Communication Builds Our Community

Park Avenue Streetscape Project Advances, Only Tip of the Vast Connected Plan Effort

Stretch of Street From First to Market Nearing Completion

A new Park Avenue is steadily emerging in downtown Lake Wales as work continues on the first phase of a multi-million dollar reimagining of the city's heart. The ongoing work is creating a shady pedestrian oasis in the heart of the city, replete with rows of spreading live oaks, new benches, lighting, wider sidewalks, and brick-paved streets and parking areas.

Robert Connors

The portion of East Park Avenue between First Street and Market Street is nearing completion as business owners anticipate a re-opening of the newly-reconstructed blick to vehicular traffic in the near future.

The stretch of Park Avenue between First and Market streets is rapidly nearing completion, offering business owners and shoppers a tantalizing hope that it will soon be opened to vehicular traffic. Work is also advancing on the eastern stretch of the street closest to Scenic Highway.

New sidewalks through the area have offered pedestrians a close-up view of the construction, which has featured rumbling heavy equipment and laborious hand-work efforts to place many thousands of new brick pavers. Work is also underway to expand and recreate the popular MarketPlace as a center for community activities and festivals. That work should be completed in September, according the City manager James Slaton.

Courtesy Dover, Kohl & Partners

An artists' conception of the view of Park Avenue and Scenic Highway after the completion of the Connected effort shows an inviting pedestrian gateway into the downtown area.

The Park Avenue work will be capped off by the reconstruction of the intersection of Park and Scenic Highway to create safer, shorter pedestrian crosswalks from nearby parking areas.

The vast public works project was Envisioned in the community-developed Lake Wales Connected plan in 2021. The planning effort was led by the award-winning Coral Gables firm of Dover, Kohl & Partners.

The CRA also won an award for the design from the Florida Redevelopment Association.

The completed portions of the project on West Park Avenue and North First Street have drawn many compliments for the transformative impact they have had on the neighborhood. The Lake Wales city commission recently gave the nod to the next phase of First Street, extending that project approximately 270 feet northward through the intersection with Orange Avenue.

Courtesy Lake Wales CRA

The phasing schedule of the Park Avenue project anticipates that work ion the MarketPlace Plaza will be finished about September.

That new phase of the vast Lake Wales Connected project, expected to cost well over $40 million in total, will utilize $750,000 in awarded federal grant funds toward the projected $1,617,648.50 cost. The balance will come from Community Redevelopment Agency bond funds.

According to a city staff memo, the phase "will be designed, permitted, and constructed independently from the rest of the planned/future 1st Street updates." The project is eventually expected to extend the new streetscapes about eight blocks further north to the intersection of Dr. J.A. Wiltshire Avenue, as well as East Central Avenue between First Street and Scenic Highway.

Courtesy City of Lake Wales

A redesigned Crystal Avenue, seen here in an artists' conception looking east from First Street, will include new rain gardens, landscaping, and street trees. The city is also planning the remodeling of the city's utility offices located on the north side of street.

Work is also projected to begin late this year on the partial reconstruction of East Orange and Crystal Avenues, described by city staff as a "light" version of the work on Park Avenue. It will include repairs to sidewalks and the creation of new "rain garden" areas with new street trees. The work on Orange and Crystal is being funded by another federal grant arranged by Congressman Darren Soto in 2022.

Completed portions of the Connected plan include the new Park Avenue Trail connecting the Lake Wailes Trail to downtown services. Several more trail segments are planned to complete a bicycle and pedestrian network around the city.

News staff graphic

Well over 20 blocks of the city will see reconstruction work as part of the Connected effort. Far more blocks will see the construction of new sidewalks and the planting of new shade trees during the project.

A CRA bond issue in 2022 created a pool of $18.5 million to fund the initial phases of the project. That debt is being retired through the capture of a portion of the property taxes, known as the "increment," generated within the CRA area. As values rise, so does the captured increment. The CRA already generates about $1 million more than required for debt service on the bond each year.

The city expects to receive notification, perhaps as soon as this month, that it has been awarded a new $23 million grant which will fund the rest of the Connected Plan construction.

Courtesy Lake Wales Housing Authority

Several phases of demolition and reconstruction are planned at the Grove Manor housing site as annual tranches of federal funds are received. The project was awarded its furst-phase funding earlier this year.

Another $1 million of the CRA funds has been earmarked toward the demolition and replacement of the aging 120-unit Grove Manor public housing project, which lies just west of North First Street. That project was recently awarded the first tranche of federal grant funds for a public/private partnership that will see the creation of a new, 300-unit privately-owned mixed neighborhood which will include market-rate and affordable housing and several new three-story apartment buildings.


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