Blanche Ducks a TKO
Lake City, County, Developer Regrouping
Posted May 8, 2015, 12:01 pm | Part I
COLUMBIA COUNTY/LAKE CITY, FL – It was a rough ride for Lake City's Blanche Hotel last night as the County 5 met to discuss the Blanche Redevelopment Proposal of Valdosta's Integrity Development Partners (IDP). Seven and a half months of secrecy, backroom dealing, lobbying, and discussions culminated last night in confusion, charges, and counter-charges. When the dust settled, folks were headed back to the drawing board for what appears to be the Blanche's last stand.
Assistant County Manager Ben Scott Introduced the Project
Commissioner Phillips and Chairman DePratter listen as Mr. Scott goes through his power point.
Assist. County Manager Ben Scott introduced the latest incarnation of the Blanche Redevelopment project to the County 5: "The Letter of Intent (LOI) is the proposal to re develop and operate the Blanche as a mixed use development. It's a $17,000,000 dollar construction project with an approximate square feet of 79,600. The Financing for the project would be a shared project, a shared venture between the developer, federal, and local governments."
Mr. Scott continued, "There are no provisions in the LOI for construction costs that exceed the estimates."
Mr. Scott said the Property Appraiser's office valued the completed project at approximately $5,000,000, while the developer's estimate was $9,000,000.
The proposed loan repayment is through the diversion of Blanche property taxes to the developer.
According to Mr. Scott, "At the best case scenario, there would not be enough money generated in taxes to repay the loan."
The 5 Speaks
In the LOI, the Developer is asking the County to grant/loan IDP $1,000,000.
Long time county commissioner, Ronald Williams was the first of The 5 to speak.
He said he spoke to people – "the common little man. Over all the common man just felt like the Blanche Hotel was part of Lake City/Columbia County and it shouldn't be done away with. They feel it is a landmark in Columbia County."
Commissioner Williams continued, "I'm goin' to vote to lend the City a million dollars. I'm not for enterin' into a contract with no out-out side, but I'm for loaning the City a million dollars if that's goin' to help save the Blanche. The agreement will be between the board of County Commissioners and the City of Lake City. All the other caveats will be between Lake City and the developer. The City will be responsible for paying us back."
Chairman DePratter asked for comments. There were none. The chairman spoke.
Mr. DePratter said, "I'm for saving the Blanche, but I'm definitely not for the proposal that's in front of me... I'm glad to hear that we're here for discussion only - maybe - loaning a million dollars."
There was a question about giving the City an interest free loan. County Attorney Joel Foreman said he wanted a letter from the county's auditor stating that he could do that.
The Columbia County Property Appraiser
Chairman DePratter continued, "When I spoke with the property appraiser he went through everything in the County and said he can't find anything that would justify [the value] being over $5 million... I think we need a whole lot more insurance to guarantee our loan."
Mr. DePratter said "the source" of the revenue is not there to repay the loan.
The Chairman concluded his remarks saying the people he spoke with are all for the fix, but not with their money.
Commissioner Scarlet Frisina weighed in. She said she likes history and her family has been here since the 1820s. She said the majority of people that she spoke to said, "It's not what they want us to do."
Ms. Frisina concluded, "I can't do the proposal the way it sits."
Commissioner Everett Phillips told The 5 (as spoken), "I love the Blanche Hotel. I've had my shoes shined in the Blanche Hotel... I like the idea of saving our old hotel, but all the people I've talked to is not for spending the money the way we're proposed to spend our money and get it back."
Commissioner Philips wanted to see more paperwork before he could make a decision "to loan $1 million to anybody."
Commissioner Bucky Nash, a successful local businessman was up next. He began by telling The 5 that there was really not a lot of information in the Letter of Intent.
He continued, "I am receptive to the million dollar loan. As Commissioner or City Councilman or different stuff you're entaxed [as spoken] to do things in your community that sometimes aren't popular... From the County perspective, I am supporting the City in their endeavors to save the Blanche. It's up to them to go to do their due diligence and make a good sound decision to either do it or not... You got a lot of numbers here that's gonna be floatin' out there for two - three - to four years.
Commissioner Nash wanted to know where the money would come from to make the loan. Mr. Scott told him from reserves. Com. Nash asked if it would affect the reserves. Mr. Scott told him it would reduce the reserves by a million dollars.
Commissioner Nash concluded, "You don't want to make an emotional decision at a long-term implication."
Commissioner Williams jumped back in, "I'm here to support the City and I'll vote to give them the money... The other part is between the City and the developers."
IDP Speaks to The 5
IPD's CFO, Steve Brooks, came to the microphone to answer The 5's questions.
Mr. Brooks explained that the Letter of Intent was only the first step in the process of developing a full blown developer's agreement.
After answering three questions, Mr. Brooks took his seat.
A few moments later Commissioner Williams said, "We could enter into an agreement with the City to loan them a million dollars and everything else we don't have anything to do with."
Chairman DePratter asked, "Is that in the form of a motion?"
Before Commissioner Williams could answer, City Manager Johnson from the audience called out, "Mr. DePratter, may I address the Board?"
Tomorrow: City Manager Johnson addresses the County 5. The Blanche Ducks a TKO. The meeting wraps up.