The Palm Coast City Council is awakening to several converging realities about Town Center, the once and future promise of the city’s vitality.
Apartment construction there has been brisk. But commercial construction has been nil despite generous incentives, keeping Town Center from developing into the mixed-use cityscape imagined a decade and a half ago. Town Center’s designation as a redevelopment zone is expiring in 2033, when a huge chunk of annual tax revenue currently locked in for city use will revert back to county coffers, leaving the city to provide the same services there but minus the money to pay for them. And few on the council or in the administration today have any connection or memory of Town Center’s creation, its purpose or even its intended future track.
What started as a brief and seemingly inconsequential discussion at a Palm Coast City Council workshop this morning–a conversation updating the council on Town center’s budget figures and an incentive program–turned into a springboard for concerns Mayor Milissa Holland had been mulling over, and that may now take on more urgency, especially with (if not because of) a new council and administration on board.
“It’s been on my mind for a while, it would be a good reset for us,” Holland said.
Holland wants a presentation about “what is coming to Town Center as a whole, sort of like a vision of Town Center,” she said. “I say this because what I don’t want to see is driving into Town center and seeing all apartments, and nothing else. I mean, it was supposed to be a mixed-use development, and I’d like to get a better understanding when we’re going to see commercial.”
Referring to the University of North Florida’s coming expansion in Town Center, Holland continued: “We know MedNex is coming, and there’s other things, we have the Arts District that we’ll hopefully facilitate, some more art opportunities there in our downtown. But this is a large tract of space right in the middle of our city, and I don’t have an understanding of what the true vision is of Town center.”
City Manager Matt Morton said that process was started a few weeks ago.
The city administration last presented a broad overview of Town Center past, present and future in June 2018, when the council had two council members, a city manager and an assistant city manager who have all since left. Eddie Branquinho, elected in late 208, has not had a Town center overview. Two new council members–Ed Danko and Victor Barbosa–will be sworn in on Nov. 17. In essence, the overview will be part of the learning curve for a majority of the council and even the administration, since neither Morton nor DeLorenzo were at the city in 2018.
The discussion this morning unwittingly revealed the consequence of the huge loss of institutional memory and continuity wrought by rapid turnover both on the council and the administration over the last few years–a turnover that reflects the changing direction of the city, if not of Town center itself.
There was one exception to that trend this morning: Jon Netts, the former council member, mayor, and currently appointed council member (filling in for Jack Howell, who resigned in August), whose various tenures on the council cover almost the entire history of the city. Like Adam in what was then seen as Palm Coast’s Eden, Netts was there at the controversial creation of Town Center in 2003, and there when the housing market crashed, taking Town Center down with it for a decade. He was term-limited in 2016.
“Do you remember what the concept was originally?” Holland asked Netts this morning.
“I can remember talking to [developer] Charlie Faulkner when he did the final presentation before the city council, and his vision was primarily DeLand all over again: commercial right up to the sidewalk. Wide sidewalks, benches, tables up front, and I can remember saying at the council meeting, Charlie that vision will probably change three times before the 20 years is over. I think given the fact that this was approved a long time ago by a council no longer is around, it might be worthwhile just to have a review presentation of exactly what the process are, what the intent is. That would be helpful, I think.”
Netts didn’t propose it, but he may as well have been hinting that it would also be helpful to the city, though Netts would no longer be on the council by then, to have the former mayor and council member at the table, if only as a reference point and anchor to a history the city is in danger of overlooking. The administration will work with developers and land owners to craft that presentation.
Residents may commonly misconstrue the city’s role in the development of Town Center. The city is not leading it. It is only accommodating it, setting out its own parameters, such as incentives or overlays like the arts and innovation districts, or the Kick Start program. But the city cannot make developers build there. It’s the municipal application of the equine aphorism: you can bring a horse to water but can;t make it drink. “We only see it when it’s presented to us,” DeLorenzo said of private developments. “We’ll have to do a little research out to them and see what they’re thinking. But there are some projects, there are some commercial projects that are not in the Innovation District, that are coming to Town Center.”
The heart of the discussion this morning was only intended to focus on the Kick Start program.
Town Center’s Innovation District was created in 2018. A centerpiece of the district was that Kick Start program, an incentive to builders to spur residential and commercial development. The city offered a tax credit to developers–$5,000 per residential unit, or $5,000 per 1,000 sauer feet of commercial space. Developers could only use the credit to offset their utility impact fee charges, which are steep (just over $9,000 for single family homes).
