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CRA Moves Forward With Major Bond Issue

 

Last updated 10/6/2021 at 1:13pm

A reimagined First Street will be the goal of the Lake Wales Connected plan.

A reimagined First Street will be the goal of the Lake Wales Connected plan.

The Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency took "first steps toward a pretty major transformation of Lake Wales" Wednesday evening, City Manager and CRA Executive Director James Slaton told the five board members after their historic vote to move forward on a major bond issue. "I hope you realize the weight of that."

The vote to retain the law firm of Bryant Miller Olive, PA (BMO) to guide the borrowing of up to $18.5 million dollars set in motion the full implementation of the "Lake Wales Connected" plan, intended to transform the city's central districts.

George Smith, representing BMO and speaking to the directors over a phone link, reassured them that lending costs were at "all time lows" and that proceeding on the plan would bear fruit. The city's finance department will work with BMO to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) that will be offered to 40 different banks. Locally owned Citizen's Bank and Trust and SouthState Bank will be included in that list. Others including Wells Fargo, SunTrust and Bank of America are likely to bid as well.

The Lake Wales Connected plan, developed by leading city planning firm Dover, Kohl and Partners, will convert North First Street into a shaded boulevard featuring a bicycle track, wider sidewalks and narrower traffic lanes. Its current state was described by a traffic planner as "a speedway." Major work is also planned for Park Avenue beginning in coming months.

First Street has been described as "a raceway" with over-wide pavement encouraging high speed traffic and discouraging pedestrians..

City Finance Director Dorothy Abbott assured the board that with excess reserves, good cash flow, and excellent history it has the equivalent of a AAA bond rating. "We're in very good shape, so we should get very good rates," she said.

BMO will also assist the city with the creation of a new CRA district, as the current district expires in 2029. CRA law allows the Agency to capture the "tax increment" when rising property values generate new revenue. About 90% of both city and county taxes return to CRA coffers and must be spent solely upon improvements within the district. Those improvements in turn cause further increases in investment and property values, generating yet more tax increments in a self-sustaining upward cycle.

 

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