The Flagler County administration has rejected as “not workable” the offer of using Roma Court in Palm Coast as a Sheriff’s Office headquarters. County Administrator Craig Coffey ended that option’s prospects with a 10-point memo listing a series of structural and logistical concerns about the 57,000-square foot property, about half of which would have been leased to the county for the sheriff’s uses in a 15-year arrangement.
Coffey cited security, the building’s layout, future costs, whether Roma Court could withstand hurricane-force winds and distance from other government facilities among the concerns that make the sprawling faux-Renaissance yellow building on the west side of Palm Coast Parkway a poor choice for the sheriff. Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre had not been excited by the Roma Court proposal, either.
The Flagler County Commission voted 4-1 on Aug. 1 to buy the old Flagler Memorial Hospital in Bunnell, a 60,000 square-foot structure, for $1.23 million from local attorney Michael Chiumento and banker Bruce Page, who also have a partner in Ormond Beach. Four days later, Coffey received the Roma Court proposal.
“In today’s environment every little bit helps,” Coffey wrote Jerry Masiello, the broker for Roam Court owner John Bills Property of Palm Beach. Coffey was referring to the proposed savings Masiello had estimated. “However, with regards to your specific proposal, from a legal, functional, or financial standpoint, it is not workable.”
Primarily, Coffey said, the sheriff’s office cannot be functionally separated from its operations, and Florida law requires that the office be located at the county seat. So even if Roma Court had been a viable option, Manfre would have had to have his office in Bunnell, separate from the core of his organization, when he’s been the driving force behind doing the opposite—merging more of his operations into a central location, from several different properties.
“Your proposal to split the Sheriff’s office from his main office/operations center would be counter-productive and would violate the spirit, if not the letter of the law,” Coffey wrote. “Furthermore, the sheriff and a number of commissioners have expressed that they in no way want to violate this law and/or the spirit of the law, essentially making the consideration of any sites outside of the County seat a [moot] point.”
The original proposal to the county was for a 15-year lease arrangement for all 57,000 square feet of Roma Court, with the county taking ownership of 30,000 square feet of that after 15 years. But the county, as part of the deal, would have essentially become a landlord for the remaining 27,000 square feet, subleasing the space, assuming it could find tenants, and thus reducing its leasing costs. Roma Court, however, has had trouble finding tenants for most of the floor space. While the original proposal had the Roma Court owner providing sub-lease tenants, the county would have been on the hook for space not used.
A revised proposal to the county made no mention of the extra 27,000 square feet, limiting the proposal to the 30,000 square feet that would go to the sheriff. Under that arrangement, Masiello calculated that the county’s costs would amount to $4.6 million over 15 years. Curiously, he provided the county an estimate of what the old hospital’s acquisition and reconstruction would cost, once loan financing is included: $10 million. Commercial property owners burdened by empty properties at times pursue government tenants because they’re more stable, and taxpayer’s money is guaranteed.
Coffey, in his memo to Masiello, incorrectly noted that “the Board of County Commissioners have unanimously chosen to locate the Sheriff’s office/operations center at the former hospital location”—there was one dissent—adding in a parenthetical that “one vote was against repurposing the building.” In fact, the vote was against the entire deal. But Coffey correctly noted to Masiello that the “proposal arrived after the Board had rendered its decision. If the Board chose to not only revisit their decision, but also to open it up with your interpretation of Florida Statutes, we would be in a position to consider yours and many other locations/proposals throughout the County.”
But even if Roma Court had been in the mix of options before the commission reviewed the hospital deal, it’s unlikely it would have attracted much interest, based on Coffey’s analysis.
The county administrator doubts that such things as a communication tower and an impound facility could be located at Roma Court, which was designed for small retail shops and restaurants. “The U-shape of the building may be conducive to store fronts,” Coffey wrote, “but not necessarily conducive to a consolidated office.” Palm Coast also prohibits barbed wire, one of many other challenges the facility would have to contend with, along with numerous restrictions that would limit the sheriff’s flexibility. Coffey had also requested information about Roma Court’s capability of withstanding 140 miles per hour winds. That information was never provided. Locating a powerful electrical generator on the property, as required, would have necessitated locating the noisy engine in the lower-level garage below the property—a garage that, Coffey said, “severely floods during heavy rains, which would be of utmost concerns during hurricanes and other natural occurrences when the sheriff’s office would be the busiest.”
It’s also unclear how Roma Court would have provided secure areas for sheriff’s operations that require a degree of secrecy, and that don’t mingle well with such activities as restaurant goers and retail shoppers, as would be the case if nearly half the building were to be occupied by private businesses. Don Fleming, the former sheriff, resisted so much as sharing the old courthouse with Bunnell city offices for that reason, back when the courthouse was among the more viable options for a new sheriff’s headquarters.
Coffey said he would turn over the Roma Court issue to his economic development department to possibly help channel tenants Roma Court’s way.
See the full memo below.