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Palm Coast’s Two Best Arguments
For a New City Hall: Take the Tour

| July 6, 2010

palm coast city hall at city walk

Nothing screams strip-mall city louder than Palm Coast's current version of city hall at anemic City Walk. (© FlaglerLive)

There may be many reasons to argue against Palm Coast’s plan to build a $10 million City Hall in Town Center. But two of the city council’s and City Manager Jim Landon’s reasons for a new building are inarguably compelling: economics and aesthetics.

First, as federal stimulus dollars dry up and the state continues to cut spending, and with the private sector on the verge of a double-dip recession, local government spending in the next couple of years will be necessary to keep economic activity going. A $10 million construction project isn’t grand (Belle Terre Boulevard’s four-laning was $26 million). But it’s part of what government can do to provide jobs and keep money circulating. The city’s plan to build city hall in Town Center is another effort to anchor an economic engine in that area. About half the city’s 420 employees would either be located there or would be in and out of there, generating economic activity of their own as smaller businesses such as restaurants would cater to their dollars.

Second, the city’s main offices, spread over six storefronts on the ground floor and refurbished offices on the third at City Walk, are ugly and unbecoming of the county’s biggest city. They’re cramped and unwieldy for its employees. And they’re not much more attractive for residents who need to do business with the city, though they’re by no means inconvenient for residents. As a location, City Walk is more central than Town Center would be, parking is ample (thanks to empty storefronts all around), and the city’s customer service is efficient and accommodating, making aesthetics virtually irrelevant from a transacting resident’s perspective.

Residents don’t see the cramped conditions behind the scenes, and likely don’t care: Flagler County’s government is housed in a palatial, 125,000-square-foot ode to ostentation in Bunnell (the county shares those offices with the school board and lends a suite to Bunnell). From residents’ perspective there’s no evidence that Flagler is better run than Palm Coast, though it’s definitely more expensively run: county residents (including Palm Coast’s) will be paying for the $65 million bonds they approved in 2004, to build the new government center and courthouse, until 2035 ($27 million went to the government administration building proper).

Palm Coast’s main offices take up 21,000 square feet at City Walk. Here’s one of many ironies: Roughly 150 of the city’s 420 employees work at City Walk. About the same number of county employees work in their Versailles. So county employees have three times as much square footage to work in than their city counterparts. It shows. There are enormous offices, empty offices, high ceilings, and parts of offices that evoke the Great Plains in the county building. The city’s offices at City Walk are a closer approximation to office space in Tokyo, where square footage is at a premium. Of course, the city could expand: it’s certainly not lacking for space at City Walk. But the strip mall’s office space is limited, and the administration isn’t keen on taking up more storefronts.

A visit through the city offices with Palm Coast’s Marsha Lidskin reveals the extent of the city’s cramped feel. It’s not a physically oppressive space by any means, but it’s tight. One office space, if you can call it that, is emblematic—that of Bill Butler. Butler is the city’s landscape architect. He’s the guy in the trenches, realizing the city’s airy, greenish feel wherever possible. His office is a cubicle smaller than most inmates’ prison cells, perhaps six feet by six feet at most, though the space is narrowed by stacks of documents and rolled-up designs that have no storage space.

Cubicles like Butler’s are stacked up against each other in several rooms on both floors of the city’s space as if in a spoof of swarming office life, except it’s no spoof: this is where engineers, customer service representatives, planners, urban foresters and whoever and whatever else it takes to run the city do their work. They even have an “overflow room”—a salad of workers from several departments who couldn’t fit in their respective rooms, and who found cubicle space in overflow.

Some spaces are airier than others, but not by much. The entire city manager’s suite, including Jim Landon’s office, his conference room, the reception room and an office for the mayor and city council members (who all must share that office, if and when they’re there) could come close to fitting in a single office in the county building. That’s not an exaggeration: The school superintendent who pre-dated Bill Delbrugge, and who drew his own plans for his office in the county administration building, designed an enormous executive office that originally included a spiral stairway and its own bathroom. Those two items were junked as excessive (and the grandiose superintendent left town before he was fired). The size of the office itself remains. Delbrugge used it as combination office and conference room, and shared it with one, and at times two of his deputies.

