YOUR VIEW: Does a Billionaire Developer Need Brevard Taxpayers to Subsidize Their $80 Million Project?
By Robert Klimkowski, Jr. // January 8, 2022
YOUR OPINION • YOUR VIEW
Without a transparent review, the Brevard County commission cannot protect your taxes from being abused.
Transparency is the only protection we have against bad government and particularly backdoor deals at taxpayer expense. This idea is at the heart of why I am a Libertarian and why I question why Brevard County is considering spending $80 million to subsidize the Westin Convention Center and parking garages.
I have been the only member of the public in attendance (and subsequently, the only member of the public for over half of the over 30 public meetings that I attended in 2021) to follow this proposal.
I am convinced there has not been sufficient review to ensure that the public interest is respected. Without a transparent review, the Brevard County commission cannot protect your taxes from being abused.
The inclination that tax breaks, subsidies, or regulations will achieve its intended purpose is based on the idea that government officials knows what is best for us, which even at the best of times is an educated guess.
Only a free market provides that level playing field for investors and consumers to decide the best economic outcome. Asking the government pick the winners and losers in our economy only benefits the politically connected.
Consider with me the following about this proposed project:
A luxury hotel convention center could be of great value to tourism here in Brevard County. This is being pitched as a convention center on the beach and events being held within the picturesque oceanfront of Cocoa Beach.
However, attendees typically remain in a convention center with lectures and exhibits often getting their required continuing education credits. So is having a picturesque view important for convention attendees?
Typically, county convention centers are centrally based with a multitude of hotels to choose from promoting the free market. Some attendees, like government workers, are on a stipend of $125 a night for a hotel room, while others may afford a $300 a night luxury hotel on the beach. So how does having another beach front hotel make a difference?
Is there a better location to serve what could be many conventions for the booming aerospace industry, which is likely to be the primary market served? As a Libertarian, I believe that people making their own decisions in a free market are a better judge of what businesses need to be funded.
When people are allowed to keep the money they earn, they will decide what they want to spend it on. The companies that are rewarded with this spending money are the ones which respond best to the consumers’ needs.
For me, I follow the golden rule: follow the money. Is this even profit making and will the taxpayers be burdened with even more taxes? As a Libertarian, we are not for tax increases.
I am actively involved in attending public meetings and I was there at the Request for Procurement 22117 when they discussed the International Palms being replaced with the Westin Hotel Convention Center/ Parking Garage.
This meeting included voting members that would be the selection and negotiation committee. This committee would rank and recommend moving forward with the economic analysis consultant services highest ranked contractor. I was most concerned hearing that Central Florida convention centers are not a profit generating venue. Inevitably, this equates to a future tax increase for residents.
Later I learned, the Johnson proposal promised by the developer for this hotel was NOT shared with the Tourism Development Council, and I am being told to date the County still does not have a copy of this document.
The most important consideration is that any proposal is reviewed first by the Tourist Development Council prior to review by the Brevard County Commission.
At least two former Tourism Development Council members have commented publicly on this issue Tim Deratany (former Florida House of Representatives and Florida Senate, successful businessman, and served as a member of the Space Coast Tourist Development Council) and Bob Baugher (former Tourist Development Council member and Local business leader and hospitality industry businessman).
These two pillars of the community are both in agreement on one thing; that something needs to be said about this deal and now is the time. This is not a good deal for Brevard County’s taxpayers because the County did not shop around.
Furthermore, this type of crony capitalist deal hurts Brevard and local business leaders and hospitality industry businessmen such as Bob Baugher, who put an $18 million bid on the property and was out bid at $23 million.
The company with the winning bid then requests to be subsidized for an undisclosed amount is simply wrong and as Bob Baugher stated so eloquently, yet blunt, “This picks winners and losers and there is no transparency.”
Yet, they want the Tourism Development Council to subsidize their project for an undisclosed amount north of $80 million and since the Tourism Development Council is funded by none other than YOU, the taxpayer.
We the People of Brevard could be paying for over a quarter of this project and deplete the Tourism Development Council funds in the ballpark of $80 million hastening the degradation of local art, Brevard Zoo and Keep Brevard Beautiful beach funds.
Let’s be clear, Driftwood is a consortium of foreign investors that have shown little interest in Keeping Brevard Beautiful, yet a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders.
So, what do we do now?
This needs to go through the Tourism Development Council because they have the knowledge of their industry. The Board of County Commissioners are not experts in the tourism industry.
Finally, what has changed is that Driftwood has shown to be deficient on requests in not supplying the promised Johnson Proposal; and a bad player to the Tourism Development Council since April of 2021 because they circumvented the checks and balances process.
Moving forward, before establishing a new bid, an independent study in a public meeting involving all stakeholders by the Tourism Development Council needs to happen for checks for balances, to ensure fiscal accountability before presenting to the Brevard County Commission.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Klimkowski, Jr. is a candidate running under the Libertarian Party of Florida for Brevard County Commission District 4. He is a resident of Suntree, Florida, and a Registered Behavior Technician.
1. Corporate welfare. Libertarian Party of North Carolina. (n.d.). Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://www.lpnc.org/corporate-welfare?fbclid=IwAR0cUQqUrJh6OEMVQY1g_5_132OMm4D5UmQ7tq5c pn-yILGyANXI6UbSLqI
2. Corporate welfare. Libertarian Party of North Carolina. (n.d.). Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://www.lpnc.org/corporate-welfare?fbclid=IwAR0cUQqUrJh6OEMVQY1g_5_132OMm4D5UmQ7tq5c pn-yILGyANXI6UbSLqI