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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City

Blanche Saga Continues: $14,000,000 financing remains unexplained

Wendell Johnson's Blanche Project: Where's the Beef?

LAKE CITY, FL – City Manager Wendell Johnson and others have claimed that the future of downtown Lake City rests with the renovation of the Blanche Hotel, a City landmark that had fallen on hard times years ago. It was ignored by the City and City management, including City Manager Johnson until the Observer exposed that it had turned into a death trap.

The City Manager Has Been Making an Effort

For the last four years City Manager Johnson has been making an effort to find someone to renovate the Blanche. His efforts were unsuccessful until IDP came up with its proposal, which while it includes many pretty graphics, is lacking on the specifics of financing.

New construction cost for a three story commercial 79,600 sq. ft. office building is estimated at $5,509,326. The cost per sq. ft. is $69.21

IDP has given an estimate of $14,000,000 to renovate the Blanche's 79,600 sq. ft., which is $175.88 per sq. ft.

Construction estimating link is here.

The City has circulated to its insiders two pieces of literature.

The Observer asked to be put on the Blanche circulation list, was told it was added. It never received the following information.

The Blanche Master Plan Bullet Presentation, "The Hotel Blanche, A Key Downtown Catalyst Project": Disregarding the editorial comments and sales pitcheyness, the one page piece presents useful information.

IDP's "Hotel Blanche Package": As expected, the presentation contains cool, well done graphics. Financial information is pregnantly lacking.

There have been no discussions regarding the source of retail tenants.

The lack of a supermarket in walking distance and the non-existence of any kind of public transportation inhibits downtown residential occupancy.

According to City Manager Johnson, as of December 16, 2014, the Blanche was "a little over $100,000" in arrears of its taxes.

Monday night

Monday night, at 5:30 pm in City Hall, the Blanche saga continues. The developers will be on-hand.

Comments (to add a comment go here)

On Feb. 22, 2015, radio show host Terry Rauch wrote:

Borrowing money with no purpose in mind. Sounds like our nation and their 18 trillion dollar debt. Plus it sets off red flags everywhere.

Here we have a business district design around 1850(?), surrounded by homes with no major traffic feed to it. It cannot expand because there's no room and it falling apart because of the age and neglect of the buildings. Businesses leave that area and nothing new comes in to it. Why? I have no clue, I'm sure there is a good reason. I'll even go on a limb and say most likely it's because there is no parking for the employees, not to mention customers.

The city is still kicking around the idea of keeping the Blanch Hotel renovation alive. A $14,000,000 project that for some crazy reason, the city wants to fix. With no (nothing) parking spaces in the plans. Did I add that most all of the businesses in the Blanche have left. Years ago. Most likely because of the building's condition and no parking.

I still remember a millionaire telling me once, if you don't have parking, nobody will come.

My suggestion: Make the owners of these buildings supply adequate parking for existing buildings, bring these building up to code, tear them down (at the owners expense) or buy them out at a fair market price and resale the property after the city removes the building. Nobody is going to give you money to make your place look good if the problem is not fixed. That's common sense.

Let private developers buy the land and build what they think will work. That way the city has no "skin in the deal" if it fails. Work with these developers, don't nick pick them. What you have now isn't working.

Residents of Lake City, I have no skin in this game. I really don't care what you do. Raise your taxes to pay for this boondoggle or put your foot down on the whole 9 yards. The choice is clearly yours alone.

Remember, Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Lake City, quit being insane.

Terry Rauch - Rauch Report Radio Show


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The CRA Master Plan is available here. (25Mb)