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Lake Wales
Monday, July 22, 2024

This & That: What’s Going On With Lake Wales Parks & Recreation, Streets , & The Walesbuilt Hotel


By Jack Hilligoss

    Once again, my thanks to Carl Fish and the Daily Ridge for providing this opportunity for me to respond to questions and, hopefully, provide some helpful understanding to the citizens of Lake Wales.

    I also hope these articles are helpful to those who call Lake Wales “home” but live outside the city limits. One source of frustration I encounter is this reality: the City Commission of Lake Wales has jurisdiction over the property and streets located within the city limits only.  So, there are many who call Lake Wales home, but the day-to-day governmental decisions they deal with are more at a county level.

    In this third article, I am going to cover some miscellaneous topics I received questions about.

Parks and Recreation

    There were a few questions/concerns expressed about the plans for and condition of our parks and recreation in the city.There have been some good developments in this area  and there are great plans moving forward.

    Perhaps the biggest news of this last year was our city assumed control of what was the YMCA on Burns Ave. Lake Wales received abrupt notice from the national YMCA organization that they would be ending their day-to-day management of the location in the summer of 2023.  

    This presented the city with a real challenge that was turned into a great opportunity. At first, there was a debate about trying to find private, entities to occupy the building. There was even discussion of a possible sale. However, the citizens of Lake Wales expressed an overwhelming desire to maintain this location for the benefit of the city. In response, our Parks and Recreation Department-headed by Stephanie Lutton-went to work.  The city invested a great deal of money and human resources into renovating, renewing, and reopening what is now The Lake Wales Family Recreation Center. This has become a great hub of community activity including regular “Parents Night Out” and “Flick and Floats.”  Fitness classes, sporting events, swim lessons, and other activities are hosted there. Currently, well over 1000 citizens have purchased memberships.

    A big investment has also been made in the linear park which runs between the Lake Wales Library and Scenic Hwy downtown.  This past year, fencing was installed, and the city received a generous donation to create a sculpture garden in the park.  The linear park has become the hub of many of the evening events which are hosted in downtown Lake Wales.

    The City is also near completion of a long-range, master plan, for the improvement and upgrades for its seven parks which was begun in 2021.  We have worked with Catalyst Design Group to put this plan together and sought a great deal of input from residents as to what things they would like to see become a part of our parks and trail network.  We just hosted an open house for more input on the first, exciting, conceptual plans that propose up to a $28 million investment in these, important parts of our community.


    Some asked about the maintenance and condition of our lakes. In the last two years we have removed over 650 tons of invasive weeds from Lake Cooper, Lake Eva, and Lake Wailes.  There were others who expressed a concern about shoreline clean up on Lake Wailes. However, that remains a point of contention with many opposing efforts to do that for fear it would disrupt the natural habitat.

The Walesbuilt

    The City of Lake Wales is still involved in litigation over the control of this property. A judge recently granted a motion for summary judgement on the property however, the city does not own the property at this time.

Roads, streets, and highways

    Traffic is an issue we receive the most complaints about. It is also the issue we, unfortunately, do not have much, direct, control over. Most of the roads you travel each day are not under the jurisdiction of the City of Lake Wales. We oversee and maintain only the residential streets within the city limits (I.E.-Johnson, Bullard, Polk Ave. etc)

    Regarding those streets, for the last three years we have been able to fully fund and implement a street repaving program in our city. We have improved and repaved over seven miles of city streets in that time. 

    We also enacted a multi-modal fee on all new development which has brought funding to our city that has allowed us to develop trails, bike paths, and purchase golf carts for our downtown “Squeeze” route.

    All other roads and highways are under the jurisdiction of the Polk County Commissioners. They work with the Transportation Planning Organization. The TPO monitors traffic conditions on over 425 roadway segments in the county. They keep track of traffic volume on these roads/highways and based upon “Annual Average Daily Traffic” assign each roadway a “Level of Service” grade of “A” which means free-flowing traffic, to “F” which means it is a parking lot. 

    This is all a part of the “concurrency” issue I wrote about in my first article for the Daily Ridge.  When a developer submits a plan to the city that meets all city zoning requirements, that plan is then advanced to county and state for review to make judgments on the ability of infrastructure to handle the demands of the new development. “Level of service” on local roads and highways are a part of that estimate. While all our local roads are certainly busier than we have been used to, there are currently none that have grown beyond what is determined to be “adequate level of service” by the TPO. The greatest congestion on local roads is to the north of our city and the highest, near-term, priority will be on Thompson Nursery and Chalet-Suzanne Roads.

    We saw the completion of a four-year improvement of the Hwy 27 and Hwy 60 interchange this year.  This has made that section of highway much safer and more convenient for all traffic. We will also receive $900,000 of funding this year for two railway safety projects in our city, one at Johnson Avenue and the second on Hwy. 60. 

A Huge Win

    On Wednesday, June 26, it was announced at a City Commission Work Session that Lake Wales will receive a $22.9 million RAISE grant to continue the renovation of our historic downtown which we began in earnest on Park Ave.

    I mention this here because, of course, it is exciting news and a big win for Lake Wales. It will help us come much closer to the full implementation of the exciting Lake Wales Connected plan. 

    Many strategic plans just become very expensive three-ring binders gathering dust on some city manager’s bookshelf. That has not been the case in Lake Wales. Every long-term plan we have invested in has been diligently and carefully pursued. This grant is the sort of reward that can come to a city when its leadership and administration do the hard work of innovative and visionary planning and, the even harder work of implementing the plan.   

   Our city staff has done that with “Lake Wales Connected”, we are also taking the necessary steps to codify the zoning changes necessary to implement “Lake Wales Envisioned”, and I believe we will see these sorts of things come our way as we also pursue the final plans for our parks and recreation department.

    Thanks again to Carl and the Daily Ridge. My invitation for you to send me any questions or schedule an appointment to meet with me at the Mayor’s office stands.

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