Like Santa’s elves, scurrying around busily to meet that critical Christmas Eve deadline — to the delight of good little boys and girls — scores of people in the construction trade are very busy in and for the area around Eagle Ridge Mall, north of Lake Wales. I’m thinking about planners, architects, surveyors, contractors, construction workers, heavy-equipment operators, and utility personnel.
The collective work of these professionals is coming together to dramatically increase the level of building activity on both sides of a long stretch of U.S. Highway 27 North, generally from the Hampton Inn & Suites north to Cypress Gardens Boulevard, and provide area residents and travelers with many more shops, retailers, eateries, and services.
From the vantage point of the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council, the activity is akin to a big holiday gift — a wonderful, positive, and exciting way to close out 2017 and start 2018.
While the construction activity isn’t expected to peak until after the first of the year, some work already is under way. Demolition work is progressing across from the mall property on the southwest corner of U.S. 27 and Thompson Nursery Road. Land is being prepared to make way for a new auto dealership owned by the McGuire family, the owner of two Lake Wales dealerships farther south on U.S. 27 — McGuire Chevrolet and McGuire Kia.
Other economic and business development plans for the area adjacent to and north of the mall call for the construction of:
- A Wawa super convenience store and gasoline station, with outparcels for additional businesses.
- An Aldi supermarket, also with outparcels for additional businesses.
- A brand new IHOP restaurant for Lake Wales. This will be built near the Kohl’s department store, just north of Shoppes on The Ridge (the Publix shopping center).
- An 82-room Best Western Plus hotel, which will rise on property located on the south side of the mall and behind the Bob Evans restaurant.
In addition, major renovation plans are complete at the Holiday Inn Express on Ridge Way, near Kohl’s, and there’s been discussion about the possibility of several new residential developments behind Shoppes on The Ridge.
Back at the Eagle Ridge Mall, the almost 22-year-old development that first gave rise to major business activity at U.S. 27 and Chalet Suzanne Road/Thompson Nursery Road, progressive thinking is going on to adapt the mall space during a period of major change in retail market conditions and shopping trends. A good example of the transition underway at the mall is the recent opening of a not-for-profit community service organization in space once occupied by six small retail stores. Kingdom City Outreach, or KCO, had its grand-opening celebration at the mall on Oct. 28. Serving Lake Wales and surrounding communities, KCO helps to develop men and women through accountability groups, it provides hot lunches twice a month, it operates a food pantry, and it has a youth organization called G-HYPE (Generation Helping Young People Every Day). G-HYPE’s focus is to reduce teen pregnancies, drug use, and new cases of HIV/AIDS.
As busy as the commercial construction activity is — or soon will be — along U.S. 27 North, it’s just the tip of the economic development iceberg locally. A major business development announcement is expected early in January, and more exciting news will be shared and discussed Jan. 19 during the Chamber-EDC’s 2018 Economic Forum Breakfast.
The seventh-annual economic forum will be held from 7:30 to 9 a.m. in the ballroom at the Lake Ashton community at 4141 Ashton Club Drive. The breakfast meeting cost is $15 per person, and tickets remain available. To reserve a seat, call Charlotte or Autumn at the Chamber-EDC offices at 863-676-3445, or send an e-mail message to email@example.com.
The holiday season is a wonderful time of the year in and around Lake Wales, and it’s great this month to be able to write about so much positive economic news — a flurry of construction activity and preparation for a lot more. It’s also an opportune time for all of us at the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council to wish everyone a very merry and memorable Christmas and a safe, healthy, happy, and prosperous new year.
Cheers to one and all!