Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Commercial Development

While the housing market continues to struggle, general contractors have stayed in business with the building of commercial buildings. This is a welcome activity in our town, as one of the key goals for city staff is the building of our tax base through economic development – the development of commercial and industrial properties.

Let’s take a look at what commercial projects are now underway, and what we anticipate in the early months of the new year.

What projects are now underway
  • Holiday Inn Express – 82 rooms at Shoppes on the Ridge II, near Home Depot on US 27 North.

  • Bank of America building downtown- 2nd and 3rd floor build-out and rear parking area re-surfaced, with landscaping.

  • Walgreen’s – nearing completion at the corner Thompson Nursery Road and US 27 North, is part of a commercial center to be known as Willowbrook Square. The center will include a 7-11 convenience store and a bank.

  • Polk County Health Department – new building on Central Ave. West, behind I-Hop.

  • UPS expansion – The building just off SR 60 near the Crazy Fish Restaurant has been expanded and the parking lot and retention pond are now being finished.

  • Lake Wales Hospital – Wings B & C are being renovated to include 32 suites, with meeting rooms and multi-purpose rooms. The projected value for the project is $2,600,000.00.

  • Gate Petroleum gas station– at Shoppes on the Ridge II, US 27 North.

  • Dr. Pass Medical Offices – a two story, 16,477 square foot building, located at SR 60 and 13th Street.

  • Water’s Edge Independent/Assisted Living Facility – 159 units are under construction at this new life care facility near the intersection of SR 60 and 1st St. S.

  • Carwash – SR 60 at 2nd St., renovation of a former gas station.

  • Polk Community College – renovation of former City Hall to provide a new branch campus to include 6 classrooms, 1 Community room/class room on the first floor, administrative offices(4), and support areas for the building. The new campus will be open for classes in January.

  • Offices and Loft Apartments - downtown in the Bullard building at the corner of Stuart Ave and Scenic Highway.

  • Airport – the re-building of the airport is nearly complete. New hangers, both t-hangers and corporate hangers, are finished, and the Fixed Based Operator building is nearing completion.

  • New restaurant- “Lil Chambrots Diner” is coming into the space at Central and Phillips formerly occupied by Havana Nights.
What we anticipate
  • Shoppes on the Ridge Phase II – completion of 67,000 square feet in-line shopping and 4 additional out-parcels on US 27 N, between the Publix center and Home Depot.

  • ABC Liquor – to be built on an out-parcel at Lowe’s.

  • New medical offices – 11th St. across from hospital.

  • Peace Creek Promenade – Just North of the Hampton Inn and Suites on US 27 N, 240,000 square feet of commercial space.

  • Topper’s Creamery – SR 60 next to Suntrust Bank.

  • Grand Hotel – At the December 2 meeting the CRA will be asked to approve the prioritized list of developers who responded to the “request for proposals”, and appoint a committee to negotiate a contract for the conveyance and renovation of the hotel building downtown.

  • Race Trac gas station – US 27 N across from Wendy’s.

  • Walker Building on Lincoln Ave.- a group is seeking to renovate this building for a professional office upstairs and apartments downstairs. There would also be an office space downstairs for the police sub-station, which currently works out of the B Street Center.

  • Medical Offices – Renovation is proposed for an existing building on US 27 North.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Employment for Young People

It is to be expected that young persons looking for employment will experience some new and challenging situations. But with the current condition of the economy, it is particularly tough to get started.

Last week in this space there were a number of resources listed to help unemployed persons find a job. One of the resources mentioned was the Polk Works’ Young Leaders Program, which serves Polk County residents ages 16-21 with both academic and employability training. This successful program has an office here in Lake Wales and is FREE for those who qualify! Let’s explore the services available, the program’s record of success, and how to enroll.

Services Available
Help for high school students: homework, tutoring, or preparing for the FCAT - Program staff offers services to high school students that focus on helping them graduate from high school and get started on their career goals. These services include individualized instruction as well as interactive, web-based tutoring programs.

