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Gus Ajram, Embattled Bulldog Drive Business Owner, Collapses in Outburst Before Council

| November 20, 2012

Gus Ajram in a quieter moment, on Bulldog Drive, which the city will divert from his property, rather than buy the property. (© FlaglerLive)

It was supposed to be a routine update to the Palm Coast City Council of its Town Center developments, including an update on Bulldog Drive’s cosmetic reconstruction into a handsomer entrance to what was to be the city’s new downtown. That construction might begin either this summer or the next. But nothing has been routine with Town Center since its inception in 2004. Nor was it Tuesday morning.

The council, sitting as the Town Center Community Redevelopment Agency board (a technicality with no bearing on the council’s authority), was to approve a huge change order to the engineering design contract of the Bulldog Drive reconstruction, the third such additional cost to the project.

Palm Coast had already engineered a widening of Bulldog Drive. But it’s been re-engineering the project, and paying the costs, because it could not acquire one final piece of property alongside Bulldog Drive from its owner, Gus Ajram, who owns GEA Auto.  Ajram wanted $1.25 million for his property. The city was prepared to go no higher than $1 million. The two sides deadlocked in a very long, very acrimonious battle that became personal between Ajram and Jim Landon, the city manager.

Landon threatened to condemn Ajram’s property. Ajram dared Landon to do so. After more than a year of (costly) legal maneuverings on both sides, Landon dropped the threat, because between legal and other fees, and the possibility that a judge would award Ajram the higher amount, condemnation could have likely cost the city more than paying Ajram the difference. So Landon literally took a detour. He would curve the reconstructed Bulldog Drive around Ajram’s property.

Yet the cost of the re-engineered design—$348,0000—was  well above what it would have cost the city to settle the acquisition with Ajram, and widen Bulldog Drive as it had originally planned. The engineering contract has already increased by $20,000. Tuesday morning, the council was set to approve yet another cost increase, this time of $213,000, bringing the total engineering contract cost to $582,000.

Ajram was in the audience. The latest developments set him off.

Audio: Gus Ajram’s Outburst
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He went up to the lectern when Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts opened the segment of the meeting to public comment, and, after introducing himself as “the bastard that owns the property on Bulldog Drive,” lashed out at the council, and particularly at Landon, in a viciously slur-laced tirade against what he described as the city’s “abuse, just for the simple reason I’m half a nigger, half camel-jockey” (Ajram is a native of Lebanon with darker skin), “just the abuse your management and your city attorney put and my family [through] for 11 years.” He referred to the time, documented in the city’s dealings over the property, when the city used CRA dollars as a sweetener to compel his tenants to leave the property. Though he paused initially and said he’d speak calmly, his voice rose immediately to nothing short of a scream, louder and more confrontational than anything the council has heard in memory, as he described what he perceived as purposefully discourteous, unfair treatment because he’d stood up to the city, and because of his origins. “If I had blond and blue eyes like the rest, I would have been taken care of. But I;m a dumb nigger, they underestimated me.” He then likened himself to an Arab spring facing the city, and targeted Landon.

“This is not American. I’m more American than he’ll ever be,” he shouted, referring to Landon. Ajram lost his land in Lebanon because of the civil war there, migrated to the United States, where he became a citizen, married, raised a family, and started several successful businesses in New York and Florida. The city has refused to allow him to sell cars at his Bulldog Drive location, forcing him to sell them from a property at the county airport across State Road 100, at an additional cost to him of $24,000. Today’s confrontation was the culmination of a six-year stand-off with the city, and a very costly one in legal bills for both sides. The city spent taxpayer dollars fighting it. Ajram had to spend his own, ruinously.

Ajram had spoken less than two minutes when, in the middle of a sentence, he collapsed over the lectern and, in the words of Charlie Ericksen—a frequent presence at city meetings who is to be sworn in as a county commissioner this afternoon—twitched and looked as if he was having a stroke.

Mike Beadle, the Palm Coast Fire Chief, and Flagler County Sheriff Mark Carman (who’d been set to stop Ajram moments earlier) came to his aid, as did Ericksen.

