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Who Wants an Old Courthouse? County Opens Doors, and A Few Eyes

| August 8, 2014

Several dozen people turned out at a county-hosted open house Friday at the old Flagler County Courthouse. To be safe, they signed in--so the county could ensure that all had exited the structure when it was shut down again. (© FlaglerLive)

Several dozen people turned out at a county-hosted open house Friday at the old Flagler County Courthouse. To be safe, they signed in–so the county could ensure that all had exited the structure when it was shut down again. (© FlaglerLive)

When it comes to the old Flagler County Courthouse and its annex, the central question for its landlord—county government—is whether someone out there is interested in taking on the building: leasing it or owning it outright. That question remains unanswered after a two-hour open house the county hosted at the courthouse Friday, though an immediate answer wasn’t entirely the aim.

“The aim today,” County Commissioner Barbara Revels said, “is number one, show off the building to dispel the terrible rumors and what quality construction it is in the annex, and how the historical section is able to be restored. Second is to entertain people’s visits who might have an interest in leasing or purchasing.”

Several dozen people turned out. Most were local residents, business owners, Realtors, and a few politicians. There were only a handful–three or four–prospective businesses. They were led through both sections of the building in guided tours. Both sides have been spiffed up considerably since last fall, when the building looked more like a ruin than a prospective business center. Still, the building’s size, at nearly 50,000 square feet, its age and the demands it is likely to make on any occupant, in remodeling and maintenance, were also clear for all to see. The myths dispelled, in other words, went both ways.

County Commissioner Barbara Revels prepares to introduce one of the smaller groups to the courthouse, before the group's guided tour. Two earlier groups had been more sizeable. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

County Commissioner Barbara Revels prepares to introduce one of the smaller groups to the courthouse, before the group’s guided tour. Two earlier groups had been more sizeable. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

“My first impression is that the way we looked at it as an opportunity, all I see is work,” Ky Ekinci said after taking the tour. Ekinci owns Office Divvy, the Palm Coast co-location and business incubator. He sent county officials’ hearts fluttering last May when he spoke to the commission of his firm’s planned $1 million expansion, and that the courthouse was a contender for the move. But that was before his analysis today. “Maybe for somebody else’s vision, it’s not as scary, but that’s my first impression, he said, citing the voluminous up-front investment occupancy would require.

Still, he’s not ruling it out. “Eliminating emotion from everything else, it has to be a logical decision and make business sense,” Ekinci said. “I wouldn’t say I am disappointed. It’ll require more work on paper.”

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County Administrator Craig Coffey did not contest Ekinci’s perspective. “I think that’s a fair and realistic assessment,” Coffey said, understanding as well that “business is all about risk. Can you make it less of a risk?” The suggestion being that the county’s role would not be completely eliminated from the picture: it could possibly still be a partner at some level: the presence at the open house of Helga van Eckert, the county’s economic development director, was an indication of the county’s hopes that the building would become another gear in the local economy, rather than a drag on tax dollars.

And certain parts of the building can be occupied within 60 to 90 days. Revels mentions the quick transformation that, for example, a call center could put in place on one of the floors of the annex. On the other hand, such a business might also require a different parking configuration, which could add to preparatory costs. The county owns 4 acres around the building, but it would still have to work with Bunnell to accommodate those reconfigurations.

But certain realities persist. “The taxpayers have made clear that the $70,000 that it takes to run the building has got to be paid by someone who occupies the building,” Revels said. Bunnell briefly took ownership of the building, thinking it could turn it into its city hall and rent out parts of it, only to give it back once it figured out it couldn’t afford the responsibility. There’s been indications from non-profits and even a handful of businesses they could occupy the building, but nothing bankable.

Coffey presented a set of options to the commission: demolish the building. Demolish in part and preserve a part. Sell it. Lease it. The commission then appointed a committee to study the options and return its recommendation to the commission. Revels is chairing that committee, which meets every two weeks and is stocked with “aggressive data-gatherers,” she says, who have been going through a spreadsheet of tasks, crossing one after the other as a report to the commission is getting drafted. That report is due in October. “This open house is to add to the community’s opinions, users, to round out the report,” Revels said.

A key question: how much it will cost to refurbish the building in such a way that a firm could rely on the figures enough for its business plan. Those figures have so far been contentious. The county had some. It places the reconstruction costs of the annex portion of the building alone at $3.8 million. Including the old portion of the building would push those costs past $5 million. The Revels committee is gathering figures of its own, though they will not be outlined as in the county report. “We’re going to have a range,” Revels said.

In the end, Coffey said, 90 percent of prospective searchers might not pan out, that could still leave 10 percent who might see something worth working with there.

If not, the recommendations, demolition or an attempted sale on the market, are still on the table.