  • Get ready for college or technical school - Program staff will help students prepare for entrance exams (SAT, ACT) and will provide assistance in finding financial aid opportunities, learning about college programs, and understanding the application process. College tours and field trips can also be arranged.

  • Help with obtaining a GED - Young people who have not obtained their high school diploma can receive individualized instruction to prepare for the GED test. Program staff helps participants register with the Polk County School Board to take the test. Participants receive a voucher to cover the cost of the exam. Those youth who did not pass the FCAT and obtained a certificate of completion from high school can also take advantage of this option.

  • Learn to find a job – Program staff will help students learn interview skills, how to search for a job, how to dress for work, how to write a resume and cover letter, and how to connect to local job opportunities. Internships and job shadowing are also provided.

  • Scholarships - Persons age 18-21 may receive scholarships for specialized training in selected fields, based on the individual’s aptitude and interests. Once these skill-building activities are completed, program staff will work one on one with each participant to assist in marketing their skills to employers. Program participants often have an opportunity to earn cash incentives as they reach milestones in the program.

  • Other Services - Program staff is authorized to make referrals to enable participants to obtain other needed services, including medical, housing, substance abuse prevention, teen pregnancy prevention, and assistance to obtain proper workplace attire.
Record of Success
In the last fiscal year, the Polk Works Young Leaders Program served 222 participants countywide, and 91.6% of all the participants who exited the program obtained a job, entered post-secondary education, or entered the military. The Lake Wales office served 34 young people.

How to Enroll
The City provides the Polk Works’ Young Leaders program with office space in the James P. Austin Community Center, located at 315 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, just a few blocks north of Lake Wales City Hall. The office is open from 8am – 5pm Monday thru Friday. The phone number is 455-1014. Ms. Beverly Dingle is the Program Manager in Lake Wales and will be happy to help you. Applicants must complete an application and interview with a Program Career Coach. Polk Works’ Young Leaders is a federally funded program and income guidelines apply.

Much of this information came from the Polk Works and the Young Leaders Program websites.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Resources for Job Seekers

The poor condition of the economy has the unemployment rate soaring. In our county it is reported that there are 21,303 persons unemployed for an unemployment rate of 7.9% as of September. Compare this to the rates reported in August for the state at 6.8% and the nation at 6.1%.

In addition to the relative lack of jobs, many job seekers suffer from employment impediments. A survey of unemployed persons done over a year ago in our town listed some of these impediments:
  • An arrest record

  • No high school diploma or GED

  • No transportation

  • Lack of child care

  • No job training
There are a few resources available to help all job seekers find work. In addition to the employment ads in our local newspapers, the website www.employflorida.com is a job matching service that is available on the internet. These and other resources can be found at these locations:

  1. The Lake Wales Public Library, 290 Cypress Gardens Lane, Lake Wales, Florida 33853, (863)678-4004. Hours of operation are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 9:00am to 6:30pm; Wednesday and Friday, 9:00am to 5:30pm; Saturday, 9:00am to 3:00pm. Copies of local newspapers are available for review with open job ads. There are also 12 public access computers for Internet job searches. Library staff can offer assistance.

  2. The B Street Center is located at 230 B Street, Lake Wales, Florida, 33853, (863) 679-8091. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm. A variety of assistance is available here, including internet job searches, instructions on how arrest records for certain crimes can be purged from the system, and assistance in finding instruction for GED and job training. The computers are not available on Fridays for public use. Computer classes are also available at the center on Monday and Tuesday, 4:00pm to 6:00pm.<.li>
  3. Polk Works – The Polk Works One Stop Career Center office is located at 500 East Lake Howard Drive. Suite 400, Winter Haven, Florida 33881 and the phone number is (863) 508-1100. The website address is www.polkworks.org. Services include employment search assistance, assistance in filing out job applications, and job training.

  4. Polk Works also has a mobile unit that comes to Lake Wales offering internet job search capability. The schedule for the mobile unit is as follows: 1st Tuesday in December, Lake Wales City Hall; 1st Tuesday of every month beginning in January, Wal-Mart parking lot; 2nd Tuesday, Frostproof Library except November; 3rd Tuesday, Mulberry Wal-Mart; 4th Tuesday, Haines City Wal-Mart.

