You wouldn’t hold a Nascar race at Churchill Downs, take an ATV convention through the Gettysburg battlefield or host the Burning Man Festival in a national forest. There’s nothing wrong with those events. But their venue had better match their character. And there’s never been a lack of venues or good sense to ensure that events of the sort don’t plunder the wrong grounds.
Except in Flagler County, where Matt Dunn, the boy wonder of local tourism, worked out a deal with the extreme-sport Spartan race organization to hold a 6,000-runner race at, of all places, our Princess Place Preserve next March. Dunn’s success in bringing sports events to the area is remarkable. But he seems to confuse the entire county’s landscape with a blank check. There are, and ought to be, limits, especially as the value of an event has become defined exclusively by the presumed money and number of people it brings, as if those of us who live here and whose properties are used are just props meant to bow and take it.
Spartan races are exciting. They’re designed for those who think Iron Man triathlons are too boring. They put runners through miles of obstacles and surprises. As Spartan itself describes it, “The 8+ Mile Super,” the race designed for Princess Place, “packs more than 25 Signature Spartan Obstacles through tougher and more rugged terrain. There is fire, mud, water, barbed wire, and occasionally Hell on Earth.” If that sounds like an event made for Princess Place, then you and I have very different interpretations of the word Preserve—that preserve we spent our tax dollars to buy and spend still to manage. Spartan itself speaks of “substantial wear and tear,” and promises only to “minimize such wear and tear.” Some promise.
Craig Coffey, the county administrator who graciously put up with more than a half-hour grilling from me about this—but without whose green light, let’s remember, Dunn could not possibly have worked out this deal—insists that while nothing of this magnitude has ever taken place at Princess Place, it’s not foreign to big events, to horse riders, cross-country runners, even to land management that bulldozes and shears trees on occasion. And race advocates like Dunn—who, like Spartan organizers, didn’t bother so much as returning a call or emails—keep saying that the grounds will be returned to their previous conditions.
Friday afternoon, after Thursday’s FlaglerLive story on the race triggered a flood of emails to commissioners, mostly in protest, and a Facebook page created to oppose the race swelled with members (and local voters), the administration issued a news release trying to spin the county’s blunder faster than roaches scurrying from light. The release doesn’t even get the irony of its headline as it calls the event an “extreme sport-race for Princess Place,” as explicit a contradiction as it gets.
The release is otherwise condescending, ill-informed and disingenuous. It lectures the public’s apparent ignorance (“Most people are familiar with about 100 acres of the 1,500-acre preserve”), give us Commission Chairman Frank Meeker pretending to tell us that he’s “not going to get excited about this until I see a map showing me the route, walk the route and review the obstacles,” when the reality is that those obstacles won’t be built until days before the race. And the release, in its most disingenuous parts, goes so far as to compare the race to other events like the Creek Side festival, whose low-impact turnout is concentrated on a fraction of the preserve without upsetting an inch of ground, or to claim that because Princess Place has fire lines maintained with heavy equipment, then somehow that’s comparable to Spartan manufacturing “Hell on Earth” for 6,000 racers.
Coffey’s spin is missing the point. The magnitude of the event itself, the earth-moving, the alteration of the landscape, the introduction of foreign elements to the grounds, the construction of media and entertainment and spectator galleries, all of that before the actual trampling of 6,000 pairs of feet and however many spectators the days immediately before, during and after the race are damage enough.
Coffey kept going back to that heavy equipment in there already, bulldozers drilling fire lines and keeping utility lanes clear and so on. No question. But those are necessary if not essential parts of the management at Princess Place. There’s nothing necessary or essential about holding a colossal event better suited for Mud Muckers or the suburbs of Daytona Beach than in the heart of Flagler County’s most important environmental corridor.
