LAKE WALES — Victor Dover encountered a recurring theme as he spent most of last week chatting with local officials, stakeholders and other residents.
A founding principal for Dover, Kohl & Partners — the town planning firm tasked with putting together a plan for Lake Wales Connected, which seeks to reinvigorate the city’s downtown and surrounding areas — Dover found that not only were the people he spoke with receptive and thoughtful, they were also quite eager.
“Every day this week, in conversations we had, mostly what we heard is ‘how fast can we go?’” Dover said, moments after wrapping up a work in progress session April 5 at the Lake Wales Women’s Club. “I think there’s a pent-up demand from years of waiting.”
Karen Thompson, the executive director for Lake Wales Main Street, one of the local groups leading the charge for Lake Wales Connected, can relate. Although what was presented this past Friday was just a working draft, the renderings and larger ideas that Dover and his team shared fired up Thompson and most of the roughly 80 residents in attendance at the session.
“(I’m) excited beyond measure,” Thompson said. “(Seeing the work in progress) begins to give you a sense of ‘oh — this is happening!’”
As exciting as the subject matter at hand was for area residents, it was also an informative evening, as Dover and his team not only ran down their ideas for the urban design of Lake Wales, but also the principles behind those ideas.
A recurring theme for the Dover, Kohl & Partners team was that of a skeleton already in place in Lake Wales. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and his Olmstead Brothers firm designed the landscaping for Bok Tower Gardens, Mountain Lake community and the main core of the city.
That forethought, coupled with some of the unique existing buildings Lake Wales already has to its credit, suggest to Dover that the city has a leg up on other locales who want to create a sense of place.
“The people who actually drew the layouts of the streets, and who thought about the parks and the planning and the future of this place — they were, at the time, the best people at the practice of urban design and planning,” Dover said, referencing Olmstead. “I think the basic bones and foundation … the kinds of things that are already here are all good.”
In fact, the design team made a point of explaining that the Olmstead design philosophy for Lake Wales was one that emphasized greenery amidst urbanism.
“Think about that —the idea of a city in a garden,” Dover said to those gathered.
The rendering of familiar places with a facelift drew most of the audible approval from the audience, but the Dover team provided additional guiding principles that were equally informative: design, connect, activate, populate and empower.
Indeed the second item, design, was a key component throughout the talk, as the idea of connectivity from downtown Lake Wales, to the city northwest neighborhood, on up through to Bok Tower Gardens, was a central theme.
The week began with a kickoff, hands-on session April 1 and included design and feedback opportunities throughout the week. Dover not only praised the community’s eagerness, but also its robust participation, suggestion that for a city of Lake Wales’ size he would have anticipated half the crowd that turned up on both April 1 and 5.
Thompson, an advocate for reinvigorating the town’s core, was pleased with the way the community responded.
“The community is ready and engaged,” Thompson said. “To see the flow of people in and out of the design studio all week was encouraging.”
As was emphasized several times, what was presented is a working draft. The process will continue now, and Thompson estimates a six-to-eight week process for the final draft to be drawn, after which city staff, CRA and other officials will review them and make adjustments.
A goal is to have a full presentation to make to the Lake Wales City Commission sometime in the fall, after which more substantial action can be taken.
So, while the process is still in its beginning stages, the excitement and energy that came out of last week’s proceedings was tangible.
“I believe what we have here is the makings of a dramatic before and after picture,” Dover said.