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M-CORES Coming to Columbia County. Hotel Mogul Worried About Economic Impact to Local Economy

Senate President Bill Galvano at the opening day of M-CORES
Senator Bill Galvano in Tampa at the M-CORES kickoff.             Columbia County Observer Photo

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On May 17, 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis signed senate bill 7068 – the M-CORES (Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance). The pet project of Senate President Bill Galvano, if built, it will be the largest Florida public works project since the building of the interstates. Not everyone is thrilled about this project, with a price tag some believe will end up at about $30 billion.

M-CORES: A packed house on opening day
On M-CORES opening day in Tampa, it was a packed house.                                        Photo: Observer

On August 27, 2019, in Tampa, Florida, the great M-CORES dog and pony show began as Senator Galvano walked into the spotlight of a packed house of developers, politicians, engineers, college presidents, planning council chiefs, hangers-on, and environmentalists. Many say the project will, at the very least, be the death knell to the last remaining wild and rural places in Florida.

The M-CORES opponents are not against progress, but are looking for a common-sense approach of improving the existing road infrastructure first. Many have pointed out that to pay for these "corridors," local road improvement money will be raided.

Local politicians have clearly been strong-armed by Florida legislators and other influential economic and political organizations, some by members of their own boards.


Scott Koons on opening day at M-CORES
NCFRPC Executive Director Scott Koons (center) on opening day in Tampa.       Photo: Observer

Locally, in North Central Florida, the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council's (NCFRPC) Executive Director, Scott Koons, with a little help from former Executive Committee Chairman Robert Wilford and present Chairman Charles Chestnut IV of Alachua County, has kept any discussion or debate of the M-CORES away from the entire Planning Council.

Executive Director Koons sits on two of the three taskforces, the Northern Extension and the Suncoast Extension. At least publicly, he has added virtually nothing to the taskforce conversation.

The other local member of the Suncoast Extension Taskforce is Florida Gateway College (FGC), President Lawrence Barrett.

FGC President Lawrence Barrett on opening day at M-CORES
Florida Gateway College President Lawrence Barrett (center) on opening day in Tampa.       Photo: Observer

President Barrett has added less than nothing to Suncoast Taskforce,  missing meetings without sending a replacement and mentioning nothing of the task force meetings at the FGC public board meetings, which also gives him a platform to advise the public about this important regional project.

Transparency has not been a hallmark of the FGC board or President Barrett, whose penchant for going after folks with whom he has issues is Belarusian and well known in the inner circles of Columbia County.

On December 6, 2019, Gilchrist County Commission Chairman Todd Gray explained the issues created by M-CORES in rural counties at a North Florida Economic Development Partnership (NFEDP) meeting. The NFEDP is in great measure responsible for bringing to North and Central Florida the North Florida Broadband Authority.

Gilchirst County Commissioner Todd Gray presiding at a NFEDP meeting
Gilchrist County Commissioner Todd Gray at the NFEDP meeting. His County Commissioners are not  in favor of the project.                            Photo: Observer

Mr. Gray told the NFEDP, "I'm in a very rural county. We love our County. We love our rural nature."

He said, "The M-CORES have created some issues for our local counties... I think we should be supportive of these things. The majority of my Commission is actually opposed to this roadway."

Mr. Gray is in the engineering and construction business. So far, he has convinced the rest of his commissioners not to support a "no-build" option for the Suncoast extension.

"Don't Shoot the Messenger" 

DOT's Ryan Asmus was at the December NFEDP meeting to make a presentation on the M-CORES.

Before Mr. Asmus began his presentation, Mr. Gray said, "Don't shoot the messenger. I feel bad for DOT. The legislature has said this is what we're doing, and a lot of times DOT is being blamed for these things."

While everyone has not been thrilled with everything DOT has done while facilitating the M-CORES, it is the widespread consensus DOT is as much a victim of the legislature and the Governor as everyone else that touches this project.

DOT's Greg Evans at the Suncoast M-CORES
DOT's Greg Evans (center), with Task Force members, at the October 2019 Suncoast Task Force meeting. No one looks happy.                                                       Photo: Observer

Ryan Asmus is the production lead for the Suncoast Corridor.