You may recall how in 1994 Disney proposed to build a theme park near Manassas Battlefield in Virginia. Disney spit out the very same narcotic promises Dunn and Co. are spitting out now about this race: great exposure, great for tourism, great for big crowds, and perfectly compatible with the environment because we’ll take care of everything. Disney, too, promised that “Disney’s America” would do its absolute best to respect the sanctity and environmental character of nearby Shenandoah National Park. It was Disney, after all. But Disney, too, missed the point that historians, environmentalists and the public at large didn’t: some ventures, however attractive to the bottom line, are not worth the threat to national and environmental treasures. Disney finally retreated, discovering that, even as Prince William County approved its designs, its reputation would suffer too much if it went ahead with the project.
Princess Place is our county and environmental treasure. Flagler’s reputation and character is at stake. The race would be a blight on this treasure. The precedent it would set, as an allowable sort of event, would severely endanger Flagler’s reputation as an environmental standout in Florida. And it would flout decades of commitment by Flagler residents and voters to a legacy Dunn and Coffey’s cavalier, johnny-come-lately approach seem to have no clue about.
So they can refine the contract all they want. The character of the event and that of Princess Place are fundamentally in conflict.
Yet the county administration is trying to tell us that we all have it wrong, that we don’t know what we’re talking about, that Princess Place is for the county to manage and use as it sees fit. Just trust us. It’s the usual Coffey news-management style, when in reality he was hoping that this would not get any attention until it was too late. Meeker went so far as to call the FlaglerLive story “premature,” when the story was, in fact, at least a month late, and when Meeker and his commission are at least two months late telling us why this is was proposed in the first place. It reveals a commission and an administration in full deception mode, leaving the public on a need-to-know basis until the last minute, if then. How offensive.
Putting aside whether the race belongs at Princess Place, the slimy way it was brought to Flagler and allowed to be offered up for public registration before it’s even been approved is enough to tell you something stinks. County commissioners have yet to hear about the race officially, let alone approve it. By the time they do of course, it’ll be too late. They’ll be faced with a “Dunn deal” (an unfortunate pun in every sense that Coffey had to point out to me when I spoke the words to him, though it hides Coffey’s controlling hand in it).
Wait, there’s worse. The county is not only giving Spartan Princess Place free of charge, letting Spartan collect all fees exclusively, including $20-a-person spectator fees, all concession fees, all parking fees and any other stash they can get their hand on. Dunn had the gall to promise Spartan thousands of dollars, and got the Tourist Development Council to sign off on a $25,000 cash subsidy, plus another $20,000 or so in kind. Sure the contract hasn’t yet been finalized. Sure it’s a work in progress. But the TDC’s approval and the manner in which Dunn presented the event, turning the county’s most precious environmental preserve into a crass welcome mat, tells you all you need to know about where this county’s grasp for tourism is going. How did it get this far, and who allowed it to get this far?
Not only is this a rape in the making. But we’re being made to pay for it. Only county commissioners now stand in the way. If they don’t, they’ll be nothing less than the pimps of the Princess.
Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here of follow him on Twitter @PierreTristam. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.
I received an email from Ms Revels, the event has been cancelled. She said to look for an announcement in the very near future. Score a big win for the flora and fauna of Princess Place and for the citizens of Flagler County. Thank you Pierre for bringing this to everyone’s attention.
Ellen Roberts says
Dont let this lay idle, waiting on the anouncement to be published, or they may try to slide it thru the backdoor. I would still be bombarding these people with letters of dissatisfaction to guarantee they dont destroy Princess Place. These 2 clowns were put into office to serve the people of Flagler County, they need to be replaced. Remember that next election.
Becky Mitchell says
Sounds like trouble
Time to start a recall drive, we don’t need to wait till the next election
Thank you for exposing this travesty for what it is. Supposedly there’s an email from Ms Revels stating the event will be cancelled.
for the community says
Pierre, Where can flagler county citizens send their outraged complaints?unbelievable. I have been going to the preserve over 20 yrs.
Chris Hoey says
If you feel that strongly about it, have someone file to have an environmental impact study done by the EPA, as it sounds as if it will disturb wetlands, etc., to make the course suitable for the event. Once the project is sucked into that black hole of bureaucracy, the time will have come and gone to stage it.
