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By Robert Connors
Managing Editor 

CRA Adopts New Funding Mechanism For Downtown Investors

New Program Will Help Fund Difficult Redevelopment Projects


Last updated 11/15/2023 at 5:45pm

Robert Connors

An ambitious renovation of this downtown commercial row will create space for at least two new restaurants and other uses facing First Street. The Lake Wales CRA has agreed to create a new loan program that may help support similar challenging projects to breathe new life into unproductive spaces downtown.

New life is being breathed into a significant building in the historic center of Lake Wales after actions taken by the Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency on Tuesday.

The city commission, sitting as the CRA board, also agreed to a new loan program to help local investors fund the renovation of five downtown retail units.

"This is new, this is the first one," CRA Executive Director James Slayton said of the $100,000 loan toward a First Street property owned by Tammy and Stephen James. The building is currently only partially occupied, but new tenants are waiting in the wings, Tammy James told the board.

The couple purchased three buildings, including the historic Friedlander Building on Park Avenue, with the vision of creating a compact cluster of restaurants the refer to as "the corners."

Robert Connors

"The Corners" is the project nickname given by redevelopers Stephen and Tammy James, who have taken this aging downtown commercial center with plans to create a vibrant retail and restaurant strip.

The building subject to the loan is located at 96 through 126 North First Street, just behind the three-story Friedlander structure. It is already under renovation with at least two restaurants included in the designs.

James pointed our that their plans include the rehabilitation of eight single-bedroom apartments above "one or possibly two restaurants" in the Friedlander building, and yet another in the former locksmith building on Orange Avenue.

CRA board member Keith Thompson was enthusiastic about the idea of helping fund downtown projects, calling the loan a better investment than the grants that have stimulated other projects. He compared them to the grants, asking "how do we get that back?"

Chairman Robin Gibson replied that the return was simply in the future tax increment because "that stays with the property." He called for the proposed loan to be shortened from a seven-year amortization to a simple three-year balloon. James accepted the proposal.


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