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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City/NFBA News

Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson looks to make White Elephant deal with troubled North Florida Broadband Authority

City Manager Wendell Johnson explains his plan and letter from the North Florida Broadband Authority to the CRA Advisory Committee. City Councilwoman Moses is to his right and CRA Director Jackie Kite is to his left.

LAKE CITY, FL – Last night Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson surprised Lake City's Community Redevelopment Agency with another scheme to buy and renovate the Vann family's Powers Building on Main Street. This time with the troubled North Florida Broadband Authority. City Manager Johnson is on the Board of Directors of the NFBA and has said he visits with them about three times a week.

Last year City Manager Wendell Johnson was blown off by the Lake City Chamber of Commerce and the Historical Society in his attempt to acquire the Vann family's Powers Building for them. At that time, City Manager Johnson's idea was to have the City buy and renovate the building, which is now just a shell, and have the two groups take it over and sustain it. The deal never got off the ground. Last night Mr. Johnson explained that problem this way: "They could not envision the same things that I was envisioning... It was the fear of the unknown."

City Manager Johnson hatches new scheme

Now, City Manager (CM) Johnson has hatched a new scheme for the Vann's Powers Building.

On February 15, 2012, the North Florida Broadband Authority's Interim General Manager, Richelle Sucara, sent a letter to CM Johnson which began: "I am pleased to tell you that the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) is very excited about discussing the possibility of renovating the Powers Building located on 600 N. Marion St. with you."

City Manager Johnson is a member of the Board of Directors of the NFBA. He has mentioned that he visits the NFBA about three times a week.

The North Florida Broadband Authority has never publically discussed the issue of the Powers Building.

After holding the letter for almost two weeks, City Manager Johnson released the NFBA letter to the CRA Advisory Committee (the Committee) at last night's meeting.

Earlier in the day, CM Johnson attended a NFBA meeting. The issues of space were brought up at that meeting. No one from the Cadre of the NFBA mentioned a word about the Powers Building. Lake City's City Manager sat silent. During the NFBA's discussion the letter was not mentioned by Interim General Manager Sucara, nor NFBA Chairman Tommy Langford, nor NFBA Vice Chair Pat O'Neal, nor NFBA Project Manager Donny Lort, who recently falsified his resume to the NFBA and has had Badges of Fraud pinned on him by a Federal Judge.

City Manager Johnson told the CRA Committee, "I have spoken with the Chairman of the Board and I have spoken with the General Manager and the NFBA is looking for a permanent location."

CM Johnson keeps the facts from the Committee

The NFBA has no money, no revenue, no business plan and no customers, facts of which Lake City Manager Wendell Johnson are well aware.

CM Johnson proposed that "The City would acquire the building. The City would bear the cost of renovation... We would be the go between... They would do it directly with the current owner, which is Mark Vann."

CM Johnson said the building was appraised at $152,000 and has a code enforcement lean against it of $5,000. The building is in probate.

CM Johnson said, "I'm certain Mr. Darby (City Attorney) may have a lot of problems with this."

CM Johnson explained, "The City Council would have to fund the building." He wasn't sure if the deal with the NFBA would be a grant or they would have to pay the money back.

CM Johnson said, "The NFBA would be responsible for carrying out the redevelopment process." According to CM Johnson, "The City would pay for the construction activity and at the time the NFBA goes operational or sustained, they would pay the City back for the redevelopment costs."

The NFBA Board, who doesn't know a thing about this, would have to approve it.

CM Johnson explained, "That keeps the City from having to own the building. That keeps the City from having to bear the competitive process for redevelopment. We [the City] would just be the funding agency."

CM Johnson Misrepresents NFBA Warehouse Rental Costs

City Manager Johnson then misrepresented the long term rental costs now being paid by the NFBA.

The NFBA is presently on a $5,000 month to month warehouse lease in which it is storing its equipment during the NFBA build out. It is common knowledge and has been discussed at the NFBA that the warehouse will not be needed once all the NFBA's equipment is installed. That was the reason for the month to month lease, a fact CM Johnson is familiar with.

CM Johnson said the financial position of the NFBA will not be known until the first quarter of 2013. It is at this time that the NFBA will have to be producing revenue, instead of living off grant money from the federal government and bank loans from TD Bank. The NFBA is paying TD Bank 5% interest.

City Manager Johnson summarized his deal this way, "In essence the City will be giving them a no interest construction loan. Until the loan is paid off we are the mortgage holder."

City Attorney Darby weighed in: Something should be done to the building. As you know we are in some very trying times. Economically the economy is bad and particularly as it relates to real property. Private parties are pushed pretty hard. The availability of capital has been restricted... I do not believe that any private investor would do anything with that building. The economics are just not there. The feasibility is just not there."

Epilogue

CM Johnson said the Community Redevelopment Agency does not have money to do the financing. If they [NFBA] fail, "Private investors are not going to go down and buy this building and do anything with it."

