The Blanche Tonight: Will Wendell Johnson's $17 mil Lake City Legacy Survive the County 5?
Posted May 7, 2015, 12:45 pm | News/Analysis
COLUMBIA COUNTY/LAKE CITY, FL –
Tonight, after multitudinous meetings with the Assistant County Manager, Ben Scott, and County Economic Development Director, Glenn Hunter, Columbia County's infamous County 5 will decide whether or not to front Lake City at least a million dollars on the vacant run down Blanche Hotel.
Secrecy and secret finances were a hallmark of City Manager Wendell Johnson's time at the now mostly defunct failure, the $30 mil North Florida Broadband Authority of which he was one of the financial kingpins. Now, City Manager Johnson is the driving force in Lake City's Blanche project, one that has ballooned from $13.5 mil to $17 mil in seven months.
Two months ago, on March 10, 2015, Lake City, City Councilwoman Melinda Moses recommended that the City come to the County and explain what is going on in the downtown.
The County's Economic Development Director, Glenn Hunter, told Wendell Johnson and the Community Redevelopment Advisory Committee, "You could give them real live time."
During that meeting City Manager Johnson said: The community is going to have to buy into it; the community is going to have to take some risk. Without that, the Blanche will never be redeveloped. The March 11 article is here.
IDP: Integrity Development Partners
The word on the street has been that there are some that are not thrilled that IDP is or was lacking "skin in the game."
In October of 2014 the Letter of Intent showed developer equity at $200,000. It was never made clear from where that money was coming.
The Letter of Intent The 5 are looking at tonight shows developer equity at $1.7 million. Neither IDP, nor the City has been willing to explain how that number ballooned 7.5 times.
City Manager Johnson was promising public involvement in the process leading up to tonight. The public was never invited, or at least had minimal input.
The project financing was never explained to the public. At every opportunity that the City and IDP had to explain the financing intricacies, they refused.
Columbia County Management
This past Saturday, the Observer advised the County that the information that was posted for tonight's meeting was the wrong information.
The County dragged its feet until yesterday afternoon, when it finally made available the correct endorsed version of the Letter of Intent. However, the County did not post the financial information that was approved by the City Council and IDP. That information has been available for weeks.
Green: What's That?
The Backroom Blanche Deal has been going on for some time with neither the City nor IDP discussing whether or not the Blanche will be rebuilt to LEED specifications, making it a building with the mark of quality and achievement in green building. Columbia County has already demonstrated its distaste for LEED construction. It is not clear where IDP or the City is in protecting the environment with LEED construction.
Tonight, The County 5 and County Management may publically discuss what they have been discussing in the shadows and in the newspaper.
In the tradition of Europe's Hapsburgs, the County's Royalty is scheduled to be making the presentation while the City, and the County's Economic Development Director sit on the sidelines.
The City is asking for a million dollars plus. The City Manager should be making the pitch.