Mr. Asmus began his presentation at the NFEDP mentioning that in 2019 the Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 7068, the M-CORES.

He said, "The purpose of the M-CORES program is to revitalize rural communities; encourage job creation, and provide regional connectivity while leveraging technology and enhancing the quality of life and public safety and protecting the environment and natural resources."

Mr. Asmus did not mention that it appears that the only thing left out of the legislation is a new car in everyone's garage.

Nick Patel: Lake City – Columbia County Hotel Mogul

Hotel mogul Nick Patel on opening day at M-CORES
Columbia County's Nick Patel put in his time at the Task Force meetings. Here he is on opening day during a break. Photo: Observer

Nick Patel has millions invested in hotels in the Lake City Columbia County region. He has personally attended some of the M-CORES meetings and has voiced opposition to the project, and the economic impact he feels will envelop the Lake City region if the new road is built.

See:  Suncoast Extension Arrives at TDC: Chamber Director Looking for 'Money' for Study – Sort Of

On July 22, 2020, the Columbia County Tourist Development Council (TDC) met.

With the coronavirus pandemic raging and hotel revenues cut by more than half, Mr. Patel was sensitive about his business prospects.

He told the TDC, "Maybe we have a very good opportunity to approach the state, ask for us, for mediating the damage which would occur ten years down the road when the Suncoast Corridor is constructed.... and I believe that time is going to run out if we do not all get together and somehow get to the right people that Lake City does get mitigated by the damage it will do."

Mr. Patel continued, "I think it is extremely important and some work would be needed from elected officials... I do know that Scott Koons and Dr. Barrett are part of the Task Force."

Mr. Patel said that the TDC should approach Mr. Koons and Dr. Barrett.

He shared his thoughts on what the TDC and the County should say to Mr. Koons and Dr. Barrett:

"You know what - try and mitigate us. Before everyone makes a decision on the Task Force -unintelligible- all the Task Force members do not forget Columbia County. That we would be affected by it and we want to make sure that – there are elected officials on the Task Force. There are commissioners from various counties. Everybody is playing their game to help their County and their City. Unfortunately, we do not have any commissioner or anyone from the City on the Task Force.' What we have are citizens on the Task Force like Dr. Barrett and Scott Koons. We really need to get to them and talk to them that they need to talk about these things in the Task Force and bring it to their attention. That's the only way we are going to get some traction here."

Mr. Patel continued, "Even if we get $2 million, it's worth it. But some sort of mitigation will occur. -Unintelligible-. I think we will be left out if we don't start. We just need to figure out how can we get to Dr. Barrett and Scott Koons and get them to know what we want."

Commissioner Ronald Williams said, "We can have a workshop meeting and invite those two gentlemen to the meeting, explain our goals, and ask for mitigation money. I agree wholeheartedly... We will invite those two to attend. And we'll do that soon."

Mr. Patel added, "And don't forget Greg Evans. [Exec. Dir. of District 2, FL DOT] He is head of the Task Force and he lives in Lake City. We can use those influences we have to benefit us."

Commissioner Williams concluded, "And we will. I'll get to work right away on that. As a matter of fact we'll ask Greg to attend that workshop also."

Pandemics:  Not An Issue for the Columbia County "Boys"

This afternoon, at 2:00 pm, the Columbia County Commission will meet along with the Tourist Development Council at the Holiday Inn at US 90 and I-75.

According to TDC Director Paula Vann, only Scott Koons has agreed to appear at the meeting, as has DOT's Ryan Asmus.


Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Holiday Inn requires masks to be worn in all public spaces in the Hotel, something the Columbia County Commission, the TDC, and other County agencies refuse to do.

The County also has not been able to figure out how to facilitate virtual meetings. Accordingly, anyone who wants to appear and address the Commission or the TDC will have to appear in public, as virtual appearances have proven to be beyond the County's IT team's capabilities.

The lack of virtual options will keep some organizations and others who want to participate away from the meeting.

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