Unequal Opportunity the Hallmark of Lake City Downtown Redevelopment Big Money CRA Grants
Pt I: Background
City Manager Johnson has been in charge of the
LAKE CITY, FL – Last night, Lake City's Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) revisited the April 10 tabled $45,000 request of the recently incorporated Double Eagle Investors, LLC. According to City Manager Wendell Johnson's report to the CRA, the request was for a "Façade Grant Incentive," which he morphed into a "Construction Incentive Grant."
According to information received earlier today through a public record request, the City Manager's Office has no application, program or policy, and no resolution or ordinance pertaining to Construction Incentive Grants. Missing from the City Manager's report was the fact that the request was being made because of "cost overruns and unforeseen issues."
For generations and decades, Columbia County/Lake City has been known as the quintessential Florida good ole' boy county. In the early 1900's Lake City was Florida's epicenter of bootleg whiskey, drugs, and prostitution – a haven for Florida's leaders as they wound their way to the state capital, Tallahassee.
In the 40's and beyond Columbia County/Lake City was Strom Thurmond country. Ignoring Brown vs. Board of Education, the County didn't integrate its schools until 1971 and for decades it was well known that economic development was stifled, despite Columbia County/Lake City's preeminent location at the intersection of I-75 and I-10, in order to keep cheap labor in the fields and its residents at low paying service industry jobs.
If one wanted to get something done, one needed to be or know a good ole' boy.
In 1981, Lake City created the CRA, which included the Downtown Central Business District. Since then there has been a lack of development and a consolidated strategy.
In 2011, the City Council hired the IBI Group to update its community redevelopment area master plan.
IBI proved to be a group that would not sacrifice its independence to the City fathers or City Manager. Its Master Plan Update was considered independent.
• Download the Final Lake City Master Plan (27.3meg)
Findings of IBI Approved in the Master Plan
The IBI Master Plan found that Lake City needed to "prepare a grant feasibility study for public projects including: roads, utilities, streetscapes, parks, and law enforcement, particularly targeting potential projects eligible to receive funding through federal government funding programs."
This was never done.
IBI found that the CRA or the City (they are the same) needed to "develop one, three, and five-year work programs for budgetary and administrative purposes, and, contact affected property owners to determine their level of interest in participating in proposed redevelopment activities."
This was never done.
IBI found that the City needed to "prepare a downtown parking location map and install clear signage to designated parking areas."
Six years later, this has not been done.
Among other things, the approved IBI Master Plan found that the City needed to: insure implementation of scheduled projects; adopt development controls and incentives to promote high-quality private development; provide zoning incentives, site and architectural design guidelines; and coordinate capital improvement programs.
Execution of these approved Master Plan Strategies is sketchy at best.
The plan also called for the City to "prioritize and develop detailed programs for projects to implement major strategies illustrated in the Redevelopment Plan including - phasing, project financing, land acquisition, land disposition, funding sources and financing."
While the Wilson Park development area around Lake DeSoto may meet this objective, it appears that the City never developed any "detailed programs" other than for the area around the lake, although it is not clear how the clear cutting of the trees at the Lake Shore Hospital Authority across from the lake fit into the plan.
Finally, the City was to "initiate discussions with Columbia County to coordinate joint improvement projects planned for the unincorporated County owned areas and proposed corridor improvements within the Redevelopment Area."
Other than the bungled Jack Berry Highway, which was kiboshed by Jack Berry and the Governor's Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board, there has been no cooperation between the City, County, and the Lake Shore Hospital Authority.
Double Eagle Appears
Chase Moses is one of the principles of Double Eagle, LLC, a group that recently bought an old building in the downtown business district. It has begun renovations turning what was an old restaurant into an office building for its workers.
On March 11, 2017, Chase Moses wrote a letter to City Manager Johnson and CRA Administrator Laura Croft. In this letter he wrote: "Due to cost overruns and unforeseen issues ... costs have exceeded feasibility of the renovations for many of the exterior components originally considered in our scope... As a result of these overruns, we are requesting assistance from the City of Lake City/City of Lake City Community Redevelopment Agency to aid in this project. Our request entails assistance with an extensive and overdue façade upgrade... The façade upgrade totals $54,240."
On March 14, 2017, Mr. Moses presented his case for the Façade Grant Improvement to the CRAC, whose chairperson is Councilwoman Melinda Moses.
Chase Moses' Facebook page lists as a family member, Lauren Moses Pinchouck, "Cousin." Ms. Lauren Moses Pinchouk is the daughter of Councilwoman Moses.
The CRAC voted unanimously to give Chase Moses, a.k.a, Double Eagle, $45,000 for the façade improvement and in addition approved the City renovating the parking lot for the business for free.
On April 10, 2017, City Manager Wendell Johnson called the "Façade Grant" a "Construction Incentive Grant."
This past Friday, April 14, the Observer asked both the County Economic Development Director and the County Manager if they had any information on file concerning the CRA Construction Incentive Grant program.
County Manager Ben Scott and Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter both replied that the County had no information.
End of part I