The Blanche Hotel
The seventh inning stretch
Columbia County, FL (Posted
2010 • at 08:55 am)
By Stew Lilker
"The most important
thing right now is the safety of the people that are
using and visiting the building. That is the main reason
that I did this. The structural analysis is a small
price to pay to assure that they are safe." City Manager
Since September of 2009, when the Observer first
broke the story about the rundown conditions inside and
outside the Blanche, there has been a lot of talk,
energy and ink – both electronic and traditional – spent
on the Blanche Hotel. On Monday night, the City Council
approved a structural engineering study that is going to
cost Lake City $19,500. When the Council meeting
adjourned there were some unanswered questions about the
Blanche, the structural engineering report and
Councilman Jake Hill's dissenting vote regarding the
As the City is working on the multitude of code
violations and everyone waits to see if the Blanche is
going to fall down, now is a good time to look at those
Councilman Hill and his no vote
In a telephone interview with Councilman Hill on
Wednesday evening Mr. Hill explained his position on the
Mr. Hill, have you spoken with City Manager Johnson
since the council meeting on Monday when you voted
against the engineering study?
I spoke with Mr. Johnson today. He told me that the
reason that he ordered the structural engineering study
was that he was concerned about the safety of the people
who work in and visit the Blanche. I can’t argue with
that and certainly support the City Manager in his
concerns. I am looking forward to seeing the engineering
report. I am hopping the City Manager puts the engineers
on notice that the Blanche engineering study must be on
the fast track and I will be following this closely to
see that it is.
Hill, now that you are aware of this, if you had it to
do over again, would you have changed your no vote
against the engineering study and have supported it.
Absolutely not. I am glad to hear the rest of the
details and it certainly makes me feel better about the
financial arrangements for the engineering study, but my
“no” vote stands. It was a vote against any kind of bail
out for the owners that let the Blanche deteriorate to
the condition it is in now.
Thanks for speaking with me.
One more thing. I believe that an important reason the
residents of Lake City voted me into office was to watch
their money. I am committed to do that and I want
everyone to know that Jake Hill will never vote for any
bailout of the owners of the Blanche Hotel.
The engineering study – who pays – and why
Who pays for the engineering study and is it part of
a bailout has been a question that many folks in the
community share with Councilman Hill.
During the past couple of days the Observer has
spoken with Councilman Ward and CM Johnson about this
issue, which was left in limbo, when Mayor Witt
adjourned Monday night's council meeting.
The Blanche Boys contention that they had a
"willingness to pay" for the structural analysis rang
hollow with many, including your reporter, as the
Blanche Hotel is their building and not the city's. Many
folks thought that the Columbia Bank, the mortgage
holder, and the Blanche Boys should have been paying for
Many folks also thought that if the Blanche Boys were
looking for a handout or a loan from the city, they
should have been in front of the city council and asked
At the conclusion of Monday's Council meeting, your
reporter asked CM Johnson about the "willingness to pay"
and what that meant.
CM Johnson said, "Richard Cole [the prime member of
the Blanche Trust] told me that they would pay for half
of the study within six months."
Your reporter mentioned to Mr. Johnson that if it is
good enough to say, then it is good enough to write.
On Tuesday, there were still unanswered questions and
CM Johnson made time on short notice to speak with the
Observer that afternoon.
City Manager Johnson pulled no punches
Thanks for taking the time to see me.
There seems to be a few issues hanging out there
regarding the Blanche. One of the main ones is -- who is
paying for the structural engineering study?
Richard Cole [one of the members of Blanche Trust] said
they would commit to pay within six months.
I am not here to bail anybody out. It is going to be a
partnership. My position is it is not about the people.
It is about the Blanche. It is not about those owners.
They are going to be a component of it. They have to be.
What if they default on the note?
That’s their problem. Then we will work to find someone
Can you tell me a little about the structural analysis?
They [Jones Edmunds]
are going to perform a structural analysis -- load
capacity, structural analysis of the walls, the framing,
the load capacity of the floors, the roof, the
structure. That is what they are going to do.
The Blanche is not going to be the cause of my demise.
have a vision for downtown Lake City. It is a dream. It
has to be researched. We have a nice little trust fund
that is recurring each year and if it is used wisely
everyone will see a difference. That’s what the CRA is
for. The Blanche is the most critical component of the
commercial district. It is the biggest building and it
is the one the city has to look at first. We have to do
something and that something has yet to be determined.
Step one has been determined.
What is that?
The most important thing right now is the safety of the
people that are using and visiting the building. That is
the main reason that I did this. The structural analysis
is a small price to pay to assure that they are safe.
Thanks for your time.
After the discussion with City Manager Johnson, your
reporter walked across the street to Ward's Jewelers and
spent a few minutes with Councilman George Ward.
Mr. Ward told the Observer that he is not going to
bail out anybody "but we can't let it [the Blanche]
fail. We need it downtown."
The Observer asked about the Blanche Boys
"willingness to pay" for the engineering report.
Mr. Ward said, "I was told that they would be sending
a letter, committing in writing, that they will pay
their half of the structural analyses."
The Blanche is now in the seventh inning stretch, as
Lake City's employee of the year, code enforcer
deals with the violations and everyone waits for the