Communication Builds Our Community

Becoming a Destination: The Economic Facts of Life

Series: Lake Wales Renaissance | Story 11

This is the eleventh installment in the Lake Wales Renaissance series. Lake Wales City Commissioner Robin Gibson serves as Deputy Mayor and Chairman of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.

Nations strive for a positive trade balance, where they sell more products than they buy, thereby receiving increased capital and creating a higher standard of living for their citizens.

The same holds true for any economic unit. Let's take Lake Wales downtown for example. It's a simple economic fact of life that if downtown brings more money in than it pays out, it will generate capital for downtowners. More capital means more employment, more income, and higher property values. Fortunately, our downtown is located within a Community Redevelopment District. Higher property values for the District enhances the Community Redevelopment Trust Fund. The Trust Fund's purpose is to plow its money back into downtown to further enhance its value, thereby creating an upward spiral for the benefit of the entire local economy.

Becoming a Destination

If downtown is to become a profitable destination, it needs two things: 1) A place where people want to be, and 2) Goods and services those people want to buy.

A Place Where People Want To Be

The Dover-Kohl town planners have devoted their careers to researching, discovering, and creating places where people want to be. Their proven results speak for themselves. The firm, working with the community, has produced the "Lake Wales Connected" plan. The redevelopment plan, unanimously approved by the City Commission, will begin with Park Avenue. Park Avenue's construction documents are being produced. Construction will begin in June of next year, with completion approximately a year thereafter. The Community Redevelopment Agency has the ability to fund the project.

Goods and Services

In today's economy, the lead attractor for historic downtowns has proven to be quality restaurants. Once customers are brought downtown for food and beverage, the other goods and services become available for additional business. The CRA has already taken steps to bring in the needed businesses. Its incentive grant program for Downtown and the NW Development Area is designed to match certain permanent improvements to the property (which also works to improve property values and enhance the CRA Trust Fund). Four restaurants and a taproom are either open or under construction after their investments qualify them for CRA matches of up to either $50,000 or $100,000.

The Bok Connection

On its way to becoming a destination, Lake Wales has a distinct advantage: It is at the entrance to Bok Tower Gardens, which enjoys National Landmark status and welcomes more than 200,000 visitors a year. Even though the Tower is the central feature of the City's official seal, the two entities had not previously coordinated an organized plan for mutual economic benefit.

Aside from proximity, the linkage between the two entities is even more apparent when considering the fact that Bok Tower Gardens is known for its landscape design by the iconic Olmsted landscape architecture firm. Lesser known is the fact that the Olmsted firm also produced a landscape design for the City around the time the Tower was dedicated in 1929. The arrival of the Great Depression meant that the City could only afford to implement the beginnings of its Olmsted plan.

An integral part of the City's Lake Wales Connected plan is to bring about the completion of its Olmsted landscape. The plan also calls for a transformation of the entire historic core into a heavily planted, garden-like setting, with the aspiration of achieving "A City within a Garden." The natural kinship between the City and Bok Tower Gardens is obvious, and the mutual benefit to be achieved from becoming a jointly patronized destination is readily apparent.

Much remains to be done, but the pieces of the plan are in existence, and it's coming together.

The Next Installment: Fulfilling our Olmsted Heritage


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