Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

The Blanche • The City steps up
Councilman Hill wants slow down (Part II)

The continuing saga of Lake City's Blanche Hotel took another twist on Monday night, October 19th, when the Lake City Council voted to continue to explore the purchase of the Blanche Hotel.

City Manager Wendell Johnson repeated again what he has been telling everyone for months, "My interest is the interest of Lake City. It [Blanche Hotel] is the downtown commercial heart of the city and the county.City Manager Wendell Johnson

Councilwoman Melinda Moses told the Council, "We can't just let the Blanche crumble."

Councilman Jake Hill responded, "Why haven't the owners been keeping up the Blanche?"

Councilman George Ward told the Council that originally the building was bought with twenty five investors. Over the years the revenues of the building have been declining and they have not had enough revenue to keep everything up and they were having to pay the city and county taxes; they were having to pay a substantial insurance bill on that; the revenues weren't covering the expenses and they were having to access all these twenty five investors – now it's down to four. Twenty one of them have dropped out of the investment trust. (It appears that what Mr. Ward meant to say was that there were only four members who actively contribute money to maintain the Blanche.)

Councilman Jake Hill
Councilman Jake Hill was troubled by the speed of the proceedings and the lack of information.

Mr. Hill told the Council, "The city is bailing them out."

Mr. Ward responded, "We won't be bailing them out. We will be getting appraisals and pay the appraised value of it."

Mr. Hill asked, "What would be the cost to renovate?"

Mr. Ward said, "That would be the county's to do."

Mayor Stephen Witt told the Council, "I think it is necessary that we look into it. We want to keep the employees downtown. We do want to keep the downtown in good shape."Mayor Witt

Mr. Hill was still not convinced, "I don't know if this is the way to do it."

Mr. Ward told the Council, "If we don't do anything then the building will probably go into default... We lost many buildings to fires. We certainly don't need to lose the Blanche."

After the meeting Councilman Hill explained his "no" vote to the Observer: "I voted no because I don't think there is enough information. I am looking forward to seeing a representative of the Blanche Trust standing in front of the City Council answering questions from the Council and the public. We need more information if we are going to use public money to buy the Blanche. We have to slow down and get the facts."