Well said Pierre. This event would be a travesty for Princess Place. I hope they can still have it in someplace less special locally for all the right reasons.
Steven Hirko says
I have seen the spartan race on TV. The obstacles have nothing to do with nature. They are basically man made mud pits and walls. You can build that kind of course anywhere. Why destroy or disturb a naturally beautiful place like Princess preserve? I’m not against Spartan races, but do it somewhere else. Makes no sense at all.
Commom Sense says
Well put Pierre.
These people follow the race circuit, they are not going to be coming back to this area for vacations. The profile for participants in this race is such hat they are still working and spend their free time training or doing races. They don’t do vacations in little Florida towns.
How much is it going to cost to provide “utilities, water, security, ambulance services…” ? What amateur agreed to a contract that doesn’t include provisions for cleaning and restoring the site after the event?
Why do we bother electing people who don’t get to make the decisions?
Thank you Flagler live for all the information. Despite the paranoia and defensiveness of one or two of the commissioners, you have provided Flagler county citizens with important information.
I will say that both Revels and Erickson responded well to this and I do believe that they were blindsided by this. I have to say that the way Coffey and some of the others have responded makes me suspicious of who know what and when….
Supposedly the event has been canceled , but I think there are some things that are being kept from us. I’m not normally a conspiracy theorist, but this has rolled out in a really weird way. Love to know the full story.
Rich Mikola says
This has to be a joke! What’s the benefit to Flagler County? Some filled motel rooms for a week? Most will stay in St. Augustine or Daytona for the night life. Bad idea.
Edith Campins says
Who is lying here? Has Comm. Meeker looked at the Spartan website? They are already registering people the race…at Princess Place
gary morris says
This is typical politician stupidity. It must be a prerequisite to hold office. I live in North Florida and we have to fight stupid politicians all the time. There is alot of people down their and ya’ll need to make a scene. They are going to destroy nature when they could do it on developed areas just as well. They have been courted so well they gave them the house and paid them to take it. Make a scene-PROTEST
Lots of questions here. Too many conflicting statements from various commissioners and county employees that are not congruent with statements and actions of the people that own and operate the Spartan Race. Every time we turn a corner there is another mistruth or questionable discovery.
1- Does an executed contract between Flagler County and the Spartan people exist? If so, who signed it and under what authority? If not, why is Spartan advertising the event at Princess Place and accepting registrations? And why did Assistant Director of Spartan, Gary B. send several concerned citizens e mails stating we will not be able to change the venue or location for this event as we have already committed to our racers to put on an event at this locations and hundreds if not thousands have already starting making plans to be there.”
2- Did the County Commission know anything about this prior to the Flagler Live article that was posted on Thursday August 20? Several of us have in writing that they were unaware. Don’t they need to approve the massive spend of taxpayer money related to this? Did this happen outside of the sunshine?
3- Why was this event added to the consent agenda? Who put it there? Why the urgency to keep this out of public and commission discourse? Why were such efforts made to keep the public from being aware of such a large event?
4- Who thought this was a good idea? Were any environmental experts consulted to at least address impact on wildlife and natural resources? Did anybody consider the basis on which Princess Place became a county owned preserve- a Florida Communities Trust that limits use of this land?
5- Who is keeping tabs on our county employees? We have a VP of Tourism who, when he accepted the position in January 2014 entered an employment agreement that required him to close his consulting business. This portion of the agreement was confirmed by the VP and the Chamber president. But as of yesterday the Dunn Agency remains an active business on Sun Biz.
That is only the beginning. And we want answers.
The citizens who are being forced to fund this event deserve to know.
Agree. I think we’d all like to see the answers to these questions. Thanks for asking them.
Michelle Clair says
By next March I predict they will not be here-we can stop this
Susan Gorski says
Whoever ok’s this project needs to be burned at the stake.
Scott Helfrich says
Please Help Protect Princess Place Preserve from the Spartan Race.
