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By Robert Connors
Managing Editor 

Soto Seeks Grant to Support First Street Reconstruction

Funds Would Support Lake Wales Connected Effort

 

Last updated 7/15/2022 at 12:28pm

Courtesy Congressman Darren Soto

A million-dollar grant in support of the Lake Wales Connected project will help revitalize downtown Lake Wales and the urban core, beautifying nearly a mile of the major north-south route. The Connected plan includes many blocks of streets, including portions of Park, Central Orange and Crystal Avenues, and improvements to Scenic Highway, as well as urban streetscapes and sidewalks, bikeway and walking trails.

Efforts to re-imagine the urban core of Lake Wales as an attractive and shady pedestrian oasis filled with new businesses and restaurants continues to draw the support of both the public and private sectors.

Congressman Darren Soto has announced that he is requesting a $1 million Federal grant to support street restoration in downtown Lake Wales. This project, one element of a multi-faceted effort, would revitalize 1st Street, which is a critical connector, unifying the northwest neighborhood and Historic downtown Lake Wales.

The project is a portion of the extensive "Lake Wales Connected" design which followed a privately-funded initiative led by the Lake Wales Main Street program almost four years ago. That effort, supported by area banks and businesses, resulted in the hiring of the award-winning urban design firm of Dover Kohl and Partners, who created the inspired vision of a reinvigorated city.

Plans for First Street include wider sidewalks, and reducing the excessively-wide travel lanes, which have been described as "a raceway." Rows of live oaks will create a shady canopy over the street.

"We have to create a space where people want to be," Dover said in presenting the design, describing how a public space takes on the dimensions of a welcoming room if the dimensions are appropriate. Buildings form the walls, while tree canopies form a ceiling. Broad windows and sidewalk dining make the space appealing and popular.

The design for Lake Wales Connected draws heavily upon the work of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., who created the city's original park and streetscape designs at the behest of Edward Bok in the late 1920's. That plan, initiated in 1930, was never completely realized. As the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) works to apply Olmsted's principles to the urban core, Lake Wales Heritage is partnering with the city to complete the original designs in the residential areas of the city.

Soto's effort on behalf of the program is his second, having successfully included $800,000 in a previous bill which enabled the CRA to add improvements to Orange and Crystal Avenues to the original plans for Park Avenue and First Street.

The entire project will be backed by an $18.5 million bond issue, which will be paid through the existing capture of the "tax increment" resulting from a captured portion of city and county taxes. No tax increases are required to fund the project.

Image courtesy City of Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency

A re-envisioned First Street will be an attractive corridor featuring a bike track, narrower street and wider sidewalks. It is expected to attract new private investment to the urban core of the city, including the rehabilitation and reuse of the former Seminole Hotel, pictured in the background.

Other elements of the program include the eventual removal of the aging Grove Manor public housing project, built in the 1960's, with a traditional mixed-income neighborhood featuring a blend of housing types ranging from single-family to cottages and apartments. The CRA has pledged $1 million to support that effort by the Lake Wales Housing Authority, owners of the land. That effort is pending receipt of tax credits allowing the involvement of a private-sector partner.

The first actual construction of the plan is now underway as Park Avenue is reconstructed between Lakeshore Boulevard and Scenic Highway to accomodate a trail linking the Lake Wailes Trail with the downtown area, passing along Crystal Lake Park.

 
 

Reader Comments(1)

estevealpacas writes:

Hooray for our Congressman,Daren Soto ! And don't stop at First Street ! Let us make Lake Wales,and its surroundings a DESTINATION,not just a place to drive thru while going North/South on US 27 or East/West on State Route 60 . How about getting a micro-brewery to open up in town ? I also remind about my strong belief that this can only be accomplished by well planned and extensive Off-Site parking . Then you can allow the City's down town core to be motor vehicle free (Except for deliveries and public services.I see canopied streets to protect from the sun and rain........

 
 
 

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