Conversation with Steve Smith
Blanche investment trust spokesman
Columbia County, FL (posted
On Tuesday afternoon, October 20, the Observer had a
brief conversation with Attorney Steve Smith, one of the
members of the trust and the spokesperson for the
investment group that owns the Blanche. Mr. Smith was
forthcoming in his explanations.
The Observer has been able to identify the following
people who are in the investment group that wants to
sell the Blanche to Lake City: Richard Cole, Daniel
Crapps, Stephen Smith, Marc Vann, and Paul Vann. That
leaves about fifteen more and Mr. Smith said that he
would check with the group to see if they all would be
willing to have their names released.
Mr. Smith explained his perception of the county's
obligation should they decided to occupy the Blanche:
"All they are going to have to do is maintain the
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In a brief discussion about the wiring in the
building Mr. Smith said, "My understanding is that we
redid the wiring."
About the third floor, which is a death trap, Mr.
Smith said, "I told them at the meeting [County
Commission] that the third floor is terrible."
Mr. Smith explained that the third floor was not a
part of the building that was open to the public and it
was not maintained. "We borrowed what we could afford to
borrow to fix it up as much as we could afford to fix it
Speaking about the second floor, Mr. Smith said,
"With new carpet and repainting the walls the space is
usable... The whole second floor looked like the third
floor looks like right now when we bought the building."
About the worth of the real estate, Mr. Smith said,
"Just the land alone is worth five or six hundred
Mr. Smith said that before the city can buy the
building it has to order two independent appraisals.
"The city is not going to buy the building without doing
some checking. If there is mold or asbestos it will have
to be taken care of."
Mr. Smith explained what he thought a deal between
the City and the County may look like: "Folks in the
county think this is going to cost a lot of money. They
[the County] don't have to do any renovations at all.
They can do nothing but accept the rent. They don't have
to do any significant renovations until they have a need
for the office space. All the county has to do is
maintain the building and accept the rent."
Mr. Smith said that when they first bought the
building, Daniel Crapps [a major player in Lake City
real estate] said they were buying it for the good of
Mr. Smith said, "Everybody knew going in that they
weren't going to make a profit... We were doing this for
the good of Lake City. We were hoping not to lose too
much money. We were hoping that we would at least come
close to breaking even... We bought the building -- did
some significant renovations. We put a lot of money into
Mr. Smith said, "Nobody in that trust has ever gotten
one penny out of it."
Mr. Smith explained, "The mortgage right now is about
a million dollars. Every penny of it went into fixing
the building... If the city buys it for 1.5 million
dollars we [the investment group] are not going to make
one penny out of it because of the money we've been
putting into it for the past twenty years... We might
get a percentage of our money back, but I can promise
you we are not making anything."
Mr. Smith said the group never borrowed money to take
anything out of it. "All the money we've borrowed has
gone to keep the Blanche alive."
Mr. Smith responded to some of the criticism he has
heard lately: "The reason we got into this was not to
make a profit. It makes me angry to hear that people
think that it was a bunch of investors who are looking
to get bailed out by the city now. When I think of
investors, I think of people putting up money to make a
profit. That was not the reason we got into this. We
started out trying to do a good thing for the city more
than twenty years ago and we'd really like to pass the
torch to somebody else.