Lake Wales Connected project draws from city’s history, gets boost from CenterState Bank donation

By CHARLES A. BAKER III

Staff Writer LAKE WALES – Over the course of the last year or so, city leaders have been spearheading an effort to revitalize the City of Lake Wales. Main Street Lake Wales supporters donated enough money to hire the urban planning firm of Dover, Kohl & Partners to help.

Those urban planners have hosted several meetings with the public over the past few months to gather ideas and, on Aug. 13, Victor Dover presented a draft proposal titled “Lake Wales Connected” at a Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency meeting.

While there are several ideas incorporated into the draft report, two in particular stand out.

Dover said the urban planners who designed the layout of the City of Lake Wales around 100 years ago wanted a green city, one with lots of trees to provide shade. He went on to say that another change that could improve the city is building pedestrian and bicycle trails to connect the city’s various neighborhoods.

Making those ideas, or the others outlined in the report will cost money, of course, and a donation at the outset of the meeting will go a ways toward that end.

CenterState Bank staff presented city leaders with a check for $30,000 to help implement the proposed plans, with the money specifically to be spent beautifying the northwest portion of the city, where much of the municipality’s affordable housing is located.

“We are proud to be a part of this community,” CenterState Bank Community President of East Polk County Paul Gerrard said.

Lake Wales Main Street Executive Director Karen Thompson introduced Gerrard.

“Tonight we are here to celebrate CenterState Bank and their commitment to the community,” Thompson said.

Newly hired Lake Wales Main Street President Ryan Buskirk introduced Dover, who spoke for around an hour about his plans.

Dover spoke from a podium and nearby were three framed, linen drawings made by the Olmstead Brothers — John Charles and Frederic Law — in June 1931. The drawings depicted the original plans the famed urban planners had for the city.

Dover said many of those plans were never implemented and that the city may benefit from implementing them in the near future.

Lake Wales Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson said there is enough money in the city budget to start implementing some of the ideas over the next few years, thanks in part to the CRA district the city created. In Florida, city staff, elected officials and other leaders can create CRA districts within a municipality and, when property values in that district rise, the increase in property tax collected must be spent within that district.

When the economy is performing well, as it has been in recent years, CRA budgets can swell. Because of this, CRAs are regarded as a particularly effective means to revitalize and invest in a downtown area or in others areas of blight.

When Lake Wales was founded in 1917, the city started with a few buildings downtown.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Olmstead brothers, working out of Massachusetts, tried to expand on the ideas of the city’s founders to create a city that would look much different than the industrial, gray cities of the northeastern United States. The Great Depression and the creation of suburbs, however, helped to cause some of the Olmstead plans to get put aside.

Dover reminded those in attendance that this is a draft plan only, one that has yet to get final approval from city leaders. He said he is still gathering data and that a final report that city leaders will vote on should be published soon.

Contact Charles A. Baker III at cbaker@d-r.media.