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17 Responses for “Who Wants an Old Courthouse? County Opens Doors, and A Few Eyes”

  1. From Bunnell says:

    A lot of work was done by county employees at the tax payers expense to get the building in the condition it was in today for the big event. The building had been in a ransacked condition for a long time and mold was visible (and in some areas so bad it was not tolerable) from several feet away from the of wall. It is a terrible shame county commissioners allowed their employee, the county administrator who is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to not have had a plan for this courthouse before it was ever vacated. There is no excuse for us tax payers to have paid the hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 8 years for the building to sit vacant. The market was better back in 2006 and an agreement of sometime should have been reached at that time. I would like to know how much staff time and how much in wages was put into this courthouse over the past 6 years and how much expense we the tax payers have incurred in maintenance expenses since the courthouse was vacated in 2007. How about doing some research and let us know. I would also like to know why commissioners have been sitting on this for 8 years.

  2. Steve Wolfe says:

    Business is all about risk? Oh, he’s referring to Flagler County of course, no thanks to his bosses.

  3. David Sullivan says:

    The last paragraph of this article pretty well provides the bottom line of
    where this Courthouse situation should end up. Put the property back on
    Tax roles and stop putting our tax dollars into this “money pit”.

  4. confidential says:

    What about grants for historic buildings restoration and preservation? I understand that County Attorney Al Hadeed is experienced in applying for and getting grants. How come yet I haven’t seeing any intention form the FCBOCC or Revels about a restoration grant? Or maybe they have once more some elite in mind to benefit again? Also the cost to repair presented at over 5 millions as usual is a very overpriced gouging to discourage restoration of a public owned historical property!

    • Steve Wolfe says:

      Hmm…you’re not suggesting another tax-payer funded bailout for some rich friends could be in the works, are you? How many bailouts with other people’s money can Flagler afford? Indeed Revels already faces an ethics violation investigation for the hospital bailout. (I wonder why there has been no follow-up from any truth-driven reporter?)

      If voters will keep the hospital bailout in mind, they have the opportunity to dismiss two of the Commissioners responsible for it: one who salivated over it (aka Nate-I-never-saw-a-tax-increase-I-didn’t-vote-for, aka “I’m a fiscal conservative”), and another who stated that he felt as if he was dragged kicking and screaming to vote for the bailout (aka Frank-I-make-all-decisions-based-on-FACTS-for-the-good-of-ALL-Meeker). Remember these fellas voted to give 1.23 MILLION of your dollars to a failed investment group of rich fellas who tried to sell that dilapidated, zombie apocalypse movie set to other interests for years as it built debt and lost value. Finally, they found their perfect customer: OUR REPRESENTATIVES who control OUR MONEY and will proudly smile while shaking your hand (albeit a little too aggressively).

      By the way, I sincerely credit the investment group’s rep for closing the deal and padding it with a small profit (about $125,000) for their troubles. For them, it came down to a desperate situation that only one customer–government– could find the rationale to justify (Oh yeah, the old hospital would make the perfect HQ for our first responders, even though it is only worth 1/3 of the asking price and we will have to invest more millions of OPM into it! BRILLIANT!) and the money to blow on it (namely, OURS). Bravo, Mike.

      • Rob says:

        @Steve Wolfe,
        Unfortunately I believe you are giving the voters too much credit for remembering the past miscues when they cast their ballots. On the other hand if their memory is not faulty they should show the incumbent; county commissioners, Palm Coast town council, and school board members the door.
        The newly elected should in turn show the county administrator and town manager the same door.
        It is also too bad that the mayor of Palm Coast is not in a position where he could also be shown the door.

  5. confidential says:

    More sources of grants:
    Get a grant and also a loan and pay it off by leasing the building.

  6. Seminole Pride says:

    I think the City of Palm Coast should go their for there new City Hall. Look at the millions of dollars they would save us tax payerrs.

  7. Steve Wolfe says:

    All of you please stop proposing sensible ideas. That’s what our reps do for us, right? I’m sure they’ll come up with another whopper (with cheese).

  8. Kat says:

    Demolish the annex and restore the courthouse for shared office space. Check the restored school at 747 Ridgewood Ave. in Daytona. It can be done!

  9. Nancy N. says:

    To get a grant, the county would have to show what it was going to do with the building once it was restored, and at the moment it has no intended use for the property.

  10. Rain says:

    I took the tour. The gentleman leading my tour was a Realtor and Committee Member and he sounded to me like a used car salesman trying to get you to buy a car that had a bad carfax. Not his fault, just doing what he was asked to do.

    The article stated that “Both sides have been spiffed up considerably since last fall, when the building looked more like a ruin than a prospective business center”. I am curious as to the cost to “spiff it up” for the open house. This County has wasted more money on this building that I believe will ultimately end up costing the taxpayers even more.

    We have been told over the years that this was a “sick” building. I asked about that and was assured the building was safe. I asked when the last environmental study was done, I was told 2008. I seem to remember a report coming out that was done by the City of Bunnell, just this year, indicating the building was not environmentally safe.

    I ask that the City of Bunnell, as a favor to the County residents, release a copy of that, if it actually exists.

    The Sheriff doesn’t want it, the City of Bunnell didn’t want it, so why do we still want it?

  11. PalmCoastCitizen says:

    Maybe a homeless shelter or a shelter during hurricanes? Make some use of it somewhere!

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