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By Robert Connors
Managing Editor 

Brick Streets, Brick Facades Transforming Park Avenue

Private Investment is Following Major Public Investment in Downtown Lake Wales

 

Last updated 8/5/2023 at 11:17am

Robert Connors

Jason Nutt of Way Better, Inc. uses a heavy wedge to pry a thick layer of stucco from the front of a building at 213 East Park Avenue, part of a restoration project being undertaken by owners The Story Companies.

Bricks may become the new buzzword for downtown Lake Wales. The rapid changes coming to Park Avenue under the Lake Wales Connected project include a street completely resurfaced with traditional brick pavers to emphasize the historic significance of the downtown area.

Now those bricks are being joined by the newly-exposed original brick facades of historic buildings that have been hidden behind stucco for years. The work is being undertaken by individual property owners, including Victor and Kyle Story and Robin Gibson.

According to city planners, the natural textures of brick and stone surfaces are eye-pleasing elements that help to create an inviting atmosphere for shoppers and pedestrians. Among the improvements that frequently result from facade restoration projects are the reopening of clerestory windows above transoms and awnings, allowing light into interiors and improving the appearance of the building from the street.

The recreated Park Avenue is Envisioned as a pedestrian magnet featuring sidewalk cafes on broad, shaded sidewalks under a canopy of spreading trees. The plan restores the original two-way traffic.

The downtown area has been designated as a National Historic District and contains many great examples of the period architecture popular during the "Great Florida Land Boom" of the period between 1916 and 1926. Most of the structures in the area date to that period. The area has languished economically, a situation the Connected effort aims to correct by attracting private investment.

The Story's purchased their building at 213 East Park Avenue in 2021, and recently began an extensive renovation of the building, beginning by removing a thick layer of stucco that concealed the attractive original brown and tan brick façade.

Gibson is advancing a similar effort on his property at 244 East Park Avenue, with plans to convert the upper floor of his two-story structure into four residential units. He was encouraged in his efforts by a recently-completed market study.

That study by prestigious research firm Zimmerman/Volk Associates identified what Gibson called "a measurable segment of the market" searching for downtown residential space, along with homes in traditional neighborhoods.

"There's quite a significant demand, and virtually no supply," Gibson told LakeWalesNews.net. "Lake Wales is in a good position, and we need to exploit it" to create quality housing and livable neighborhoods, he added.

The one-floor Story building will provide office space for The Story Companies as well as a single tenant. Vice President Kyle Story told LakeWalesNews.net that he is "proud and excited to be securing our future in downtown Lake Wales," adding that "the timing is perfect with the public/private partnerships in place for such investments."

Robert Connors

Robin Gibson's redevelopment of 244 East Park is moving forward as the project design is expected to receive approval of historic preservation tax credits to offset some of the expense of recreating the original building facade.

The expansive Connected plans, an investment of more than $20 million, include the reconstruction of several other streets in the downtown area to create bike tracks and multi-use trails. Scores of new trees will reflect the city's status as an Olmsted-designed "Garden City." Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., the famous designer of Bok Tower Gardens and scores of other famous parks, created the city's first landscape plans, building and zoning codes in the 1920's.

Story said the reconstructed façade of his building "will mirror the original character of the structure."

Gibson's project is by far the more complicated and involves restoring the original storefront glass windows. The original central support column was removed in the early 1980's to create a central front door, so restoring the design requires significant engineering. Demolition of the interior has recently resumed as plans are under review, according to Gibson.

 

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