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Lake City Looking For a Brand: 3 Years After the Completion of its Downtown Redevelopment Plan

There was some lively discussion at the committee meeting.

LAKE CITY, FL – Tuesday night the Community Redevelopment Advisory Committee met in City Hall and began the public discussion of branding the Lake City Community Redevelopment Area. This is the area of blight that extends through downtown Lake City. Justin Simmons, a recent graduate of UF, volunteered his time to help the City work on a marketing strategy for the downtown. Mr. Simmons is a Lake City native and a Columbia County High School graduate. His father, Jeff Simmons, was a long time member of the IDA and is now a member of the Columbia County Economic Development Committee.

3 Years of Zero Marketing Effort

Mr. Simmons told the committee that the branding of Lake City should encompass all of Lake City and not just the downtown. He noted that the Lake City Community Redevelopment Area Master Plan only mentioned marketing twice. This was not accurate and the IBI Master Plan, in November of 2011, specifically recommended the following under the heading of Marketing and Promotion:

In order to attract potential customers from the region and to encourage existing customers to continue shopping in the downtown, the Agency should work with a marketing consulting firm to prepare a Marketing and Promotion plan as a long-term strategy. The Marketing and Promotions plan will help identify a brand identity for the downtown that separates it from regional competitors, capitalizing upon downtown's niches. The plan should also identify locations throughout the region that experience high volumes of tourists and visitors where marketing efforts should be pursued. These may include tourist information centers, airports, universities, and other regional destinations.

Unfortunately for the residents of Lake City/Columbia County, the downtown continued to deteriorate as City Manager Wendell Johnson tried to make progress, but the area is so blighted people stay away and a recent free awning program was barely successful.

Justin Simmons explains branding. The flag and logo are preliminary.

The Competition

Mr. Simmons explained that Lake City is in competition with surrounding areas, such as Gainesville. He did not mention High Springs which is having a downtown resurgence and has become a magnet for antiques and those looking for a good meal. High Springs is a 30 minute drive from downtown Lake City.

Downtown Issues

Mr. Simmons asked for committee members thoughts on the downtown problems. The responses were not surprising: not enough retail; too many empty stores; unsafe.

Mr. Simmons explained there is an underlying theme of uncertainty and discomfort in downtown Lake City and the surrounding areas. "That's something we're all aware of, but that's something that hasn't been addressed except by word of mouth," he said.

Mr. Simmons continued, "The perception we need to cultivate is a perception of a thriving environment; a booming community; a place that people want to come... perception is reality. What people think is what it is."

One committee member said she wants the downtown to have a rich, expensive look.

City Manager Johnson told the group, "Downtown Lake City is only going to survive with support and mutual commitment from the County and the City to making it happen."

Mr. Johnson said, "Justin is doing a good job."

Councilwoman Moses said in reference to hiring a marketing consultant that she didn't want to compliment Mr. Simmons, "If we're going to put this out to bid or anything."

Chamber of Commerce leader, Dennille Decker, asked if the branding of the downtown is only going to be for government. Ms. Decker shared that she thought that the theme should be for more than just government. She told the group that the downtown and the lake "should be a destination for people and families and weekends and all that sort of stuff."


Three years after the completion of the Downtown Redevelopment Plan by one of the premier urban planning design firms in the Southeast, Lake City is moving into action.

There is lost time to be made up and a lot of work to do.

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