The council members and the city manager all stayed in their seats, staring down at the scene a few feet from them as others in the audience sprang up to help. Netts called out for a call to 911 and a recess.

Less than a year ago, Ajram had a heart attack. Ajram was refusing treatment this morning, but was eventually put on a gurney and taken to an Ambulance in the parking lot of the Palm Coast Community Center, where he was given fluids and Aspirin, but refused morphine and nitroglycerin. He was taken to Florida Hospital Flagler, but walked out of his own power as soon as he arrived.

He was back at his shop on Bulldog Drive a little after 11 a.m., no less angry than he’d been at the meeting, and defiant: he said he’d be at every subsequent meeting if necessary. He said the city’s dealings had “tagged” him and his property, making it impossible to sell, since it had been targeted for condemnation, while the reconstruction of Bulldog Drive would veer off his shop and box him in between the road and a ditch—moves, he said, purposefully designed to “screw me.”

Ajram promised not to go away.

Meanwhile, back at the council, Netts described the incident as “a very unfortunate circumstance,” and added: “By way of explanation, he is a property owner in the CRA, and there have been extensive negotiations between Mr. Ajram, his attorneys and the city over a number of years regarding potential acquisition of his property. Clearly he’s not happy with the position the city has taken. Our best wishes for a quick recovery go out to him.”

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48 Responses for “Gus Ajram, Embattled Bulldog Drive Business Owner, Collapses in Outburst Before Council”

  1. glad fly says:

    landon and netts need to go now. that arrogance is off the chart. i hope the best for that gentleman.

  2. glad fly says:

    by the way i hope he sues,doesn’t settle out of court and bankrupts palm coast. maybe then netts and landon will get the heave-ho.

  3. JL says:

    Was the property actually worth $1.25 million? Or was he asking that because he knew the city wanted it and he thought he had them over a barrel? I can’t imagine that property was worth that much. If it was, he should have been given a reasonable sum for it. But not if he was blackmailing the city. I don’t care what nationality you are. I am not sure who is really to blame in this. Possibly both. But I am sick of people using their race or their nationality or sex to blame for not getting everything handed to them. If Landon was trying to take the property at an unfair cost, I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered if the guy was born and raised in Bunnell.
    I hope Ajram’s health recovers.

    • wil says:

      although you may not want to see it, it does matter about race ,and when you learn the facts about this on going issue you will see that the city was nothing short of communist tactic to get what they want. the city forces they arrogance and ignorance and violation of law at the people of palm coast and we take it without questioning or challenging them.

  4. We the people says:

    So rather then settling this years ago the council will have us the city pay almost a extra 25 thousand? Who is regulating them? How can we allow them to do that and and waste our tax money over pig headed egos?
    That’s what’s wrong with this city town center could be moving allot faster and bring business to this area rather then sit and wast our money in upkeep for nothing.

  5. E. C. H. says:

    A class-action lawsuit needs to be filed by all of the residents and business owners Jim Landon and his subordinates have yanked around with their corrupt practices. Or, he simply needs to be fired and a proper ethics education, policies, and council need to be put in place to prevent the corruption from taking hold in this city again.

    • wil says:

      where do I sign. It is about time that the people of palm coast stand for justice, and hold our city government accountable for their abuse of power.

  6. glad fly says:

    a phone call to the Governor’s office might do the trick.

  7. blondee says:

    He should have taken the $1 million and ran, before he gives himself another heart attack.

  8. MSFB says:

    The people of Palm Coast really need to be upset at this, he wanted 1.25 million for his property and they offered 1 million. Now it’s going to cost the people of Palm Coast a half a million just to go around his property. So in all of Landon’s wisdom, the people of Palm Coast will pay a quarter of a million more that was need to be paid. And to think you people reelected him?????

  9. Tired says:

    I agree that Landon has to go but glad, I tried the Governor’s office, the whistle blower, the Feds. Local government just doesn’t seem to have anyone that really regulates them. Would love to see truth prevail and get a council & city manager with values and morals. Yep, rose colored glasses, I know. But we can all dream, right?

  10. Will says:

    To “we the people”,

    I think upkeep on town center is paid by the developer, NOT the taxpayers.

