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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Groundbreaking Ceremony Launches $18.5 Million Redevelopment for Downtown Lake Wales

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Groundbreaking Ceremony Launches $18.5 Million Redevelopment for Downtown Lake Wales

by James Coulter

In 1985, Robin Gibson remembers when the Lake Wales community redevelopment agency (CRA) was founded. Unfortunately, since its inception, the CRA was underutilized by the city, who, Gibson claimed, “ignored it, misused it, and accomplished no redevelopment.”

When he ran for city commissioner, he discovered that many of the commissioners felt the CRA was not being utilized properly, and from there on out, they decided to make better use of it to improve their local community.

Nearly 40 years since the CRA’s inception, Gibson, who now serves as a Lake Wales city commissioner and as CRA Chairman, has seen its initial vision come to fruition with a real plan to redevelop Downtown Lake Wales.

He made that vision official by signing a bond resolution for an $18.5 million project to revamp the downtown area with new pavement, streetscaping, and more space for pedestrians and city events.

He signed the document in front of a crowd seated outside The Ranch Taproom & Coffeehouse along Park Avenue during a groundbreaking ceremony hosted by Main Street Lake Wales on Thursday evening.

“Onward and upward,” he exclaimed after signing the resolution. “Let’s get to work.”

The $18.5 million for the construction project will come from city and county money, with the county covering most of the payment, Gibson explained: “We have city commissioners who are careful with public finances.”

The project will revamp the downtown area near and around Park Avenue with new brick pavement, special benches with oak-insignias, streetscaping, and overall wider space for pedestrians and city events. This construction is expected to start in February and be completed by next fall.

This redevelopment is part of a larger downtown revitalization plan adopted by the City of Lake Wales. “Lake Wales Connected,” true to its name, seeks to revitalize both the downtown and northeast district as to beautify the city as a whole.

According to Chastain-Skillman, an organization commissioned to develop the plan, Lake Wales Connected will “provide civil engineering design for improvements to Park Avenue from Scenic Highway to Westmore Street.”

These improvements, according to the website, will include converting the “one-way street with angled parking to a two-way street with wider parking,” as well as wider sidewalks and additional landscaping such as trees, planter, and rain gardens.

Lake Wales Connected officially started last Thursday with a special groundbreaking ceremony hosted by Lake Wales Main Street. The event was attended by city officials and citizens alike, and local businesses celebrated the occasion by remaining open after hours. The ceremony concluded with a show-stopping dance number to Footloose as performed by a local dance group.

Karen Thompson, Executive Director of Lake Wales Main Street, commended their board of directors for the effort to making this vision a reality: “It is their hard work and dedication of five years that got us here to this moment in time, to this moment in history. They have been here with us through this every step of the way.”

James Slaton, Lake Wales City Manager, boasted about how this groundbreaking ceremony will be remembered by everyone involved as a historic day. He commended the city and public officials for giving their all towards this project.

“We have a unique downtown that is by far superior to what our neighbors have,” he explained. “All your businesses are thriving, and the visitors are coming down to Lake Wales to see what we have done…There will be a point in time when this will be a case study for other communities on how to redevelop. I promise you that.”

Rusty Ingley, Past President of Lake Wales Main Street, commended the most important people for making the vision behind Lake Wales Connected a reality: the residents who live in the city.

Through community workshops and meetings, the local community has provided their input for what they want to see their city improve, and their suggestions were implemented into the plan.

“The success of this project comes from the fact that the community was involved every step of the way,” he said “We were exclusively inclusive.”

To learn more about Lake Wales Connected, visit their website at: https://www.lakewalesfl.gov/919/Lake-Wales-Connected-Plan

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