Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City

City Manager Johnson Updates the City on the $15,000,000+ Blanche Project: 'Ready for Takeoff'

LAKE CITY, FL – On Tuesday night, October11, the Community Redevelopment Advisory Committee (CRAC) met to discuss playgrounds and playground equipment in Wilson Park. As the 30 minute meeting was wrapping up, City Manager Johnson gave a three minute update on the $15,000,000+ Blanche project.

Parking: Key to the Project

Mr. Johnson began by announcing that the City had been notified by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO)that it had been awarded a $750,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

This grant is for commercial revitalization of the downtown area around the Blanche, for parking lots. Without parking, the Blanche was not going to happen.

The breakout (provided by the Observer) of the $750,000 looks like this:

The City was awarded $150,000 for property acquisition and $540,000 to demo a building and build a parking lot. That is $690,000.

The City agreed to pay Fred Fox Enterprises an unknown amount for grant writing and administration. Fox and others that write these types of grants only get paid if the CDBG grant is awarded. The grant application allocates $60,000 for grant administration, the maximum amount allowed.

Three applicants responded to the City's Request for Proposal (RFP).

The coversheet of the grant clearly states that the RFP was for "Grant Writing and Administrative Services."

The RFP states in clear, simple language:

17) Execution of Contract: Unless such time is extended by the City, the successful Proposer shall, within ten (10) calendar days after Notice of Award is issued by the City of Lake City, Procurement Department, sign and enter into a Contract with the City, and shall simultaneously provide any required bonds, indemnities and insurance certificates.

Failure to comply with the established deadline for submittal of required documents may be grounds for cancellation of the award.

Earlier today, City Manager Johnson responded to the Observer's request for the contract between Fox and the City: "The City has no contract/agreement with Fred Fox Enterprises."

It is unknown how much Fox Enterprises will be paid.

The CDBG Small Cities Commercial Revitalization Grant received by Lake City is funded by the American people through the Federal Government.

City Manager Johnson

City Manager Johnson Explained the Grant

"Earmarked as the Veteran Street Parking Improvement Project, it will pay for acquisition of the two-story brick buildin' behind the Blanche. It will pay for demolition of that buildin'. It will pay for construction of a parkin' lot; landscaping; lighting; all those features that come with a high quality parkin' lot."

Mr. Johnson continued: "The second thing that it will pay for is additional needs – dependin' on how much money we have -- is gonna' be the removal of Veterans Street, from Marion west to Columbia. That street will be converted into an exterior park."

The Old Richardson Paint Store
A toxic dump has its advantages

In May, the City Council passed a resolution to enter into an agreement with Magnolia, LLC. This company purchased the Old Richardson Paint Store, which is behind the Blanche. Unfortunately for Magnolia, and what has turned out to be a fortuitous event for the City, the land was a toxic dump.

Mr. Johnson explained the arrangement: "The City will pay for the mitigation with the understanding that once mitigation has been completed and the concurrence [approval] of the DEP has been gained to give closure to the consent order, the environmental consent order, the City will take ownership for the price that was agreed upon in the agreement -- $30,000. That's what Magnolia paid for the property when they bought it on the tax certificate." (abridged)

Mr. Johnson continued: "There's another $25,000 included in that agreement to pay legal fees, but that is only payable upon success of acquirin' the buildin'."

"The bottom line: before the environmental issues [became] visible, that property was appraised at somewhere around $150,000." (abridged)

According to Mr. Johnson, the State Super Fund will pay for the cleanup.

Mr. Johnson said he spoke with Bob Finger, the environmental attorney that is working on the Richardson clean-up; Mr. Johnson shared that conversation: "My question to him was, 'When do you expect the City can take ownership of this property?' I almost jumped out of my chair when he said, 'By the end of this year.' I'll believe that when I see it."

Everybody smiled.

More Parking

Mr. Johnson explained that the new parking lots will provide in the range of 118 spaces.

He said, "That will accommodate any needs for the redevelopment of the Blanche, not only for public parkin' but for city employee parkin' as well."

The Developer: IDP

Mr. Johnson explained that IDP believes that the bank loan should be available in November. Without the loan, the project is at a standstill.

Mr. Johnson was not convinced, "I've said all along -- they said November -- I believe it will be January. But I know for the past 10 to 12 days the buildin' has been occupied substantially by [sub] contractors comin' doin' estimates for the construction."

Mr. Johnson continued, "They've got -- a contractor has already been secured."

"It's coming. We're a long way away from where we were before," he said.

Mr. Johnson wrapped up his presentation by telling the committee that retired City Attorney Darby had gone over the updated development agreement with Mayor Witt and after working on the agreement for a year and half it was agreed that Mr. Darby will be the one to wrap up the agreement.


The Blanche, the downtown revitalization, and the Wilson Park renovations are the capstones in Mr. Johnson's long career in municipal government.

Politically, he did what it took to see his plan take flight.

Everybody's watching and waiting for the landing.

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


Links to Blanche stories are here.