  11. Susan Gorski says:

    Just give Gus the 1.25 and be done with it before it costs ME more money in taxes!

  12. E. C. H. says:

    Under what legal grounds did the city say they could prevent Gus from selling cars on his land? I’d love to hear that story!

    Can you imagine the financial loss to his family form lost car sales – from just one year alone? Prime property with tons of traffic and yet Jim Landon and his crew probably broke the law to manipulate the sale of his property? There is absolutely no other word for that than corruption.

    Shouldn’t we all be wondering what is actually going on behind the scenes if he is brazen enough to act like this in public?

    Jim Landon, your days of abusing your fiduciary responsibilities in this city are numbered. It’s just a matter of time now. And maybe you should ask your bookey what the odds of your being fired within the next 12 months are… and place a huge bet on it.

  13. Ralph Belcher says:

    I’m firm in the belief that in the process this $250k difference has cost the Palm Coast taxpayers even more by the slight diversion of the proposed road improvements. Congratulations to Gus, for surviving the adversity in his native Lebanon, took the opportunity to write his own destiny in our fair nation, and prospered from it, and I hope that he sees himself to get some proper medical care with his condition so he can continue on the (soon to be crooked) road to prosperity. In spite of this test of egos that will cost us taxpayers in the end. And that will be forgotten for some time. You can make some nice videos, but lets stop dispensing black eyes to those you serve.

  14. Henry says:

    Mr. Netts is such a hypocrite, and Landon’s arrogance is costing the tax payer of Palm Coast big $$$, where is the City Council??? How can the Council condone this costly action???

  15. Kendall says:

    Maybe we all need to contact our city council members and see if they can force the purchase. This is awful but unfortunately, typical of the way Landon and Netts conduct themselves.

  16. Clint says:

    Hey Netts and Landon…….You guys can buy my property for 1 million. Heck, I sell it for 500,000. Actually, I’m so angry with this town and want to get out, you can pay me 250,000. and I’ll throw in my SWALE. It has enough water in it to fill all the swimming pools in Palm Coast……..If you hurry up and pay in cash, throw in a new fishing rod and reel, membership for the Hammock Resort for a Life time, and unlimited Toll bridge fees I’ll drop that price to 100,000. Hurry up before I have a heart attack !!!!!

  17. Magnolia says:

    Get well soon, Mr. Ajram. We don’t care what color you are. You are an American, that’s all we need to know.

    • Wow says:

      I think you meant to say “Get well soon, Mr. Ajram. We don’t care what color you are. You are A HUMAN BEING, thats all we need to know

      • Magnolia says:

        Better yet. But actually, no, I meant what I said. I happen to think that all Americans are very special people. It means something, to be an American, to be here.

  18. palm coast is home says:

    I fear that if they “cave” to his demands what will happen in the futere when others try the same. Penny wise and pound foolish the would be. I don’t see Landon and Council being in the wrong. He sounds like a greedy landowner who figured he’d had the city over a barrell and now HIS EGO is in the way.

  19. ol' sarge says:

    $1.25 MILLION??!!?? YOu guys can’t be seriously placing this whole thing on the city!! I am by no means a fan of the current city administration, but the only one screwing people and slowing progress here is the business owner trying to sell that dump of a piece of property for an amount equitable to financial rape! I cannot speak as to whether or not the city’s motives are racist in nature, but I can tell you that guy is being ridiculous. Don’t sensationalize and glorify a business owner because he is flying the flag of standing up to the city…GARBAGE…he is standing his ground to get as much money as possible, EVEN THOUGH the property can’t possibly be worth that much…nevermind the fact that his bull headed stubborn attitude is costing the citizens tons of cash. This is no different than the criminal who cuts his hand breaking into your house and sues YOU for his medical bills!

    • E. C. H. says:

      With all due respect sir, how much money was that land worth to him in the next 10 or 20 years in car sales? It is not about the assessed value at all when business sales are involved. Someone wanted better access the the “new Town Center” and someone was an advocate in the city for their business plan rather than Gus’. Who were those advocates exactly?

