Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County/Lake City

The Blanche Tonight:  Will Wendell Johnson's $17 mil Lake City Legacy Survive the County 5?


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.

Public Involvement

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.

Financial Info

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.

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The CRA Master Plan is available here. (25Mb)

Links to more Blanche stories:

• March 11, 2015  Blanche Hotel: 6 Months & Counting – $14,000,000 Letter of Intent May Be Next Month

• Feb. 24, 2015  Blanche Hotel Train of Advisors Pulled into City Hall Last Night: Lots of Pictures - Not Much New

• Feb. 21, 2015  Blanche Saga Continues: $14,000,000 financing remains unexplained

• Feb. 3, 2015  Blanche $15 mil Renovation: CM Johnson Playing it Close to the Vest, "You'll know when I know"

• December 18, 2014 (Part II)  The Blanche: Johnson & Decker want inclusion "Anybody that wants a seat will have one"

• December 17, 2014 (Part I)  Lake City's Blanche Hotel: $15,000,000 Renovation Discussion Off & Running

• December 4, 2014  Renovation of Blanche Hotel on the Launching Pad:  Will everyone have a chance to participate?

• November 7, 2014  Lake City's Last Chance Hotel, the Blanche – Plans On the Way to the Columbia County 5

• November 4, 2014  City Manager Johnson: Working on a Plan to Raise the Blanche Hotel From the Dead

• March 4, 2010 The Blanche Hotel - The seventh inning stretch

 • Mar 1, 2010 The Blanche Group Bailout
Who are they? Where are they?

 • Mar 1, 2010  A Blanche Investor Interview

 • Feb 27, 2010  Structural Evaluation of the Blanche Hotel Now in the hands of the City Council

 • Oct 21, 2009 Conversation with Steve Smith -Blanche Investment Trust

 • Oct 21, 2009 City steps up • Councilman Hill wants slow down

 • Oct 21, 2009 The visit • The fire inspection

 • Oct 21, 2009 Go to Photo Gallery

 • Oct 9, 2009 City Steps Up To The Plate
Offers to buy Landmark Blanche Hotel