Palm Coast Lands $739,000 grant for regional recreation center through Tourism Council

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The Flagler County Tourism Development Board this morning approved a $739,000 grant for the Government of Palm Coast’s continued expansion of the city’s tennis center off Belle Terre Parkway into a regional recreation center in the south, with a new park-like trail, community center and a dozen pickleball courts. The grant will cover the cost of pickleball courts.

The 6-2 vote is a recommendation to the County Commission, which makes the final decision in August. TDC members Ryan Crabb and Pam Walker voted against — an odd vote by Crabb, who had given the grant very high marks when each board member assessed the feasibility of the request. Walker had been only slightly less generous.

This is the first grant of its kind for the Flagler County TDC, which provides county government oversight of the tourism bureau. Previously, the TDC offered capital grants of up to $150,000 to local governments that could tie a project to some sort of tourism benefit, such as the Flagler Beach Pier or the Flagler Auditorium. Governments were limited to one such grant each year. The TDC revamped the process a few years ago, first to increase the amounts of money available, then to make nonprofits eligible. It’s a two-year cycle.

The money comes from revenue from the 5% surcharge on tourism sales, paid overwhelmingly by visitors. The tax applies to motels, hotels, short-term rentals and other temporary accommodation transactions, which most local residents do not pay. It generated record revenues of around $3.6 million last year and is on course to break that record this year, with 20% of that going to the capital projects pot. Advertising gets 60% and beach protection 20%. There was $924,000 available in the capital pot two years ago, at the start of the cycle. The TDC chose to dedicate 80% of this sum to the grant cycle, or $739,000.

This year’s grant came to belated attention when city commissioners in Flagler Beach realized they could have applied, but the administration there never applied despite a year and a half to do so. and a representative on the TDC Board of Directors. (See: “Flagler Beach Misses Deadline on $739,000 Tourism Grant. He had 18 months to apply. And an extension.”) Flagler Beach Mayor Suzie Johnston, in an unusual move that led to further controversy over her commission, Tried to file application on her own, but to no avail. (See: “Mayor of Flagler Beach files grant application herself, highlighting grievance with principal over serial failures.”)

This was part of the context of today’s discussion of the TDC, whose membership is made up of elected representatives from Palm Coast, Flagler Beach and the county (it is chaired, by law, by the county representative, currently Commissioner Dave Sullivan), and special interest representatives in the tourism industry, such as Stephen Baker of the Hammock Beach Resort, Ryan Crabb of the Hilton Garden Inn in Palm Coast, John Lulgjuraj of the Oceanside Beach Bar and Grill in Flagler beach etc. (See full membership here.)

The vote of approval to recommend Palm Coast for the grant included those of Ken Bryan, the commissioner of Flagler Beach and his city’s representative on the TDC, and that of Lulgjuraj, who was the last to remind the city commission of the window. of subsidy.

Amy Lukasik, who runs the county’s tourist office, guides applicants through the grant process and presented the case to council this morning, noted the possibility that council could, if it so chooses, not award the entire $739,000 to Palm Coast. The money left on the table could then be made available for another round of grants with a September deadline. Otherwise, “in January 2023, we will start all that again”, with the money collected over the past two years. This amount should reach approximately $1.6 million, combining the accumulated income of the last two years with the reserve of $185,000. And Flagler Beach is just as likely to be on the front line, with its very expensive pier reconstruction project to come. (See: “Flagler Beach Commission Votes to Build 800-ft., $12.5 Million Concrete Pier Replacement.”)

“You obviously don’t have to award all $739,000,” Lukasik told TDC’s board. “But I encourage you, you have an application and it’s important to make your recommendation based on the application in front of you. This application scored 17 points out of 20, so obviously they were more than qualified. And you want to take your decision based on the quality of the project meeting the criteria.

Palm Coast Deputy City Manager Lauren Johnston, along with Stormwater and Engineering Manager Carl Cote and new Parks Manager James Hurst presented their pickleball project to the council, just as he had was presented to City Council earlier this month. (See: “From Controversy to Harmony: Ambitious, $11.4 Million Tennis Center and Trail Expansion Draws Praise.”) Johnston placed the new recreation center in the context of the eyes of the city on adding amenities to the west, balancing them geographically. “This recreation center is a regional destination,” she said.

The city is hosting nine pickleball tournaments this year, with an average of 55 to 65 players each. But these are all one-day tournaments. Johnston said the plan is to expand those possibilities. “So with the upgrades from this project,” said Brittany McDermott, Palm Coast Community Recreation Manager, “we’re going to have a dedicated pickleball space that’s going to allow us to significantly expand the tournaments that we offer, not just the number of tournaments that we are able to run throughout the year, but expanding that to multi-day events and getting more of that overnight than we were hoping for from those tournaments. link with the tennis courts and tournaments of the current tennis center.

Overnight stays are the catnip of the TDC. Overnight stays mean hotel reservations. Hotel reservations mean paying the tourist tax, which means more revenue for TDC coffers. Whenever an organization wants to leverage TDC money, it must show a significant ‘nights’ element.

Lisa Robinson, a TDC board member who represents the hospitality industry through Hampton Inn and Suites, was skeptical of the city’s projections for future tournaments. The city projects 450 overnight stays each month, thanks to the leisure centre, an astonishing figure. “We’re trying to figure out how you get to that number,” Robinson said. It was a pointed question that revealed the number is a rather speculative extrapolation from statewide estimates published by Visit Florida, the state’s tourism bureau, whose figures can of course be a bit biased.

Visit Florida “reports that amateur sports average about 4.3 nights per stay. So I kind of took that number and split it in half,” McDermott said. “We considered bringing 75 tennis players over two nights, for 12 tournaments a year. And then we took 75 pickleball players in two nights, 12 months, and then I took these 30 room rentals and we average about 30 people per stay. And that was the 30 room rentals multiplied by 30, and that brought you to your grand total of 5400 room nights.

“Good if it could happen,” said a clearly skeptical Robinson. Crabb, who would eventually vote against the grant, also stressed the importance of documented overnight stays.

“We like to set ourselves high goals,” McDermott said.

Robinson asked if the city knows of any tournaments that the city knows want to come to Palm Coast. McDermott spoke of the city establishing many such relationships.

“I have some concerns about the tourism aspect of this with other sites in the area,” said Sullivan, county commissioner and chairman of the TDC. wondering how the county will get its fair share of tournaments. “For this grant, we have to prove that we’re going to bring in tourism from outside, and then we have to be very careful to make it any kind of exclusive facility.” He added: “I think there are still questions that still need to be resolved and see how it goes.” Other board members also questioned the certainties of the night in the bedroom, though they praised the project as a whole.

City officials insisted that the annual Futures men’s tennis tournament, which could not accommodate a women’s bracket but drew its share of overnight stays, could not include that bracket and potentially double nights. And the city, as Lukasik noted, has an established track record, hosting tournaments. “They’re maxed out” at the Indian Trails Sports Complex, she said.

Lukasik attempted to assuage the skepticism of board members, referring to the TDC’s membership in a national association of sports organizations. “So when we have a tourism asset like this, we have the ability to tap into those event organizers, even beyond their reach,” Lukasik said. “We would work hand in hand to make sure they hit those overnight goals.” The tourist office, in other words, continues to be a support system for the city’s objectives.

Corrective Note: The document embedded below is the document the board members had in front of them (minus some of the more detailed architectural drawings, which have been removed to lighten the record. But the score sheet had incorrect headings , which are fixed in this version. The scores remain the same.

tdc-palm-coast

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