A group of citizens concerned about the impact of the proposed Spartan Race scheduled to be held at Princess Place in March, 2016
Nature Lover says
I went little bit further with my effort to stop this event from taking place at Princess Place. I emailed all big sponsors of Spartan Race giving them link to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection saying Princess Place is a part of GTM Research Preserve and that their companies will get bad publicity if contract is signed by Spartan. I do hope they will put pressure on Spartan.
Master D says
Well it seems like we’re going to be screwed as usual. If we’re going to give Spartan $40,000 plus, how about they have to put up a $40,000 bond to put everything back to the way they found it. If they don’t we take that money and fix what they don’t. Come on big boys and put that in the contract. Also IMO I think somehow we’ll take a screwing as far as what is said about money that will be spent in the county.
” only the beginning. And we want answers.
The citizens who are being forced to fund this event deserve to know.”
I so agree and will add that those of us such called citizens are active voters.
I give thanks to Ms Revels and Mr Erickson for their responses to my e-mails.
I think it time for all ELECTED OFFICIALS to step up and take charge and MANAGE
the staff of Flagler County. (I also wish PC elected officials would perhaps take heed)
This entire rape of our heritage just has to stop someplace, and I hope that someplace
is on this issue now. You got our attention Pierre, and although your views are often too
liberal for me, you are Right On !
Bob Cuff says
Glad I’m not the only one who found the County’s official press release condescending and far from addressing the real issues. Trying to justify this event by making Princess Place sound like a construction site equal to the Palm Coast Parkway widening was ridiculous and insulting. I think we’re all aware that the roads in the park aren’t maintained by elves with whisk brooms and that, from time to time, large crowds of people show up there for various events. Implying that the Creekside Festival, Boy Scouts camping or small groups of horseback riders are equivalent to what Spartan had planned for the area is like suggesting that a Chamber After Hours Block Party is more or less the same as Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
My thoughts says
Yet again, Pierre, you’ve proven that FlaglerLive is the ONLY true news source for Flagler County. Thank you for your diligence. Time to send off my subscription to your “newspaper”. And my fellow readers need to do the same, whether or not we always concur with the viewpoints, FlaglerLive is more on top of what is going on.
Tree Hugger says
To quote Frank Meeker “You’re already aware that I’m an environmental scientist as well as a certified environmental professional with over 35 years of working in these areas.” Uh, yes we are aware of that. However we are also aware that Bernie Madoff was a financial adviser and we know how that worked out. The Florida Conservation Coalition has caught wind of the fiasco. I hope “the scientist” grants them an interview to share his wealth of Eco knowledge that obviously we all lack in his eyes. These guys are kings in their own minds. You can mess with people’s taxes; you can mess with people’s lives. But don’t ever think you can get away with messing with nature and defenseless animals.
This is absolutely disgusting and notice that nothing was said about this until just this week in the paper. People weren’t even given the chance to object or prevent this. What’s the point of establishing places like Princess Place to preserve what little natural habitat we have, if the lust for money and “tourism” conquers all? Pierre Tristam, keep up the good work. We need new commissioners in this county.
Fred Ferrara III says
This event is going to bring thousands of people to see our beautiful Princess Place Preserve, where there are miles of trails to run on and impress our visitors. The event is to attract people to our area and show them the beauty that Flagler County has to offer. The obstacles are man made and won’t have ANY negative effect on our preserve. Why would the tourism counsel bring an event here to destroy one of our biggest attractions? I’m more then certain Matthew Dunn and the tourism committee has thought this through and I’m stoked that this event is potentially coming here. Way to go guys and keep up the great work!
Kendall C-StJacques says
There are numerous articles about the poor condition Spartan has left parks after holding races. Some were so bad, in fact that it led other cities and municipalities to cancel events with them. Take a look at the obstacles. Then consider the fragile ecosystems, endangered wildlife and protected vegetation that exist at Princess Place, not to mention the archealogical assets that have been and continue to be found there.
Did you know Princess Place is home to several bald eagles nests? Do you realize that March, when this event is scheduled is when bald eagles are nesting and hatching?
