Lake Wales Connected Construction Launched With a Flourish
Park Avenue Event Marks Start of $20 million Project
Last updated 1/27/2023 at 9:51am
The ambitious, $20 million transformation of the urban center of Lake Wales into a shady and inviting oasis for pedestrian shopping and outdoor dining was launched Thursday evening with a groundbreaking that was both entertaining and inspiring, featuring celebratory remarks and even a "flash mob" dance team that surprised the crowd of more than 100.
Hosted by Lake Wales Mainstreet on Park Avenue, the event featured the signing of the actual bond documents that will fund the bulk of the construction, which were concluded with a flourish by Community Redevelopment Agency Chairman Robin Gibson to enthusiastic applause.
The project is a long-time vision of Gibson's, who has advocated for reinvesting the revenue captured by the CRA to redevelop the area. Gibson led the creation of the first Lake Wales CRA more than 30 years ago.
"Onward and upward," Gibson told the crowd, which included three city commissioners, state representative Sam KIillebrew, Chamber of Commerce officials, downtown investors, and business leaders. "Let's get to work," Gibson concluded.
An inspiring address came from Main Street past-President Rusty Ingley, who shared his ongoing personal experience with a home kitchen remodeling job in which every detail is decided "with love," saying that the same process used to create that "bright and airy oasis in the middle of our home" helped guide the downtown vision.
Ingley's presidency launched the effort to re-imagine what the downtown area could be, using an event under a tent in the MarketPlace in 2018 to introduce visionary urban planner Victor Dover, whose firm Dover Kohl & Partners created the award-winning designs.
"When designing cities and communities, it's easy to focus on the big picture: the layout of streets, the placement of buildings, and the allocation of open spaces," Ingley told the assembled crowd. "And while these are certainly important elements, it's the small details that truly make a place feel like home."
Park Avenue will itself be the first phase of the huge project, which will eventually see more than 20 blocks of the downtown and Northwest Neighborhood reconstructed to include improved pavements, street trees, sidewalks and lighting.
Construction is expected to commence on West Park Avenue in February before proceeding to the eastern blocks in the heart of the downtown historic commercial district.
Among the improvements will be a new clay brick surface on Park Avenue, a detail Ingley cited as a sign "that tells you that you have arrived somewhere special...somewhere old with a past."
"Old places are deeply beneficial to people because...they give us a sense of continuity, identity and belonging...inspire us with awe, beauty and sacredness...tell us about history, ancestry and learning," Ingley told his audience.
"Maybe it's the tree-lined streets that will stand out in your mind. These trees will connect us to our past via the original works of Olmstead," Ingley said, referring to famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., who created the city's original landscape plan after completing the gardens at Bok Tower.
Those trees "will welcome visitors and provide pedestrians with shade and protection from the elements," Ingley said. "As we move forward, these details will tell our community, visitors, and investors that this place is special."
The entire text of Ingley's speech is re-printed below.
An accompanying video also shares many details of the event.