Thompson Resigns as Mainstreet Director as Lake Wales Connected Proceeds
Thompson Also Served as Assistant Director of CRA Which is Funding Project
Last updated 5/17/2023 at 9:16am
May 12 - Long-time Lake Wales Main Street executive director Karen Thompson has announced her resignation.
"I am excited about downtown Lake Wales' future and proud to have played a small role," Thompson said. "We are fortunate that both the Main Street board and the City are committed to realizing downtown's full potential and holding quality as the number one priority."
The Main Street program is funded in part by the Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency.
Thompson, who was hired to lead Main Street in October, 2017, "has been the backbone of our organization and we will greatly miss her," according to Ryan Buskirk, who has worked closely with her as the immediate past president of the not-for-profit group.
Ronni Wood, who has served on the organization's two-person staff for several years, will "take the lead," according to a release issued this morning by the organization.
Main Street spearheaded the hiring of the Dover, Kohl & Partners planning firm. That step led to the creation of the award-winning Lake Wales Connected plan which is now being implemented by the CRA.
CRA chairman Robin Gibson credits DK&P with "the greatest impact of any outside organization ever" on the city, and credits Thompson "and the great people she got on the board" of Main Street for bringing the firm to Lake Wales.
Thompson's departure follows that of other key staff, including CRA District 3 manager Darrell Starling, assistant to the city manager Michael Manning, and horticulturist and parks department director Lester Gulledge. Gibson views the hiring of city employees as a credit to the recruitment by City Manager James Slayton, who attracts good employees.
"We're a bit like the Tampa Bay Rays, we find them, but we can't afford to pay them what they're really worth, they get noticed, and they get hired away," Gibson told LakeWalesNews.net."
"Although we are saddened by Karen's departure to Lakeland, we are happy for her and this new opportunity," said Scott Crews, the incoming president of the organization. "She leaves Lake Wales Main Street healthier than ever and with a strong vision for the future," Crews added.
The Lake Wales Connected plan is a visionary effort to reimagine the urban center of the city, and will ultimately include more than $20 million in improvements to area streets, sidewalks, and other infrastructure. The $14 million phase one Park Avenue and MarketPlace streetscape is underway. The public investment is hoped to be the stimulus for private investment. Some evidence of that is already apparent.
The CRA captures the "tax increment" generated by rising property values to reinvest them within the defined redevelopment district, driving further increases in values.
"Lake Wales Main Street has made positive strides to make downtown the focus and we will continue to do so," said Kristie Reed, who serves as the organization's treasurer. "Our board is composed of people who deeply care about the future of Lake Wales."
The Main Street mission was described by Wood as "making downtown Lake Wales an historical site destination within the context of economic development. The program utilizes National Main Street's proven four-point method, called the "Main Street Approach." This method offers a move toward downtown revitalization that has been successful in thousands of towns throughout the country."
Lake Wales Main Street is a public/private partnership organized in 1987, and recognized as one of Florida's first Main Street programs.