Volusia Politics: How long do we mourn the Hard Rock?

It’s all about perspective.

Regular readers of this forum know that I can be less than kind when calling out certain elected and appointed officials who seem incapable of either recognizing, or understanding, the depth of the entrenched issues facing us here on the Fun Coast.

Some see it as constructive criticism, others as a mean spirited cheap shot, but one thing is certain – nobody likes the bearer of bad news.

I’m frequently accused of being a maudlin naysayer – you know, the caviling whiner who never gets the fuzzy-wuzzies about anything.  The contrarian thinker with nothing good to say about the Turkish bazaar that passes for government in Volusia County.

Guilty as charged.

We live in troubled times, and as I’ve said before, someone has to stay on the outside.

Watching.

In recent days there has been a whole lot of mawkish hand-wringing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the untimely death of the Hard Rock project – a refulgent high rise condo/motel that we were told would have risen from the dunes like a magical, transformative panacea and suddenly cured all the evils that afflict us.

The media reports of the project’s demise were almost funereal.

Hell, I all but drew the curtains and draped the mirrors in black crepe.

The Toronto-based developer, Henry Wolfond, rode into town like a lion, full of big promises and big demands.  He was the latest Bodhisattva of the Beach – an enlightened, compassionate visionary who quickly won over the local mandarinate and convinced them that he held the answers – the magic bullet that would forever kill the economic wolf that has had us by the collective throat for far too long.

As always happens, Volusia’s influential insiders and their hand-selected politicians, worked valiantly to convince us – the ignorant, unwashed rabble who have been burned so many times by speculative developers that we smell like charred ham – that if we just acquiesce to the demands and allow the removal of yet more beach driving, the tradeoff would drag us up from this squalid ash heap and save us from ourselves.

When we, the people, wouldn’t relent and dutifully bend over to the demands of Bayshore Capitol – or accept the sycophantic toadying of our own ‘high panjandrums of progress’ as being in our best interest – they did what they wanted anyway.

To hell with what their constituents wanted or didn’t want.

By 6-1 vote, the Volusia County Council folded like a cheap beach chair to the ultimatums of the developer and enacted ordinances removing beach driving from the strands behind the fictitious “Westin” project and the magical cure-all that would be the Hard Rock.

At the time, our own J. Hyatt Brown was quoted as saying, “It is a positive step.  It is one that we will never regret, and it is a step that in the future we will look back and say, ‘Good job you all.’

Never say never, J. Hyatt.

In an interesting December 2010 article in the Toronto Star, business reporter Tony Wong noted that our prospective Canadian savior, Henry Wolfond, went cross-border shopping for real estate during the depth of the recession.

Like any good scavenger – or speculative developer – Wolfond took full advantage of a bad situation and began acquiring Florida oceanfront real estate for literally pennies on the dollar.

According to Wong:

“But even by Florida deal-making standards, the deep discount price on the beach front property he closed on in September was astonishing.  The buzz reached a fever pitch among real estate circles in Daytona Beach after some “Canadian guy” had apparently purchased 3.82 acres of prime land in Daytona Beach that sold for $23 million in 2006.  The cost?  $2.5 million, representing an astonishing 89-percent discount.  The original buyer had taken a $20.5 million haircut. . .”

 I just love that part – “even by Florida deal-making standards.”  Classic.  It proves that the whole world looks at these self-important politicians and “economic developers” like the obsequious dupes they are.

 At the time, Wolfond self-righteously commented that he had picked up the beachfront property in Daytona for not much more than a “very nice home in Thornhill” (a suburb of Toronto).

In addition, Wolfond’s well-capitalized real estate fund, “Fenix Opportunity” (by-the-by, Fenix is apparently Spanish for Phoenix – the mythical bird who rose from the ashes symbolizing renewal) was on a feeding frenzy in Florida, snapping up distressed properties like a chicken on a swarm of June bugs.

Wow.  It was all cotton candy clouds and big rock candy mountains for Henry and his partners.

Life was good.

