Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Conversation with Steve Smith
Blanche investment trust spokesman (Part III)

Steve SmithOn Tuesday afternoon, October 20, the Observer had a brief conversation with Attorney Steve Smith, one of the members of the trust and the spokesperson for the investment group that owns the Blanche. Mr. Smith was forthcoming in his explanations.

The Observer has been able to identify the following people who are in the investment group that wants to sell the Blanche to Lake City: Richard Cole, Daniel Crapps, Stephen Smith, Marc Vann, and Paul Vann. That leaves about fifteen more and Mr. Smith said that he would check with the group to see if they all would be willing to have their names released.

Mr. Smith explained his perception of the county's obligation should they decided to occupy the Blanche: "All they are going to have to do is maintain the building." Go to Photo Gallery

In a brief discussion about the wiring in the building Mr. Smith said, "My understanding is that we redid the wiring."

About the third floor, which is a death trap, Mr. Smith said, "I told them at the meeting [County Commission] that the third floor is terrible."

Mr. Smith explained that the third floor was not a part of the building that was open to the public and it was not maintained. "We borrowed what we could afford to borrow to fix it up as much as we could afford to fix it up."

Speaking about the second floor, Mr. Smith said, "With new carpet and repainting the walls the space is usable... The whole second floor looked like the third floor looks like right now when we bought the building."

About the worth of the real estate, Mr. Smith said, "Just the land alone is worth five or six hundred thousand dollars."

Mr. Smith said that before the city can buy the building it has to order two independent appraisals. "The city is not going to buy the building without doing some checking. If there is mold or asbestos it will have to be taken care of."

Mr. Smith explained what he thought a deal between the City and the County may look like: "Folks in the county think this is going to cost a lot of money. They [the County] don't have to do any renovations at all. They can do nothing but accept the rent. They don't have to do any significant renovations until they have a need for the office space. All the county has to do is maintain the building and accept the rent."

Mr. Smith said that when they first bought the building, Daniel Crapps [a major player in Lake City real estate] said they were buying it for the good of Lake City.

Mr. Smith said, "Everybody knew going in that they weren't going to make a profit... We were doing this for the good of Lake City. We were hoping not to lose too much money. We were hoping that we would at least come close to breaking even... We bought the building -- did some significant renovations. We put a lot of money into the renovations."

Mr. Smith said, "Nobody in that trust has ever gotten one penny out of it."

Mr. Smith explained, "The mortgage right now is about a million dollars. Every penny of it went into fixing the building... If the city buys it for 1.5 million dollars we [the investment group] are not going to make one penny out of it because of the money we've been putting into it for the past twenty years... We might get a percentage of our money back, but I can promise you we are not making anything."

Mr. Smith said the group never borrowed money to take anything out of it. "All the money we've borrowed has gone to keep the Blanche alive."

Mr. Smith responded to some of the criticism he has heard lately: "The reason we got into this was not to make a profit. It makes me angry to hear that people think that it was a bunch of investors who are looking to get bailed out by the city now. When I think of investors, I think of people putting up money to make a profit. That was not the reason we got into this. We started out trying to do a good thing for the city more than twenty years ago and we'd really like to pass the torch to somebody else.