Several developments benefited: The Venue’s 88 apartments, for a $440,000 credit, Central landings’ 233 apartments, for a $1.17 million credit, and a yet-to-be-named complex totaling 209 single-family homes for $1 million in credits. Two other developments totaling 500 apartments are currently eligible but haven’t been awarded the credits yet.
The credit benefit is not open-ended. “If all of those units are eventually approved, that would expire all of the residential credits that are available in the Innovation District,” Jason DeLorenzo, the city’s development director, said. “That’s actually a little over 1,000.”
But there are still credits available for 500,000 square feet of commercial space. Put another way: not a single square foot of commercial space has been built since the Kick Start program started. The city had hoped for a more even development of residential and commercial projects.
The program is set to expire on Dec. 31. The city administration is recommending that the credit program be extended by a year, to account for covid’s interruptions. If the city does provide the extension, “by the program rules you have to break ground by the expiration date, so as long as they would break ground by Dec. 31, 2021, they’d be eligible for the credits, but if they didn’t complete the project, follow through, we could revote the credits,” DeLorenzo said.
“Also if there’s any other ideas to incite non-residential development to the area, I’d love to hear any ideas that staff could present as well,” Council member Nick Klufas said.
The city has been hoping for development for two decades. The 2018 master plan update of Town center included these lines: “The State Road 100 Corridor Community Redevelopment Area is far from meeting its development potential envisioned in the 2004 Master Redevelopment Plan and Development of Regional Impact Development Orders. With the encouragement of the City, the development environment in the area is promising. Continued market demand for a more diverse mixed-use environment for residents and businesses is anticipated, and the City is committed to welcoming that demand.
In another example of institutional discontinuity, neither the mayor, DeLorenzo or Morton could remember when the Development of Regional Impact–the overall land-development blueprint for Town center–was set to expire. DeLorenzo confirmed it expires at the end of 2025. “And what happens then?” the mayor asked.
“Chaos,” Council member Bob Cuff, in his last full meeting in the council, said under his breath.
“By Dec. 31, 2025, the master developer can certainly ask for an extension of that deadline,” Jose Papa, the city’s senior planner, said. “If it was to expire, my guess is we would sort of have to re-plan the remaining, unentitled lands. So my guess is we would have a request to extend the deadline.” That’s the DRI.
The Community Redevelopment Agency is a different story: that’s the enterprise-zone like designation of Town Center the city secured in 2004, allowing it to segregate almost all property tax revenue drawn from Town center to Town Center, thus denying the county its share of tax revenue every year. The idea behind CRAs is to spur redevelopment in “blighted,” inner city areas. Town Center of course was neither an inner city nor was it blighted when the city designated it a CRA. The city opportunistically used a few square feet of unseemly housing and a couple of shops at the Bulldog Drive entrance to contrive Town Center’s entire 3,000 acres as “blighted,” and to the county’s chagrin, got its CRA. (See an early history of Palm Coast’s Town Center CRA here.)
That designation expires in 2033. That means the city is in line to lose a significant amount of property taxes to the county. “Right now the city benefits from the existence of the CRA. That benefit will go away, and things will change,” Netts said. The CRA’s 2020-21 budget projects $2.1 million in revenue–far short of the $8.6 million midrange revenue projected when the CRA was established. The city could lose a large share of that revenue to the county once the CRA expires. But it would still have to provide the same level of service to Town Center as it does now, as it will in 2033. In other words, the city is facing a looming cash crunch there, and a sharper one if development doesn’t pick up.
“I just want to make sure that we have a long-term strategy to not devalue our community but to increase the value as much as we possibly can to offset the cost to our taxpayers,” Holland said. “Now, understanding this is a CRA is a little different of a scenario, however we still have fire and first responders that go out there, and respond to the commercial, to the residential, that’s still a service we provide. So I’d like to get a very long-range view of what currently is under approval, what is being discussed for approval, what are the other property owners looking to develop out there, and is there a way to align that conversation to ensure there’s at least some consistency and understanding overall what the long-term costs are going to be for the services that we’re required to provide.”
