For some reason no one has explained publicly, the new owners of the derelict Old Dixie motel that’s been giving county government, the Health Department and the Sheriff’s Office so much trouble in recent years have yet to reveal themselves in person since buying the property from negligent owners almost a year ago.
There was high hope then that the difficulties would be over: the new owners were pledging to rebuild the property into a posh hotel. It’s not been as simple. County and owners, at least through their attorneys–previously, Valeria Schvartzman of Miami, now the Ft. Lauderdale-based D’Apuzzo Law Firm, which appears to consist of one attorney, Theodore D’Apuzzo–have wrangled over missed deadlines and further court proceedings before reaching the latest resolution.
The developers for the first time this evening unveiled clearer plans for the property–but through their local representatives: Greg Kong, a local realtor representing MG Capital Partners, and Jim Albano, representing the architect and the general contractor. (Kong said MG Capital is behind the development. The Division of Corporations lists MG Capital as inactive in Florida. The basic website of the company was established in February 2021.) The presentation was not included in the background materials submitted to the public and the commission. The letterhead it used for a memo authorizing its local representative to speak on its behalf included no phone number.
Fines, taxes, health violations, “all those things were cleared up by the current owner,” Kong said, and the property was fenced in. The estimated project cost is at about $5.2 million. “But they’re still very well vested in the county, they see a lot of potential in our county,” he said.
“Listen, the property doesn’t look pretty right now even though it was cleaned up,” Kong said. “All of the dirty beds, the bathrooms, all of those things were removed and to whatever dumpster–I don’t know how many dumpster loads there were, but there were a lot.” The pool was dug out entirely and filled in.
“We were tasked with with taking this derelict hotel and turning it into a flagship property for Flagler County,” Albano said. “The owners own 17 or actually 18 hotels now, mostly in the Northeast. So this is their 19th property.” The project is modeled after a “boutique hotel” in Scottsdale, Ariz., he said. The future hotel will be reduced from 100 to 96 rooms, in exchange for adding a few suites. The lobby will have a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner: one of the owners is a restaurateur who owns five restaurants in new York City, Albano said. The restaurant at night and on the weekend would become a steakhouse.
The hotel will have a 3,500-foot banquet center, which may be split for two simultaneous meetings. The pool will be 30-by-90 feet, framed within a glass fence. Albano said the design is complete, with a one-year construction schedule from when the project receives its permits.
There’s been some illegal dumping at the property since the new owners took over. Albano said there was a breach in the fence, enabling trespassers do cause the illegal dumping, which has since been cleaned up. The project will have 24-hour security once construction begins. Commissioner Andy Dance, who alone among the commissioners asked questions, was curious about the hotel’s viability in the market–and what, specifically, the owners mean by “boutique hotel.” Albano described it as “smaller in size,” but more upscale, comparing the quality of the food and drinks to Hammock Beach Resort, though he said local residents will be encouraged to use the facilities, possibly through day passes for use of the pool.
Albano Design Studios is overseeing the design phase of the project. The roof repairs have been started by Four Seasons Roofing, Kong said. “You can’t see people on the roof because there’s about a five foot facade in the front, and unless you’re standing right at the edge, you’re not going to see anyone working on the roof,” he said. (He submitted pictures of the roofers after the county asked if anything was being done.) “There’s been rumblings that we’re putting a bandaid on the roof and it’s only going to last two years,” Albano said. The roof, he said, is “warrantied for five years.” But supply-chain shortages are creating problems, including for such things as sealant for the 22,000 square foot roof, which dates back to the early 1970s. Still, Albano said, “we’re about seven to 10 days away from completing the roof repairs.”
“Subject to materials,” Kong said.
Dance asked whether the property would be re-sold. Albano said the owners hold on to their properties and run them. No resale is foreseen. “They have quite a substantial portfolio,” Kong said. Oddly, Kong’s and Albano’s presentation included not a single image or reference to an actual hotel or motel the owners own, whether in the Northeast or elsewhere. It’s unusual: when developers pitch projects to local governments, they tend to like to back-up claims about their portfolios with illustrations, if only for comparison’s sake. None of the commissioners asked for an example, even if just by name.
“You said they were mainly in the Northeast. Is there anything else in Florida that they are working on or have worked on?” Dance asked.
“I can attest to that myself because I’m the one working with them,” Kong said.
“But is there a completed one?” Dance asked.
“A Hotel? No, there there’s two other properties that they’re in pursuit of, in negotiation,” there’s one property that’s right on our doorstep, just outside the county,” Kong said. “They also use a third party management company that is based in Arizona, and they have I’m going to say close to 2000 Hotels under their umbrella that they manage.” He referred to the entity as the Phoenix-based Reliance Hotel Group.
“There’s no doubt about it, I’m happy to see this, because it’s been a long struggle with this location,” Commissioner Dave Sullivan said. (Somehow Commissioner Joe Mullins knew that Sullivan had visited the site recently, and urged him to speak about it, which would imply that the two commissioners would have discussed it outside the meeting.) “It’s been vacant for a number of years. So it’s not an easy project to take on and try to fix up again. But it’s a great location, right on Interstate 95 and across from Plantation Bay. So seeing progress is the most important thing here. Progress is important. And then to continue the progress: we do have some problems with the venues. But you have been putting money into this already. You briefed me on that. And so there’s no doubt you’re serious and that you want to get this thing done as soon as possible.”
Bespoke Group, the Flagler Beach firm, will be the architect of record. KPI Engineering of Tampa, the engineers of the previous owners, will also be the engineers of record for the new owners.