I always enjoy reading Daytona Beach News-Journal editor Pat Rice’s take on topical issues in his standing column in Sunday’s paper.
He always has a unique perspective – but his question this week, “Why, in Daytona Beach, does it take way longer than expected to build roads and bridges and buildings?” – I’m going to assume was rhetorical.
Because, in my view, the answer is painfully obvious to anyone who has been paying attention for, oh, the past decade or so. . .
The reason speculative developers, government contractors and sundry greed-heads take so damnably long to complete projects – regardless of scope or inconvenience – is because they can.
If the long and varied saga that ultimately became the Daytona Beach Hard Rock taught us anything, it is that, even on the extremely rare occasion where performance bonds or contractual guarantees are used to ensure compliance with governmental concessions, or the release of public funds to underwrite various aspects of the project, those charged with looking after our interests are asleep at the switch.
Or they become wholly complicit in ensuring completion and quality obligations are overlooked or ignored entirely.
For instance, in February 2018, Volusia County officials realized that Summit Hospitality, the developer of Hard Rock, would be hard pressed to meet the drop-dead date for completion as established by county ordinance – which would have jeopardized the Volusia County Council’s over-the-top concession to essentially privatize some 410’ linear feet of OUR beach by removing traffic and ease of public access behind the hotel.
The real problem came when long-suffering residents realized – based upon their personal observation of deplorable conditions on the external seawall, photographs depicting structural integrity concerns in a subterranean parking garage and an unfinished pool deck – that no governmental entity worth its integrity and standing could possibly risk their reputation by certifying an incomplete renovation as meeting the exacting standards set forth by ordinance.
Yet, that is exactly what happened.
Now, Halifax area residents are standing in the shadow of an ugly concrete monolith in the very heart of our core tourist area – the multi-story shell of a highly-touted “$192 million” hotel/condo project, complete with the rusting shoots of the “north tower” which never seemed to germinate – a project that was billed as the biggest and best by our local ‘movers & shakers,’ who never seem to look past the hype and fluff of some marketing hack, or ask the darker questions, like – “What if. . .”
Way back in 2017, former Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchey told us he personally negotiated the terms of the project with principals of Russian developer Protogroup – then he fired up the Allstar Goodtime Band and played a rosy tune for all us skeptical rubes who couldn’t seem to recognize a good thing when we see it, remember:
“It’s great to see it finally happen,” said Ritchey, who has a riverfront home on the beachside. “It seems like it has the potential to be something really great. I’m just really excited that it’s going to be a linchpin and an encouragement for other development on the beachside. It’s all good news.”
Then, in typical Daytona Beach style, the public was given a glimpse of some beautiful architectural renderings – complete with pixilated little cars and happy shadow people frolicking about – and our hopes were buoyed by some preliminary construction activity at the site and completion of the parking garage across A-1-A.
Unfortunately, at that time, Protogroup had apparently yet to secure the cash necessary to see the project completed.
At the time, I thought it admirable that Protogroup’s Alexey Lysich and his family dropped some serious personal coin to see the project come out of the ground.
It demonstrated a level of personal commitment that was refreshing in the weird history of the Halifax area’s here today/gone tomorrow oceanfront developers.
Then came a disturbing report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal which exposed some potentially uncomfortable information that was found during a review of the “Panama Papers” – leaked documents that contained personal financial information regarding the offshore bank accounts of uber-wealthy individuals and public officials from around the globe.
Although offshore business entities and banking is legal where permitted – from the “who’d a thunk it” file – some shell corporations and offshore accounts are used for fraud, tax evasion, and the avoidance of international sanctions.
Really. I’m not making that up. . .
Apparently – according to the Panama Papers – a guy by the name of Alexey Lysich of St. Petersburg, Russia was associated with an offshore bank account in the Seychelles.
In his defense, at the time, Mr. Lysich told the News-Journal he – “doesn’t think it’s him” – and assured us all that neither he, nor his family, has any connection to the Russian government.
After all, “Money is money” Lysich said.
I don’t know about you, but that bold statement never sat well with me. . .
You see, us denizens of this salty piece of land have been screwed so frequently by developers with dubious financing that we walk with a permanent limp – and we learned a long time ago that, when the chips are down, our elected and appointed government officials will side with the “next big thing” over their constituents every time.
Now, with a January construction deadline imminent, on Tuesday, Protogroup will hold a neighborhood meeting in the parking garage (?) at Oakridge Boulevard and North Atlantic Avenue, ahead of a request to the City of Daytona Beach for a three-year extension to the completion requirement.
What does this mean for our fading tourism and hospitality industry, who continue see occupancy, revenue and bed tax collections for area hotels plummet year-over-year?
How does having a perpetually under construction hulk in the epicenter of our beachside encourage entrepreneurial investment?
And how long should the incredibly courageous owners of the Sea Dunes Motel – who took a bold stand to hold firm to their roots as a family-oriented seaside retreat – have to live in the shadow of a construction crane that rarely moves?
In my view, Paul Zimmerman, lifelong resident and president of Florida’s premiere beach driving and access advocacy, Sons of the Beach, recently posed a commonsense approach to this perplexing issue on social media:
“Given Protogroup’s failure to comply with past agreements and their lack of transparency and forthrightness. We, the citizens, should demand at least four major terms prior to any extension.
- A requirement of a performance bond or an escrow account with at least 20% of the cost of project deposited with a structured timeline of milestones to be met with penalties withdrawn from the escrow for FURTHER non-compliance.
- A schedule of periodic citizen walk-through’s of the project to determine progress and the degree of completion at the time – without the walk-through – there is no accountability.
- An acceptable and required beach access which has not been consistently provided in the previous three years, and,
- Abandonment of the wrong way valet traffic lane on Oakridge Boulevard. There are more but these four should be non-negotiable. There is not only an agreement with the City, but with Volusia County (abandonment of the approach and air rights for the connecting walkway) as well.”
I think we’re well-passed the idea of asking residents to give up even more of our vanishing quality of life to accommodate the exalted developer du jour, don’t you?
At least I hope we are.
In my view, it is time our elected and appointed officials begin representing those of us who pay the bills and demand that the provisions of performance assurances and completion deadlines are enforced.
The economic future of our beleaguered beachside depends upon it.
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal