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To Incentivize or Not to Incentivize: EDAB Approves $255k Gateway Crossings Incentive

Developer Parker Neely listens during Thursday's meeting as the County 5 ponders his request for an ex post facto development incentive. Part I of this story examines the Economic Development Advisory Board's run up to this meeting and its proposal. Graphic is the Jan. 2015 proposed parcel designations, which has since been expanded to 10 parcels.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Parker Neely – Gateway Crossings retail incentive has been on the County docket since late 2015. In January 2015, Mr. Neely's drawings showed 8 development parcels. In October 2015, Mr. Neely asked the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) for $250k - $300k in cash, plus mitigation credits, which he thought were worth about $150,000. By November 2015, the project had expanded to 10 development parcels. By this time Mr. Neely had backed off the cash plus mitigation credits and was just going after the money for the mitigation credits, which he discovered he would have to purchase.

The County had bollixed up an earlier mitigation credit bank deal which was made between then County Manager Dale William's best friend and the County. The County did not have access to the mitigation credits it had purchased for $1.5 mil in cash.

Mr. Neely had met with the EDAB three times, the last being February 3, 2016. During this meeting, the EDAB came up with the recommendation that was agreed upon by a split vote and was moved to the County 5 for approval.

The Run-up to Last Night's County 5 Deliberation

What follows is the February 3, 2016 EDAB meeting and how and what the EDAB came to incentivize. What remained on the table was $255,000: Mr. Neely's cost to purchase the 3 mitigation credits he needed to expand his project. He was asking the County for reimbursement.

Business owner Glenn Owens (file photo)

Business owner Glenn Owens opened the discussion, telling the EDAB: "We're getting off into an area that doesn't pertain to what we are supposed to be doing. I'm very concerned that we still don't have any criteria to track this. What Mr. Neely told us was that we were paying to speed the project up. I still don't know how we set the bar to get value for what we're paying for... I don't think being a big project makes it something that the county should invest tax dollars in."

Assistant County Manager Scott Ward added, "We're incentivizing the person who's making the project, not the end user. I'd like to ask Mr. Hunter [Economic Dev. Dir. Glenn Hunter] to get with each County and State and ask if that is being done anywhere else. How many counties are involved in incentivizing retail?"

Long time IDA and EDAB member Marc Vann, who was one of the main movers in the Lake Shore Hospital Authority downtown land grab which lost taxpayers millions, told the Board, "I remember when we sat down 3 years ago with Joel (Joel Foreman – EDAB attorney); we very specifically didn't want parameters for the retail side. We had those conversations. We didn't want to set finite rules and say, 'You'd have to meet this level.'"

Lake City, City Manager, Wendell Johnson explained that the City is putting up about $190,000, but the money will come back through impact fees as the project establishes end-users. Translated, this means that the City will front the money for the fees, but will be compensated when they charge the tenants as they get hooked up to the City's utilities.

          Terry Dicks

EDAB member Terry Dicks was concerned about the taxpayer's money. He told the Board, "I have to be able to look at a County taxpayer at the end of the day and justify that was a wise use of tax dollars. How do you know that you are getting the pay back? Is there a structure in place for performance that you can look that person in the eye and say, "We don't pay it out if this don't happen."

City Manager Johnson said, "Retail has customarily and historically not been an incentivized process. That's changed."

Mr. Dicks said he was, "Looking for a formula for pay for performance."

Your reporter asked, "Does Mr. Johnson or the group know of any other groups that are giving retail incentives and what the basis of those are?"

Economic Development Director Hunter said, "I haven't researched other counties."

City Manager Johnson was silent.

Asst. County Manager Ward's Proposal
Chairman Nash: "No Problem"

        Scott Ward

Mr. Ward weighed in and suggested a plan: "1% of the net increase of the taxable value measured prior to Parker Neely buying the property and whatever he can improve in the next 5 years, we'll pay 1% of it. That's taxable value. If he puts $35 million on the tax roll, a net increase of $35 million – that would equate to $350,000."

County 5 Chairman and EDAB chairman, Sylvester "Bucky" Nash said, "My take is to justify it to the taxpayers and stuff... There's goin' to be jobs out there. Can Parker Neely go out there and do it himself. Sure he can."

Mr. Nash commented about Mr. Ward's suggestion: "I have no problem with it."

Mr. Nash came up with an incentive formula based on the amount/increase of tenants. "If you're goin' to make a commitment for $255,000 and he gets 10 million on the tax roll, or whatever, then you should just pay him his 255. That's my thing."

Developer Parker Neely

Developer Parker Neely listens to the deliberations.

Mr. Neely presented his position: "There is no way I can predict the speed or velocity of our development... I understand that you have to explain to your taxpayers why you made the investment. That's up to you. On the alternative, also explain to your taxpayers why you haven't made the investment... I wouldn't encourage you to make an accounting nightmare of how this is measured as we go along."

Mr. Neely continued: "We're going to generate jobs, but I can't tell you how many. I can only tell you that we are prepared to make the investment out there... I want to build the nicest thing I can as fast as I can. We don't make money by not developing. We don't make money by leaving lots out there, wetlands, as they are today, simply because we haven't eliminated the problem that we can eliminate today. We are eliminating a problem by dealing with this wetlands issue today. I can't give you finite measurements... We'll do it as fast as we can and as fast as it makes economic sense to do so."

Marc Vann makes his motion.

The Motion

Mr. Vann moved to give Mr. Neely $255,000: the first payment to come after year three.

Your reporter asked if the recommendation was to give Mr. Neely the $255k to speed up the project.

Chairman Nash responded, "We incentivize the project [3 years from now]. You are using the terminology to 'speed up the project.' That's never been what I voted for."

Mr. Neely added, "If you are going to set up a formula by which you incentivize development activity, don't exclude retail. That will be contrary to your best interests. Everything is more intense in a retail environment."

Chairman Nash concluded, "If it's vented properly with this board, the right decisions will be made. This topic has been well vented."

Business owners Glenn Owens and Terry Dicks voted against the incentive. The remaining members voted to recommend to the County 5 to begin incentivizing Mr. Neely's Gateway Crossings in years 4-5-6 at $85,000 a year without any benchmarks or restrictions.


The EDAB is an advisory board, only. The County 5 are not obligated to accept its recommendation.

Thursday evening, The 5 met to consider the EDAB recommendation.

Part II: The 5 Sends Neely–Gateway Crossing $255,0000 EDAB Incentive Back to the Drawing Board

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