  5. Polk Works also has an office serving youth between the ages of 14 – 21 at the James P. Austin Community Center, 315 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Lake Wales, Florida 33853, (863) 678-4003. The “Young Leaders Program” will assist youth in obtaining a GED and/or employment. The service is open to youth who are in school as well as those who are no longer in school.
Two items on the list above were not mentioned as being addressed in any of the resources above: transportation, and child care. The WHAT system has several bus stops in town as described on their website. As for childcare, reasonably priced childcare can be difficult to find. In addition to the childcare centers listed in the phone book, there is now a childcare center at Lake Wales High School that is open to the public although there may be a waiting list.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Road Improvements

The need for street improvements in our town has been a frequent topic of conversation in the past. With the City Commission’s approval of the recent bond issue and resurfacing project, the County’s resurfacing of Buck Moore Road and Burns Avenue, and the FDOT’s (Florida Department of Transportation) widening of US 27 and work on SR 60 east, this year has seen a welcome and substantial improvement in street conditions. Let’s take a look now at some additional improvements planned for the South 11th St, South 9th Street, and the SR 60 east area.

A New Route Connecting South 11th St to South 9th Street
On 11th street just south of SR 60 a new section of Grove Avenue is being paved. The developer of Whispering Ridge is doing this work as required by the development agreement negotiated with the City. When this section is finished it will provide a new route between South 9th St and South 11th St without having to use SR 60. This improvement has become more important since the County, at the City’s request several years ago, paved South 9th street south of the railroad tracks.

The railroad crossing on South 9th Street is also scheduled for improvement, as the City Commission recently approved an agreement with FDOT in which they will construct a new crossing complete with flashing lights and cross arms that are lowered as a train approaches. The City will be responsible for one-half of the annual maintenance cost of this new equipment.

New Project for SR 60 east of 11th St: Grass Medians
At the November 18 City Commission meeting the Commission will be asked to approve the conceptual plan for constructing a grass median on SR 60, from 11th St east to a section with an existing median near Capps Road. Elimination of the middle turn lane between 11th Street and Capps Road and construction of the median were recommended by an engineering safety study. If approved the $1.5 million project will be funded by highway safety funds and will be scheduled for design in 2009/2010 and construction in 2010/2011. The City would then seek funding for landscaping the median.

The median would limit the ability of motorists to make turns. For example, the conceptual plan would allow turning movements as follows:
  • Open Intersections allowing turns in any direction

    • 11th St

    • 12th St/the driveway just west of the Tractor Supply building

    • 14thst/the entrance to the Winn Dixie plaza

    • Buck Moore Rd/Hunt Brothers Road

    • Lewis Griffin Rd/Evergreen Drive

    • Entrance to the Country Club/County Fire Station

    • Hibiscus Drive
  • Limited access to streets and driveways serving the following properties:

    • McDonald’s and the Orange Grove Plaza West driveway: right turns only (going in, coming out)

    • Tractor Supply East driveway: right turns only

    • 13th St, Hamlin St (Perkins and Race Track): right and left turn in, right turn out, no left turn out

    • Most of the businesses on the North side of SR 60 from 13th to 14th Street – right turns only

    • Walgreen’s driveway: right turns only

    • Bank and All-Star Grill plaza driveways east of Buck Moore: right turns only

    • Wal-Mart and other businesses’ driveway: right turns only

    • Orange Park Blvd: right turns in and out, left turn in, no left turn out

    • Tangelo St: right and left turns in, right turn out, no left turn in

    • Highland Dr, Shady Oak Ave, Myrtle Ave: right turns only

    • Driveways east of Lewis Griffin Road: right turns only

A copy of the conceptual plan for this project is available for review at City Hall during normal business hours. A copy of the plan can also be viewed on the City’s website (http://www.cityoflakewales.com/). All affected businesses listed above are scheduled to be notified and are invited to attend the November 18 Commission meeting, which starts at 6 pm at City Hall. For further information please call City Hall at 678-4182 extension 225.