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Lake City

Million Dollar Plus LC Waterfront Redevelopment Back to the Drawing Board, Again (Pt II)

Project cost: $1,339,307 and climbing

The CRAC met Tuesday night in a highly unpublicized meeting.

LAKE CITY, FL – On Tuesday night, December 8, the Community Redevelopment Advisory Committee met for the fourth time since March 3, 2015, to discuss the Lake DeSoto Waterfront and Wilson Park Recreation Area Redevelopment Project. Along with the top-secret Blanche Project, City Manager Johnson and the City Council are hinging the future of downtown Lake City on these two projects. The Landscape Architect and the Project Engineer did not attend. However, it was made clear that they previously met with Councilwoman Moses, Mr. Johnson, and others behind closed doors before coming up with their latest plan. There was only one member from the public present.

Councilwoman Melinda Moses Kicked off the Meeting

The Councilwoman explained that she, Public Works Director Thomas Henry, former CRA Director Jackie Kite, and City Manager Wendell Johnson met with the Engineer and Landscape Architect. "They proposed this. This is what they took from our meeting - thought about what we said and what our parameters were financially and made this plan."

Plan C revealed: developed behind closed doors, the Lake City/Columbia County way.
                                      (Click here to enlarge)

City Ordinance No. 2015-2054 calls for the construction of a band shell and a sea wall.

Ms. Moses told the Committee, "The band area is no longer over the water. It will be up to the water without a band shell."

Former CRA Director Jackie Kite announced, "The seawall is no longer there either because that was something that would displace the water, which would cause the cost to go up to put the water somewhere else. The built-in seating was taken out."

Restrooms: better late than never

There was an extended discussion about restroom facilities and where to put them. Matt Vann said that during the Olustee Festival the restrooms at Brown Vann Carpet were the busiest in Lake City. The City staff will be looking into portable restroom facilities.

The Ordinance calls for "constructing an underground stormwater retention system"

City Manager Johnson told the Committee, "The approach that I envision is not to create an underground retention system. The idea is to put a cover over the existing retention system. That will not cost anywhere near $100,000."

No one understood what he was talking about. Mr. Johnson told the committee that he really wasn't sure how that could be done, but that he knew it would cost less than the original underground plan.

The Ordinance calls for "constructing and equipping a playground"

Dennille Decker (center) along with Jeff Simmons and Beth Burlingame have been involved in the project planning from the beginning. (file photo)

City Manager Johnson told the Committee that Dennille Decker, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, emailed him and wrote that she thought there were enough "children's parks around town" without having to add another and incurring more expense.

Mr. Johnson said he thought she had a valid point. He said, "If you think about the amount of space we got; you think about the amount of money we got -- why would we want to build another playground?"

Committee member Gloria Spivey told the Committee, "I do think we need a playground. We need something for the kids."

Real Estate Issues: The Houston Trust – LSHA – Dr. Atta

Real estate issues have bubbled up and will have to be solved before the project can be completed.                      (Click here to enlarge)

The large parcel of land (.78 acres), most of which was donated to the City by the Lake Shore Hospital Authority, was purchased at the height of the real-estate boom in a land buying scheme orchestrated by then Authority Chairman Jackson P. "Jack" Berry.

(See: Lake Shore Hosp Auth: $4,000,000 spent in real-estate spending spree - still no plan)

The Atta/Yetman parcel is in the way of the Redevelopment Plan. The parcel is problematic. Dr. Atta, who was to originally purchase the parcel decided to put it in his wife's name in a corporation which is located in Nevada. The parcel is also deed restricted.

The parcel known as the Generator Shop was purchased by the City in a deal worked out by City Manager Johnson in August 2015. The City paid $125,000. The City Manager claims that part of the purchase price included the purchase of the business. The owner claims it does not. The City resolution to purchase the business states only that the property and the expenses to purchase it are what the City bought.

Mr. Johnson is trying to work out a deal to swap the Atta/Yetman property for a parcel in the Houston Trust property.

The folks that own the Houston Trust, seeing property values increasing, have not been satisfied with the City Manager's offer.

Mr. Johnson told the Committee, "I did meet with the owners of the Houston Trust few weeks ago and discussed a possible arrangement whereby that property could be conveyed to private ownership of someone who would be willing to develop, maybe not in the same context you see here with the three buildings, but develop that as a private development. That area there is not intended to be a component of the redevelopment park. We don't own it and I don't know if we want to."

Mr. Johnson continued, "The price? We had it appraised, a formal appraisal. It's consistent with the appraisals of all the properties in that area over the last couple of years. However, the comparison made by the owner in relation to the Vanguard property (Generator Shop) -- the fact that we had to buy out his business, which elevated the price some amount above the appraised value -- he is viewing that for consideration. So I did not get anywhere is what I am saying."

Mr. Johnson asked, "What I ask of the committee is what are your suggestions?; what are your contributions to how I should continue to negotiate, facilitate, attempt to meet the objective of one -- eliminatin' that old house over there, which is an eyesore." (The old house is the three buildings in Plan C).

Mr. Johnson took a hard-line, "I did end the conversation with the trust owners with this comment: "If we have to move forward with this development without that, we could do it.'"

The Johnson Threat: a tall buffer

"The only thing we could do as an alternative would be some kind of an opaque buffer -- large vegetative buffer... You can't see over there and then he can do what he wants," said Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Johnson added, "I'll continue to talk to Dr. Atta."

Governor Scott's Lake Shore Hospital Authority: more secrecy

Mr. Johnson announced, "The Hospital Authority is still considering participating. Haven't gotten that far -- a formal action has not been requested."

This purported participation by the Authority has never been discussed publicly.

The Cows

The City Manager told the Committee, "At some point certain after the first of the year, when we finalize this plan and start moving forward with these components that we have proposed... we can't delay it waitin' on that, because we may be waiting till the cows come home."

Mr. Johnson asked, "What's the pleasure of the Board?"

City Councilwoman Moses, "I don't want to pay em' what they're askin'."

Committee member Spivey asked, "What are they asking?"

She was ignored.

The Changes: Wrapping Up

City Manager Johnson wrapped up:

I'm going to draft a memorandum to the architect and I'm going to capture the motion in great detail -- just exactly what we agreed to tonight. I'll forward each of you a copy of that. And then I'll forward it to him and once he's contacted me and gives me an understanding of how he's going to proceed from his perspective -- I believe it's going to be an update to the concept plan that includes those changes. Then once we got that he can do the presentation where he actually showed what's going to be done, and that would be what I think and I would suggest that we present at a public meeting where we really publicize and say okay the Committee has formed a recommendation of a plan and would like public input.

Public Participation

Your reporter questioned the lack of public participation in the process.

Mr. Johnson said, "This meeting is publicized. My suggestion is if anybody's got any interest they should be here. We do notice this meeting. We indicated that this was going to be an evolving process."

Councilwoman Moses added, "Oh yes, we want everybody to know what's going on."

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

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