Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County/Lake City

Frisina Swings the Vote, Blanche Ducks a TKO
Lake City, County, Developer Regrouping

COLUMBIA COUNTY/LAKE CITY, FL – After the first 30 minutes of Thursday evening's Blanche discussion, the proposed Letter of Intent between IDP, Lake City, and Columbia County to renovate Lake City's downtown Blanche Hotel was balancing on a precipice. Commissioners Williams and Nash were in favor of at least giving the City a million dollar loan. Commissioners DePratter and Frisina were opposed. Commissioner Everett Phillips was on the fence.

Between September 2014 and April 2015, IDP's unexplained developer's equity had risen from $200,000 to $1,700,000. The explanatory details of the renovation financing remained unexplained. The developer's initial request of a County/City rent guarantee of 80% of commercial occupancy, had fallen to 60%.

As the first half of the Blanche discussion concluded, (see part I) Commissioner Ronald Williams said, "We could enter into an agreement with the City of Lake City on the million dollar loan 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, Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson called out from the audience, "Mr. Chair, may I address the Board?"

Chairman DePratter invited City Manager Johnson to the microphone.

Lake City: does it need the million dollar loan?

City Manager Johnson introduced himself, "As all of you know, I am Wendell Johnson the City Manager."

He continued:

I feel sad tonight... It seems like the point is being missed about what is being proposed... This is not the City future here, the Blanche Hotel. This is Columbia County future... The Blanche Hotel is the most historical building in this County...

The City don't want a loan from the County. I'm sayin' that to ya because we don't need the loan from the County. We got the money to loan ourself, if that's what you're willin' to commit. You know that's really not gonna serve our interest. We don't need a loan from the County. And I've already called the Mayor and he's indicated that. We just don't need that... Our intent as City leaders is to preserve the Blanche for the future generations and it's not gonna come without a price...

I plead with you tonight to think about your decision. If it's so important that a million dollar loan is so threatenin' to you that you're willin' to let the City take all the responsibility - all the liability -- that's what I am hearing tonight. Obviously it's tellin' me that you don't think this is a deal with this company that's worth the risk. If you feel that way that obviously it's going to put a greater risk on the City... If you feel that strongly that this is not worth the risk to try to make it work, well that's gonna to make me think, 'what am I doin' wrong.' Maybe my council members are not evaluatin' the risk as well and maybe we should just tell IDP to go back to Valdosta, we're not gonna be able to cut a deal with you. And that's what it sounds like it's gonna come down to.

The City is certainly not gonna to be able to give them $2 million...

It ain't about the money ladies and gentlemen, it's about the future of this County and this City. And this City is this County... Thank you.


Chairman DePratter told The 5, "I believe Mr. Johnson made it clear they're not interested in a loan from us."

Commissioner Williams added, "I think I'm a little confused now."

Asst. County Manager Scott explained what he thought City Manager Johnson was trying to explain. Scott's version and the City Manager's were not the same.

"When he says that "we don't need your money" he's not saying that they don't need the million dollars to complete the project. What he's saying is we don't want just that. We want you to share in the risk."

Chairman DePratter told Mr. Scott, "I think everybody took it that way."

Long time Commissioner Williams added (as spoken):

 I don't want to see it just go away. If we can get into a Letter of Intent that can be negotiated by the chair and who-else and staff and Joel, then as long as it looks at the best interest of what we pass if we don't wanna get into, then we bring that back to the board and say Board, here is what staff and the chair represented to the chair we have a worked out in our Letter of Intent and then we moralize it at that time. But we can move forward with that and then do the final blessing over after we get Joel [County Attorney, Joel Foreman] satisfied with what some of the Commissioners want and what he want. And then we can either finalize that agreement at a later time, or just move forward in that direction now.

After some conversation about rents, Commissioner Williams made his motion. "I make a motion that we approve the million dollar loan under review of the County Attorney makin' sure that it's legal with the intentions of bringin' back a Letter of Intent after it have been looked at in negotiatin' between the chair and his designee; the County Attorney staff."

Rules of Order: do not apply to the County 5

Commissioner Nash began to discuss the motion. No one had made a second.

Your reporter pointed out that the motion had not been seconded.

Commissioner Nash responded, "Well."

Your reporter replied, "Not well, he made a motion."

Com. Nash replied, "Well, I'll second it in a minute."

Your reporter asked, "Anytime you want?"

Com. Nash asked, "Do you want a second?"

Ralph Kitchen's responded from the audience, "I do."

Commissioner Nash made his comments, "To ask us to make the decision is unfair... There's nobody providin' us with numbers. You're askin' us to pull things out of the air."

County Attorney Foreman addressed Com. Nash. "Point of order commissioner, did you second that for the purpose of discussion?"

Com. Nash replied, "Yes sir."

Mr. Foreman, "Thank you."

Your reporter said, "I'm sitting right here. He didn't."

Commissioner Nash finally seconded the motion, "Second."

The do-over

Chairman DePratter asked everyone to withdraw their motions and start over. They did.

Chairman DePratter asked Asst. County Manager Scott, "Ben, do you want to try and say a motion?"

County Attorney Foreman jumped in, "Your motion is to support the one million dollar interest-free loan, subject to legal approval. Then to have staff, the Chair and the County Attorney further negotiate the specifics of all other parameters of the LOI."

Commissioner Williams answers, "Yes sir."

The motion passed 3-2, with Commissioners Phillips and DePratter opposed.


After an hour of discussion, it's back to the drawing board for the Blanche.

County Attorney Foreman's inclusion in the County negotiating team is problematic and expensive.

Late Friday afternoon, Commissioner Williams told the Observer, "I'm gonna' to ask Chairman DePratter to put Commissioner Nash on the negotiatin' team."

Comments (to add a comment go here)

On May 11, Terry Rauch of Lake City wrote:

In a recent trip to St. Petersburg, Florida, I went to the old downtown area. I noticed the old vacant stores that lacked parking were gone.

St. Petersburg had the same problem that Lake City has: parking issues and lack of people wanting to travel in the area.

What St. Petersburg did was allow the old buildings to be removed and build condominiums that included parking garages in the buildings. Parking outside of the building is still non-existent. The new buildings included a small area for general businesses that the walking and walk-in public could access.

City revenue increased and the buildings were filled before completion. The city had business action in the old down town area that hasn't been there for years. This is something Lake City should look into.

The cost to renovate the Blanche is ridiculous. If the city is hell-bent on creating something in a dead zone downtown, then it should look what is working in other cities.

There is nothing in downtown Lake City to draw people. Quit looking to the past to move to the future. It's just common sense.


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


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

Links to more Blanche stories:

• May 9, 2015  Frisina Swings the Vote, Blanche Ducks a TKO – Lake City, County, Developer Regrouping (Part II)

• May 8, 2015  Last Night The Blanche Ducks a TKO – Lake City, County, Developer Regrouping (Part I)

• April 21, 2015  Blanche Hotel Developer Equity Skyrockets 850%: What is The Real Investment?

• 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