There’s New Enthusiasm For Downtown, The Heart Of Lake Wales

In and around Lake Wales, the city’s downtown area and the Main Street program associated with it have a lot of cheerleaders. If there were a competition for head cheerleader, we at the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council would think that the Chamber-EDC would be among the top contenders.

Why is that? It’s not just because a strong, vibrant, and attractive downtown is good for the businesses located there and the people who want to do business, dine out, and find entertainment there. It’s also good — vital, even — to overall community economic development.

An EDC fact is this: Every big developer who comes to Lake Wales to check out the city for site selection, new construction, or business expansion wants also to check out the city’s downtown. It happens every time. The developers want to make sure the city’s heart is strong, because, most often, as the community’s heart goes, so goes the rest of the community.

At the heart of the so-far really fine effort to revitalize, beautify, boost, and market the city’s heart – its downtown area — is Lake Wales Main Street. For those not familiar with it, Lake Wales Main Street is a local private partnership organized in 1987. It’s recognized as one of Florida’s first Main Street programs. Its mission is to make downtown Lake Wales both an historical site and destination for everyday business, shopping, and leisure activities, such as the Hops, Shop & Stroll evening event held March 22.

On the Main Street website, http://lwmainstreet.com, the theme is a nice one:

“The sweetest little town in Florida. A town where roots run deep … and the fruit is ripe for pickin’.”

Main Street Lake Wales, with day-to-day leadership by Executive Director Karen Thompson, is a very active association of volunteer board members, business members, sponsors, and contributors. Now is a particularly busy time for the group – and an exciting one as well.

During the first week of April, Main Street will be host to urban planners from the Miami firm of Dover Kohl. The planners will be here to get public input on a neighborhood plan for the core of Lake Wales – the city heart I mentioned earlier.

Hired with privately raised funds, the Dover Kohl planners will lead development of Lake Wales Connection, a 20-year town design vision, and strategy for the city of Lake Wales.

An interactive public work session with the Dover Kohl consulting team is set for Monday, April 1, from 6 to 9 p.m., at the James P. Austin Center at 315 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Lake Wales. The session will be a fantastic opportunity for citizens to share their ideas and contribute to the strategy for Lake Wales Connected.

You can get more information about this event and sign up for it online at https://www.facebook.com/events/267342464211933/.

The opportunity for public comment about the town design strategy won’t end with the Monday work session. The Dover Kohl consultants will set up shop in an office at 215 Park Ave. in the historic downtown district and, for the balance of the week, will accept additional input from citizens and start their “designing in the sunshine.”

A public update on where the town design strategy is heading will be held Friday, April 5, from 6 to 9 p.m., at the Woman’s Club of Lake Wales at 275 E. Park Ave. Citizens will be able to preview the plan and provide additional input and comment.

All of these Main Street-Dover Kohl activities present tremendous opportunities for area residents to be a part of the town design process and help shape the future of Lake Wales. Anyone who can’t make it to one of the public meetings or to the Dover Kohl shop still can participate by calling Karen Thompson at 863-259-1503 or by e-mailing her at karenlwmainstreet@outlook.com.

City leaders say that the eventual town design strategy has their full support. A first phase of construction could be fast-tracked for startup right after the plan is complete.

From what I’ve been hearing and reading about, there’s a lot of enthusiasm in the community for this project, for Lake Wales Main Street, and, mostly, for the city’s downtown core. People are optimistic. Here at the Lake Wales Chamber-Main Street, we’re enthusiastic and optimistic, too.