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By JEFF WEBB
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001
Today marks the official opening of the Suncoast Parkway, a public project that has been talked and written about more than any other in this region for the past decade. We'll find out soon if the event can measure up to the hype, but if you haven't reached the saturation point yet, here's some history worth repeating.
Newcomers to this area may be interested to know there was a time when the road had other names. Until 1994, it was referred to as the North Suncoast Corridor. Then there was a move afoot in Hernando and Citrus counties to name the road the Nature Coast Parkway.
That moniker was taken from an alliance of those counties' chambers of commerce to establish a tourist-friendly identity that set it apart from the North Suncoast, which was a regional designation established about 30 years ago when Pasco County was still mostly cow country and places like Spring Hill were still just mounds of sand and scrub separating Brooksville and the Gulf of Mexico. A portion of Pasco, which included mostly Hudson, was even included in the consortium that called itself the Nature Coast.
County commissions in the heart of the Nature Coast passed resolutions that urged the state Department of Transportation to drop the working title of Suncoast Parkway in favor of the Nature Coast Parkway. A few area lawmakers backed the idea, and they even got then-Gov. Lawton Chiles to endorse their preference.
But state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, despite being a member of the Senate Transportation Committee in 1998, could not twist the arms of Pasco's legislators hard enough to convince them to change the name.
There was a time -- mercifully brief -- when a third option was considered: the Suncoast-Nature Coast Parkway. Besides being long-winded and redundant, it had a hyphen, which makes life difficult for signmakers, as well as motorists who are not speed readers.
I, asserting that each subsequent title was more absurd than the last, and conceding that the Nature Coast Parkway initiative was not going to pass muster in Tallahassee, came up with a compromise: Continue the name of the road's southern terminus, which is the Veterans Expressway. Since one in five people in Hernando and Citrus counties is a veteran, it seemed a natural progression.
Alas, that idea, like a jalopy in the slow lane, never gained momentum.
As you enjoy your first drive on the Suncoast Parkway (toll-free for a while), remember that a road by any other name is still a road -- even if it doesn't accurately portray the region or its people.
The demise of the beleaguered Economic Development Commission was all the buzz around the county last week. The unstable roster of board members, and the shifting alliances and game strategies of those who survived, practically made it necessary to have a score sheet to keep up with the changes.
Given the group's defensive actions recently, observers might guess EDC is actually an acronym for "Everybody Duck for Cover."
That's because the EDC, which has struggled for years against outside opposition to its secretive ways, inflated budget and overstatements, is making like a microwave. Its goose is being cooked from the inside out.
Members who once were united in their defense of the public-private partnership began to turn on each other a few months ago, and since executive director Rick Michael was forced to resign in late December, the internal back-stabbing and bad-mouthing have only worsened.
It is expected that the EDC and the County Commission will agree this week to cancel their contract, possibly by March 1. Questions abound about how that will affect the remaining EDC employees, the property the organization owns at the airport and the allegedly ongoing business of courting prospective companies to locate here. The payment of a $5,000 bonus Michael claims he is owed -- and has threatened to sue for -- also is unsettled.
No one really knows how the EDC will be dismantled because no one could have predicted the end would come so soon, or be so disorderly.
Stay tuned for new developments, including the County Commission's discussion of the matter at its meeting Tuesday. The item is on the agenda for 2 p.m., shortly after the commissioners return from lunch, where some, depending on whether they have been supportive or critical of the EDC, may dine on humble pie.
EDC, county to end their relationship (February 3, 2001)
EDC through the years (February 3, 2001)