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Lake City's Last Chance Hotel, the Blanche
Plans On the Way to the Columbia County 5 

Posted November 7, 2015  07:45 am | (1 comment)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Wednesday morning's Columbia County Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) meeting lasted almost an hour, half of which was spent talking about the deteriorating downtown Lake City Blanche Hotel. For the first time in many years, Lake City was approached by developers with a plan to raise the Blanche from the dead. This plan was provided via a Letter of Intent to Lake City and Columbia County by the developers, who attended the meeting to answer questions and explain their plan for the $14,000,000 project. There was not one question. This is typical of Columbia County, where the real discussions of the County's business is typically done under the cover of darkness.

Columbia County's recently hired Economic Development Director, Glenn Hunter, explained the Letter of Intent (LOI) to the EDAB, "You have a letter that is basically a framework."

The EDAB is an advisory board only. It does not appropriate money nor can it spend money. It makes its recommendations to the County Commission, known as the County 5, which has the authority to adopt or deny its recommendation.

The Blanche Hotel is a 112 year old former hotel located in the heart of downtown Lake City. It has been deteriorating for decades. It is vacant and unsafe for occupancy.

Mr. Hunter explained Lake City's downtown, "Things are starting to thrive and things are starting to happen in a positive way.”

It is true that things are starting to happen.

Mr. Hunter told the Committee that trying to restore the Blanche Hotel has been tried “many times in the last 30 or 40 years.”

"There will have to be a decision made before too much longer -- whether it needs to be torn down and made into a parking lot -- or if we will, we as a community, want to restore a landmark."

He asked no one in particular, “Can we afford to restore it?”

Brett Holmes (left) and Thompson Kurrie III attended. No one asked a question.

Attending the meeting were IDP's Brett Holmes, President, and Thompson Kurrie III, VP of Development, who had driven down from Valdosta to answer the EDAB’s questions.

Mr. Hunter said he was asking the EDAB to agree to send the IDP Letter of Intent to the County Commission explaining that the EDAB agreed “to agree to the concept of the framework of the letter of intent. "This is a 13 ½ million dollar project," he said.

Mr. Hunter said the project is, “Working with historic grants and New Market Tax Credits. That will bring an additional five or 5 ½ million dollars through the treasury and the federal government towards this project as a benefit to help make the project a viable project."

Mr. Hunter was looking for a partnership between Lake City and Columbia County. He explained what the City Council did: "They approved the concept of sending this forward and hoping that this can be the start of some negotiations between the two governments and a private industry. A partnership to look at possibly forming an agreement to create a solution to solve the problem associated with the Blanche Hotel."

This past Monday at the City Council, a meeting which was attended by Mr. Hunter, other than a sentence by Mayor Witt, The City Council approved the concept of the LOI without one word."

Veteran Commissioner Ronald Williams. He will play a major role for the County 5.

After explaining that the EDAB can’t sign the Letter of Intent, Mr. Hunter said, “Fortunately enough we have a company willing to come forward and work with us in their expertise to look at a complete build out, approximately 3 years from now."

Mr. Hunter concluded his remarks, "Downtown seems to be thriving. We have people from out of town looking to invest in downtown."

Veteran County Commissioner, Ronald Williams

Commissioner Williams spoke about investors: "When you take them downtown and you have a bunch of dilapidated buildings and you just don’t look good -- that’s a dark spot."

He continued, “Economic development go beyond goin’ out and gettin’ a company and bringin’ em’ in and they say ‘yea’. You got to put everything together to make them feel that this is where I wanna be.”

“Not only are the schools involved; the quality of life; everything goes into that decision for them to locate. Downtown Lake City -- they wanna see it. A company can determine the quality of a community by lookin’ at it. It’s just that simple.”

City Manager Wendell Johnson, who in some circles is perceived as an economic development expert, concluded the conversation, “I’ve been tryin’ to get somethin’ shaking with the Blanche. It started in September 2009... This is an opportunity that we cannot let slip by... It’s going to take a partnership.”

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

Posted on Nov. 10, 2014, jds wrote:

Let me first say that I love the Blanche Hotel. My best memory is celebrating my husband's birthday at Tucker's. That said, I cannot support a $14 million dollar project to "salvage" it.

The best part of the Blanche could be retained while the more deteriorated portion is demolished for new construction which keeps the spirit of the original facade intact. Historic preservationists advise on these projects and the end result is beautiful. Downtown Gainesville is an example of good (not perfect) renovation and long-term planning.

For the Blanche, a private developer or end user will have a bigger vision not to mention profitable business model. Why isn't the Blanche on the market for sale? This does not need to be a government project.

Further, the proposed expenditure of approx $14mil will include "low income housing." This will depress the downtown economy such that retail businesses that depend on consumers with disposable income will not be able to operate in the area. This is only one of many reasons the planning for The Blanche is naive and misguided.


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Links to more Blanche stories:

May 9, 2015  Frisina Swings the Vote, Blanche Ducks a TKO – Lake City, County, Developer Regrouping (Part II)

• May 8, 2015  Last Night The Blanche Ducks a TKO – Lake City, County, Developer Regrouping (Part I)

• March 11, 2015  Blanche Hotel: 6 Months & Counting – $14,000,000 Letter of Intent May Be Next Month

• Feb. 24, 2015  Blanche Hotel Train of Advisors Pulled into City Hall Last Night: Lots of Pictures - Not Much New

• Feb. 21, 2015  Blanche Saga Continues: $14,000,000 financing remains unexplained

• Feb. 3, 2015  Blanche $15 mil Renovation: CM Johnson Playing it Close to the Vest, "You'll know when I know"

• December 18, 2014 (Part II)  The Blanche: Johnson & Decker want inclusion "Anybody that wants a seat will have one"

• December 17, 2014 (Part I)  Lake City's Blanche Hotel: $15,000,000 Renovation Discussion Off & Running

• December 4, 2014  Renovation of Blanche Hotel on the Launching Pad:  Will everyone have a chance to participate?

• November 7, 2014  Lake City's Last Chance Hotel, the Blanche – Plans On the Way to the Columbia County 5

• November 4, 2014  City Manager Johnson: Working on a Plan to Raise the Blanche Hotel From the Dead

• March 4, 2010 The Blanche Hotel - The seventh inning stretch

 • Mar 1, 2010 The Blanche Group Bailout
Who are they? Where are they?

 • Mar 1, 2010  A Blanche Investor Interview

 • Feb 27, 2010  Structural Evaluation of the Blanche Hotel Now in the hands of the City Council

 • Oct 21, 2009 Conversation with Steve Smith -Blanche Investment Trust

 • Oct 21, 2009 City steps up • Councilman Hill wants slow down

 • Oct 21, 2009 The visit • The fire inspection

 • Oct 21, 2009 Go to Photo Gallery

 • Oct 9, 2009 City Steps Up To The Plate
Offers to buy Landmark Blanche Hotel