There was no disagreement on the council. “I’d also like to see what amount of control we have over that process, and if we have any amount of input that would be of value,” Holland–who won re-election to her second and final term as mayor last week–said. “I know brick and mortar has changed quite a bit due to Amazon now existing in the world, and shopping patterns have changed. But the residential portion of that is really important, especially when we have a university presence, especially when we’re trying to develop an arts district. Those conversations are really important that the city’s priorities align with the private sector, making sure that we’re creating just a very viable development at the end of the day, that will be beneficial to our residents.”
Lynn Savage says
Perhaps if the apartments were MUCH MORE affordable, it would bring more people with more money to spend which would bring more businesses. Put people and their needs first and the money will come
TOO bad kinda liked it as thje big Park it once was. Seems that Developement for the sake of it or because you can is par for the course there. And to not recall the purpose or direction or overall Plan initially is a bit shocking and sounds like the buck is being passed around. Jobs is where its at for FPC and in my time there not much of anything was done about that. Appears to have potential but just Retail, Fast food, shops Convenience and Gas Stations not gonna cut it. Better hope you dont end up like Ocala on 27 or just off Hiway geez. Anyway Good Luck
It’s probably because there’s absolutely no business being drawn to the movie theater due to the pandemic.I would assume that the movie theater would be the centerpiece of cannibalization for business amongst that area of commerce. Kind of obvious in my opinion..who in the right mind with investment capital would start a new business right there right now?
Where this is true because of the pandemic I personally don’t see that being the case 100% before or after it. Palm Coast has always been behind on everything and this theater is an example of that. Why? When I was a teenager here we used to travel to Ormond Regal to see a movie. I moved and came back to see this theater, which is great to have but NOW if I wanna see a major blockbuster I’m once again going to Volusia because the Cobb theater there is worth the short drive. Our theater is now the less desirable one like the old one that used to be on PC Pkwy near Ace back in the day. We knew it was there but better theaters weren’t that far away. The theater would help but that area needs a few “anchor” stores like what I assume was planned when I first heard about this ‘town center’ back in ’99 when I was still in highschool. I don’t feel the theater alone will ever be enough on its own. It takes a proper combination of stores to make the area abuzz.
Only Me says
Netts way back when was the big promoter of the “TownCenter”, he said there would be shops and plenty to go there for, all you see is another shopping center that is everywhere you look in Palm Coast. Unless you live down in that area there is real no reason to go there.
Now Palm Coast is building apartments around, so who is going to fill them when there aren’t any jobs to come to?
You never see the City of Palm Coast or the Flagler County Commissioners bring in large companies to promote job growth.
So we will continue to see empty stores and also empty apartment buildings now. You can see who failed the citizens and it isn’t the citizens.
I say we make it like a mini Vegas. Let’s line Lake Avenue and Central Park with casinos and strip clubs. Would be great for the economy and it would bring lots of high paying jobs. :)
In all seriousness it’s quite pathetic that the mayor is basically asking ‘what is the vision is suppose to be for the Town Center area’
To me, it looks like the vision is it for it to be apartments surrounding City Hall and a movie theater……that’s Epic.
Dudley Skaggs says
I worked in the planning and zoning field in South Florida for many years at both the city and county level. This included managing a downtown redevelopment project. In all my time I have never heard of mixed use zoning that permits multi level apartment complexes. That seems like a significant mistake to me. As I recall mixed use zoning is for met low intensity use. The residential use met: homes, duplexes and quad plexes. The business code was primarily professional use, small business retail, restaurants etc. I have never dealt with arts interaction but was it was included under the project planning and zoning as well as grant benefits. The over arching idea was to develope a pleasant downtown area to attract both businesses and residents. The zoning was set up in manner that the activities of the businesses and residential areas did not interfere with each other and ideally complemented each other. The downtown redevelopment districts were met to be the type of place to spend time walking and shoping.
While I have not been a resident very long I nor privey to the projects paticulars I believe that permitting multi level hi intensity residential use was a mistake. It will cost the city money to provide support services to in the end. Plus the proximenty of such developments discourages mixed use. Traditionally high intensity residential districts have specific zoned areas distinct from single family homes and commrrcial use. I really think the city shot themselves in the foot permitting this. The council in mayor should be very concerned.
One other point I would like to make is regarding thr citys attitude toward the project. While the city cannot dictate what business (commercial use) build in the district they can develope partnerships (UNF would be a perfect example) for commitments to develope in return for significant benefits. The city needs to actively foster relationships to incourage commercial development. They also need to market the area through as much exposure as possible. In summary they need to take an active guiding role.
