Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Lake City Steps Up To The Plate
Offers to buy Landmark Blanche Hotel

The Blanche Hotel Hotel ac hoc committed gets down to work in the city managers conference room. At the table from left to right are Councilwoman Melinda Moses, Police Chief Rigby-Gilmore, City Clerk Audrey Sikes, Councilman-Vice Mayor George Ward, and City Manager Wendell Johnson. In the purple is LCR Antonia Robinson.

The Lake City ad hoc Blanche Hotel Committee met on Wednesday, October 7th. The committee members, Council members Melinda Moses and George Ward and City Manager Wendell Johnson were joined by police chief Gilmore for the important discussion. The purpose of the meeting – bring back a proposal to the City Council regarding the Blanche Hotel.

Committee Chairman George Ward came right to the point, "We need to recommend something to the council for the county so the County doesn't move out of the downtown."

For years the County Commission has been homeless, doing their business in other peoples buildings all over town with no one place for the County government to call home. Some folks believe this is by design. The County has refused to make a commitment to the downtown of its capital city and county seat, Lake City.

On July 22nd Commissioner Ronald Williams told the County Commission, "The site for the new [County] administrative complex is Lake Jeffery and Bascom Norris. That have not been rescinded. That is the site. We bought the property for that reason."

On October 10th, during a discussion of the Blanche, Commissioner Williams seemed to have a change of heart, "I can keep an open mind on the Blanche. There are lots of questions that need to be answered before I can make a definite decision and the main one is parking. That's the main issue with any building."

City Manager Johnson told the committee that he thought Commissioner Williams was open minded about the idea of the Blanche becoming the new home of the County.

Councilman Ward: "Wendell has a good idea."

City Manager Johnson explains the proposed City plan to buy the Blanche.

City Manager Johnson: " A creative approach would be for the City to consider the use of CRA [Community Redevelopment Agency] monies ... to support the County's participation in acquiring that building and using that building for government offices – a 1.5 million dollar asking price – the City could make a commitment to purchase the building for the County, to provide parking, to make sure of the availability of the drive through."

City Manager Johnson continued, "We would finance the purchase of the building. The Blanche Hotel is the heart of the downtown area and the County. They must realize that the value of that building is just not for downtown Lake City, it's for Columbia County as well.

Council woman Moses listens intently to the City Managers plan.

Councilwoman Moses: "It's not just the heart of the City -- It's the heart of the County... I think a lot of the people at the County office feel that way and want to see this happen."

City Manager Johnson: " I don't see how they can turn a deal like that down... This project is monumental in importance. Commissioner Williams spoke up with an open mind. He is interested in this."

Councilman Ward explained that the city would make sure there was sufficient parking and that any issues with the Tax Collector's drive through would be solved at the proposed new location.

City Manager Johnson: "Once the City Council has considered what the group here comes up with and comes with a commitment that's formal, sincere and legal, then the ball will be in their court."

Mr. Johnson's final remarks reflected the consensus of the meeting, "My interest is what's best for the City and what's best for the County as well. I think this is best for the both of us."

After the meeting Councilwoman Moses told the Observer: "I'm really excited about this. I think the City and the County are entering a new era where we will be working together."

The City Council meets Monday night to discuss the committee recommendations.