Communication Builds Our Community

Retail Business Recruitment is Focus of Downtown Lake Wales Effort

Meeting With Property Owners Outlines Efforts by Retail Strategies Firm

A downtown business improvement effort "focused on asset development and retail recruitment" was outlined to a large group of downtown property owners at a Wednesday luncheon.

Elliott Cook of Retail Strategies told those in attendance that his purpose was to gather information from them that would be used in their efforts. Cook promised that his firm would provide owners with the tools for success.

Retail Strategies was hired by city government to help recruit new business activity to the city. They are conducting two separate efforts, the second focused on highway retail and hotels.

The meeting was focused on the downtown area and sponsored by Lake Wales Main Street, and included a walking tour of several downtown properties with owners and Retail Strategies employees Cook, Community Development Specialist Jeremy Murdock, and Vice President of Community Engagement Cynthia Stewart. Cook is the firm's Director of Real Estate

"We're not here to tell you what to do," Cook said. "This is a fact-finding mission." The firm plans to inventory every property, determine what's ready, what needs time, how we can help you." He promised to develop a "walk score" to determine how connected places are, how far a person can travel in 20 minutes to reach dining, retail, parks, and sports facilities.

Cook, who was accompanied by other members of his firm, said that downtown "has good bones, not a lot of communities have this," referring to the unique architecture and the ongoing investment by the Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Authority.

He outlined several points that are involved in generating success for city centers, including what he called "zero-capital investments," basically policy and administration changes that allow an area to thrive.

Other needs include market analysis, tourism and promotion, economic vitality, and consideration of the highest and best use of structures.

Communities seeking new businesses typically have access to data that aids in recruiting, Cook said. His firm would develop that "so you have access to the same data and information available to those communities."

The presentation drew a significant number of comments and suggestions from the audience, most of which were very positive.

After asking what people hoped for in the future, Jessica Bray told him that she would like to see the downtown become part of "a full day, or two day experience" for visitors to Bok Tower Gardens.

Pete Weber pointed out the importance of honoring our heritage, and being selective about what we recruit.

Pat Cain emphasized the need for maintenance, saying "it doesn't matter how pretty you make it if you don't maintain it. Put the money in the budget to keep it looking good."

Challenged by one person about the need for parking, Cook pointed out that most of the area would fit inside the parking lot at Walmart. "I've parked at the outside edge, and you know you have too," he said, explaining that if people come downtown for one thing, they expect to park right in front. If they come for multiple things that expectation goes away.

"I know when you have a festival, people park blocks away and no one complains," he added.

Several speakers mentioned the beautiful architecture of the downtown area, something that sets it apart from typical retail development. Asked about the value of the historic Walesbilt Hotel, Cook cited it as a potential economic engine.

"The meeting with the property owners was an excellent opportunity for Retail Strategies to understand and hear their desires, vision, and challenges," said Main Street Executive Director Ronni Wood. She added that the hiring of the firm "demonstrates the commitment that both the city and Main Street have to the revitalization of our downtown."

"I'm really proud of (the City of) Lake Wales for doing this to assure that their investment in infrastructure leads to economic prosperity," said Tammy James. "It's a great effort."


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