Thank you. Flagler Beach is looking for a City Manager. You should think about applying for the position.
Sir, it sounds like you need to take a meeting with the Mayor and City Council.I believe the meetings are on Tuesday’s.
Dudley Skaggs For Mayor #2024
Just wondering says
Very refreshing to read an educated and knowledgeable opinion. Thank you for posting your views! Unfortunately, our city leadership is pre occupied with their own special interest and do not care, nor really understand the reality of their actions and decision making for our city. Our own mayor states that she has no vision for town center but supported high density housing. How fabulous is that. It is about time that people with knowledge and experience in city planning take a more active role in Palm Coast.
George Roberts says
Over crowding at its best, Palm Coast is over populated. Traffic is ridiculous, going to put a strain on the community.
Dennis C Rathsam says
I have said this time & time again….Stop all the homes being built now!!!!!! Until U fix the traffic problems. Wheres all the water gonna come from to support this homes?
local yocal says
Someone needs to look into local resident Bill Gordon who has lot of nasty things to say about DEMS. Yet, he is the one who has foreclosed on all his homes so many times. NO credibility but the local Republicans don’t fact check who is running to be a District Leader they will take anyone with no credentials. Housing market sucks, over built by Republicans with no foresight. Why would you live in Flager? It’s one ugly strip mall.
COSTCO should be encouraged to build in Town Center. It would draw many customers who do not want to drive to Orlando or Jacksonville. It might also attract other stores to locate here… maybe even some upscale restaurants.
The Voice Of Reason says
St Johns county just announced a Costco. SR 16 & 95 area. I believe NE quadrant.
Willy Boy says
SWAT makes visit to Town Center. Shuts down drug house. That didn’t take long.
No way a drug house in the TownCenter Apt.s right by the FPCHS imagine that. Never saw that coming. Kinda took longer than I thought it would.
Any clues says
Anyone remember why we even built this place?
Was Netts brain storm…like his desalinization plant was. https://flaglerlive.com/25112/desalination-palm-coast-2/ They talk about wide sidewalks among apartments and businesses and look at the sidewalks minimal width allowed on those first apartments built! Who may want to take a leisure walk so pressed between the condos wall and windows and the curve? What were they thinking when zoning approved it? They totally ignored the original Town Center open view idea over greed? But I have to applaud those soft bricked circular humps to discourage speeders! They work…just as they would work as good if finally city (opposing traffic engineer Mr.Greenwald and Manager Mr Cote) will install them in FPD and other heavy speeding traffic residential roads in Palm Coast. Those soft humps are life savers.
Oy ve says
I have lived in Palm Coast long enough to know this is just what happens here. Otherwise, I would say this is unbelievable. “What we’re we supposed to be doing here???” My sweet Lord! The time to think about the vision was before you permitted apartment complexes in the middle of town center which have already created traffic jam city, before you permitted a charter school (a non-profit that does not pay taxes), sold your soul for a University satellite campus which will create zero jobs because the few faculty that will teach there will simply commute from elsewhere, and before you built City Hall on prime real estate. What should have been built in town center is what already exists in Gainesville and Tallahassee – a walkable community with businesses on the ground floor and apartments above to attract professionals. Whatever vision might have existed is irrelevant now. What you have created in your haste and absolute stupidity is a large series of apartment complexes and non-tax paying entities.
Just your everyday mess we get in Palm Coast and Flagler County. When will people get it, its not about the citizens, its about the money and money means $$ for the developers. Who cares if there is NO shopping NO employment, its suck the people dry. .
Maybe they should turn it into a Christmas village with horse drawn carriages and street musicians, like St Augustine.
Where’s the beach?!
Makes Sense to me. says
Hello Palm Coasters,
I love this City and wish all of the best for its success. The Public officials “play” the role, however many of them have limited experience in government. Knee jerk reactions by people in a leadership capacity seldom bodes well and I have seen this multiple times from Council members. If we wish to portray ourselves as a viable and progressive “City” and not a woulda, coulda, shoulda experiment, we need to stop the egotistical infighting and work in a positive direction for what is best for Palm Coast. Have more than 50 years of successful business experience and hope to continue to share my knowledge with this great community in the future.
william marshall says
I think the city shot it self on the foot when they built those housing community there it should have been industrial
John the Baptist says
Mayor Holland once again proves that she is not very bright, inept, and shows several weaknesses in her style of leadership. It is also interesting to note that both the city and county have done virtually nothing in touting economic development. The city and county should merge on this issue and put together a professional team with a track record of successful commercial real estate transactions. But, the attitude of our city department of business permitting needs a major overhaul with both attitude and quickness of service if we are to succeed. They put O’Rielys Auto Parts through hell before they could open!
