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Sports Dev Part III: Cnty's Purchasing Scheme, Putting the Cart Before the Horse, What Plan?

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – According to the recent $29,000 Sports Marketing Strategic Plan developed by the Huddle Up Group, the County Tourist Development Council (TDC), is sitting on approximately $1.6 mil in cash. Huddle Up's Plan, accepted by both the TDC and the County 5, recommended the County consider adding new multi-sport flat fields to its sports tourism arsenal, after it improved its existing facilities and did a study. It is not clear if anyone in the County government read the $29K Plan.

As reported earlier, the TDC met in a special meeting on June 7, 2017, when it violated the notice requirements of the County Charter and was advised by the County Manager that it was the County's plan to "Hire away somebody else's employee."

Part II of Columbia County Sports Development explained the County's invention of a Sports Commission. See: Inventing a Sports Commission – Ignoring the Plan.

The Strategic Plan Recommendation

The Strategic Plan                    Download the Plan

While Huddle Up recommended the expansion of multi-use flat field facilities, it was the last in a list of recommendations.

The primary recommendations were: 1. Hire an experienced Sports Director; 2. Roll out the “Development” concept; 3. Budget by priority; 4. Gather facility enhancement info; 5. Execute the enclosed recommendations.

Executing the enclosed recommendations, fifth in importance on the list, included "a study by the Sports Commission of the economic impact of a new multi-sport flat field complex in Columbia County." The estimated cost of the study was $15,000 to $20,000 dollars.

As reported earlier, there is no Sports Commission.

June 7, 2017, Scheming – Playing Dumb
Columbia County Land Acquisition

The purpose of the June 7 TDC meeting, according to TDC Director Paula Vann "was to begin a dialogue ... to discuss action on the strategic plan recommendations."

That is not why the County Manager made an appearance. If the TDC had intended to take action, it needed to announce that in the agenda, which it did not.

Chairman Williams Kicks off the Discussion

The legendary Ronald Williams, for decades the face of Columbia County economic development. In 2010, he addressed N. FL's movers and shakers regarding the Inland Port.

The Chairman of the TDC is the self appointed 36 year veteran County Commissioner, Ronald Williams, who as the chair of the Economic Development Advisory Board, has been the face of overall economic development in Columbia County.

Chairman Williams began [as spoken], "The next item is a sports marketing plan -- the next step... The TDC is operated to the tac that we get from the hotel and motel and campground business and we talk about expanding that capability of puttin' in beds and we've always said that the sleeping giant when it came to bringin' people in and out of our community was soccer... At our last board meeting Ben made us aware of something -- a piece of property. This piece of property was on Clint lis [Dir. of Field Maintenance Clint Pitman] when we went around lookin' for places to expand the County recreation. And it just happened to be one -- there's the opportunity to get. I'm going to turn it over to Ben now."

County Manager Ben Scott told the TDC, "There is an opportunity we are missing out on. Multipurpose fields add so many other things that we could possibly bring into Columbia County."

Columbia County's Property Owners: Not Created Equal

Mr. Scott said there was a "particular piece of property" that the County could get "at a really good price."

Then said, "What we are asking this board to consider is to go forward with locating the piece of property and after we purchase the piece of property, we'll come together with the Board of County Commissioners and decide who's gonna' do what on the infrastructure...? Whose gonna' be responsible for the building? What's it gonna' to look like? What are we going to put in the lights? What are we going to put in the concession? What is the overall cost of the complex gonna' be?"

Mr. Scott clearly had a particular piece of property in mind when he said, "What we'd like to do is we'd like to go ahead and find a piece of property."

Chairman Williams
Gives the seal of approval on Columbia County secrecy

County Manager Ben Scott wanted the TDC to agree to purchase a 'mystery' property.

Chairman Williams asked, "Ben, you wanna' go into the piece of property?"

Mr. Scott responded, "I would really rather not. The particular piece of property that we were looking at -- it is a piece -- what I will say about it -- it is a piece that is owned by the bank. So it's a repossession piece..."

Mr. Scott continued, "One of the things we talked about in the past is possibly naming a park after a bank or a business. What we'd like to do is talk to this bank about receiving a substantially discounted piece of property and saying: this bank park, and then going to another bank and saying okay, now we've got the South side park -- how about making some capital improvements for us on the South side park. The same type of discount the other bank gave us -- and this park would become that bank's park... We do believe there is some interest in this piece of property from the bank to do something similar to what I've proposed."

Hotel owner Nick Patel said, "I don't know the specific. If it's reasonably priced... It creates economic activity. I'm all for it."