Also do you realize that the county makes NOTHING from this race. In fact our VP of Tourism actually proposed a deal that costs us about $50,000 in payment to Spartan while they pay nothing to use our lands.
If these people want to hold a event, just use the Flagler County Land Field on Old Kings Road. Should be plenty of room.
John Appel says
Your right ,, keep Princess Place , how it is
James Dean Fiske says
Pierre, Thank you very much for reporting on this from the get-go!
One question: Why does Coffey have so much power? He seems like an arrogant idiot. He knows how precious this land is to the residents, but sells it off for us for the money. You are an disgust ing individual! I question your integrity. Anyone else?
County employee says
Cracker Day, a Flagler County tradition for generations has to pay the county for police and fire but this company not only gets everything free but we must pay them an extra $40,000. Disgusting.
Consent Agenda No…we say no to this outreageous event in our land. This is sick and the commissioners better vote it down!! If I will vere decide to run for office…”consent agenda items will be gone forever”
As of 8/23, Spartan did not receive a cancellation memo yet, they’re still taking registrations and money:
Jim WjamjAmes says
They did create princess estate. They didn’t preserve it through the years. But they want to abuse it and destroy it? Hang em high hang em high. Get em out of office.
Same thing for the Jacksonville Orchestra Concert Series…they have to pay for the whole venue and specially for the sheriff, emergency and fire services!! I know that is a city event…but all come to government decisions. When do we see any local organized event on which public land is to be the location and gets the whole enchilada funded by the taxpayers at no cost to the events organizers..? Never.
And I also hope that the 25,000 plus the 20,000 proposed as give away only will be footed by the “4% bed tax” and not the local taxpayers pockets.
I suspect that they are selling registrations anyway as they may have another private land location available as second venue if this pathetic proposal will be opposed by us all. Hope does not end like our opposition by referendum to City Hall and ignored anyway as is being build as we speak!!
I don’t often agree with the Flagler Live slant, but this time I agree entirely. If this matter is scheduled to come before the County Commissioners at any time, please somehow inform the public. I know there will be standing room only.
Yes I have the same feeling on the matter. It really is enlightening to see someone you typically disagree with be so effective in accomplishing something so important to us all. Good job Pierre!!! You really did make a difference.
Brad West says
This just came out on the the Flagler County government’s website, but please DO NOT let this discussion end here. The next step (that we so often miss with these issues) is accountability and making sure this junk doesn’t happen again. Great job to Flagler Live for exposing this and now let’s get answers as to why an “unsigned contract” led to an organization beginning advertising the event opening us up to lawsuits (which we probably will be sued). Why did our County Manager (Mr. Coffey) not bring this before the Commission and seemingly wanting to hide this from the public? How much authority is Matt Dunn and his group being given to sell the area and what is going to be their actual role and authority when brought into the County as employees? It is my opinion that Coffey be given a formal reprimand and termination considered if the County is sued. Our tax dollars have been wasted enough by the County government and his removal is the first step in stopping “the bleeding” in my opinion.
Sherry E says
EXCELLENT ARTICLE! Thank you so much Pierre and Flaglerlive for doing your best at staying on top of these incredibly important issues, and informing our citizens, because apparently our governmental and civic leaders aren’t.
This is just the latest of “back door deals” that often are 99% finalized before taxpayers and voters are given an opportunity to have any kind of input OR influence. Too often all we hear is that the agreement has already been completed and there is nothing the concerned residents can do about it. In my opinion, if Flaglerlive had not given us “heads up”, this event contract would have been signed, sealed and delivered before the public could express concern. In this case, apparently, even some of our county commissioners were “blindsided” by Matt Dunn with the knowledge/assistance of Craig Coffey!
As “groot says” has pointed out, Spartan is still TODAY taking registration money for this event! Outrageous! Our commissioners are advising residents that the event has been cancelled. . . Has anyone advised Spartan?
All interested parties should read the DRAFT agreement posted in the first article about this event.
