SEBRING — Although some people miss the majestic oaks on West Center Avenue, the overall response to the downtown beautification project from businesses on this street is favorable.

The Sebring Community Redevelopment Agency’s (CRA) plans for West Center Avenue include:

• removing existing sidewalks and installing new brick paver sidewalks,

• removing existing trees on each side of the street and replacing with new trees,

• installing tree grate lighting to illuminate both new walkways and

• installing irrigation for new landscaping.

“West Center Avenue is the gateway to our waterfront area,” said Kristie Vazquez, CRA executive director. “The CRA’s vision with this revitalization project is to create a true connection between the waterfront and downtown.

“The natural elements of the waterfront are key factors in our redevelopment efforts to create a live-work-play mentality within downtown,” she said.

“By capitalizing on the potential of our waterfront area, we are able to enhance economic development in the CRA district by increasing property values, attracting additional investment interest, and providing an inviting atmosphere for pedestrian traffic,” Vazquez said.

Darrell Jensen and his wife, Lynn, own one business property on West Center Avenue, and the couple will be closing on the former office supply business soon. The Jensens were on the fence about whether or not to buy the office supply store.

“When I saw the article about the CRA making those improvements [on the Circle and on West Center Avenue] in the newspaper, it helped me make the decision to purchase the building,” Darrell Jensen said.

“I think it’s a great idea to connect the Circle to the civic center, the theater and the whole area,” Jensen said. “Connecting those two together is a great idea.

“We take a lot of old stuff and fix it up,” Jensen said. “I’ve cleaned up five properties in Lake Placid and five in Sebring. We enjoy doing it — taking old, rundown properties and bringing them up to code.

“In Sebring, you have the CRA helping you with facade grants,” Jensen said. “I appreciate what the CRA is doing there. I’m a big fan.”

Cynthia Knowles, family resource specialist for Gulf Central Early Steps, said, “I wish the oaks would have stayed for their shade and beauty.” Knowles did like the new planting in the bump outs around Circle Park, and she is in favor of installing irrigation in the downtown landscaping.

“It would be great if it has irrigation in it,” Knowles said. “It would thrive and be nice.”

The downtown beautification project will include irrigation to keep the landscaping watered and well maintained.

When the Highlands News-Sun asked Vazquez about the removal of the oaks, she said, “The oaks were growing into power lines and popping up sideways. The oaks were creating accessibility issues for anyone walking down there.”

Caolyn Maxcy-Fox, site coordinator and dorm parent at Great Commission Bible Institute, said, “I think the work on West Center is wonderful. I like it that they are connecting West Center to the waterway. We can see all the way to the lake and the theater. It draws you to the lake.

“I’m always sad to see a tree torn down, but for the growth of downtown, that’s a good thing,” Maxcy-Fox said.

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