It’s been a milestone of a week for Bunnell.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office on Monday dedicated the opening of its new Operations Center. Today, Duane Sizemore, founder of Sizemore Welding 37 years ago–now one of the city’s largest manufacturers and private employers–confirmed that his company will be buying the former Sheriff’s Operation Center off state Road 100, for just over $3 million.
Sizemore Welding currently employs some 29 people at its operations on South Bay Street and Deen Road, averaging $45,000 a year, according to city documentation. The company provides welding, machining and powder coating, filling orders from a diverse roster of corporations and uses (including Boston Whaler, emergency vehicles, fire trucks, shutters for residential homes). It’s been growing. “We need the room,” Sizemore said.
The operations will gradually move from Deen and Bay Streets to the building on Canakaris Street. The previous buildings will be beautified and put up for lease. He is also planning to build an industrial building for lease further down on Bay Street, continuing to do what he’s been doing since he started his company on his own when he was 24–adding to, and buying, buildings. The first building he owned, still part of his larger complex along the railroad on bay Street, was a 40-by-60 shop he converted from what used to be the home of the constable. Sizemore bought the property from his daughter.
“I think it’s exciting,” City Manager Alvin Jackson said this evening. “One, it gets the building active again, and what’s so exciting about it, it’s an existing industry that’s here, that gives him an opportunity to grow his business and grow his operation. I think it’s an ideal site.” Jackson said the availability of other Sizemore properties for leasing will also help attract new businesses. “We just don’t have enough inventory,” he said.
Sizemore Welding’s move to 901 East Moody Boulevard property, “probably between March and May,” Sizemore said, is part of a planned $4.42 million capital investment that will include a 15,000 square foot addition to the structure, growing it to a total of 51,000 square feet. At the end of November, the Bunnell City Commission approved Sizemore Welding for a $96,400 economic development grant, spread over seven years. It’s based on performance milestone. If the business meets the expectations of its projected investments, retains 29 existing jobs and hires five more, it will be eligible for the annual installments of $13,775 in tax rebates and payouts.
The building was off the tax rolls when it was owned by the county. It returned to the tax rolls when Gary Roberts of Ormond Beach bought it from the county for for $807,000 in July 2020 (at a $400,000 loss for the county, which had paid $1.23 million for it). The building generated a total of $32,700 in property tax revenue last year, almost $12,000 of that for the county and $11,000 for Bunnell. Over time, the property tax revenue for the city is expected to exceed the annual incentive it will be providing Sizemore Welding.
Sheriff Rick Staly in his speech to a crowd of several hundred at Monday’s dedication personally thanked Sizemore for donating $75,000-worth of gym equipment to the new Operation center’s gym and tactical training room. What most in the crowd didn’t know was that Sizemore, by soon closing on the former operations center, would also be closing the long and unhappy chapter that had left the old 36,000 square foot building a vacant reminder of one of county government’s biggest blunders of the past decade.
After the county’s acquisition in 2013 of what had been Memorial Hospital in its former days, the Sheriff’s Office moved into the building in 2015 only to evacuate three years later after employees complained of symptoms usually connected with sick building syndrome. There’d been significant water intrusion under adhesive carpeting.
All that will be gone when the welding company moves in. The building’s floor plan was laid out on a table in Sizemore’s office this afternoon as he described how it would be completely revamped. “This is the entrance, all of this is going to be cleared out,” he said, tracing the interior outlines of rooms and walls, “we’re going to keep the restrooms and just a little core area here, and all the rest is going to be cleared, all the walls everything. And they’re going to epoxy-coat the floor, prepare all the walls, open the ceiling up to the roof, make it industrial.”
The floor previously had never been sealed, leaving its slab exposed. “Well now we’re going to clean all that and seal the floor all the way.”
The building had been listed for close to $4 million after Roberts refurbished it. In July, then County Commissioner Joe Mullins claimed he’d secured a buyer who would turn the building into an in-patient drug treatment facility. The prospective buyer was Duke Vinson. He downplayed some of Mullins’s hype in a radio interview. But soon after the August primary, which Mullins lost, the proposal fell through, and the price dropped by a million. Sizemore had been interested even before the deal’s collapse.
“I went and looked at it actually while it was still under contract. I did a walkthrough,” he said, “because that would really give us future expansion capabilities.”
Sizemore is Bunnell born and raised, the product of Bunnell Elementary, back when “kindergarten through seniors rode the same bus,” he recalls, when there were just 3,500 people in the whole county. He graduated from Flagler Palm Coast High School. At 63, he’s still all in. “Once you get it in your blood, you don’t want to quit,” he said.
Naturally, the city is jubilant. “For me and the city this is exciting because this is kind of happening all throughout the city, and truly Sizemore I believe is the largest manufacturer,” Jackson said. “He could have gone other places. I’m sure he mentioned Putnam and St. Johns had reached out to him, so to retain this type of business in the city that has over 40 years’ history is very important, and and I tell you, the mayor and city commission are happy about it too.” Ever the city’s cheerleader, especially when it comes to busines development, Jackson added: “We are rockin’ and rolling, and we have a lot of great things happening here, over $40 million worth of capital improvements here, economic developments. I’m talking to a number of major residential developers. It’s hot here, it’s hot.”
On the eve of the coldest spell in the county in years, that was saying something.