The CRA Advisory Committee voted to proceed with negotiations and discussions with the NFBA.

It is not clear when the NFBA Board of Directors will be told about this White Elephant deal with the City of Lake City.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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Links to the NFBA series:

North Florida Broadband Authority:
Baker County becomes the 7th north central Florida county to pull out of Obama stimulus funded NFBA

(Part XXXVII) (February 19, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Feds put failing stimulus funded NFBA on life support. 3yrs and $28+ mil later, 60 customers and no revenue model.
(Part XXXVI) (February 15, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Former Board Clerk sues NFBA for wrongful termination and violation of her constitutional rights
(Part XXXV) (January 30, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: $30 mil later N. Central Florida Regional Planning Council - clueless
(Part XXXIV) (January 25, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: After General Counsel's response, FL's Public Record Laws remain the latest casualty
(Part XXXIII (b)) (January 8, 2013)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: FL's Public Record Laws the latest casualty
(Part XXXIII) (January 6, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Foot dragging, lack of info cause Suwannee Cnty to call "strike 3" on the NFBA – They're out
(Part XXXII) (January 3, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Suwannee County tells the NFBA – One more strike and you're out
(PartXXXI) (December 20, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Wracked by gross mismanagement from the feds on down, the NFBA has become the poster child for non disclosure
(Part XXX) (December 18, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: More bad news. Last Mile Wifi CEO, "I knew they were going to extort me."
(Part XXIX) December 10, 2012

North Florida Broadband Authority: NFBA failed to make the grade in Gilchrist County
(Part XXVIII) (November 29, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Columbia County Pulls Out of Obama Funded Stimulus Project
(Part XXVII) (November 2, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: The NFBA road show traveled to an unprepared Columbia County with misinformation, half truths, and just plain lies
(Part XXVI) (Posted October 9, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Woebegotten Stimulus funded authority gets another black eye. No one bids to service the $30 mil 14 county network.
(Part XXV) (Posted October 1, 2012)

• North Florida Broadband Auth: Another County pulls out. Dixie says throwing away money a major issue.
(Part XXIV) (Posted September 13, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: NFBA road shows moves to Lake City for a double dose of free money
(Part XXIII) (Posted September 5, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Secrecy and a lawyer's spread sheet. It's business as usual at the NFBA.
(Part XXII) (Posted August 22, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority:  Mainstreet Broadband, NFBA's touted business partner, goes bust
(Part XXI) (Posted August 2, 2012)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Two cities say "no mas." Refuse free tower space to NFBA
(Part XX)  (Posted July 26, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Taylor County Says Goodbye, "I don't think our county should be involved."
(Part XIX) (Posted April 18, 2012)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Perry Pulls Out, City Manager tells Council, "It's just out of whack"
(Part XVIII) (Posted April 11, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Bradford County Says "No Mas" – Pulls Out
(Part XVII) (Posted April 4, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Operating in the shadows with the help of the Feds, the NFBA saga continues
(Part XVI) (posted March 29, 2012)

Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson looks to make White Elephant deal with troubled North Florida Broadband Authority
(Part XV) (Posted Feb 28, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Propped up by the Feds, financed by the American People - Who can you trust?
(Part XIV) (Posted Feb 25, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
"Sunlight is the best disinfectant." Not for them

(Part XIII) (Posted Jan 13, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
A Lawyer's Dream. A Look At The Numbers
(Part XIIb) (Posted Dec 29, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
A Lawyer's Dream. Money Is No Object
(Part XIIa) (Posted Dec 28, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
Feds come to town – Working under the cover of darkness was their MO

(Part XI) (Posted November 23, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
Feds continue investigation - Interim GM rehires resigned firms employees

(part X) (Posted Nov 11, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: "The greatest threat to this project is the Government"
(Part IX) (Posted November 2, 2011)

• Federal grant for broadband access in rural Louisiana rescinded: Could the North Florida Broadband Authority Be Far Behind?
(Posted October 28, 2011)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Redefining "Good Business Sense?"
(Part VIII) (Posted October 25, 2011)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Feds resume funding – Put small vendors first
(Part VII) (Posted October 20, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Small vendors in big trouble | NFEDP/FSU's Hendry may resign (Part VIb)  (Posted Oct 14, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Blood in the street (Part VIa)  (posted Oct 13, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: "I don't want to die on principle and not have broadband." (Part V)  (posted Oct. 6, 2011)

NFBA future in limbo - Fed keeps funds locked down - Suspend project  (Part IV) (posted Sept 28, 2011)

The North Florida Broadband Authority. Its world was about to change (part III)  (posted Sept 16, 2011)

"I think we have a failure to communicate." The N Florida Rural Broadband saga continues (Part II)  (posted Sept 14, 2011)

Feds close spigot on $30 million broadband stimulus grant. 15 north central Florida counties waiting for money to flow again
(Part I)  (posted Sept 12, 2011)