The city moved into its City Walk space in November 2008 to make room for Palm Coast Data, which wanted the city’s old, and very roomy, building on Commercial Drive. Palm Coast is paying $20,000 a month for its 21,000 square feet at City Walk, which happens to be in foreclosure. The city’s lease runs out in November 2011. Landon devised a plan that would have the city move into its new city hall in Town Center by the end of 2012, which would entail at least a lease extension at City Walk.

There’s no question that the city’s move away from City Walk would bludgeon what businesses have set up shop there. And many other questions and concerns about the city’s move are being raised, especially as the city appears intent on hurrying to the blessing phase of the project and beginning engineering and construction. It’s a controversial proposition, and council members are well aware: their narrative rationale of the project is more defensive than enthusiastic.

The controversy will—or should—play out in the weeks ahead. But in at least those two regards (government spending and a city hall worthy of a maturing city), Palm Coast makes a strong case to convince residents that it’s worth doing. The photo gallery below illustrates it, almost room by room and cubicle by cubicle.

For all that, residents in a city with one of the country’s highest unemployment rates may still react with an understandable shrug: at least those workers have jobs, and relatively well-paid jobs at that. A plea for roomier office space in a remorseless recession may seem more dissonant than realistic.

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10 Responses for “Palm Coast’s Two Best Arguments
For a New City Hall: Take the Tour”

  1. elaygee says:

    They can work in used Katrina trailers, as long as its cheap. No Taj Mahal City Hall for Palm Coast.

  2. Taxman says:

    .. . “especially as the city appears intent on hurrying to the blessing phase of the project and beginning engineering and construction. It’s a controversial proposition, and council members are well aware: their narrative rationale of the project is more defensive than enthusiastic”

    The blessing phase can be more aptly termed, a done deal. I base my conclusion on the tone and tenor of statements made by the town manager and the mayor. And lack thereof by the remaining members of the council.

    Controversial propositions and defensive rationales don’t stop politicians from proceeding on their own agendas in spite of what the electorate has voiced.

    Not only do the city workers have jobs, and well paid jobs in relationship to the per capita income in Flagler County, they have lifetime jobs. There is little worry of layoffs like those that are distressing most other municipalities and private industries. Even if the budget exceeds revenue, council members have stated that they will not cut services or employees.

  3. sgkcmorgan says:

    Didn’t we already vote on this? I thought is was a resounding “NO” to a new city hall. The people have spoken…take note!

  4. gmemom says:

    Excellent point, Taxman! You are right; city employees do have lifetime jobs. Rather than layoff all of the additional building inspectors hired during the building boom; the city now has two inspectors ride 2 at a time to inspect new construction. If the unneeded position were reduced, perhaps so much space would not be required. There are over 35 trucks that just sit in the parking lot, where will the city store all of those vehicles??? They fit quite nicely in the back parking lot of City Walk…how do you think they will look at the beautiful Town Center????

    In the 7 years I have lived in Palm Coast, I have never needed to go to the city hall. However, I have visited the Government Center at least once/twice a year. I have polled my friends, they do not go there. It will be off the beaten track for visitors. Who is going to visit this “anchor for the city” and be in awe of our building (gold dome or not)?

    Buy City Walk and make it work, what a perfect name! Use the “found money” for something beneficial to the city…a splash park, a community center, a great park with an amphitheater, something….anything other than another office building.

  5. H Peter Stolz says:

    The move to build a city hall – regardless of how cramped and ugly the current space is – was voted on by the constiuency and WE decided, a new town hall and community centers were NOT needed. The comparison to the potato palace is irrelevant – it proves only that the voters were duped by the county and schoolboard when we approved that Taj Mahal wannabe.
    If Mr. Landon needs more opulance then he currently has, I’m sure there are communities that are looking for a manager. I bet in this economy, he’d have a tough time finding an equivalent job with more spacious quarters, at the salaray and benefit level he has in Palm Coast.

