Wider Sidewalks & Bike Trails Suggested for Lake Wales 1st Street
by James Coulter
Imagine driving past the Dixie Walesbilt Hotel in Lake Wales. You see several people lounging outside the patio, the hotel restored to its former glory. As you continue driving down 1st Street, you see pedestrians walking along the tree-shaded sidewalks, cyclists biking along flower-strewn bike trails, and cars parked in new parallel parking spaces.
This bold vision of 1st Street in Lake Wales could soon become a reality, and a small glimpse of it was offered during the Lake Wales 1st Street Streetscape Design Open House on Tuesday. More than a dozen residents attended the presentation, which was hosted to inform the public about one of the many projects for the city’s initiative, Lake Wales Connected.
That evening, attendees were able to view preliminary sketches and even watch a computer-animated sequence showing a revitalized First Street, one of the longest streets in the city, and the one that connects Downtown Lake Wales with the Northwest Neighborhood.
The proposed revitalization would narrow the streets while widening sidewalks, planting rain gardens and shade trees, installing parallel parking spaces, and constructing a cycle track. These refurbishments would help make the area along 1st Street more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists while helping accentuate the overall image for Downtown Lake Wales as a “City in a Garden,” as proposed by the Lake Wales Connected Plan.
“One of the big ideas in Lake Wales Connected that there was no reason why this jewel of a community on the Ridge could not be the model for the most walkable and bike-able city in the region,” explained Jay Hood, Principal Landscape Architect with the Catalyst Design Group, one of the many organizations collaborating with the plan.
The Lake Wales Connected Plan is a citywide initiative proposed to revitalize the downtown area, helping to spur economic development and growth, and better unite Downtown Lake Wales and the Northwest Neighborhood, “one of [the city’s] most important adjacent neighborhoods,” as described on the Lake Wales website.
Key to the overall project is the revitalization and refurbishment of 1st Street. At nearly 33,000 feet, the road is one of the longest streets in the city, connecting the way south to Highway 60. The street also connects the downtown area with the Northwest Neighborhood, so the revitalization is expected to allow residents to travel between the two regions, and thus help the city feel more “connected.”
Another significant proposal provided that evening was for cycle trails and tracks to be installed in the city. These trails would connect with others in other nearby areas, thus helping to create a network of regional trail projects. Both the Indianapolis Cultural Trail and Winter Garden West Orange Trail were cited as precedents, as those cycle trails helped spur economic development in their respective cities.
“It really is about making a corridor that is today hostile to pedestrians, to make it a walk in the park,” said Hood. “It is not just about the cars…but to provide all those amenities—the shade, the street trees, the parallel parking—to really activate this corridor.”
Lake Wales Connected is currently being spearheaded by the City of Lake Wales, in cooperation with the Lake Wales Economic Development Council, and collaboration with outside groups like Catalyst Design Group and Dover, Kohl & Partners Town Planning. The project’s final design is expected to be finalized by December 2021. Bidding is expected to commence one year later, on January 2023, with construction beginning in mid-2023.
The 1st Street streetscape design is only one “piece” in the overall “puzzle” that is the larger plan for Lake Wales Connected, explained Victor Dover, principal-in-charge of Dover, Kohl & Partners. Dover has become nationally recognized in city planning, as he has overseen 200 charrettes, according to his website.
“This project, the first street redesign, is one piece in a larger project that is Lake Wales Connected,” he said. “What they are doing is show how to put down this piece on the table in the right place.”
1st Street remains a high priority for the project, as while it is an important street, it remains overall lackluster, Dover explained. The street, in its current condition, is “forgettable” and “worse than ordinary”; but through the proposed refurbs, the street should help cement Lake Wales image as a city to live and do business, thus aiding in economic development, he said. They will also attract more foot traffic and less actual traffic, he said.
“If you design a city for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic; if you design a city for people and places, you get people and places,” Dover said. “It will turn it upside down from the street that is drag on the quality of the community to a street is like a postcard image of the city you are trying to become. That right there is the reason to do it.”
Many of the residents expressed their interest in the project during the Q&A session. Some were concerned that the project would require expanded utilities in the city. Others were concerned about the number of parking spaces, if they were to be converted from diagonal to parallel parking. Hood reassured them that parking would still be in high supply following the refurbishments.
Robin Gibson, Deputy Mayor and City Commissioner, made the bold proposal to rename the street from 1st Street to “America Street.” He felt the name change would better reflect the melting pot of diversity in the city. Recently, a city ordinance was passed that would allow for such a change if it received 75 percent approval from the people on the street.
“First Street says nothing,” Gibson said. “I have a proposal which is that we change the name to America Street. That street represents all of the demographics in Lake Wales and America.”
To learn more about Lake Wales Connected and its various projects, visit these websites: https://www.lakewalesfl.gov/Projects https://www.lakewalesfl.gov/LWCPStatus https://www.lakewalesfl.gov/1stStreet