Thanks so much “kendall says” , your questions absolutely need to be answered. I have a couple of additional ones:
1. What “promises” (written or verbal) did Matt Dunn/Craig Coffey make to Spartan to give them the confidence to begin collecting registration money for this event? And under what authority?
2. Exactly what liability may be incurred if the event is cancelled by Flagler County? The DRAFT agreement does not seem to address this situation.
At a bare minimum, Craig Coffey certainly needs to be reined in, especially with the TDC coming under the umbrella of the county government. There needs to be a NEW agreement written outlining the boundaries of authority for the position County Administrator, and some enforceable oversight process implemented to make sure he does not continue to be complicit in these kind of issues without the knowledge of the FULL county commission.
An investigation should “quickly” take place to determine precisely what promises were made to Spartan by Matt Dunn/Craig Coffey. If they, in any way, over stepped their authority, they should suffer the consequences of their actions.
Joe peters says
The socialist blogger speakers again, never a solution only criticism.
Samuel L. Bronkowitz says
Welp Joe’s right, if you don’t have a solution then better not ever criticize. Pack it in guys, we’re done here.
Tree Hugger says
It’s not Flaglerlive’s nor the citizens of this county’s responsibility to find a new venue for Spartan. The point is Princess Place Preserve should have never been up for grabs to begin with. How about Spartan, Dunn and Coffey share the list of how man jurisdictions have rejected Spartan? Both Jacksonville and St. Augustine have more land and preserves then Flagler County.
Sherry E says
SOLUTIONS from our “bipartisan” community who came together to stop a travesty:
1. Flaglerlive and an outpouring to community support STOPPED damage to a fragile, pristine nature preserve.
2. Several residents have called for an investigation into how this project reached a point that the vendor started selling tickets without input from citizens and commissioners, and final written approval.
3. Several citizens have called for a process to be put in place to stop this kind of thing from happening ever again.
4. Several members of our community have suggested that those employees involved be held accountable for their actions.
Just remember the commissioners whose reputation & word you are relying on to stand up for you are the same individuals who approved a substantial raise for Coffey, approve his contract renewals as a “consent” agenda item- clearly showing they approve of the job he is doing & the way he micro-manages, holds cards close to the vest, his use of the consent agenda, the way he makes decisions in a vacuum. I do not trust any of them.
Edith Campins says
Mr. Peters, what is socialist about wanting to preserve Princess Place? You think we need to give a private company $40,000 tax dollars? And pay for all the services? And pay to restore whatever damage they do?
Same old story….The County Administrator.
As a result of him and STAFF , we’re stuck with a developer (who resides in Virginia) in the Hammock who is looking to compromise beautiful ‘old Florida’ making it a mega condo complex…DON’T let them do it to Princess Place.
Commissioners, it’s time to stand up to those who advertise revenue, jobs etc etc BUT compromise this Community! Ask tough questions, you were elected by the residents of Flagler County. Please get it together and stop this madness.
CA, Economic development employees, do your job ….get jobs, tax revenue growth without destroying the Communnity we call home. if you can’t do this, please resign..let the County hire someone who can do both. Residents are tired of being held hostage to this develop, get revenue at any cost.
The major concern I have in the whole PPP debacle is the clear display of arrogance of a few or our “leaders”. It seems that Coffey and Dunn believe that, because of their positions in County management, they get to make decisions – correct that, dictate decisions – without the need or desire to ask what our citizens may want. This mindset is very disturbing. They don’t seem to get that they work for us. They are not the final “deciders” … we are through our elected representatives.
I think the BOCC needs to have a serious conversation with these two. Maybe our County is not a good fit for their management style.
Brad West says
Here is Matt Dunn’s LinkedIn profile. Note that he continues to run a Sports Event and Marketing agency called the Dunn Agency. With becoming a County employee, if he continues operating that business I see the blaring question always existing of conflicts of interest. https://www.linkedin.com/pub/matthew-dunn-csee/8/97/169
Sandra Reynolds says
Thank you Pierre and all those who spoke up.