Turkey list: Flagler College President rejects TaxWatch dorm spending critique

Flagler College, Ponce de Leon Hotel, St. Augustine FL, South co
In 2 budgets, Hotel Ponce de Leon got $70M in taxpayer spending. Not bad for a private college.

Florida TaxWatch is calling attention to so-called budget “turkeys” as especially egregious wastes of taxpayer money, and the historic Hotel Ponce de Leon landed on the list for scoring big money outside of grant programs ostensibly dedicated to renovation projects.

Those programs, via the Department of State, are capped at $500,000, well beyond the spend in St. Augustine.

At issue: “$35.0 million for renovating and updating the Hotel Ponce de Leon, which is used as a revenue-producing dormitory for a private college. The Hotel also received $35.0 million from the Legislature last year to remodel the residential spaces.”

The funds would go to Flagler College, the school for which the hotel’s original building and grounds have served as a centerpiece since 1968. In turn, the private liberal arts college will pay for the construction of a new roof, chilled water system and complete plumbing overhaul, a modern fire suppression system, new windows and “visitor experience displays.”

Those upgrades are necessary, wrote Flagler College President John Delaney and St. Augustine Beach Commissioner Beth Sweeny, who works as the school’s director of external and government relations, in order “to preserve the National Historic Landmark building and enhance visitor experience.”

Joseph Mobley of Jacksonville-based The Florentino Group lobbied lawmakers on behalf of the college, which is pricey to attend, with costs over $40,000 per academic year for students once tuition, room and board, and other expenses are factored in.

Delaney rejected the idea that the spending was misplaced, given the historical importance of Hotel Ponce de Leon and that it’s “one of the most visited places in St. Augustine” and open to the public  substantially.

“Tax Watch declares anything a turkey that does not begin with a state agency but is funded directly by the Legislature. The Ponce funding is for historic preservation of one of the more significant architectural buildings in Florida. It makes up what Architectural Digest calls on of the 10 pretties campuses….in the world,” Delaney said.

“The building had electricity before the White House, and is designated a National Historic Landmark. There was some urgency to the restoration since a fire suppression sprinkler went off July 4 of 2022 and caused substantial damage. It is the historic nature of the building, which is substantially open to the public. Whether it was a college or a dorm or not, the building is one of the world’s architectural gems. Florida does not have a lot of those!”

Delaney noted that Thomas Edison did the electricity and Louis C. Tiffany did the glass, and the building has more Tiffany glass than any other building anywhere.

“This is a good thing for Florida. The College funded about half of the total restoration itself, and it is a young, small, modest tuition school,” he said.


Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


  • Dont Say FLA

    May 15, 2024 at 10:40 am

    Flagler College might want to defer improvements lest they find themselves with one college president Rhonda Dee two years from now. Floribama Community College is the place for Rhonda Dee to be given his college presidency. But 3 months later, once every has completely forgotten about Rhonda Dee, they should be demoted to Floribama Community College junior assistant baseball coach. a job they might actually be qualified to perform.

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    May 15, 2024 at 12:27 pm

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  • MH/Duuuval

    May 15, 2024 at 8:27 pm

    modest tuition school (Delaney, newly. minted MAGA) vs. $40,000 per year overall costs???

  • KathrynA

    May 18, 2024 at 9:25 pm

    I visited this college with my granddaughter a few years ago and went into this dorm. It is a big building and is historical, but it was in terrible shape and obviously full of mold and hadn’t been updated in many a year. It would take a lot of $$$ to make it livable and safe in many ways. I can see why they got assistance due to the historical nature of this building.

Comments are closed.


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