Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City

The Blanche: Time for Straight Talking in the Sunlight by City Manager Johnson & IDP

City Manager Johnson is not talking

September 2014: the Blanche Project will begin by Christmas.

LAKE CITY, FL – Yesterday's Lake City mainstream print media article, "Blanche Hotel project 'will close'," had County Manager Ben Scott blasting off a polite email to City Manager Wendell Johnson letting him know the County is not interested in leasing City Hall. "I have never felt this was a viable option for the County," he wrote.

For years, City Manager Johnson and his private partners, Integrity Development Partners (IDP), have been telling everyone the construction/renovation of Lake City's Blanche Hotel is just around the corner.

The hinky financing of the project has been problematic from the very beginning.

Mr. Holmes during his presentation in Feb. 2015: financing remains in the shadows.

On February 23, 2014, IDP along with its architect and attorney pulled into City Hall to talk up the Blanche Project. IDP's Brett Holmes made his first pitch, but when it came to the project's financing the subject was roundly ignored.

During his presentation Mr. Holmes told the gathering, "I don't want to delve too much into the financing details, but I know this is a big question in everybody's mind."

It still is.

See: Blanche Hotel Train of Advisors Pulled into City Hall Last Night: Lots of Pictures - Not Much New

So far, with millions of City public dollars and the American people's tax dollars on the line, neither the City Manager nor IDP has been willing to explain the projects financing to the public.

Throughout the life of the Blanche project, time and again, the construction has been "just around the corner."

For at least a year, it has been clear that Columbia County is not interested in leasing City Hall, when and if the City moves out and into the Blanche.

March 2, 2017
County says it's not interested in the Blanche

With City Manager Johnson and the City Council keeping the Blanche project idling in the shadows, your reporter asked the County 5 about City Hall during its bimonthly meeting, "I keep hearing rumors that the County may take that over when the City ever gets the Blanche deal done. I'd like to know what's going on with that: if there have been any discussions with the City regarding Columbia County taking over City Hall?"

Chairman Ronald Williams answered, "To my knowledge, there have not been any further negotiations with the City of Lake City about City Hall... There have not been any formal negotiations with the City of Lake City about City Hall."

Your reporter followed up, "What about informal?"

Chairman Williams answered, "No sir, there haven't."

Your reporter followed up, "There's been none?"

Chairman Williams replied, "No, except for the initial comment that was made during the process when the City was tryin' to get the County to buy into the renovation and office space at the Blanche. There haven't been any other negotiations since then or meetings."

Your reporter asked, "Discussions or anything that you know about – discussions? I'm not trying to put you on the spot."

Chairman Williams turning to County Manager Scott, "I don't know of any. Ben, am I correct on this?"

County Manager Scott weighed in, "I did, when we were doing the space needs analysis – I did approach the City Manager and asked them if they had a proposal for us and he basically said, 'Well, I don't know. We're not there at this point.' So at that point I just left it alone."

May 10, 2017, 03:20 am: your reporter reads the LCR article which stated:

"[City Manager] Johnson said he plans to lease the current City Hall to the county for their operations and has been in discussion with County Manager Ben Scott about plans to do so."

May 10, 2017, 08:40 am, your reporter emails County Manager Ben Scott two questions:

"Ben, have you or anyone in the county began -- discussing taking over city has [hall] since the April 2 board meeting? Have you been directed by the board or a board member to begin discussions with the City Manager?"

May 10, 2017, 08:48 am, County Manager Scott forwards an email he sent to City Manager Johnson at 08:48 am:


I read in the paper this morning that we were discussing leasing City Hall. I apologize if there has been any misunderstandings in our conversations. You have told me on numerous occasions that the City would need to lease the building for seven years and then would be willing to discuss a purchase option at the fair market value at the end of the seven years. I have never felt this was a viable option for the County.  As I have previously stated, I believe the Board may consider an outright purchase of the building.

If you would like the Board to consider purchasing the building we would need to know a purchase price that would be acceptable.

May 10, 2017, 09:37 am, during a phone interview, your reporter asked County Manager Scott if he discussed City Hall with the City Manager.

Mr. Scott replied, "He brings it up every once and a while."

Your reporter asked, "Did you ever say the County would be willing to lease City Hall?"

Mr. Scott answered, "Absolutely not."

May 10, 2017, 09:49 am: your reporter emails City Manager Johnson:

Good morning,

I read in the LCR today a comment purportedly made by you: 2017/05/10:  Johnson said he plans to lease the current City Hall to the county for their operations and has been in discussion with County Manager Ben Scott about plans to do so.

Did you say this? If so, when? Other than remarks in passing, when has the last time been that you have seriously discussed the sale and/or lease of City Hall to the County?

May 11, 2017: City Manager Johnson is not talking.

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