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Columbia County Economic Development: Confusion 101 "What's goin' on?"

This architectural drawing was shown to the EDAB on October 7, 2015.           Click to enlarge

County Chair DePratter wanted to see something in writing. "I’d like to know what we are talking about?"

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – During Wednesday's Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) meeting, the lack of any County wide economic development incentive business model left the EDAB reeling between giving away $255,000 of County money to a developer who had not submitted a written business plan or business model; having the developer come back before the EDAB and make a presentation for the money and presenting a plan that the Board could see; or having the County Attorney come up with some sort of preliminary development agreement and having the developer make a proposal.

The project, known as Gateway Crossing, is a 28 acre retail project located at the NW corner of U.S. 90 and I-75 in Lake City. Parker Neely is the principle of Centurion Equity Partners, LLC, the developer and anticipates developing 10 to 12 retail parcels on the site.

The Discussion Begins

Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter began the discussion by telling the EDAB that he had, "An ask from the developer that we incentivize the project for $85,000 for three years." (Translation: The developer wants the County 5 to give him $85,000 a year for 3 years: total, $255,000)

The purpose of the $255,000 is to reimburse mitigation credits bought from former County Manager Dale Williams’ best friend, Sam Ousterhaudt. The County bought $1.5 mil in credits from Mr. Ousterhaudt years ago for $55,000 each, but because of the way the deal was set up, Mr. Ousterhaudt remains in control of the credits. The developer doesn’t want to pay for the credits, so instead of asking the County for the credits, which they recently discovered they can’t deliver, the developer, Parker Neely is asking for the cash. Mr. Ousterhaudt wants $85k a credit.

The mitigation credits allow Mr. Neely to develop more of the site, an almost 30 acre subdivision which borders I-75 and U.S. 90.

See: Here they go again: The Columbia County Good ol' Boy $1,519,600 mitigation do over

Nothing In Writing

After Director Hunter made his pitch for the incentive dollars, your reporter asked, "Was this a written request or are you just passing this on?"

Director Hunter answered, "I’m making the request to this Board because we do not have an economic development agreement."

The Observer followed-up, "He didn’t send a letter to the Board or anything like that?"

Director Hunter replied, "No he did not. He made a presentation to the Board. I was asked to go back to the Board. I’m bringing this information to the Board."

Developer Will Pay $5 or $6 mil for the Property

Director Hunter explained that the purchase of the property will be 5 or 6 million dollars.

Board member and local businessman Glen Owens asked, "We are going to incentivize the project. How do we know we’re gettin’ what we’re buyin’?"

City Manager Johnson Had Some Answers

On October 13, 2015, the EDAB at a special meeting, turned down Mr. Neely's request for the County to provide the $255,000 worth of mitigation credits.

Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson said he has been working with the developer and told the Board, “I don’t know if he’s closed on the property yet... I’ve been told he’s already got secured three businesses.”

Mr. Johnson explained that the developer is being incentivized by the City for the water, sewer, and gas infrastructure.  Mr. Johnson said the developer’s fees will be paid by the Impact Fee Trust Fund. “Of course when these tenants come on board, they’re gonna have to pay impact fees. For the most part, we get our money back... It’s a calculated risk,” he said.

Questions and Confusion

          Scott Ward

Assistant County Manager Scott Ward said, "I’ve got a lot of questions -- a lot of confusion. I agree it’s a calculated risk, but I don’t know how to calculate it... I can’t go to 5 County Commissioners and explain to them how long it's going to take for them to get their money back, because it’s not known.”

EDAB and County 5 Chair Rusty DePratter added, "It could be 10 or 15 years."

Mr. Johnson, a self-proclaimed economic development expert, said, "It won’t be 15 years if you put in the development agreement."It will be three years."

The Master Plan, on file in Lake City, shows the lot in the top left corner as a development area.     Enlarge


Assist. County Manager Ward added, "I think one of the most complicating factors in this project is he has already come to us and said, ‘I’m going to put about $35mil in,' whether we do nothing."

Board member Marc Vann said, "I think that if a man’s comin’ in here spendin’ $35mil on a project over the next 5 to 7 years and he’s askin’ for less money than we gave a company that’s gonna spend $8mil, then it’s somethin’ we need to consider."

(The project Mr. Vann mentioned was the Pilot service center in Ellisville, known in the County as code name: 15-8. That project, due to begin in 2016, has now been postponed until 2017 and may be questionable)

Mr. Owens explained to Mr. Vann and the Board that he didn’t vote to give the incentive to Pilot because of job creation, but for the extra fuel tax revenue that he thought would be coming into the county.

County Attorney Foreman Recollects

County Attorney Foreman recollected, "If you remember back at the presentation, Mr. Neely said that with these credits he would be able to create two lots that he would not otherwise be able to create."

City Manager Johnson said that when Mr. Neely develops the land the value will increase.

Neely is Going to Buy the Tax (Mitigation) Credits Anyway?

The Drainage Plan also shows lot 10. Enlarge

Then Mr. Johnson added, “What he’s askin’ to do. He’s got 8 acres of land he cannot use. What he’s wantin’ to do -- is he’s wantin’ these mitigation credits so he can use that additional land and increase his return on the investment, because he’s got more developable land... He’s gonna develop this land. We have the plans in City Hall. He’s gonna’ do it anyway. He’s gonna’ put the money up to get these tax credits, anyway. Is that correct Glenn?"

Director Hunter responded, "That’s correct."

City Manager Johnson continued, "All he’s askin’, based on his business model and his potential return, he’s askin’ for that incentive, obviously, to close the gap -- the same reason he’s askin’ the City to front the money for the water and sewer lines."

Your reporter asked Mr. Johnson if the City saw or had Mr. Neely’s business model.

Mr. Johnson answered. “Everybody has a business model.”

Your reporter followed up, “Does the City have that?"

Mr. Johnson answered, “No, the City does not have his business model.”

The Chairman Wants to See the Plan

Chairman DePratter said, “I’d like to see it on a piece of paper.”

An Hour Into the Conversation, Did The Story Change?
"I’d like to know what we are talking about?"

City Manager Johnson announced, "If he does not get the incentive from the County, he is not gonna’ develop the wetland."

Director Hunter said, "That’s what he indicated."

Mr. DePratter added, "I’d like to know what we are talking about?"

Director Hunter said, "Let me explain to you what I thought I saw him show on his map."

After some conversation an exasperated DePratter said, "What I’d like to see is the final product that shows me what we’re spending our money on -- what our 250 [$255,000] is gonna’ help build. I don’t see it right now. All I see is what he say’s he’s gonna do. I think the Board should see a final product as a document before we vote on it."


County Attorney Foreman is going to put something together from his almost two pages of notes (he held them up) and Mr. Neely, the Developer, is supposed to come back and make another presentation.

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