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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Florida: Evil spirits are at it again, this time in the CM's annual report

During the October 6, 2011 Columbia County Commission meeting, evil spirits once again took over Columbia County's infamous good ol' boy County Commission. Long time County Manager Dale Williams appointed a committee based on an event that never happened. He claimed in his Annual Report that facts determined by a committee formed by the Tourist Development Council (TDC) indicated possible revenue opportunities for the County should an "Events Center" be constructed. The facts, reported by the County Manager himself, at a TDC meeting indicated just the opposite. Any events center will have to be subsidized by the county's residents forever.

The Annual Report information is here.

July 20, 2011 – Events Center Investigated – A Guaranteed Money Looser

On July 20, 2011, County Manager Dale Williams explained at a meeting of the TDC that a committee was formed as a fact-finding committee and had been investigating the idea of building a special events center in Columbia County.

CM Williams said, "The hope is the TDC will take these facts and formulate specific recommendations that it may wish to make to the Board of County Commissioners."

CM Williams told the TDC that he and the committee learned that any kind of event/convention center has to be on a large-scale and have interstate frontage. CM Williams said, "It was conveyed to us that if that is not the case, you don't even need to try."

CM Williams went on to explain: They make it  very clear that these things do not support themselves... you have to go in with the expectation that you are going to subsidize it... It should be part of any business model that you may come up with, because even the best out there do not pay for themselves... The best management provided 75 to 80% return on operating expenses.

According the County Manager, Perry, Georgia, which operates a successful events complex, is on track to generate 75 to 80% of their operating revenue. CM Williams explained that it took Perry 20 years to get to that point, which in dollars equals approximately a $1,500,000 yearly subsidy. By 1990, Perry had spent $26,000,000 in construction costs. 50% of Perry's revenue comes in a one week time span.

"There is no point in wasting time."

TDC board member and hotel operator, Nick Patel told the Council, "If the funding sources are not there, there is no point in wasting time."

County Commissioner Ronald Williams responded: Another words, we got to find who all willing to anti-up and how much... we got to go get our partners, which would be the Board of County Commissioners, Lake City and private enterprise... You look at the operating cost of what it generates and how much of that subsidy you are going to have to subsidize... Those are the things you have to look at before we say yes, "Here's the finished product." We have to make sure that once we make a recommendation that can be in budget and we know exactly what the operating cost is going to be.

Then the County's Director of Tourism and Special Events, Harvey Campbell, suggested "going through file cabinets full of information with David Kraus." Mr. Kraus is the County's special staff assistant. Mr. Campbell continued, telling the TDC that after the research is completed the results of their research should be brought back to the study committee with what other relevant information was found.

This was never done.

August 4, 2011: Special Events Center knocked out

As the August 4, 2011 TDC meeting began, TDC Chairman Ronald Williams asked if the TDC should consider the Special Events Center or the Southside Sports Complex.

The Southside Sports Complex, due to the expanded promotional efforts of Director Campbell and his staff, is bringing in tournaments from all over.

Jody DuPree without hesitation told the group, "The Southside Sports Complex."

A motion was made and passed unanimously that the TDC would not consider pursuing the special event center. (SOUND)

That was it.

Commissioner Williams put it this way, "We are dealing strictly with the Southside sports complex."

That was it -- conversation over.

Epilogue

How this new Special Events Complex committee ever made it into the CM's annual report remains a mystery, as the findings by the County Manager, the Committee and the TDC clearly indicated that the complex is guaranteed to be a money losing proposition and no one was in favor of any more effort on its behalf.

A little clarity is lent to the situation when one notices that Jody DuPree miraculously was appointed as the chairperson of this committee. Inquiries by the Observer indicate that no one believes that Commissioner DuPree was not instrumental in having this inserted into the County Manager's Annual Report or that he wasn't completely responsible for handpicking the committee members.

Of course, the County Commission, without one word of discussion, voted to approve this committee. None of the other commissioners had any suggestions for committee members.

For the infamous Columbia County's good ol' boys, it is business as usual. 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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