Bargain basement prices on prime real estate and a political environment that proved our elected officials would sell their children’s souls for a buck meant the potential for huge profits.

I mean, it was the perfect scenario – and I’m not even talking about the gravy:  All of us unfortunate locals were in line for jobs cleaning hotel rooms, working in an industrial laundry or toting bags for the pretty people who would come and luxuriate on the Hard Rock’s exclusive private beach.

Man.  The world was spinning in greased grooves, just like Steinbeck said.

Then, on a recent late summer Sunday morning, we poured a cup of joe and opened the Daytona Beach News-Journal, only to be taken to the proverbial woodshed by our very own benevolent redeemer, Henry Wolfond.

Yep.  Seems it was our fault that he was forced to pull the plug on the ‘Hard Rock Daytona Beach’ – or, as he described it, “a catalyst for massive investment into the Daytona Beach beachside community.”

Many of us read the article twice and came away with the uneasy knowledge that – despite what Glenn Ritchey told us – Mr. Wolfond was no longer our friend.

According to Hank, “obstructionist” elements in the pro beach driving community crushed our little goose that shit the golden egg with “continuous and ongoing litigation” as part of a “strategic effort to prevent the certainty needed to allow the construction of this project.”

Following Mr. Wolfond’s weepy and condescending eulogy, the News-Journal expended rolls of newsprint ensuring that all involved with this much heralded, yet dead-on-arrival, theme hotel got an equal chance to point their finger and lecture us on what a bunch of poopy-heads we all are for “killing” the project with our sinister stratagem of “uncertainty and delay.”

It appears that Bayshore’s highly paid mouthpiece, Glenn Storch, took the loss personally.  He was last heard lamenting in mournful terms, “It is as if many folks want Daytona Beach to fail.”

My ass.

Note to Mr. Wolfond:  If you can’t find a way to turn a reasonable profit on 3.8 acres of prime beachfront property that you literally picked up at a $20.5 million discount – knowing full-well that we’ve driven on this beach for, oh, the past hundred years or so –  then you probably should have shown up at business school the day they taught, well, business.

Just maybe there is some shit we won’t eat.  Did you ever think of that?

Maybe there is a certain segment of the silent majority here on the “Fun Coast” that are sick and tired of being manhandled by government overreach.  Beleaguered taxpayers that have learned through near constant trial and error that, despite the glittery promises, speculative developers really don’t have our best interests at heart.

Listen, don’t lecture me – you greedy bastard – about how exercising our God-given, constitutionally protected right to petition our government for redress of grievances has negatively impacted your ability to fleece a bunch of hapless rubes into buying overpriced rock-n-roll themed condominiums.

Don’t presume to tell me that citizens seeking judicial review of their county councils “give till it hurts, then give some more” economic development strategy – a policy that is quickly stripping our local heritage – somehow gave your “investors” a case of the heebie-jeebies.

If Henry Wolfond – or any of these goddamn leeches that throw in with him – thought that they could make a dime off this place there would be nothing, and I mean nothing, that could stop them.

Every pirate in the world has sacked and looted this strip of sand for the past 500 years.  So if Henry thinks he can puff out his lower lip and make us feel bad, he’s sadly mistaken.

We’ve become grizzled veterans of these petty little storms created by people who make their living gambling with other people’s money – usually ours.

Hell, going broke in Daytona Beach is almost a rite of passage for speculative developers, land rapers, and greedheads.  Just ask Bray & Gillespie – or any of the poor saps still holding the paper on their big time promises.

Maybe ol’ Hank should have done his homework.

If you can’t turn a dollar on dirt-cheap beachfront property – in an environment where local government will literally agree to anything and cough-up corporate welfare like a dyspeptic dog – then perhaps the problem goes a little deeper than beach driving and disobedient locals.

Perhaps it’s time the powers that be turn their accusatory fingers at themselves and determine exactly where this shit-train jumped the track.

Regardless, I’m tired of being harangued by a cheapjack Canadian hustler and these ‘oh-so-smart’ fools in local and county government who so enthusiastically bought into the hype.

 

Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal via Twitter

 

 

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