In less than four months it will be the year 2020.
At the turn of this century (which seems odd to write), Winter Haven embraced a visioning project to chart its future.
The consultant hired discouraged the group from using “Vision 20/20” in the project name because it was too cliche. So, “Our Future by Design: A Greater Winter Haven Community” (OFBD) was born.
By spring 2000, the plan was in place. Did it have an effect? You be the judge.
Perhaps the most noticeable result of the process is the transformation of Winter Haven’s downtown from an area of neglect to the vibrant, restaurant-filled event location that it is now. Main Street Winter Haven was in place and OFBD provided the impetus that convinced the City to invest millions of dollars in park improvement, streetscape and a relocated library.
The library location is but one example of a byproduct of OFBD. A site selection meeting attracted a large group of visioning participants. The site most favored is the site of today’s beautiful library facility.
One true benefit of OFBD was an involved citizenry. The ever-popular “Pickin’ in the Park” musical series was a direct result of visioning input citing the lack of entertainment options downtown. Today we have not only the historic Ritz Theatre coming back to life, but the Gram Parson’s Derry Down venue re-established and thriving. And public dollars have, in turn, attracted private investment, including live entertainment at such locations as Tempo 1930, Jessie’s and Jensen’s.
Citizens also wanted a greater value placed on our lake-centered environment. Walking paths and exercise options were important goals. Today, we have the Chain of Lakes and Lake Howard trails and a pedestrian overpass – all pipe dreams two decades ago.
In addition, the South Lake Howard and Lake Hartridge parks have been created not only for recreation, but to filter stormwater runoff from our roadways – helping to create cleaner lakes.
These are a few of the more noticeable results, both direct and indirect, of involving the people who live here in the process.
Other positive outcomes include Community Redevelopment Agencies in downtown and Florence Villa and new parks throughout the community, including Central Park South and Lake Maude.
The work of the East Polk Committee of 100 – now the Winter Haven Economic Development Council – supports visioning goals. The Downtown Parking Garage is a classic example of a City that not only wants a parking garage, but wants to make a statement as well.
All this and much more is easily connected to the simple exercise of coming together for “A Greater Winter Haven Community.” All this in spite of Cypress Gardens’ closing and spring training baseball going west. All this and the good fortune to welcome LEGOLAND Florida Resort and the (CSX) Central Florida Intermodal Center, too.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
The Museum of Winter Haven History will reopen Saturday, September 21 from 9 a.m. to Noon. Located at 660 Pope Avenue at Lake Howard Drive, NW, it is free and open the public.