After a three-week extension, the window to bid on the lease to replace the Green Lion Cafe at Palm Coast’s Palm Harbor Golf Club closed the afternoon of Sept. 29, just as Hurricane Ian had cleared the area. After initially resisting disclosing how many parties filed a bid, the city on Tuesday reported that two had done so.
The bids were opened on Saturday. The city has up to 30 days to disclose the bidders’ identity. It may do so earlier by announcing which of the two bidders it intends to negotiate a lease with. Until then, Florida law exempts those identities or the bidders’ documents from being publicly disclosed.
At least two local restaurant owners have shown interest by downloading the bid packages: Thai and I in Bunnell, and the Turtle Shack in Flagler Beach. That doesn’t mean they are among the bidders–only that they downloaded all bidding documents in time to bid.
About 18 vendors are listed on the publicly accessible city portal detailing the bidding process or the concession lease agreement. Some of the vendors are companies that scour such sites to harvest the information and disseminate it elsewhere. The city doesn’t require the vendors to disclose their actual name, so many used assumed names to hide their identity.
City officials are not discussing the bid response, but they are likely disappointed. The bidding first opened on Aug. 25, with a closing date of Sept. 15, at 2 p.m. By that morning, no bid had been received. The city that morning extended the bidding window for two weeks. A city official did disclose at the time that there were two interested bidders, and in fact one of them ended up filing a bid before what would have been the 2 p.m. deadline on Sept. 15. The second bid was filed since.
Thai and I, the restaurant operating in place of the old State Street Diner in Bunnell, downloaded the documents under its own name. The owners of the Turtle Shack in Flagler Beach, operating under the corporate name of Niday Enterprises (the company is owned by Linda Niday of Palm Coast) downloaded the package under the corporate name on Sept. 19.
There was no hint that the Green Lion was among the interested parties. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t. But Chris Marlow, who has managed the Green Lion since it opened at Palm Harbor in 2017, showed little interest in the fate of the city’s bidding process when contacted near the end of the first deadline. He said at the time that his family, which owns the enormously popular Golden Lion in Flagler Beach, is focused on building and opening a $3 million restaurant, what will be called the Next Door Beach Bistro, adjacent to the Golden Lion on State Road A1A. He said he himself was focused on that and on his own young family and newborn son.
In 2017, when the city was struggling to revive both the deficit-ridden Palm Harbor Golf Club and what had become a neglected concession by then (the place did not really live up to the word restaurant), it issued a request for proposal, much as it is doing now. The response was the same then as it was this time: two bidders. One of them was quickly disqualified, leaving the Green Lion.
The restaurant was given six months’ free rent, then rent of $500 a month, with the city assuming numerous overhead costs, from water and sewer to electricity, internet and trash pick-up. It was a remarkably generous package. The restaurant became successful to the point of figuring as Trip Advisor’s top-rated restaurant in the city. The golf course, no longer operated by a management company but by Palm Coast parks and recreation, also turned around.
Rent increased for the restaurant lease, but only to $600 a month, prompting the city to start renegotiating the lease last year. Tortuous negotiations followed, and eventually spilled into the open as the Green Lion’s owners clashed with members of the Palm Coast City Council in a succession of rollercoaster meetings. The city administration on two occasions had worked out a new lease that the Green Lion appeared ready to accept. Rent was to increase significantly and the Green Lion was to assume additional overhead costs, bringing the city to and past a break-even point in 2023.
But on both occasions, council members–not the administration–derailed the potential agreement with new demands, infuriating Green Lion owners enough that at one meeting the owners lost their cool and became offensive toward the administration and the council. They later regretted it. But differences appeared irreconcilable.
The city exercised its option to sever the lease “for convenience.” To do so, it had to give the Green Lion six months’ notice, and refund the Green Lion a full year’s rent–$7,200.
The new bid request describes the restaurant as an 88-seat facility (48 on the deck) that would have to be open seven days a week for a minimum of eight hours each day. The golf course is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. Rent would still be a modest $1,500 a month to start, with an annual increase of 3 percent. (Ironically, that’s roughly in line with what the Golden Lion would be paying in property taxes alone this year, not including the Next Door Bistro‘s property taxes.) But the tenant would have to assume the costs of all utilities, including 50 percent of the water and sewer charge for the trailer, bringing the monthly cost closer to $3,000.
That’s about $1,000 more a month than the Green Lion had been willing to pay when it last debated the issue with the council–and when the council decided to add water costs to the bill.
While the new lease proposal suggests that the city would more than break even, the numbers remain deceptive. The city is still responsible for all building maintenance and repairs. Those are not minor costs. Any serious repair would quickly devour whatever modest surplus the city hopes to gain from rent payments. In other words, even at $3,000 a month, the business occupying the space will be subsidized by taxpayers to a degree, in addition to having the captured patronage of a golf course that “hosts approximately 54,000 rounds of golf per year and draws customers from the surrounding area,” in the city’s description.
For comparative purposes, the Funky Pelican in Flagler Beach operates in a city-owned building at the pier. It pays the city just under $4,000 a month in rent, plus all utilities, trash collection, phone and internet service, plus a profit-sharing arrangement that has the restaurant paying the city 3 percent of gross sales exceeding $1 million. (See the Funky Pelican lease here.) Whoever wins the lease at Palm Harbor Golf would have it far easier, and would, in addition, be allowed to keep its books closed to city eyes.