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Palm Coast Tuesday, Jun. 21, 2022 5 days ago

Ultimatum issued to Green Lion, as city wants help paying the water bill

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Green Lion's Tony Marlow called the City Council 'crooks,' for what he felt were ever-increasing demands.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

After 15 months of negotiations, the Palm Coast City Council voted 4-0 on June 21 to give the owners of the Green Lion 10 days to decide whether to accept the terms of a new agreement, including a surprise that hadn’t been considered until this meeting: Rather than the city paying the estimated $24,000 per year in water costs at the city-owned building, the Green Lion would be required to pay half, or about $12,000 per year.

The negotiation process, which cost the Green Lion about $20,000 in legal fees, according to owner Tony Marlow, so infuriated him that Marlow disrupted the meeting, shouting that the City Council members were “crooks.” When he was warned by Mayor David Alfin twice, following meeting protocols, to be silent, Marlow stormed out, repeating his accusations.

Shortly thereafter, Marlow’s son Chris also shouted out complaints to the City Council, prompting deputies from the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office to approach him to escort him from the room. When he stopped shouting, he was allowed to remain.

Sheriff's deputies approached Chris Marlow, preparing to escort him out of the meeting, if he didn't follow meeting decorum.

Tony Marlow took offense to being called a “robber” in a previous city meeting. City Council member Eddie Branquinho took offense to being called a “crook,” and the two traded verbal jabs during the meeting.

But the City Council was insistent at the meeting that the taxpayers no longer subsidize the Green Lion.

 

Tony Marlow questions Chief Development Officer Jason DeLorenzo at the June 21 City Council meeting. Photo by Brian McMillan

CONTINUING SUBSIDY

The Green Lion Cafe has operated the food and beverage concessions at the golf club since 2017 and asked in 2021 to extend the contract for another five years.

In February 2022, City Council members had directed city staff to terminate the city's lease with the restaurant and solicit proposals for a new one, saying the current lease was "robbing" taxpayers by paying only $600 per month — well under the market rate. The council did so even though the Marlows had already told city staff that the restaurant was willing to accept a staff-proposed lease that would have doubled the restaurant's rent this year, with stepped increases following until the monthly rent reaches $2,503 in 2026. 

But the council quickly reversed its decision after dozens of locals turned out to the following week's City Council meeting to demand that the council reconsider. 

When it did so, the council didn't simply accept the lease amendment that city staff and the restaurant had already been working on. Instead, the council directed city staff to solicit a commercial real estate professional to conduct a fair market value analysis on the property.

City Attorney Neysa Borkert exchanged 10-15 emails with the Marlows’ attorney in the past month or so, she said, but communication eventually ceased.

On June 20, the day before the meeting, Alfin told the Marlows in an email that he felt the city had negotiated “to accommodate your requests and balance the public's interest.” He continued: “The Concession Lease Agreement describes a business model that should yield healthy revenues and profits without continuing subsidy from the City of Palm Coast.”

The Green Lion, at the Palm Harbor Golf Club, is an extension of the Golden Lion, in Flagler Beach. Photo by Brian McMillan

However, he wrote: “If the profit and loss of the operation are not in line with your expectations, we should accept that the venture does not satisfy both parties’ expectations and undermines the potential for long-term success.”

On June 21, Chief Development Officer Jason DeLorenzo presented to the City Council the latest step in the negotiations, with the result that the city would pay the annual water costs of $24,000; the Green Lion would assume the other utilities and would also pay an annual lease total of $23,859 beginning Sept. 1, increasing 3% each year after that. That gives the city a deficit of $141 for the first year of the new lease, but a profit of $575 in 2023, $1,312 in 2024 and increasing profits in subsequent years (assuming the water price doesn't increase).

Chris Marlow’s comments at the June 21 meeting confirmed that there was still tension between the two sides. He asked that the city table the agreement so more details could be worked out. After the meeting, Marlow told me that among his concerns was the condition that the city could terminate the lease if any Green Lion employees committed a crime.

Borkert addressed that concern during the meeting, stating that the new agreement would soften that provision, giving the Green Lion more flexibility on handling its own staff. The City Council also agreed to let the Green Lion determine its own hours of operations.

 

PAYING FOR WATER

City Councilman Ed Danko suggested early in the June 21 discussion that the Green Lion should be required to pay 50% of the water costs, since it likely accounted for well over 50% of the water usage; previously, the city was paying 100%. Alfin wasn’t so sure: He worried about setting a precedent based on an arbitrary number.

Paying half wasn’t nearly enough for one resident, Robert MacDonald, who gave an emotional plea to the city to require the Green Lion to pay for all of its water. 

“How dare you say you’re going to pay half of their water bill,” he said. “How do you justify to the people that they’re going to pay half the water bill, when people are losing their houses, losing their jobs? You can’t possibly explain that to us.”

In the end, Alfin agreed with Danko. Alfin gave up the gavel so that he could make the motion: He proposed that the Green Lion be given 10 days to decide whether to accept the terms of the contract — plus play 50% of the water bill. The vote was unanimous.

Chris Marlow shouted his objections once again, on his way out: “You’re not even going to let us talk? Welcome to negotiating with the city of Palm Coast.”

— Jonathan Simmons contributed.

 

Brian McMillan has been editor of the Palm Coast Observer since it began in 2010. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children. Email...

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