Last Updated: 7 p.m.
Palm Coast government’s relationship with the Green Lion Cafe is over. The deadline for the restaurant to sign a new lease agreement lapsed a week ago. The city did not–and still has not–filed notice that it is terminating the five-year lease. But an attempt this week by Palm Coast City Council member Nick Klufas to restart discussions failed, closing any possibility of further negotiations.
Two council members–Eddie Branquinho and Ed Danko–were especially opposed to giving the restaurant another chance because of the “disrespect” its owners displayed toward the city’s administrative staff and council members at a meeting last month. Tony Marlow, who owns the restaurant, at least twice called city officials “crooks,” and his son, Chris Marlow, who runs the Green Lion, came close to being escorted out of the council chamber as he repeatedly spoke out of order from the back of the room. Their subsequent threat to sue likely did not help.
The next move is for city government to issue a letter notifying the Green Lion that it is terminating the arrangement “for convenience,” as the 2017 contract allows it to. But that also means the Green Lion has 180 days to clear out of the premises, and the city will owe the Green Lion 12 months’ back rent, starting from the date of termination: $7,200. (The restaurant is paying $600 a month.)
The city will be issuing a request for proposals, soliciting any vendor who may be considered in place of the Green Lion–or the Green Lion itself, which Mayor Alfin said he hoped would be among those responding. That may be difficult to imagine at this point, after this much damage to the relationship.
A city spokesperson said that letter had not gone out as of today, leaving the Green Lion to operate “as normal until we issue a notice to terminate.” That, the spokesperson said, “is at the discretion of the city manager,” Denise Bevan. There’s no question that the letter will be issued, but “there won’t be a mad rush” to do so.
Klufas at the end of a five-hour council meeting Tuesday night attempted to “extend one final olive branch” by way of a two-week grace period, during which the city could have held a workshop with the restaurant’s owners. His motion, seconded by John Fanelli, failed, 3-2, with Branquinho, Danko and Mayor David Alfin opposed.
Klufas had been absent from the meeting in May when talk turned to confrontation. The Marlows were embittered by Alfin’s decision to give each of them only three minutes’ time at the podium, like any other member of the public, even though the lease or concession agreement renewal was on the agenda. The council approved the new lease, on its terms, after adding an extra $1,000-a-month charge for water that the Green Lion disputed, and gave the restaurant until July 1 to sign. They did not.
“I wish I had been present to advocate a little bit more on the behalf of this community asset,” Klufas said, “and what I’m asking for tonight is just to realize that this is a little bit more of an asset to Palm Coast than just the actual Green Lion. There’s a tremendous following that is the golfers of Palm Coast and there’s going to be a lot of kerfuffle made of this, and I just think that we have an opportunity to get ahead of something here.” He did not specify. He may have had the restaurant’s threat to sue in mind (“the Green Lion reserves any and all rights to legally challenge the City’s attempt to terminate the Existing Contract,” the Green Lion’s attorney wrote the city on June 28, after the city’s 4-0 vote to ratify the new lease.)
“If our best case scenario is we get another restaurant in there that is as qualified, as capable and adds to the same allure to the golf course,” Klufas continued, “we’re still going to have all of this unnecessary friction that’s going to occur between now and then.” He sought a one-hour workshop with the Green Lion, questioning whether the Green Lion had been treated fairly, though he also blamed the owners for themselves cutting off negotiations with the city before the May vote.
“I’m not certain that the direction that we gave was clear enough that there wasn’t all these additional things that got added along the way,” Klufas said. “I think both people and both parties felt a little bit wronged and there’s no doubt in my mind that they should have continued communications with the city. That was not the correct move. But I think as a council, we can see that there’s going to be a firestorm that’s coming our way if we don’t at least give them a chance to try to plead their case and come to a more amicable solution.” He wanted to “have the city come out on the right side of this versus being portrayed as kicking them out of Palm Harbor golf course.”
Fanelli said the Green Lion had the chance to resolve conflicts before the final May meeting. Its owners did not take that chance, by ending communications. Danko, contrasting the Marlow’s behavior with that of supporters of Waste Pro, the garbage hauler that lost the city’s contract after 16 years, said Waste pro supporters were disappointed but “didn’t cause a ruckus. The treatment we were subjected to by the Marlows the last time they were here is inexcusable.” Branquinho cited the “crooks” insult and an apparently hostile phone call from a former Green Lion employee.
Alfin invited the Green Lion to submit a proposal. “I would encourage them to enjoy the process and if they are the best service and if they are the best business model, then they certainly will win the business, win the RFP,” he said.
Fanelli hesitated for 12, silent seconds when Alfin asked him if his second was still in play, before saying it was. So the motion didn’t die. But it was killed seconds later, and with it the five-year history at Palm Harbor of a restaurant that had won Trip Advisor’s highest ratings for any such business in Palm Coast.
“As we have not received notification regarding Termination of Convenience as of yet,” Tony Marlow wrote in answer to questions this evening, “we cannot make any decisions regarding the future except to say that no member of staff will be put out of work & we will look after them all.” He added: “Thanks to Councilman Nick Klufas for an excellent common sense appeal. So sad it ended this way as it was so avoidable.”