SEBRING — Mounds of dirt dot Circle Park and heavy equipment moves around the Circle and its spokes. What is happening downtown?
The Sebring Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is investing in the downtown area to enhance the aesthetic appeal and inviting nature of the downtown district. Once the downtown area looks more appealing, the CRA hopes the area will experience economic growth as people begin walking downtown more and exploring the shops.
On Oct. 16, the Sebring City Council approved the CRA’s district beautification project, and the project officially started Monday.
The project, which comes with a $300,000 price tag, will focus on the Circle and the spoke streets. Extensive changes will be made to enhance the appearance of Circle Park, North and South Ridgewood Drive, East and West Center Avenue, and North and South Commerce Avenue.
The landscaping, mulch and curbing will be updated on Circle Park. The Veterans Monument will be enhanced by adding granite slabs around the structure. The slabs encircling the entire monument will also prevent people from going behind the monument, David Leidel, chair of the CRA, said.
Six downtown parking lots will be re-sealed and re-striped, including the parking lot behind the fire station.
Irrigation will be updated and installed to protect the newly planted landscaping on Circle Park and the surrounding streets. However, the first step is removing the old landscaping.
“We are moving dirt around, digging plants up,” Leidel said. “Those guys are working hard. They have a detailed timeline. They will start with the demolition and do as much to the Circle as they can until Race Week, and then they will have a pause. Things will be cleaned up and nice for Race Week, but it won’t be finished.”
After Race Week, cafe seating will be installed around the Circle and the Circle will be resod, Leidel said. The CRA didn’t want to replace the sod before the races due to all of the foot traffic.
“I’m super excited about this,” Leidel said. “We have a handful of pretty big things going on in the CRA district. When we go through and pressure walk sidewalks and trim trees, it will give our downtown a whole new look.
“It will inject light into downtown area and spur on the growth we are planning to see,” he said.
“Polston Engineering is the contractor, and they have sub-contracted Edgewood Landscaping to do the demo work and landscaping,” Leidel said. Other subcontractors and city employees will also be involved in the project.
“This is a very large-scale project that is cleaning up years of neglect,” Leidel said. The $300,000 budgeted for the project includes ongoing maintenance in the first year once the project is complete, he said.
“It has been over 10 years since we have seen our downtown cleaned up on a scale like this,” Leidel said. “When the Great Recession hit, that led city leaders to tighten the belt and businesses struggled.
“We also saw a decline in property values, which led to a lower tax base making routine maintenance an expense that could be postponed,” he said. “Had the city or CRA spent $30k every year over the past 10 years, this project would not have cost as much.
“The CRA has taken on beautification projects in the past, but ongoing maintenance has not been budgeted for, which is what will make this project different,” Leidel said.
“There are also some big changes coming that are part of our master plan,” he said. “West Center Avenue will see a dramatic change. There will be wider sidewalks, the oak trees will be replaced with palm trees, and there are several utility updates that will be done as well.
“This will open up West Center, creating an inviting connection between the Circle and the waterfront park,” he said. “That is all be included in the cost of the overall beautification project.”
Although the scope of the project is huge, it is scheduled to be completed by the end of April. Leidel believes that this timeline is possible, because contractors have a very detailed plan for completing the work.
“As long as we don’t run into excessive rain delays, or something else outside the control of the contractor, we will see a downtown like we haven’t seen in a few years,” Leidel said. “It is very exciting to see the activity, and I can’t wait to see the results.”