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Downtown Lake City Redevelopment: City Manager says standards are "counterproductive"

Downtown scrap/junk yard, Lake City
A lack of downtown standards has this scrap mental yard on the entrance to Lake City. It is being beautified with a 12 ft high chain link fence, mostly courtesy of the CRA.

LAKE CITY, FL –  Tuesday evening's meeting of the Lake City Community Redevelopment Advisory Committee had the committee discussing how to get more businesses to improve their downtown property. At an earlier meeting the Committee suggested mini grants and cash advances. Legendary City Attorney Herbert Darby didn't think that those were a good idea. Local business leader, John Kuykendall suggested written standards. City Manager Wendell Johnson was opposed. He said defined standards are "counterproductive."

Lake DeSoto future pavilion: architectural illustration not needed

Tuesday's meeting kicked off with a discussion of the pavilion to be built adjacent to Lake City's Lake DeSoto, which is only a couple of blocks from Lake City's main thoroughfare.

The City has put out the pavilion for bids.

Committee member and FPL employee Jeff Simons asked if the bid specs for the Lakeside pavilion required an illustration.

City Manager Johnson answered, "I don’t believe it did. It had details about the construction standards and that kind of stuff. No it didn’t. It’s very clear that it have aesthetically compatible features."

He continued, "This project will be a highly visible CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) asset. It will generate excitement. Hopefully the funding will be sufficient."

City Manager Johnson did not explain why the City did not go out for an architectural illustration.

City Councilwoman Moses asked about the budget. "What was their budget?"

City Manager Johnson answered, "$300,000 is what is set aside for that purpose."

Then CM Johnson added, “Now keep in mind the $300,000 is for construction activities, not necessarily for this project. That’s for all construction activities"

Legendary City Attorney Herbert Darby

Attorney Herbert Darby
Legendary Herbert Darby shares is thoughts with the Committee.

Legendary City Attorney Herbert Darby, the longest sitting City Attorney in America, opined on giving folks in the downtown business district grants or prepaying expenses as an inducement to improve their properties.

The City is trying to come up with ways to get folks to invest in the downtown. The City has only met with very limited success.

A walk through the length of Lake City's downtown is revealing.

Mr. Darby mentioned that there may be greater participation in the grant program if the City could initially advance a portion of the grant funds to an applicant.

He said, "It’s my opinion there are more minuses. If we have an advance policy you have to make it available to every applicant who makes an application. You would be opening the doors for liability to the City. If the recipient or contractor went bankrupt there could be a problem. It’s my view that it is not good policy, but if that’s what you decide you want to do it would be a program for anybody who wants to make an application for a facade grant. Anybody would have the right for an advance."

Local downtown business leader John Kuykendall wants standards

John Kuykendall (left) listens to City Manager Johnson.

Committee member and successful downtown business man, John Kuykendall, began a discussion about redevelopment standards in the downtown.

Lake City has no standards, no architectural review board, no rules for downtown redevelopment.

Lake City has money to give away. The Facade Grant program allows the city to pay for up to 75% of facade improvements. The City has historically had difficulty getting downtown business to apply for the grants.

Mr. Kuykendall discussed the Long Boat Key standards.

Committee member Gloria Spivey wanted to know if Lake City could develop standards. She asked, “Couldn’t we do something like that?”

Mr. Kuykendall said, “If you get somebody crazy, you could end up with a lot of different stuff. I think it would be better if we had some kind of uniformity.”

Mr. Kuykendall asked why the city couldn’t develop standards.

CM Johnson, answered, “I don’t know that you can’t do that. The council could certainly apply whatever standards they want.”

City Manager Wendell Johnson:  standards are "counterproductive"

A view of downtown Lake City during a CRA Committee sponsored walking tour. Read the story.

CM Johnson continued, “If you start regulating painting in that manner it’s going to be problematic. I’ve seen a lot of examples of that.”

CM Johnson said he thought controls were in place, “If it’s something that’s contrary to the City’s intent of redevelopment in the CRA, it’s going to be brought to the attention of the decision makers."

City Attorney Darby opined that in the future it might be in the interest of the CRA program to set standards.

Mr. Darby continued his discussion mentioning communities that have defined standards, “I think that works a hardship.”

City Manager Johnson said, “That’s counterproductive.”

Committee member Gloria Spivey, "We have to do something different because what we’re doing is not working out.”

City Manager Johnson, who has been in charge of Lake City for the past four years, was not happy about Ms. Spivey's observation. "How did we come to the conclusion that what we have is not working?"

Ms. Spivey responded, "With the Facade Grant, nobody applies."

City Councilwoman Moses, a Wendell Johnson supporter, added, "I think we’ve done a great job with the facade grants."

City Manager Johnson: "It didn't get this way over night.

City Manager Johnson gave his opinion, "It didn’t get this way over night. The dynamics are a challenge for anybody. We are making fairly good progress. I’m chipping away at the stump and hoping it is going to sprout."

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