Communication Builds Our Community

Park Avenue Will Remain "Open For Business" During Transformation

Construction Project Will Require Traffic Detours, But Sidewalks Will Be Maintained, Merchants Told

Continuous access to downtown businesses will be maintained during construction of the transformative Lake Wales Connected designs, representatives of Gomez Construction assured gathered merchants at a Tuesday morning meeting.

Project manager Mahmoud Heda said that, despite unavoidable traffic detours, "sidewalks will never be shut down during business hours."

The 8:30 am gathering at The Marketplace Café allowed Heda and Main Street Manager Ronni Wood to explain the complex phasing of the project. The meeting was attended by representatives of the project team, including Chastain Skillman and Catalyst Design Group, as well as City manager James Slaton.

Heda told the gathering that when crews repour sidewalks the work will be done by 4:30 am, and ready to walk on when businesses open for the day.

Questions were raised by a merchant regarding the poor condition of the existing planter beds downtown. Slaton told the group that he was aware of the problem and that "we're on it."

Other questions included any planned work on Stuart Avenue, which is not slated for a complete reconstruction for another five years, and the ongoing issue of locked gates on the Arcades, which prevents the passage of pedestrian traffic. From their construction in the 1920s and for the following decades there were no gates on the buildings, allowing the free flow of commerce. The installation of gates coincided with the decline of downtown retail.

The Park Avenue project has multiple phases and will require traffic detours as the work progresses eastward along the street.

Work on the initial block of Park Avenue west of First Street to Wetmore Street is progressing rapidly. Heda explained that he expects crews to be laying the new brick pavers there in three to four weeks.

Installation of street lighting will follow, but has been slightly delayed, he said, to accommodate a redesign of the fixtures so that irrigated hanging baskets won't block banner brackets. The block will also feature rows of Live Oaks, which will be planted within root-barrier enclosures to prevent future lifting of pavements.

In late August construction work will begin at the intersection of Park Avenue and First Street. That month-long phase will require closing much of that intersection, forcing traffic to detour north to avoid major work in front of the Walesbilt Hotel. Replacement of water, storm, and sanitary sewer lines will be done before new pavement is put in place.

Park Avenue will carry two-way traffic as the work is completed, and the intersection with First Street will be a permanent four-way stop. The new brick street surface will be continuous from Wetmore to Scenic Highway.

When the intersection work is completed in late September the schedule calls for work to begin on phase 2B, which involves the stretch of Park Avenue between First Street and the Wells Fargo drive-through entrance. Negotiations are ongoing, according to Wood, to determine whether traffic can be directed from Park to Stuart Avenue via that route or will be diverted north at Market Street.

Phase 3A, also slated to begin in September, will see the remainder of Park Avenue west of Scenic Highway eventually closed for construction. A simultaneous reconstruction of the MarketPlace plaza will be conducted. That work is scheduled to be completed by May of 2024.

The final phase 4, involving the intersection of Scenic Highway and Park Avenue, will begin in May and be concluded in October of 2024, according to the work schedule.

The reconstruction of Park Avenue is seen as a central element of the huge Lake Wales Connected design. Work on the redesigned First Street from Central Avenue to Dr. J.A. Wiltshire Boulevard is expected to begin late this year.

The entire project includes the eventual reconstruction of Orange, Crystal, and Central Avenues between First Street and Scenic Highway, the construction of a new roundabout at Crystal and Scenic.

It also provides for the installation of thousands of feet of new sidewalks in the Northwest Neighborhood, and hundreds of street trees to create a canopied atmosphere for pedestrians.

Lead planner Victor Dover has explained the impact of outdoor spaces as rooms, with interesting floors provided by brick pavers and other materials, with buildings forming the walls, and tree canopies the ceilings.

Dover's award-winning city planning firm, Dover, Kohl & Partners, led the process that involved several other firms to create the plan. The entire project will cost more than $20 million, and is being funded by a combination of federal grants and Community Redevelopment Agency bond funds.


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