A New Downtown Lake Wales Is Right Around the Corner
by Kevin J Kieft, President/CEO Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council
Imagine a bright, sunny day in Lake Wales. Imagine walking down Park Avenue along brick streets and under the shade of blossoming trees. Imagine crossing the road without having to watch your step over curbs or halting for speeding cars. Imagine having lunch outside at a sidewalk cafe before perusing the nearby stores and boutiques.
Soon you won’t have to imagine all that. These refurbishments and more are currently underway, and they are expected to be completed within the next year or so. Soon you will be able to enjoy a new downtown bustling with pedestrian traffic and economic development.
These downtown renovations are being pushed forward as part of the “Lake Wales Connected” plan created and funded by the Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and Lake Wales Main Street, in partnership with the urban planning company Dover Kohl. These updates have been unveiled over the last few months.
Park Avenue will be the first street to receive these renovations, with further changes planned for the intersections of Scenic Highway and First Street. Most prominent of these changes will be brick streets which will better match the original historic downtown pavement.
Gone will be the diagonal parking spaces and the curbs of sidewalks. In their place will be parallel parking spaces and curb less streets. These changes will provide more space to the downtown area for streetscaping, pedestrian traffic, outdoor dining, and public events.
These refurbishments will undoubtedly benefit out city in more ways than one. More than simply making the downtown aesthetically pleasing, they will also serve as a “marketing tool” for potential investors and entrepreneurs.
A better-looking Park Avenue will spur economic development by attracting potential businesses to the downtown area. Already, we have the new Ranch Tap Room being constructed, Wales Pointe restaurant, and Melanie’s Seafood, all of which will be complemented by freshly-paved brick streets and freshly-planted streetscaping.
Best of all, this brand-new Park Avenue will benefit you, our local residents and business owners. With a better-looking downtown area to be proud of, you won’t need to drive out of town for a lively unique shopping experience. You can enjoy what your own hometown has to offer.
According to Karen Thompson, Executive Director, Lake Wales Main Street Inc.: “Downtown revitalization MAGIC occurs only when public and private investment meet halfway. The two go hand-in-hand. The City’s commitment to downtown improvements will give the private investors the reassurance that they will see huge return on their investment.”
That’s the best part of these renovations: they will help generate economic development that will generate more money to invest in your downtown. You can stay close to home and spend your money locally. The money spent downtown will circulate in the local economy and doesn’t leak out. These profits remain with local businesses and employees rather than being outsourced to big nationwide corporate chains, and thus they fund local goods and services that improve your local community.
Of course, these changes won’t come easily. As with any major project, they will require funding. Fortunately, both Main Street Lake Wales and the Lake Wales CRA have remained on top of facilitating funding through private investments and public grants for planning and engineering. Renovating an entire street doesn’t come cheap, but the investment is well-worth the long-term benefits.
The downtown area is the heart and soul of a hometown. It is how every city is judged. It is their feel, their brand. So how much you invest into your downtown, or how much money the municipality spends, or business spends, says a lot about the community. If you want your downtown to be its best, then you have to provide your best.
If you want to learn more about the changes coming to Park Avenue and downtown, watch the livestream footage of the presentation at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APD6-xqut1g