In Columbia Cnty, "some experience" is good enough "

The Plan is perfectly clear, the Sports Marketing position was 'Job Number One'

Early in the Plan, it highlighted that the sports tourism sales and marketing position is vacant, emphasizing, "In the challenging sports tourism marketplace, and with numerous sports commissions in Florida (27) competing for this business, it is imperative the CCSC fill this staffing gap in the near future."

A little further on in the Plan it emphasized the sports marketing position again, "In order to effectively compete in the sports market, a dedicated and experienced sports tourism professional needs to be working on behalf of Columbia County. The Consultant Team believes this position should be filled as soon as possible."

And again, as its first and primary position it stated the following: "Currently there is no staffing support for the TDC’s sports tourism program. It is imperative that the TDC hire an experienced sports tourism professional to take the role of sports director of the CCSC... A proven professional with the knowledge and experience within the sports tourism market is essential for any community to succeed."

Mr. Scott continued, explaining that he and Director Vann had discussed this and they wanted to find, "Someone that has some experience... the first thing is the piece of property."

The TDC Has Questions: What Property?

Long time board member Mike Collins wanted to know, "Who is the driving force behind this?"

County Manager Scott answered, "We're recommending the TDC to purchase this property... We don't have enough teams for recreation to need those additional facilities. How it would work in the end -- that is something we have to determine... What I am recommending today is for the TDC to go ahead and purchase the land."

Long time TDC member, Mike Collins, was not happy with what he was hearing.

Mr. Collins followed up, "I did not know that the TDC would own stuff like this... I didn't know that that was our role."

Chairman Williams said it would be a joint venture.

Mr. Collins said, "We've exhausted the BED tax... I thought by now we'd be taking some off it."

Chairman Williams followed up, "I think the TDC can help buy the property and let the County develop it."

Mr. Collins was not satisfied: "... I'm going by what he just said. He's asking the TDC to buy the property."

Chairman Williams:  "And then we develop the property."

Mr. Collins:  "Who's going to own the complex?"

Chairman Williams:  "We will own the complex."

TDC member and County Commissioner Rusty DePratter jumped in, "Ben said he didn't know who would own it."

Mr. Scott said there would be an ongoing cost to maintain the venue.

Mr. Collins said, "... that is my concern. Right from the get-go, who is responsible for that? Where are you going to go for all the money?"

Still No Plan
"We could build an outdoor theater... That's where it's tricky"

County Manager Scott opined, "I think it's gonna' be a shared cost... We're kinda thinking a little bit outside the box. There could be an opportunity on this piece of property besides just to build -- to add other things there that may provide events, besides just sports, that will help -- for example, we may have an outdoor theater where teams can go watch movies and things like that. That's just a draw to keep those teams here so they can stay over night... Somethin' that adds to the experience of coming to Columbia County. All that's gonna' cost money... those ongoing maintenance costs -- that's where it's tricky."

Mr. Collins shot back, "Somebody's got to take responsibility."

The Strategic Plan Called for a Study Before Expanding

Chairman Williams: "The main thing is purchasing the property."

Chairman Williams said, "The main thing is purchasing the property. Once we get our person hired, we can all sit down and we can put the pieces of the puzzle together. We're not gonna' do anything blind and say -- well, we gonna' buy the property -- we gonna' do this - this - and that, but the property is at a good price now that we can buy it."

A short while later Chairman Williams continued, "The first goal is get the property. We will get this person hired on board, then we start puttin' together a plan. And it won't all be developed at one time. It will be done in phases, in a sense of speaking. But all the particular will be worked out before we get into construction of whatever we need to and responsibility... The main thing is we can develop it to the point that where we can enhance -- we can make these guys that build motel - hotel, start buildin' more hotels..."

Hotel Owner Patel
Did he know where the property was?

Nick Patel wanted to put the property under contract. "Let's do what is necessary to put the land under our control."

Commissioner DePratter said, "If I were buyin' this, there's a lot of due diligence that I'm gonna' [do] before I look at. I know where it's at and there's a lot of questions. And it's not the only piece of land in the County. So you can't jump in and think that's it."

Commissioner DePratter did not volunteer the location of the mystery property.

Collins is Insistent

Mike Collins was agitated, "Does the board know what the property is? The board itself? I mean, you're asking us to spend the money of this board. Do we even know what property it is? I think I have an idea. I think I saw the name of a bank. I don't know what property it is, but I saw the name of a bank."

Part IV: County Management Walks it Back

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