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Lake City Developer Wants $255,000 From County City Manager Johnson says, "It's a deal" 

This architectural drawing was shown to the EDAB on October 7, 2015. The developer has not updated this.                                                                                           Click to enlarge

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday morning's Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) meeting saw shopping mall developer Parker Neely asking the Board to recommend to the County 5 a $255,000 grant to add "more bricks to our [his] financial wall." After an almost 45 minute presentation, in which Mr. Neely fielded only two questions from the Board, Chairman Bucky Nash sent everyone home to "think about it."

Mr. Neely kicked off his presentation by telling the Board, "We're in the development business. We hope to make a profit along the way... We saw a lot of issues with this development; we thought we could overcome them. I think we have."

Mr. Neely explained that at one time he was down to six developable lots. The approved preliminary plan shows 10 lots.

Creating Interest In Lake City: "A challenge"

 Mr. Neely continued, "We wanted to create interest in Lake City, which I will tell you gentlemen, has been a challenge. Most national retailers do not view Lake City as the first place they want to put a new location. We're changing that."

Mr. Neely explained the project, "We've had quite an engineering exercise. We've had to deal with all kinds of calculations that don't make any sense to us... things that are beyond the imagination of what's necessary. We now have a design that we think will work. We do not have that shown on this plan."

It wasn't clear what plan Mr. Neely was referencing.

The Developer Made It Clear
He was doing the project – He wanted an incentive

Developer Parker Neely, Centurion Equity Partners, LLC, makes his request for $255,000 of County funds.

"Where we are today is not talking about whether we are going to do this. We are talking more about timing. We have a hotel group that is under contract. We have a restaurant group that is under contract. We have a large gift retailer that is under contract..."

"I guess what we are here to talk about today is a request for an incentive. We are trying to keep it modest; we are trying to keep it reasonable," he said.

Mr. Neely claimed that he would bring in 300 to 500 construction jobs in the next 18 months and that the development would eventually produce 200 new permanent jobs.

He provided nothing to back that up.

He told the Board, "I guess we feel that we have a bit of a partnership in the success of this project. On Monday I am going to be writing a check for about $6 million. We are moving forward, but the question is: Do we tap the brakes a few times?"

He continued, "I can get the brakes released a little bit if I can get a little economic help. The City has already done all that we have asked. In fact, more than we could have asked and would have gotten from most municipalities."

Columbia County Tax Payers:
"Helping to 'make a stockpile of cash'"

"We'd like the County to put their hat in the ring, too. We view the County as a business just like we are."

Mr. Neely asked the County to donate $255,000 to his project and provide $85,000 a year for the next three years.

Mr. Neely said, "Now is the time for us to be making a stockpile of cash according to the things that we think need to be staged."

Business Owner Glenn Owens

Board member Glenn Owens was not convinced.

Glenn Owens was the only Board Member to question the incentive. He told Neely, "I am a little confused." He questioned whether some of the lots in the development would go away if Mr. Neely did not receive the incentive; or if it would just slow down the project.

Mr. Neely answered Mr. Owens, "Your answer is we intend to do all of the lots. The timing is the thing we have to work around."

Mr. Neely explained that he wants to use the money to move the dirt from one lot in the development to another.

What is Lake City's Donation?

City Manager Johnson       file photo

Your reporter asked, "Do we know how much the City's contribution is worth?"

Mr. Neely answered, "It's worth face value at this point."

Mr. Neely could not explain the monetary value of the City's contribution.

City Manager Johnson jumped in. He wasn't sure of the City's contribution. "The City is agreeing to fund the cost of the installation of the water and sewer lines to service the subdivision. That has not finalized yet. It's somewhere in the range of $200,000," he said.

What About Jobs?

County 5 Chairman Bucky Nash listens to Mr. Neely's presentation.

Your reporter followed up, "Do we have any idea of what the pay is of these jobs?"

Mr. Neely answered, "The lady that's cleaning the rooms in the hotel doesn't make the same thing that the manager makes. If you're looking for some type of analysis, it's going to be difficult... I'm not sure I can answer your question."

City Manager Johnson answered the question (as spoken), "If we're going to nickel and dime and nitpick a developer and it gets in the newspaper in that context, because if the news media portrays the image of City and/or County as far as our support of entrepreneurship – growth – I see this as a good project... I would hate to see it slip away..."

It was not clear if Mr. Johnson heard Mr. Neely say he was going to do the project whether he received the County money or not.

Mr. Johnson concluded by telling the Board that he thought the County giving Mr. Neely $255,000 "was a deal."

Neely again mentioned that selling Lake City "has been a bit of a challenge."

Bucky Nash, County 5 Chairman and Chair of the Economic Development Advisory Board told everyone to think about it for the next meeting.


After the meeting, Rusty DePratter, the former chairman of the EDAB told the Observer, "I attended today's meeting because I think economic development is important for Columbia County. I plan to keep attending these meetings. I am looking forward to seeing Mr. Neely's application."

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During the November 4, 2015 meeting, then County Chair DePratter wanted to see something in writing. "I’d like to know what we are talking about?" Nothing new was brought to the table at this meeting. See: Columbia County Economic Development: Confusion 101 "What's goin' on?"

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