Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

City Manager Johnson: Working on a Plan to Raise the Blanche Hotel From the Dead

LAKE CITY, FL – Last night in City Hall, City Manager (CM) Wendell Johnson revealed the embryo of a plan to raise the Blanche Hotel from the dead. The landmark Blanche has been languishing for decades in the heart of Lake City's decaying downtown. CM Johnson is working to strike a deal with a company, which goes by two names, IDP, Integrity Development Partners, LLC or, IDP Housing, to renovate the Blanche. IDP's estimated project cost is $13,675,000. Other than Mayor Witt, no one on the Council had one word or question to contribute to City Manager Johnson's one sided conversation.

creature.jpgOne of the creatures found inside the Blanche in 2009. Go to Photo Gallery

As the item came up on the agenda, City Manager Johnson told the Council, "We saved the best for last. This is the same firm that approached the City back in July of 2013."

At that time IDP was looking to put retail and low income housing in the Blanche.

CM Johnson explained that IDP is out of Valdosta and that both he and the County's Economic Development Director, Glenn Hunter, have met with them multiple times in the last 3 or 4 months.

CM Johnson added, "I spoke with them multiple times in the last few days. The Letter of Intent as written is not in the condition, language wise, to be accepted for execution by the City Council tonight."

IDP is asking for a partnership with the County as well. So far, sources at the County have indicated low to no interest in the project.

The New Market Tax Credit Program (NMTC Program) was established by Congress in 2000. The NMTC Program helps economically distressed communities attract private investment capital by providing investors with a Federal tax credit. Investments made through the NMTC Program are used to finance businesses and real estate projects in neglected, underserved low-income communities.

CM Johnson said, "They [IDP] have come up with an interesting concept and it's called a New Market Tax Credit Program."

CM Johnson continued, "This is a viable prospect. It is one that I believe is realistic in the vision of being achievable... The letter of intent has to be negotiated... IDP is aware that I'm not going to ask you to sign this letter tonight because it's not in the condition that we can do that, because contrary to what it says in here [it] is not binding. It's got a caveat that says (unintelligible). There is no question in my mind that it would constitute in legal terms a binding document."

City Manager Johnson asked the City Council to approve three things:

1. Acknowledge that we have received the letter of intent to redevelop the Blanche hotel at an approximate value of about $14 million.

2.  Acknowledge that you do, as you did 4 years ago, to work with this prospect to achieve reality of redevelopment of the Blanche hotel.

3. Authorize the staff to move forward with an economic impact study for the Blanche hotel. IDP will share in the cost of that.

CM Johnson added, "This is the best chance since I've been here... I'm going to be working with Glen Hunter to make this a reality. This company has done this before in Valdosta Georgia... The key to this is the New Market Tax Credit Program, which is administered by the Treasury Department. They have to have local support. They have to have a local partner. They have to be in a distressed area."

Mayor Witt was the only City Council member to comment, "It's something we definitely should look into."

CM Johnson followed up, "We had to start somewhere. You keep grinding the stump and found the sprout. I think that’s happening here in Lake City."

Councilman Ward moved the motion to include CM Johnson's three requests for approval. The motion passed unanimously without comment.

City Manager Johnson closed the conversation explaining to the Clerk that the cost of the economic impact study was going to be shared with IDP.

He told the Council, "That letter is a big part of my negotiating skills. They’ve already agreed to that. It’s 50-50."


After the meeting ended, your reporter mentioned to veteran councilman George Ward that no one in the County seemed interested in salvaging the Blanche or putting up any money for the project.

Councilman Ward said, "We can't continue to let the Blanche deteriorate. We'll just have to do it ourselves."

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