Communication Builds Our Community

Reinvestment Bankers Find Much to Like During Tour of Lake Wales

Thursday Tour Brought Representatives of Four New Banks to Review Opportunities Here

An invitation to view and assess potential community investment opportunities in Lake Wales drew representatives from financial institutions looking for opportunities to invest in the community.

Several banks and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency responded to the invitation to participate in a tour of the city, which was led by staff of the Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency and the Main Street organization Thursday. Several reportedly left impressed with what they had seen.

CRA Project Manager Darrel Starling began the tour in the northwest neighborhood, sharing the plans geared to revitalize the area. The number of new houses in the area caught the attention of the representatives. The new development is part of the City's affordable housing program. Several first-time homebuyers qualified for down payment assistance through SouthState Bank.

City Manager James Slaton, who accompanied the group for much of the day, called the opportunity "amazing," pointing out that banks are always looking for ways to invest in communities, and the exposure to the wide variety of improvement projects here was what most were looking for. He was impressed, he said, by the interest shown by the out-of-town bankers. He cited as an example the strong partnership that the City has built with SouthState Bank, which has provided down-payment assistance for a significant number of new affordable single-family homes in the Northwest Neighborhood, an identified goal of the Lake Wales Connected Plan.

The Community Reinvestment Act requires federal banking regulators to encourage financial institutions to invest in the communities in which they do business. Financial institutions participating in the tour included Centennial Bank, Woodforest National Bank, Wauchula State Bank, and Wells Fargo, in addition to the Office of the Comptroller, which assesses the banks on their performance under the Act.

"The collaboration to tour the Northwest Redevelopment Improvement District and downtown Lake Wales came naturally because for years now the CRA staff and Main Street have been following the award winning Lake Wales Connected plan to a 'T'," said Main Street executive director Karen Thompson in a statement.

Redesign plans for the Northwest Neighborhood under the Connected plan include more than a mile of new sidewalks lined with street trees, plus outdoor seating areas and enhanced lighting. Development projects on Lincoln Avenue include LincPlaza, a new multiplex building comprising retail shops and mixed-use housing, along with two new restaurants.

A new CRA-supported business incubator called BizLink is already operating there. Also proposed are a sports complex at Frasier Field and a community garden designed to grow fruits and vegetables, Thompson said.

"The tour was to provide banking officials the full scope of our needs within the entire CRA," Thompson said. "We gave them examples of projects in the (Northwest Neighborhood) and in downtown that fall under the Community reinvestment act guidelines for funding. It is our hope they left the tour ready to partner with one or many projects."

According to Thompson, Main Street is focusing on recruiting executive housing projects to the downtown district, along with their normal business retention and recruitment. "All three are perfect examples of projects perfect for CRA funding and will in the end raise the tax base significantly in LW while reaching our goals for downtown redevelopment and revitalization," Thompson said.


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