The Flagler County Commission and the Florida State Guard are preparing to sign a lease agreement that would have the Guard build a $10 million headquarters and training facility on 62 acres in Bunnell that would also be a training ground for all local law enforcement and firefighting agencies.
The lease is the realization of a concept originated by Sheriff Rick Staly a few years ago, when he was seeking money to build a regional training facility for local and regional public safety agencies. The Guard wasn’t in the picture at the time, since it didn’t exist. Several elements subsequently aligned to turn the sheriff’s idea into reality, minus the county’s need to spend a dime. The catalyst was Rep. Paul Renner.
If the lease is signed–and that appears to be a matter of time–it would be a signal achievement for a sheriff who’s lacked neither in popularity nor crime-fighting accomplishments, though until now economic development wasn’t part of his resume. Construction, followed by a permanent Guard presence of 15 to 20 people and a revolving cast of 1,400 trainees in and out of Flagler would result in significant economic activity.
“I don’t know what the economic impact is but to bring the guard here, and assuming they’re getting their helicopter and wherever else they’re getting, I know they’ve also looked at space at the Flagler airport for that part of the operation,” Staly said. “That’s hotel rooms, it’s fuel, meals, restaurants and who knows, maybe some people will want to move here and live here.”
The $117 billion budget Gov. Ron DeSantis signed today includes $107.6 million for the newly-revived Florida State Guard, a ten-fold increase over last year that will expand the force of Guard members from 400 to 1,500, plus planes, helicopters and other equipment.
The State Guard is entirely independent of the National Guard, being exclusively under the governor’s authority as the National Guard is not. It was initially created in 1941 to fill in as the National Guard was called to duty in World War II. The State Guard’s mission was to do what the National Guard would do in domestic emergencies, whether natural or man-made. It was disbanded in 1947. The Legislature and DeSantis revived it last year, with the same mission.
It needs a headquarters and a place to train. Flagler County is lined up to be that place now that, as Staly put it, “all the moons lined up.”
Staly for three years had been working on establishing a joint training facility that would serve the Sheriff’s Office, the Bunnell and Flagler Beach police departments, and fire departments in the county, Bunnell and Flagler Beach. The sheriff had been pursuing a legislative appropriation through Rep. Paul Renner and Sen. Travis Hutson. “It never really got off the ground year one, year two there was some movement but it did not make the final budget,” Staly said.
When Renner became House Speaker-elect, that changed the equation. He invited the sheriff to a meeting with the nascent State Guard, whose leadership was looking for a training ground. Renner was obviously aware of the sheriff’s plans for a regional training facility. He paired it with the Guard’s. The Guard’s leadership seized on the idea.
Flagler County government had put the sheriff’s concept of a training facility in its long-range capital improvement plans. But it would have cost between $7 and $10 million. The budget the governor signed includes $10 million in fixed capital outlays for the Guard. The state, in other words, would pick up the bill.
“Frankly I thought it was a brilliant concept because not only does it give us the same dollars for the Florida State Guard and for public safety needs in Flagler County,” Staly said, “but more than that, I saw it as an economic engine for Flagler County, and nice to have the Florida State Guard HQ here. That then triggered continuing conversations with the Florida State Guard leadership.”
The proposed lease arrangement has since been circulating in draft form to State Guard officials and is awaiting their approval. The proposal calls for a 30-year lease. “They would be constructing the training facility which at the end of the lease,” Sean Moylan, the assistant county attorney, said of the Guard, “it would revert to the ownership of the county.”
The proposed lease also calls for the Guard and local public safety agencies to have joint use of the training grounds, which would include a firing range and a driving range, to train drivers operating emergency vehicles. “They’re going to construct it at their own cost,” Moylan said of the Guard. “They would have the primary use of it during that term, subject to the county also being able to use it.”
The Guard’s facility would fit in as part of a broad county plan for public land use around Justice Lane, with the Stewart Marchman Behavioral Health facility expanding and the State Guard taking up significant acreage, while the county reserves still more land for future uses:
The Guard would be responsible for permitting, construction and maintenance of the facility, not the county. The Guard would also get use of the metal building the county built a few years ago as a temporary location for the sheriff’s Crime Scene Investigation unit and for evidence storage, pending the opening of the new Sheriff’s Operations center. That center opened last December. The metal building will be turned into classroom use for the Guard.
The guard’s building would consist of a 5,000 square foot facility on the north side of Justice Lane, the snaking road off of State Road 11 that leads to the Vince Carter Sanctuary and the county jail, next to what used to be the Sheriff’s Operations center. In the meantime, the Guard will use the old operations center.
That center is used for inmate video visitations, the back-up 911 dispatch center, K9 kennels in back of the building and a few other uses. The sheriff and the guard worked out an agreement “allowing them to use that space and I believe they’ll start moving in the end of June or early July.”
“The sheriff signed a license agreement, not a lease, with the Guard probably a couple of months ago,” Moylan said, “that allowed their key personnel to come here to explore the site to make sure it would be suitable.” They would be moving in within weeks. “That was designed to just bridge the gap until we can get a lease in place.”
The lease ties the use of the old operations center to the eventual construction of the new facility. But the old operations center would all continue to be for the Guard’s to use, with the exception of the 728 square foot room used as the back up 911 communication center and the 1,895 square foot lobby used as the Video Visitation Center, along with public restrooms there.
“That will ultimately become the permanent headquarters for the Florida State Guard, assuming that’s where their headquarters will be,” the sheriff said.
The Guard’s spartan webpage at the moment has no listed address, only a phone number and an email. It is taking applications. County Administrator Heidi Petito credited Staly for primarily negotiating the joint-use facility agreement. “I do have it on the agenda for our next meeting in anticipation of receiving approval from the state soon,” Petito said in an email today.
Lease Flagler County and Florida State Guard 06.05.23