Downtown Fort Meade Seeking Wider Sidewalks & Less Vacant Spaces
by James Coulter
If you drive through Downtown Fort Meade, you probably won’t even notice you drove though the sleepy town at all. Not much stands out along the main roads of Charleston and Broadway save a few gas stations and chain fast food eateries, and many vacant spaces exist in the main downtown area.
All of that could change with a vision plan by Main Street Fort Meade to help beautify and refurbish the downtown area. On Aug. 19, the local non-profit organization hosted a workshop to gain input from community members on how to improve their city’s image.
Nearly 30 local residents attended the meeting that evening. Most of them offered their feedback, providing suggestions on widening the sidewalks, filling up the vacant spaces, and bringing high-speed internet.
The main suggestion was to make their downtown area more pedestrian friendly by providing wider sidewalks and narrower roads to help slow down traffic and allow pedestrians to more easily traverse the downtown area.
“That was a huge priority for us,” explained Shannon Curtis, Executive Director of Main Street of Fort Meade. “We have a lot of big trucks that roll through to, and our layout is geared more towards trucks and traffic. So we would like to shift that and make it more pedestrian friendly area.”
Another suggestion was to fill the empty spaces and stores that exists along Broadway Avenue. These empty lots could be converted into public spaces, and the empty storefronts could be housed by new businesses, Curtis said. Speaking of which, they also want to find new ways to recruit new businesses.
Finally, another big recommendation was high speed internet. As it stands, the city does not have great internet coverage, and the lack of quality high-speed internet is a “hole in the entire community” that needs to be filled if they city wants to attract new businesses.
The workshop was hosted last Thursday by Main Street Fort Meade and the Central Florida Regional Planning Council, which initially created the original downtown vision plan seven years ago. The plan had since been reintroduced to the public and revised through the feedback provided at the meeting.
“It is a really nice comprehensive 80-page guide…but they have not done a lot with the vision plan,” Curtis said. “We are really trying to apply for more grants, and we have a block grant that was awarded to us…[So we are trying] to get an update on that and get word with the citizens of Fort Meade about the possibilities with the upcoming block grant renovations that will be happening.”
Main Street is a nationwide non-profit organization that helps assist cities and towns through downtown renovation and historic preservation. The Chamber of Commerce applied for a Main Street designation last summer, and Main Street Fort Meade was officially established that fall.
Main Street Fort Meade will be taking the feedback provided at the workshop to revise the vision plan, and they plan on hosting a follow-up meeting within the next month to gain more input.
“I think that the citizens of Fort Meade are excited the Main Street program and the development in that have re-inspired everybody and given them new hope for the possibilities in downtown,” Curtis said. “So I think it was a really positive meeting. Everybody enjoyed themselves, and I think it put everyone on that the same page and gave them hope for the future.”
Jan Bagnall, City Manager Fort Meade, commended the workshop for allowing local residents the opportunity to have a say in how their community is improved. She especially appreciated how the feedback from the workshop allowed the vision plan from 2014 to be updated to better match the “current desires of the community.”
“The city is very happy that we were able to get a good response from the community to update the ideas for a vision for the city,” she said. “We are currently evaluating the responses from the community and incorporating those ideas into an updated vision plan as we start to implement planning and capital projects to improve the city services, infrastructure, amenities, and in general the small-town ambiance of Fort Meade.”