Visitor center location changes from A1A to SR100; Flagler Tourism is having a strong year

After two and a half years of searching for a visitor center site on State Road A1A in Flagler Beach and at least two opportunities there that derailed for one reason or another, the Flagler County Tourism Bureau is shifting its focus for a possible visitor center to state Route 100, at county land near the new footbridge.

Several factors led to the change, says Amy Lukasik, Flagler County tourism director. One is the focus on ecotourism: a location next to the pedestrian bridge will connect with trails and a green corridor. Another was last fall’s hurricanes, which “give you a moment of pause” about locating a visitor center right on the beach. “It’s very vulnerable there,” she said.

There were some considerations about placing the visitor center at the foot of the footbridge. This will not be possible because this segment of land is restricted for conservation use. Only to the west of it, however—the area used as a staging area by construction crews building the bridge—would accommodate the center. There’s even a turn lane on State Route 100.

The location may still be eligible for a federal national grant that would help build the center. “Remember, this exit at 95 and 100 is the closest point on Interstate 95 to the ocean for the entire East Coast of the United States,” said County Commissioner Dave Sullivan, who chairs the Tourism Development Board.

Lukasik said a location on A1A would connect with local businesses through golf cart tours and the like. “it could still happen. It might not be out the door,” Lukasik said. “It just might look different.”

The TDC is an advisory body made up of representatives from local government (County, Palm Coast, Flagler Beach) and tourism-related businesses. He oversees a $4 million budget generated by revenue from the county’s 5 percent additional tourism sales tax on hotels, motels and short-term lodging. The TDC meets quarterly and makes spending and policy recommendations, which are then ratified (or less commonly rejected) by the County Commission. No proposal to purchase land on A1A made it to the commissioners’ desk, although two were considered.

In 2020, the Tourism Development Board considered purchasing the old Bank of America building across the street from the Flagler Beach Pier for $1 million. The county didn’t have much time to explore that possibility before it was dropped. The 6,500-square-foot building sold to Pinchas Mamane, a Daytona Beach property manager, in January 2021 for $1.1 million.

Last year, the tourism bureau was in talks to acquire a $1.5 million parcel at South 9th Street and State Road A1A. The price was high and so were the questions about the location, not quite in the center.

Lukasik talked about the potential new location in an interview Monday after his annual State of Tourism address at the Palm Coast Community Center, an invitation-only event attended by about 50 to 60 people, including elected county and city officials.

Lukasik summarized the economic impact of tourism on the county for fiscal year 2021, which brought nearly 1 million overnight visitors to the county, up 68 percent from the previous covid-hit year. Those visitors spent over half a billion dollars in the county and were responsible for 4,400 jobs in the county, or 17 percent of the total. Hotel, motel and short-term rental sales totaled $79 million, with an occupancy rate of 60 percent for the year.

The average daily rate at hotels and motels is $123, compared to $203 for a vacation rental. There is no figure for the average rate for Airbnb-type accommodations, although they also account for a large portion of tourism revenue. (See more detailed numbers here.)

“While the revenue we collect from the tourism development tax is vital to our existence and allows us to diversify our funding toward various programs and initiatives to improve our community,” Lukasik said, “what is often overlooked and can often be forgotten is an indirect domino effect visitors have when they come to Flagler County. To illustrate her point, she showed a video that, at the time of publication, had received 24 views since appearing on the county’s tourism website a month ago:

Tourism tax revenue is split three ways: 60 percent goes to marketing and advertising Flagler County, with most of that market coming from visitors within driving distance: I-4 corridor, Orlando, St. John’s, Volusia , but also Atlanta and New York Markets. That amount of money also included in 2021 about $230,000 in grants for sports, business and cultural events that attracted visitors from outside the country.

20 percent of proceeds go to capital funding, grants to take on projects that at least in part serve out-of-state visitors: repairs to the A-frame at the Flagler Beach pier a few years ago qualified, a new marquee for Flagler Auditorium qualified, and last year, a $739,000 grant went to Palm Coast’s Southern Recreational Facility, which will be an expansion of the tennis center off Belle Terre Parkway, connecting the trailhead to the Lehigh Trail and a community center. (This is the grant that Flagler Beach famously failed to apply for, causing an uproar.)

Another 20 percent goes to beach conservation and renovation, but that amount pales in comparison to the needs. A few years ago, the commission increased the share of money entering this bank. But it’s unlikely to change the ratio again, Sullivan said, despite the huge upcoming needs — or rather, because of the enormous upcoming needs.

“Of course there will be some difference. But right now we’re talking about $100 million in coastal restoration, Sullivan said. “And that’s still not enough to do what we want. It will all be $200 million.

In short, Lukasik paints a bright picture of the local tourism economy and Florida’s, where she says there are no signs of slowing down. “One of our TDC members, Pam Walker, she’s a travel agent and every Friday she sends out a weekly email to her database,” Lukasik said. “This past Friday, the subject was, ‘This is crazy.'” And she looked at how, as a travel agent, she works with tour operators all over the world. She has many challenges. First, she can’t get them to return her calls because they are too busy. And prices for tours and packages, hotels and airlines, she said, have just skyrocketed. So people are willing to pay. The demand is still there, especially in Florida, where we were obviously one of the first states to recover from a tourism standpoint. You don’t see any signs of slowing down.”

The presentation took place Monday at the Palm Coast Community Center.  (© FlaglerLive)
The presentation took place Monday at the Palm Coast Community Center. (© FlaglerLive)
Suitable for print, PDF and email

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *