Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.

Lake City News

Lake City CRA Master Plan Competition
And then there was one

Kurt Easton of IBI Group
Master redevelopment planning expert, Kurt Easton, of IBI Group makes his presentation to the LC Council as lead urban designer Suzanne Thompson looks on.

Late Thursday afternoon, Lake City again showed that it is leading the way into the 21st century in Columbia County, when the three finalists came before the City Council to present themselves and their ideas on why they should be chosen to develop Lake City's CRA Master Plan. All were at the top of their game and the cream of the urban planning and design crop.

Thursday's selection will most likely be one of the most important that the City Council will ever make. City Manager Wendell Johnson's "last stand" here in Lake City is proving to be the one that may define his life's work and experience. The fact that each of the presenters was somebody's first choice was both a credit to the selection committee's judgment and representative of the talent that came before the City Council.

All the candidates were well spoken, literate, experienced, accomplished, not the "good ole boys" and had what is considered a detriment and unimportant across the street in the seat of county government, college degrees and advanced degrees – a combination that gave the presenters a confidence and grace that comes with that territory.

It was unfortunate that not one member of the County Commission, the IDA, the School Board, the Hospital Authority, the LCCC Board or the County Manager came to the show to see Lake City, as it continues throwing off the shackles of the past.

The Professionals Agreed

City Manager Wendell Johnson, framed by two of the presenters, is working on a project that may define his life work's experience.

All three presenters were in agreement that input from the public is the integral part in developing a successful master plan and each one had their own ways to encourage public participation.

All agreed that the waterfront on Lake Desoto is integral in the development of the downtown master plan and a successful downtown.

All agreed that grant finding and funding was essential and each group claimed to have the expertise and experience in that field.

All three groups had done extensive urban design and planning in Florida.

And the winner is IBI Group

Kurt Easton was the redevelopment planning expert (go to resume) who represented the IBI Group and the first thing he did right out of the box was to maximize the educational backgrounds of his two associates, who, he explained, composed the core group and would be the folks with whom the city would be dealing.

Mr. Easton introduced lead planner, Bankim Kalra, who he explained had a bachelor's degree in architecture and a masters in urban planning, along with seven years experience in redevelopment planning, urban design and architecture. (go to resume)

Mr. Easton then introduced lead urban designer and senior landscape architect, Suzanne Thompson, who he explained, with a huge smile, had obtained her master's degree in landscape architecture from Harvard.  That spoke for itself. (go to resume)

Mr. Easton explained that his group was architects and masters in urban planning and that all IBI master plans require an extensive public participation process to insure success.

Mr. Easton then gave a laundry list of IBI Group accomplishments:

Tallahassee – Saint Pete – Panama City -- Bonita Springs (one site) – Kissimmee – Westside neighborhoods in Pensacola – Titusville – Cocoa – Sarasota – Safety Harbor – Tarpon Springs – Dade City – Tavares -- ... whew.

Go to the Lake City CRA from here.

Mr. Easton said that in the past twenty five years he has been involved in master plans in about a hundred cities and that his master plans are based on among other things, economic projections and pro forma analysis.

He said, "IBI plans are grounded in economics... IBI plans are formed using the best technical practices of urban planning and design to determine creative solutions for each community's distinct needs."

He explained that IBI is a more casual firm which turns public concerns into economic engines.

One council member asked, "What separates you from the others?"

Mr. Easton answered, "... We do redevelopment planning. We are strategic thinkers."

Another council member asked, "What are the three most important characteristics of Lake City."

Mr. Easton answered, "You have Lake City (downtown) – the base – the neighborhood – the lake."

Mr. Easton explained that "getting young people to move into your community" is something that should be considered in developing the master plan.

Mr. Easton didn't get any argument when he said that the number one goal for the master plan and Lake City was "economic stability."

When asked about his background Mr. Easton said that when he left graduate school he went to work for Brevard County as a planner and eventually ended up being the Director of the Merritt Island Redevelopment Agency.

After, again stressing the need for public participation, a recurring theme of all the presenters, Mr. Easton was asked why his group was the best.

Without hesitation he replied, "We do award winning work."


As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."

The City Manager, his team and the City Council have brought the cream to Lake City to guide the citizens of all Columbia County to make the capitol of Columbia County something everyone can be proud of for generations to come.

It is now up to you.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)


Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.