A wise and weary Halifax area philosopher once explained to me the ‘way things work’ here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.
The old sage concluded – with the hard-earned clarity of someone who has scratched out a living here for decades – that our incestuous artificial economy in Volusia County is based on “…the same five people passing the same nickel around…”
Increasingly, that well-worn coin originates from the tattered pockets of struggling taxpayers in the form of “economic incentives,” tax credits, infrastructure improvements, and lucrative “job creation” refunds.
For instance, in 2014, the proposed Trader Joe’s distribution center in Daytona Beach garnered some $6.6 million in “economic incentives” from government entities – including $4.7 million from Volusia County and approximately $2 million from the City of Daytona Beach – for a warehouse serving a specialty grocery chain that will not locate a store in our area because our average annual salary is too low. . .
In 2015, Tanger Outlets received a combined $4.5 million from city and county coffers – for what The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported covered “everything from landscaping to sewer pipes” – and who can forget our collective investment in Daytona International Speedway’s One Daytona project, a combined $40 million from Volusia County and Daytona Beach taxpayers, which “…went to pay the bulk of the $53 million bill for roads, water and sewer pipes, sidewalks and retention ponds.”
In my view, it is the quintessence of corporate welfare – a dodgy system that reduces risk, creates an unlevel playing field for an influential few, and provides a competitive advantage to those with easy access to the public teat.
Then, in 2017, His Royal Highness King J. Hyatt Brown – our High Panjandrum of Political Power – gifted us rubes with the be-all and end-all ‘gamechanger of all gamechangers’ – when he announced at an invitation only gathering of our “Rich & Powerful” – that a long-neglected vacant lot on Beach Street would be the site of Brown & Brown’s new ten-story headquarters building.
The relocation of the multi-billion-dollar insurance intermediary’s HQ was billed as the ultimate Halifax area panacea project – the providential answer to our fervent prayers – a glass-and-steel monolith with the supernatural power to transform our historically neglected downtown into an effervescent hub of tony retail, dining, and entertainment, all fueled by young, upwardly mobile, Brown & Brown executives and staffers brokering deals over a plate of chilled lemon and arugula capellini and a delightfully articulate Chablis in a Beach Street bistro.
All of this could be ours for the asking – but only if we agreed to pony up a combined $15.5 million in city, county, and state incentives – on the promise of “hundreds of jobs” paying an average of $41,300 annually.
Otherwise, there was ominous rumblings that King J. Hyatt and his Knights of the Roundtable would uproot and move the whole kit-and-kaboodle to Atlanta, Georgia – effectively ending the behemoth’s 80-year presence in Daytona Beach on a sour note – and dooming our downtrodden downtown to decades of more dilapidation and strategic neglect.
In total, the City of Daytona Beach got down on their hands-and-knees and offered up millions-of-dollars for infrastructure improvements and property tax abatement – while Volusia County taxpayers provided some $4.5 million for infrastructure and $900,000 to help Brown & Brown qualify for an additional $4.58 million in state tax credits for new job creation – which, at the time, were reportedly worth an estimated $7,500 per job. . .
Look, my math could be off a million here or a million there, it all gets so confusing and convoluted that, after awhile, it becomes difficult to keep up with who is responsible for what, how many “new” jobs have been created and how many were shipped in from other areas, and how much money the public’s largesse ultimately created for the private beneficiary.
Perhaps that’s the plan?
It seems our newspaper of record, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, is too busy fighting the culture wars – removing ancient statues, alienating the “unvaccinated” like social lepers, and giving national attention to some guy in Detroit who found 160 bowling balls behind his house (?) – yet precious few investigative pieces on our return on investment – the public benefit of these tax breaks, credits, and refunds.
On Saturday, the News-Journal’s Eileen Zaffiro-Kean reported in a front-page article “Brown & Brown buys downtown buildings – 400 to 600 jobs expected to be created at three sites,” that King J. Hyatt has expanded his realm to include three office buildings formerly owned by the Ormond Beach-based Root Company.
According to the report, Sir John Albright, President & CEO of CTO Realty Growth (formerly known as that good ol’ boys investment club Consolidated-Tomoka Land Company), “…whose company owns most of the block that fronts the east side of Ridgewood Avenue and runs between International Speedway Boulevard and Bay Street,” said the Brown & Brown purchase represents “…very good news for downtown as investors, developers and businesses will have confidence in Brown & Brown’s sizable presence and commitment to downtown.”
Now, everyone who is anyone is using extravagant descriptors like, “spectacular,” “fantastic,” “huge impact,” “ripple effect,” etc., etc.
What else are they going to say?
And why didn’t we see this Renaissance Effect before?
Because even the suggestion that Brown & Brown’s growing presence downtown may be overblown, or, God forbid, these edifices become just another 9-to-5 insurance or financial office building – one that captures employees with an internal restaurant operated by a France-based hospitality company, complete with a 24-hour self-checkout kiosk, even prepared meals that workers can bring home for dinner – is too grim to consider for Beach Street merchants who have hung on by their fingernails for decades.
I am certain Brown & Brown’s real estate expansion is “great news” for those elite few with a chip in the game, and that mysterious Camera Stellata over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance (which King J. Hyatt chairs and Sir John Albright is a member) – but I am still trying to figure out what it cost us – you know, We, The Little People?
One jaded observer of our local political sleight-of-hand took to Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry’s Facebook page to question the cosmic irony that the $14 million Brown & Brown paid for the three commercial buildings closely matches the $15.5 million in public “incentives” Volusia County taxpayers gifted King J. Hyatt to lessen the burden on his Beach Street “Taj Mahal.”
Apples and Oranges! No direct nexus, Barker – you ungrateful asshole! You blasphemous Esplanade denier!
Perhaps, but I found it funny as hell. . .
I also found a glimmer of hope that long-suffering Volusia County taxpayers are beginning to question ‘how things work’ in this artificial economy, where the same players pass the same nickel around, while those of us who foot the bill are asked to expect a different outcome.