The debacle that is Summit Hospitality Group’s weird relationship with Volusia County government has baffled beach advocates for months – now, the mismanagement and bureaucratic ineptitude surrounding the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock project can no longer be ignored as it plays out, front page-above the fold, in our newspaper.
For those joining this slapstick comedy already in progress, here’s a chronology of the goofy errors and omissions that have plagued this godforsaken project for years.
From its inception, this poisoned partnership – solely designed to remove beach driving from another 410 linear feet of the shoreline as an “inducement” for Summit to develop an “internationally recognized brand resort” on the skeleton of the spooky Desert Inn – has been like watching a shit-train careen off its tracks in super-slow motion.
Many of us found this “public/private” conspiracy strange from the beginning.
Two organizations with completely different strategic missions – one a local government with a legal responsibility to protect and defend the public’s right to beach access – the other a speculative developer with a profit motive – confederating to restrict access to the people’s most precious natural amenity as an economic incentive?
Didn’t seem right. Still doesn’t.
Then, with the “encouragement” of campaign sugar daddy and master political puppeteer J. Hyatt Brown – those cheap marionettes we elected to represent our interests on the dais of power in DeLand unanimously agreed to surrender our century-old tradition of beach driving as a bastardized enticement for what we were assured would be two job-producing luxury hotels built of glass, steel and sex appeal.
Originally, the ordinances provided traffic-free areas to accommodate both the “original” Hard Rock project that Canadian developer Henry Wolfond was set to build, as well as the “Four Star” Westin that Summit Hospitality promised us was coming.
In a bold move to protect the interests of Volusia County residents, Florida’s premiere beach advocacy – Sons of the Beach – attempted a strong legal challenge, lawsuits with clear merit which were ultimately squashed by a weaponized county attorney who used our own money to ensure a private entity received a semi-private beach at our expense.
Within months, Wolfond packed up his troubles in his old kit bag and hauled ass back to Canada, but not before calling us all a bunch of obstructionist assholes for challenging his elegant plan which, in addition to the removal of beach driving, called for Palm Beach prices in a Hooterville market.
Then – nothing.
The “Westin” renovation stagnated to the point it looked like the project was being completed by two one-armed handymen working weekends.
Months turned into years as the development languished and it became clear Summit would never meet the ordinance-imposed deadline for completion.
Then, in a clumsy surprise party last year, County Manager Jim Dinneen orchestrated a bizarre off-the-agenda switcheroo at a public meeting, wherein Summit announced it was dumping the Westin brand and acquiring the Hard Rock franchise.
The ambush-style revelation that we were getting a “Hard Rock” resulted in wild applause and fainting swoons from our elected officials who immediately melted into a spineless goo of overacted adulation to appease their masters who were looking on from the gallery.
Just one hiccup – in exchange for planting the Hard Rock flag on Daytona Beach, Summit Hospitality would need more time.
With a completely straight face, Summit’s representatives cited hurricanes and other unavoidable delays – never once mentioning that the development hadn’t seen substantive progress in months.
Of course, the developer was almost immediately granted an extension, pushing the drop-dead completion date to February 28, 2018.
In my view, at that very moment, it became crystal clear our elected officials were once again selling us out to push the horribly failed strategy of political insiders who still believe a single panacea project will serve as an anchor for area-wide revitalization – all while turning their backs on the squalor, blight and economic stagnation that has metastasized across the remainder of the beachside like a malignant tumor.
As the months rolled on – the Hard Rock project continued to sit virtually idle – even as the performance deadline loomed.
Opening dates were announced, then awkwardly called back, again-and-again.
After assuring us that they had no more than a casual interest in the hotel’s progress, it became clear that our ‘powers that be’ in DeLand began to get nervous.
A mysterious closed-door meeting was held between Summit representatives and senior Volusia County officials to discuss, “what needs to be done to bring the Hard Rock Hotel into compliance.”
It then became clear to anyone paying attention that the Hard Rock would meet “brand standards” whether it was completed by February 28th or not.
To that end, county attorney Dan Eckert began subverting the narrative, while our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, started repeating “It’s gonna be great, It’s gonna be great, It’s gonna be great” like some demented robot.
In coming days, it was apparent construction on the building and external seawall was being rushed using slapdash workmanship and relaxed building standards.
Patch-and-paint camouflage was applied to spalling concrete, the pool deck remained unfinished and Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach, obtained photographic evidence that load-bearing structures in the subterranean parking garage appeared to be compromised with the roof supported by a forest of floor jacks.
All of this photographic and anecdotal evidence was provided to government officials – which resulted in sweeping denials and personal attacks on Zimmerman by the private engineering firm hired by the developer.
Then, just days before the deadline – with construction crews still hurrying things to a premature conclusion – Hard Rock International pencil whipped a quibbling certification that “upon opening” the hotel “will meet” brand standards set in the ordinance-imposed performance guarantee.
Like clockwork, days before the busy Easter holiday weekend – Mr. Dinneen gave orders to Beach Safety Chief Ray Manchester to ‘pull the trigger’ on beach driving behind the still-under-construction hotel.
In turn, with Manchester and our bumbling Coastal Division director Jessica Winterwerp looking on – a county contractor began jetting massive, chemically-treated utility poles into the sand – using diverted apparatus from the Volusia County Fire Department to assist in the operation.
The phalanx of ugly poles looked more appropriate to a Russian gulag than a public beach and were described by Councilwoman Billie Wheeler as “ten-foot tall monstrosities.” She vowed to hold “staff” accountable for this abomination.
Who knows how that exercise in futility worked out for her. . .
Amidst the outcry of horrified residents – the county contractor quickly returned to the sand and in the most blatant violation of safety regulations ever caught on film – a worker balanced precariously in an elevated Bobcat bucket holding a running chainsaw with no personal protective equipment lopped a few feet off the top of the poles.
And, just like that, the Desert Inn/Westin/Hard Rock debacle came to an unceremonious conclusion.
Not so fast.
To ensure honesty in our demonstrably dishonest county government – the intrepid Paul Zimmerman measured the distance between the county’s crude beach blockade.
Low and behold, he found the distance to be nearly twenty-feet over the 410 linear feet specified by law.
When the measurements were confirmed by The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the faux-outrage by our perpetually embarrassed elected officials began.
“It’s unacceptable” crowed the addle-brained Ed Kelley – a pitiful rube who hasn’t had an original thought since he squirmed his way into office on a tidal wave of insider cash. “If you build your house 20 feet over the property line, they will make you tear it down.”
No shit, Ed.
What an astute observation by our senior elected official whose manager has once again been exposed as a bumbling farce when he screwed the pooch on yet another highly controversial issue.
Demonstrating the kind of leadership he’s famous for, Jim Dinneen was apparently dry-heaving in the fetal position under his desk high atop the ivory tower – refusing to take telephone calls from media outlets – and forcing a county mouthpiece to assure the incredulous public that Summit Hospitality will make it all right again.
At the end of the day, Hard Rock still has a semi-private beach, and We, The People who pay the bills are stuck with a $4,180 – not counting labor – invoice for yet another of Mr. Dinneen’s colossal fuck ups.
But don’t expect anyone to held accountable. Not gonna happen.
As I’ve written before, when you consider the continuing pattern of gross mismanagement, mistakes, gaffes, howlers and good old fashioned bloopers under Mr. Dinneen’s administration – blunders that would result in his immediate termination from any legitimate private enterprise – it becomes immediately clear that he is politically insulated from any accountability by those who directly benefit from his control of the public tit – the endless supply of tax dollars that invariably flow into private projects and bolster our artificial economy here on Florida’s Fun Coast.
Is there another explanation?
More important – how long are we, the long-suffering residents of Volusia County, expected to accept it?