      And it is clearly imaginable that a business man bought the land years ago thinking of what it could be worth in sales volume once traffic picked up.

      I heard it was rezoned it so he could not sell cars on it. If I heard him correct, I thought I heard Gus say he has done millions of dollars in car sales at another lot he owned. Why not make this type of long-term investment and wait for the timing to be right? Did I hear city employees called to help drive his renters away as well?

      There is more to this than meets the eye. How much of it of it is going on behind closed doors? And that would be a.) a breach of fiduciary responsibility b.) harassment and c.) breaking the Sunshine Law – there’s probably even more laws that have been broken that will be coming to light very soon. There a lot of ticked off people in this town who simply need to be given a voice.

    • Anonymous says:

      know him personally and i agree!! $$$$$$$$$$$$$

  20. DP says:

    I’ve know Gus for many years, he’s always been upfront on any and all of his repairs that he business has performed on any of my vehicles. The city Jim Landon and the worthless commissioners pulled this same stunt with the Methodist church on the North end of Belle Terre Pkwy @ Matanzas woods Pkwy. The city’s stance was eminent domain if you don’t give us the property to re-align Belle Terre. Once again the bullying tactic almost cost the city big money in legal fees, but cost the church a lot more $$$$ in the long run. Ad who “PAYS” we the tax payers. This kind of crap can’t continue to go on in this city, we the people continue to elect these fools into office on a wing and pray. And now once again the city may have violated the sunshine law by holding private rankings for the new commissioner, well have to wait and see on this one. Why Mr. Meeker didn’t you give up your city seat earlier then you did, in order to run for the vacant county seat. I’m glad you were looking out for the “TAX” payers by not allowing us the citizens, Tax payers, who pay your salary to vote somebody into office. I say thanks for denying my right. Well with another 4 years of a worthless President, forced health care, higher un-employment, and higher taxes It’s time to move out of this county and live in a shoe, as I will not be able to avoid to even eat. WHEN ARE WE GOING TO WAKE UP??? Probably when it’s too late!!!! Enough said!!!!! GUS stay strong, and always know I’ll have your back

  21. glad fly says:

    i have the feeling new businesses are avoiding this,ant-business,arrogant,self serving,narrcissistic,red light infested,tax-heavy,unfriendly,clap trap of a town like the plague. you have to ask yourself,why in the hell would a business want to come here?????????..i live her but me,friends, and family sure as hell don’t buy gas or shop here.

  22. Dave says:

    Stand your ground Mr Gus, its your land and if you do not want to sell it then hold firm onto your price, I tip my hat to you Sir, As for Pam Coast trying to bully you they should walk around with their heads down in shame. its your land and your price so its that simple.

  23. Reality Check says:

    If people do not see what an egomaniac Landon is after this I do not know when the Council will see it. Who the hell does Landon think he is to openly say he will condemn a building? This jackass has to be fired before he cost the citizens of Palm Coast another red cent. As the City Manager he should read up on eminent domain, and the reasons behind it. It does not matter what the property was worth, if someone has an asking price than that is the price, they own it; they should not be bullied by government to take what we want to give you. Town Center is dead, it will be dead for years, Landon just wants his City Hall palace so he can sit up in a lush office and stare out at the fools he rules over. If we as citizens allow this city council to be re-elected than shame on us, each and every member need to be voted out, the new council needs to take a hard look at the Manager. This council has zero guts, all are afraid of political suicide, time to put your big boy pants on city council and suspend Landon pending investigation for disciplinary action. I believe it is time to put the City Manager on warning that his job is by no means guaranteed, its a pay for performance situation, and discipline should include the words “up to and including termination” same as a private sector employee. Threatening a property owner to get your way is unprofessional and warrants discipline, stand up and issue a warning city council.

  24. confidential says:

    How much a comparable parcel in Town Center with same strategic location is up for sale now..?
    How much in tax payers dollars are wasted in all these frivolous lawsuits..?

