said today, at the end of the discussion. “It is my sincere hope that you are able to accept the agreement so we can move forward together and serve the community.”
He then passed the gavel to Branquinho and made a motion to approve the agreement, with a 50-50 price share on water and sewer costs, and with the 10-day deadline.
When Neysa Borkert, the city attorney, offered a 10 to 15 day window, Alfin immediately said it would be 10 days: another indication of his vanishing patience–just as he had cut off Chris Marlow at the three minute mark earlier.
“You’re just going to kick us out?” Chris Marlow said from the floor. “Welcome to negotiating with the city of Palm Coast. This is it, right here.” Branquinho had the gavel, so he was in charge of the meeting at that point. Alfin sat back. Branquinho tried to gavel Marlow down. “Say whatever you want to say, we don’t even get a chance,” Marlow continued. Branquinho warned him. “You’re going to kick me out now instead of in 10 days? What have I ever done? Why won’t you even talk to us?”
Law enforcement swept in around Marlow. “If he comes down, please let him stay,” Branquinho said. Marlow calmed down. Branquinho then called for the vote: 4-0.
It had been Branquinho who’d started the discussion 40 minutes earlier, after a brief presentation by DeLorenzo, again showing his displeasure with the proposed lease. “This deal was no good for this side. My opinion. Right now it’s good for one side,” Branquinho said. He said he would vote for the new arrangement only if water and sewer costs were shared–not if the city continued to subsidize them.
The city is using less than half the water, in DeLorenzo’s estimation. But the future cost of utilities is not yet known. The city is conducting a utility rate study. Prices will almost certainly increase. The last six months, the water bill has averaged $2,073 a month. The city’s portion is basically “toilet flushes,” in Council member Ed Danko’s words.
The city did not reach its estimate in a void. It looked at the water and sewer bills at Brass Tap and at Houligan’s, both of which are larger than Green Lion, DeLorenzo said. A more precise approach would not be feasible for the city. “It would be extremely costly to meter the entire building and then we don’t understand how you would split a shared bathroom,” DeLorenzo said.
“So if we were to split this water costs that would that would do a lot to improve our situation, I think. We wouldn’t be losing any money,” Danko said. “I would just think that would solve the problem.”
The council’s direction to DeLorenzo in March was to get the rent amount to a break-even point within 24 months. As it is, by Sept. 1, 2023, the city would start making a very small profit, based on today’s numbers. The small profit would always remain small, but would increase each year as rent would increase 3 percent.
The lease also called for other changes that would result in the Green Lion paying for propane, internet, phone and the power bill. At that point the Marlows had not spoken. Branquinho wondered how the Green Lion would react to being asked to pay half the water bill.
Chris Marlow walked up to the podium during public comment, and was told he’d have three minutes. “Even though it’s about our lease?” he asked Alfin in disbelief.
“Correct,” the mayor told him.
Marlow said he was surprised that the item was on the agenda to start with, after the Green Lion filed its response to the proposed lease a few weeks ago. “The direction is to negotiate yet you are unwilling to negotiate. We have received no response from you,” he said. “I don’t want the perception of everybody listening today, everybody watching today and everybody that will read this on the news later, that we have been disagreeable, that we have not agreed to what the city has asked, and that we are holding up these negotiations in any way.”
Borkert later would pointedly note that in the last month there’d been “approximately between 10 and 15 emails between myself and the Green Lion’s attorney going back and forth on drafts and discussion on this,” she said. “So that was just in the last month before that. The last couple of months before that there were even more I had phone calls with him. Two weeks ago, I was notified that he was no longer engaging with discussions back and forth between him and I on this lease. So that was the last time we had any correspondence with one another.” DeLorenzo also invited the Marlows to the negotiating table on June 1. He did not get a response.
To Chris Marlow, the Green Lion had agreed to a fair market rent of $2,000 a month, up from $600, payment of various bills, patio heaters bought at the city’s request, a $6,000 point of sale computer system, assumption of certain building maintenance costs, and other items. “What have you agreed to that we have asked. Please give me a few examples?” he said, questioning whether it was a partnership. (The city has in fact agreed to let the restaurant shorten its hours and shorten them, to keep the city from requiring a published menu, and to not ask for the operation’s financial numbers, even though it would be in the city’s right to do so.)
Just then the beep signaled the end of Marlow’s three minutes. He asked Alfin for extra time. Alfin said no.
“So that’s it, huh? 15 months–three minutes,” Marlow said as he picked up his documents and walked back to his seat.
Linda Provencher, for many years the mayor of Flagler Beach–and for many years an employee at the Golden Lion, a Marlow property–could not understand why the Marlows were limited to three minutes as she began her own. “They’ve tried to make this work,” Provencher said. “I think they bent as far as they should bend, and maybe you guys can work with this business that has been successful. And that’s the only reason they’re being punished, is because they are successful. One of you mentioned Jon Netts a couple weeks ago.” Netts is the late former mayor of Palm Coast who cherished the restaurant over the years, until his death a year and a half ago. “Jon Netts loved this place. His wife had his memorial service there. Jon Netts would be shaking his head right now.”
It was then that Tony Marlow walked up to speak. He told the council that the city turned a concession agreement into a lease. (The city’s document refers to it as a “Concession Lease Agreement.”) He raised the specter of the city potentially charging the restaurant property taxes. (Borkert cautioned that while the lease includes a place-holder clause to that effect, the likelihood that anyone would pay property taxes was slim.)
“Stop telling us that we use more water than you,” Tony Marlow said, noting how the premises’ water is used “two or three times a week” to wash down the nearby canoes used by the rowing club. “We serve maybe 100 people a day. You have 200 or 300 on that golf course. Everyone drinks water. Everyone uses the bathroom. Everyone uses the ice machine. Stop telling us that we use all the water.” He said the only time he heard from the city was when Denise Bevan, the city manager, asked him for his financial numbers at 10 p.m. on a Friday night, a request, he said, she had “no right to do.”
His voice rose, his finger-pointing increased, and he dropped the “bunch of crooks” line.
It wasn’t like in mid-February, when the council’s chamber was thronged with Green Lion supporters–a show of support that reversed the council’s decision a week earlier to end its lease with the restaurant. The chamber was mostly empty today, but the few who did speak, including two other Flagler Beach restaurant owners, including Oceanside’s John Lulgjuraj and Tortugas’s Scott Fox, cautioned the council against losing the Green Lion. Fox called it being “penny smart and dollar foolish,” given the asset that the restaurant represents at the moment, and the difficult economic environment.
But in the end council members did not consider their position unreasonable, and the meeting segment’s tenor did not give them reason to change course so much as to stand their ground.green-lion-concession-lease