I would also point out that Holland’s attack on Dollar General did not do the city any favors and has created a negative feeling about
free enterprise and building a business here in our town. I know for a fact that former Councilman Jack Howell was working on getting aviation type businesses to take a hard look at this area until Holland pulled that BS on Dollar General. Howell had some great contacts at NASA, Boeing, and Gruman he was working with before he resigned. By the way, I truly don’t believe that Mednex is going to do much for our local economy. The facility, when built, will be exempt from taxes!
Just wondering says
So why in the world did Mayor Holland get re elected????
Hey Dudley. apparently you’ve never been north of P.C….. take a drivr to the St. Johns Town Center off of 295 (9N) and you will see how IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE DONE! Mixed use zoning.. Hi-rise Apts… and MORE STORES and RESTUARANTS than you can count!!! I think that was the vision P.C. had in mind but didnt have the right people or the right location! LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION!!!its MORE than worth the 45-50 minute drive to shop there! although Daytona Town Center is really stepping up their game along w/ Daytona 1. my 2 cents
Is the Epic Theater even open? That’s the only thing I see there. Bring some shops, restaurants, etc down there. There are apartments and that means foot traffic. Come on! There are plenty of people from up north moving here everyday! They will go to the surrounding cities and spend their money there. It’s a gold mine here so get going! Trader Joe’s, Costco. Just try to locate in strategic areas as not to create all these in one place. It will create bottleneck traffic. Small shops in the center and large stores outer areas. Just a suggestion. I think you all need help building and planning the area.
The low rent nature of the apartments almost guarantees failure of commercial development. Think ghetto in less than three years
me too says
Give it a few years and it’ll be Baja Palm Coast.
That guy says
I’ve been living here since 1997. I remember when they made town center. I said then what im.gonna say now. Why not put a bus depot there. Public transport for flagler. Considering most places to.go are too far away from most people’s houses, either you have a car or you’re screwed. Ok.so I’m saying a bus depot. Like the votran in volusia. Maybe a dozen buses, predetermined routes all across the county. Bus stops. Itd open up some jobs. Drivers. Mechanics. Any other supporting staff. And it’s not like we dont have the space out there. You’d be doing alot of people that cant drive a favor. I’ve been wondering since 2003 why not. Its almost 2021. So, Why not?
Seems like the commenters have a helluva lot more insight as to how to develop a viable self sustaining residential/commercial venture venue than the powers that be. Maybe instead of winging it do some research on how other communities in Central Florida have done it successfully just sayin…
PS We never liked the idea of those Apartments in Town Center. Especially that close to the Schools. Would ratherhave had more Senior living Facilities or retail with residences upstairs. There’s a lot of space out there still time to make it happen
Michael Huthcings says
So many of these comments are great.
Public transport has been a topic for decades! That is a GREAT idea.
Palm Coast is growing. That means families also. Why not put a NICE park (with actual play equipment not to walk) and a nice splash pad in. They families will come all year. They have kids they need to feed said kids so businesses would be able to make money.
The apartments are not a problem a.d just because they are low income will not mean it will be ghetto within three years. Also a mention of the meth lab. Its flagler county there is always one somewhere…. so no surprise. There could be a set of rules put in place for the community to vet out the less disarable people. PC is known for its extreme codes why not make a set pertaining directly to the apt. Communities?
Also if our leaders can’t see a “vision” for any area of the county they look out its time to move them on out.
Serves them right for bad planning. Palm Coast is and always has been a sh*t show.
me too says
I saw where there was a drug bust there. This is the start of more things. There will probably end up with some dedicated police to the complex.
Flagler needs a dependable transit system. Not another European Village.
Been There says
“…and I don’t have an understanding of what the true vision is of Town center.” are you fing kidding me? This has been her baby and platform. Well done citizens of Palm Coast. Four more years of “Duh”.
I thought once the man-burro was unveiled the area would be a boomin. People coming from afar and wide to say “WTF is that?”.