  25. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    What most people don’t know about that whole deal and area is, Palm Coast wanted that property not only to develop but sell to others after they bought it if they wanted. So they wanted to offer nickles and dimes to homeowners and property owners and business owners like Gus. When the City was offering that money it was when real-estate was high. Gus would have had to relocate the business he built up and dump that money into it, so basically he was starting over, sounds like a lot of money but it’s not when you have to rebuild what didn’t need to be rebuilt in the first place. It’s funny I get called the Grinch in another post because of comments about PETERSON retiring. This situation is one reason I don’t feel bad seeing him go. The City, County whoever WANTED that property, mobile homes land and all. I saw Peterson years ago belittle the simple living of the people who owned mobile homes back there for close to 30 years senior citizens. He didn’t think their property was worth offering them real money. He basically asked the City, or County attorney “how come we can’t give them the least amount of money possible or just take the property?” The attorney reminded him that HE and others wanted that property and wanted to be able to do what they wish with it and it would open a can of worms, long fight with displaced elderly that didn’t want to move to begin with and real esate would most likly climb a bit higher. Peterson just didn’t get it his old banking instincts kicked in. What he and a lot of commenter’s are missing is you can’t always put a price on everything Gus worked that business and he worked it hard they way he thought it was supposed to be in this country. The infamous glass ceiling. Gus is the one that got stuck holding the bag. Sad story

  26. confidential says:

    As I see there is one lot on the back of Publix in Town center that is up for sale for $545,000 much smaller and not with the same privileged location of the one owned by Gus frontage Rte. 100 and corner of Bulldog drive. I don’t see why our tax dollars are wasted on this fight against this land owner, just to benefit the Town Center developer!
    Didn’t the City paid 800,000 for one up the road on Bulldog drive of about 32,000 plus sq. f.t? This man’s lot is bigger and corner located. He has the opportunity to get what he wants for his property selling it in the future to a bank or business in that corner. Stop wasting our hard earned tax dollars (another over half million) on redesigns plus consultants and lawyers for the sake of a developer..

  27. jespo says:

    Yes…build it and they will come…excellent plan for success Palm Coast…excellent. Where have I seen and heard this plan before? Hhmmnn….I’ll think about it as I drive into Roma Court to get food from King Palace, the only open business in the complex.

  28. Dadgum says:

    Hey! that’s $250K saved for a new City of Palm Coast building. Maybe they can get back our Palm Coast Data building and sell that instead of giving it away for nothing including never materialized jobs and tax money.

  29. JL says:

    Unfortunately, Imminent Domain does not necessarily guarantee the property owner will be paid what they want for their property. There is no precise formula for determining value. And the government has to “condemn” the property if they decide to “take” the property. If there is no amicable resolution and the government decides they’re going to take the property, like it or not, they have to condemn it. So it’s not like they will condemn it to hurt the guy, it’s necessary in the process.

    It’s not always fair, but unfortunately, it’s the law. The question really is, was the property worth $1 million or $1.25? I think that is an awful lot of money for that property. I would like to know what an appraiser says.

    Yes, I agree Landon needs to go. We all seem to agree there. So my question, how is he still in office? I think the entire council needs to go because they’re not acting in the best interests of our city. It’s stupid to pay more in costs than what this guy was asking, just to not give in. OMG. How childish, Landon. Are you that low that you’re willing to cut your nose off to spite your face? With taxpayer funds?

  30. w.ryan says:

    Why has The City Council Put this man thru so much STRESS? It’s funny how we are so concerned with bullies in schools. Let us assess and correct all forms of bullying. Landon and the City has put much unnecessary stress on Gus. That property is gold for anyone who sees the potential. Why would this business man be forced out of his business and treated as less than the other businessman that have dealings with Palm Coast? Get well Gus!

  31. Tired says:

    If you put the purchase price aside for a minute, I’d like to address the bullying. What right does the city have to harrass this man when he decided not to sell to them for their price? Why does he have to relocate part of his business out of the city, across 100, in order to do the type of work he’d been doing all along? Why are they allowed to bully and harrass this man, who is paying taxes and living a normal life? This isn’t the first time this has happened in this city, and until we get rid of Landon and Netts it will continue.

