Winter Haven Downtown

Winter Haven Community Redevelopment Agency funds have been budgeted to try and make the downtown district more pedestrian friendly.

WINTER HAVEN — During the Downtown Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Committee meeting July 29, area developer and Six/Ten President Kerry Wilson said Harvard instructor Robert J. Gibbs had been in Winter Haven earlier that day to discuss urban planning ideas for the downtown Winter Haven area.

“He's been to Winter Haven twice, is a valuable friend of ours (and) the recognized expert in the country in urban retail,” Wilson said.

Wilson said while that Six/Ten staff were walking around South Central Park with Gibbs, they showed him a rendering of the downtown water tower submitted by artist Trent Manning in February. The rendering shows how Manning would like to turn the water tower into a giant, red wind up toy.

Wilson told the board that Gibbs said that such an investment in the water tower could equate to $10 million in free advertising for the city.

Reached for further comment later in the week, Gibbs expanded on the potential of the water tower for the city.

“The large water tower represents a significant opportunity to identify Winter Haven as a unique destination and to help with its' wayfinding,” Gibbs said. “The tower should be designed and painted by a fine artist or with a simple Winter Haven logo.”

Gibbs listed several of his recommendations to city staff, the city commission and city residents.

“Winter Haven is a beautiful historic downtown, offering the walkability and character sought by many shoppers and retailers today,” Gibbs said. “Winter Haven's new streetscape is beautiful, well designed and very walkable. However the downtown lacks the flowers and ground covers necessary and expected by many visitors.”

The Harvard instructor recommended maintaining existing design standards set by city staff in reference to authentic store fronts and signage. The exception to this was disallowing tinted and reflective storefront windows, which some downtown businesses have.

Gibbs said he liked the new electronic visitor kiosk installed recently in South Central Park and encouraged more kiosks at the major entryways to the downtown area. He recommended a robust farmer's market be encouraged, in addition to advocating for more restaurants, retail stores and additional parking.

“The downtown library and coffee shop are brilliant and provide an important anchor for the downtown,” Gibbs said.

Over the past year, the water tower downtown has been discussed multiple times.

Initially, city staff published a request for proposals to simply repaint the tower. City staff recommended an out-of-state contractor to paint “Downtown” on three sides of the tower, with three arrows pointing down. At public hearings, this idea was shot down and staff were asked to seek other designs. A second round of designs, painting logos on the tower mostly, were also shot down. After that, Mayor Brad Dantlzer said maybe it was time to seek resident input about design.

A few months later, Manning submitted his idea. City staff were not sure how to implement his idea, however. The city attorney decided that it would not be legal to use city funds as a prize for the winning design. Advisory board members asked staff whether it would be legal to pay for a winning design and simply not call it a prize. Staff agreed to look into the matter.

Around $20,000 is currently budgeted for this proposed expense. Growth Management Director Eric Labbe said that it may cost up to $500,000 to build something that elaborate.

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

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