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Columbia County Is Going Into the Eco-Tourism Business & Is Working On a Master Plan

No One Knows How Much This Really Will Cost

Columbia County TDC

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Wednesday’s mid-day TDC meeting to discuss an estimated $100 mil park project was done the Columbia County way: scheduled so that the working families of Columbia County, those that pay the taxes, wouldn’t be able to attend.

Commissioner Rocky Ford
Commissioner Ford listens to the presentation.

Commissioner Rocky Ford, the Chairman of the Tourist Development Council, opened the meeting and asked for approval of the published agenda: discussion and action item, "Regional Park Master Plan."

Exactly what that meant, nobody knew. Your reporter called Chairman Ford before the meeting for clarification. Commissioner Ford did not return calls. After the meeting, your reporter asked Commissioner Ford why he was not returning calls. He said, “I've been busy."

As explained in our previous article, TDC Director Paula Vann: The American People Paid $330,000 for a Master Plan, Ms. Vann Doesn’t Want to Release It, there was trouble getting the records released.

County policy is backup agenda information is posted to the internet a week in advance of the meeting. The County’s $330,000 Master Plan Consultant has been working on the Plan since April 2021.

The final meeting PowerPoint made it to the County website three hours before the meeting.

TDC Director Vann came to the microphone and began going through the slide-deck. She said, “Why are we here today? The presentation of the Master Plan.”

The presented slides had little narrative. Certain Plan elements were made available – elements are not a plan. The TDC was meeting to explore the elements, make suggestions, and then recommend that those elements be incorporated into the Master Plan, whose completion was scheduled two-and-a-half months away.

The slides prepared by TBG Consultants, Texas, stated at the top of each of its slides, "Masterplan Recommendation."

The slide deck, an outline presentation of what could be included in the Master Plan, would be moving on to the County 5 for its approval if approved by the TDC.

The local mainstream media got the purpose of the meeting wrong, as did the recently established online news coagulator, NorthFlNews, an anonymous local web news outlet.

The TDC was not having a meeting to approve the Master Plan.


TDC Director Vann explained, “Back in 2016, we were seeing a lot of success with our sports tourism product… This project has been led by tourist development, but it has been a partnership between parks and landscape, and sports tourism.”

In 2016, the TDC commissioned a sports tourism strategic plan. Florida taxpayers paid for this plan. In 2017, the strategic plan was approved by the County 5.

In 2018, we covered the flat-field shennigans.

The Huddle Up Group found that the County needed more flat fields and a funding model.

Then in 2018, the County hired Sports Facilities Advisory (SFA) to do a feasibility report on building a multi-purpose field complex.

In 2019, minus the land, SFA estimated the cost to build a flat twelve-field facility at approximately $24 mil.

SFA’s feasibility study stated the following: “the opinion of cost is based on the cost of developing similar projects throughout the country and adjusted to reflect current market conditions and costs specific to the development in the state of Florida.”

The County began looking for property, doing what it usually does, working in the shadows.

At first, the County wanted to purchase a property close to I-75; then, the idea of buying property close to the existing sports complex was discussed.

The good ole’ boy back room shenanigans came next. This resulted in purchasing 500-plus acres of swamp with about 150 acres of usable land.

The site is about 70% wet.

Not to be deterred, the County decided it wanted to get into the eco-tourism business and develop a site with zip lines, a nature walk, and other ecological stuff. The site would also include the flat fields, which was the original plan and was now five years behind.

The County had no idea how much this change in plans would cost, nor did it calculate the loss in revenue caused by the foot-dragging resulting in not building the flat field complex timely.

In 2021, the County came out with a Request for a Master Plan Proposal to develop the 500 acres. The proposals were ready for prime time in April 2021. The Master Plan was to be completed in 12 months' earth time.

Hotel mogul Nick Patel
Hotel mogul Nick Patel, listens to the presentation.

The County’s consultant, TGB of Texas, came in with the second highest bid for the project at $330,000, while Stantec Consulting Services, a worldwide consulting firm, came in at $180,000. Stantec’s Tampa office would have handled the project and proposed a six-month timeline.

Looking at the County Purchasing Department documents, it is not clear how Stantec was not awarded the contract. As the County is paying the contract with CARES Act funds, it is also not clear if the County has met all the federal requirements for disbursing the funds.

Yesterday’s presentation, which was not the Master Plan, but a recommendation to continue down the road on which TGB was traveling to build the Master Plan, cost the taxpayers a cool $175,000.

The rest of the plan will cost another $155,000. The TBG timeline-cost proforma is here.

Detailed in the finished plan will be project prioritization and costing.

What Do We Know So Far?

On Wednesday, the TDC played to a packed house. The audio on the Youtube broadcast had many moments of suckiness. The County IT Gurus are looking at a modern state-of-the-art system to cure its broadcast issues in the future.

Commissioner Ronald Williams wants a fence inside the tree buffer next to a subdivision.

Residents in the subdivision are concerned about light bleeding into their community during night events.

The tennis people claim there are not enough tennis courts planned to conduct an actual tournament, and their location next to the pickleball courts is claimed to be problematic.

As the TDC event wrapped up, Chase Moses, president of the well-connected real-estate appraisal and construction firm Candler Moses, told the gathering, “I think this is a great project for our community,” adding, “I appreciate all the hard work the City, the County, and TDC has put into this."

Mr. Moses received a $60,000 commission for lining up the deal and selling the property.

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