  32. I reviewed an appraisal report on this property for a lender in 2006. I did an appraisal on this property for the city in 2007. The city has since had several appraisals made of this site. I believe the appraiser was out of Jacksonville, that is a matter of public record. They should have gone ahead with the Eminent Domain proceeding. The value is determined by a jury of 12, not the judge. In Florida the property owners attorney fees and expert witness fees are paid by the condeming agency. All parties take a chance, you can never predict what a jury might do. Mr Ajram still has recourse through Inverse Condemnation. I have no knowledge of who represented Mr Ajram but I do know most of the best Eminent Domain attorneys in this state having ben cross examined by many of them. The city has purchased several parcels in this area at what most owners felt was a fair price. Land in this location is not inexpensive.

  33. Lou Reis says:

    Come on Gus hey karate expert collapsing in front of the City Council you better than that give them hell those assholes don’t deserve that B strong man.

  34. PJ says:

    Ok let’s face it.

    Kelton left the city fat with money in reserves.

    Then Landon shows up and now we are spending money in plam coast like a drunk sailor in port.

    Palm Coast is now broke, wait till you see how much your water rates will be soon.

    Gus is an American so a Lebanese American who cares, and that’s fine with me.

    Gus using the ‘N” word in any context never get’s anyone anywhere anymore.

    The camel jockey thing not something you should call yourself or for that matter your fellow heritage.

    Let’s think about this for a minute? “pondering” Hmm,

    America right, this is America?

    So Gus wants 1.25 m and the city wants to spend less. Hmm whats wrong with this picture?

    NOTHNG THIS AMERICA THE LAND OF being and doing business. Gus is just doing business. Nothing wrong with this. Don’t you think?

    Here is the problem. Landon’s EGO.

    Get rid of this guy and we can save money as he and his staff under his guidence tries to force us to do things at his will.

    Gus stay focused you should get paid the money your asking because when you started this deal all of the propery values were at your asking price 5 years ago.

    It’s Landon’s ego that is making the proerty cost more not poor old Gus………………

  35. Cyd Weeks says:

    this whole fight between him and Langdon disgusts me. Give him the money…you already over paid for the other two properties and you have screwed this man more than was necessary. Enough is enough…we REALLY don’t care who can pee further. PAY HIM.

  36. Biker says:

    Just curious but their website states moving back to 108 Bulldog Drive. Does that mean that he wasnt located at the property on Bulldog selling cars? I am really very curious but did this guy ever have a car sale lot located at that location? Did his tenants that he claimed to have lost have a car sale lot? I really dont remember one at that location. I rememeber an auto mechanic shop there. I do remember the car sale lot on the corner of 100 and Bulldog. Did the city buy out that property? What did they sell for. Is this a case of the City being bullies, or something else?

  37. JonQPublik says:

    At this point, Mr. Ajram shouldn’t get less than 3 million.

  38. Reality Check says:

    When will Landon be disciplined for his actions? Is he above reproach? Come on City Council get off you lazy, politically afraid asses and do what we voted you in to do, TAKE ACTION!!!!

  39. Anonymous says:

    i am very glad that i have changed my mind about opening my own business in palm coast–itll still be in flagler county most likely-or in the southern most part area of st augustine….but i will not subject myself to the bullying of palm coast

  40. Geezer says:

    Just more effing filthy political maneuvers by the creeps Palm Coast elected.
    Gus is right about everything he says. Bigotry is never too far below the surface.

    Gus is smart to have speculated that his property was going to be a gateway to Town Center.
    He needs to cash in now, as it is all fair and square. If he was a local politician or had one in his pocket, he’d pull in $3,000,000+ for this investment. This is a fact.

    But no, the city wants to screw him over. They are truly drunk with power, Landon and the gang.
    Drunk with power running a 3rd rate, financially insolvent city. (with lovely landscaping)

    Hang tough Gus! Don’t have a heart attack because of those sc***ags.
    I hope that you prevail and can partake in the American Dream – you’ve earned it.
    You work hard, unlike our elected officials.

  41. P C says:

    I wouldn’t sell that property for less than 2 million. Location Location Location. Good for him. Your not buying a peice of land. That’s his living. Place is a gold mine. Great cars. Great repair business .

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