  6. H. Peter Stolz says:

    The Top 10 Reasons to build a new City Hall in Palm Coast

    10. We haven’t built or remodeled a city hall in at least 3 years; if we don’t do something soon, we’ll lose all the expertise we developed
    9. The old City Hall is fully occupied – there is obviously a need for more space – or do we need fewer employees?
    8. The old City Hall doesn’t have a presidential suite – is that the real reason Landon wants to move?
    7. The view from the current City Hall isn’t sedentary enough – the senior people are having a difficult time falling asleep in their offices with no pond view
    6. The old City Hall only has open parking; the new will have air-conditioned parking in the building for the most senior people. No more hot cars! Imagine how much healthier that will be; however, one medical group has advised that the tushie making contact with hot leather upholstery is in fact good for the heart, the immediately following scream has a similar effect on the lungs.
    5. The reduced number of miles to be driven by the mayor and most council members justifies moving now and not waiting until later. The savings to the tax-payers will be immediate – probably 20 or 22 cents a day on days when they are not at photo-ops.
    4. Illuminated and scrolling weather and current events signs to the Canfield/Netts/Landon Campus (site of the new city hall) are already on order
    3. The County Commissioners and County staff have a new building, Palm Coast Council Members and the City staff shouldn’t be second class citizens, so bring on the dozers and backhoes and all that other stuff that makes developers drool
    2. The ordinary taxpayers won’t care about the cost – since the Potato Palace cost over $50 million, the city HAS to spend more. Landon says the cost can be funded out of pocket change, he doesn’t need voter approval; the bobbing heads on council agree.
    1. All those neon signs in a variety of colors on the current City Hall clash with Landon’s and Netts’ eyes. Enough said!

  7. PCresident says:

    Love your top 10. My fav is the bobble head comment.

  8. speedstrixie says:

    Taxman says:
    July 7, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    “Not only do the city workers have jobs, and well paid jobs in relationship to the per capita income in Flagler County, they have lifetime jobs. There is little worry of layoffs like those that are distressing most other municipalities and private industries. Even if the budget exceeds revenue, council members have stated that they will not cut services or employees.”

    Is that so TAXMAN?
    Little worry about layoffs huh? Lifetime jobs?
    The City is in the process of eliminated HALF the staff – that you ignorantly perceive as having
    “lifetime jobs.”
    Well paid jobs? I made more $$ at my first job out of high school.
    Any idea what the pay firefighters and paramedics in this City?

    Let me educate you on something – there is NO such thing as a lifetime job and City workers
    are not immune to being fired or laidoff.
    These are people with young families, mortgages, and looking at a double digit unempoyment rate.
    Make you feel better?

    gmemom says:
    July 8, 2010 at 8:11 am
    “Excellent point, Taxman! You are right; city employees do have lifetime jobs. Rather than layoff all of the additional building inspectors hired during the building boom; the city now has two inspectors ride 2 at a time to inspect new construction. If the unneeded position were reduced, perhaps so much space would not be required.”

    Gmemom, you should be thankful that your husband/partner doesn’t work for the City.
    You might not have the luxury of sitting at your computer bashing City employees.
    I think if either one of you ever worked somewhere in your lives you would appeciate if the company you
    worked for was trying NOT to let people go and come up with other solutions.
    Sounds like the the two of you enjoy the idea of more people out of work and struggling.

  9. Tom Smith says:

    Recently city employees have been told that layoffs could be coming. Has anyone looked at cutting the salaries of Managers, supervisors, and dept heads. They are paid way to much money for Flagler County. To consider building a palace for city employees in this economy is ridiculous. Employees are cramped and files are stacked. Big deal, get over it! Now is not the time to squander money. Reduce management salaries and quit wasting money.

  10. Raul Troche says:

    They try to tell you that they need the image to attract more businesses to the area. Has theTaj Mahal done that? This cities credit rating has already dropped. Going further into debt will certainly not help that. Also as others have said the people working at the current location have high paying jobs with little concentration about layoffs. I say cut the fat and work on eliminating our debt crises. Do not continue to overburden the tax payers especially when so many are either in or under employed. Also many of those who work there spend most of the time out of the offices. Lastly think of the repercussions of moving from where they are and having that center go into foreclosure. The store owners there would suffer and just think what potential businesses considering coming to the area would think when they saw City walk all boarded up. Thanks councilman McGuire for your restraint on allowing the city council to put us further in the red. New city hall? Fogetaboutit!

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