The Big PictureThe goods and services available in many downtowns across the country have changed over the years. In the 1950’s and 60’s new highways were built, and new “shopping centers” appeared. The historic downtown areas often evolved over the years into a mix of specialty retail shops, professional offices, and restaurants.
I have a personal connection to the downtown area of a small town, and over the years I have witnessed these changes. As a boy I would frequently go with my mom or grandfather to the downtown where I grew up in Cheviot, Ohio. At one of the two drugs stores there was a counter with a soda fountain. As often as possible I would indulge in a chocolate soda with hand-dipped vanilla ice cream, a concoction that I believed was brought down from heaven by angels. I could have eaten my weight in chocolate sodas if my mom would have let me!
A few years later that drug store closed and was replaced with a furniture store. As the years went by several historic buildings were demolished and replaced by national chain fast food restaurants. Their familiar architecture that we typically see along major highways looks out of place in a downtown. Cheviot has changed and survived, but I can’t say that what is there now was well planned.
Lake Wales’ SuccessBy contrast, there have been several plans prepared for downtown Lake Wales, and the process of successful planning involves placing building blocks upon a solid foundation. We have had both “foundation shoring” activities, as well as some celebrated success with new building blocks. Some of the foundation shoring accomplished in the past few years are as follows:
- The City Commission’s approval of the historic district, companion boards, and regulations downtown. This ordinance will go a long way towards preserving the charm of downtown.
- The CRA’s approval of the capital improvement’s bond, which paid for the resurfacing of the streets downtown and elsewhere in the district.
- The City Commission’s approval of the water main improvement projects downtown, which enabled the build out of the Bank of America building.
- The opening of the JD Alexander Center, the newest Polk Community College branch campus, made possible by Senator Alexander, our legislative delegation, the City Commission’s donation of the property and willingness to assign and construct parking, and the foresight of Robin Gibson in suggesting this use for the building.
- The renovation of a number of buildings are now underway, including The Bullard Building, One Scenic Place, and the Gifford property at 251 Park. The north Arcade building has been restored, and negotiations are in process for the renovation of the Grand Hotel.
- The Murals and Enhancements Group, led by Cliff Tonjes, has added energy and interest in downtown.
- The opening of a number of retail stores in recent years, including the Else Group, the Polka Dot shop, Brenda’s Gifts, and the just opened Village Kitchen shop that moved from the mall, are all signs of good progress. These are important retail businesses that have become part of the core of retail stores that include True Value Hardware, Mayer Jewelers, and art stores such as BSD Galleries, Bellissimo, the Gallery and Frame Shop, and the Artists’ Guild.
- At lunchtime there are now a variety of fine restaurants to choose from downtown, and a number of them are staying open for dinner. A new Puerto Rican restaurant has now opened in the arcade.
- Ed Pilkington has remodeled a storefront to a professional office.