Bartow residents on Tuesday got a final chance to comment on a downtown redevelopment plan that includes a new park called Bartow Commons before it goes to the Community Redevelopment Agency for final OK. Yet only a half dozen residents and business owners took advantage at the meeting hosted by the Central Florida Regional Planning Council, the agency that developed the plan for the CRA.
The most visible part of the plan calls for the development of a multi-use park between First and Second Streets adjacent to the Old Cigar Factory. Bartow Commons would feature shaded walkways, picnic tables, a possible splash park, a children’s playground, a dog park and access to the old factory and other development which the park is expected to foster, said planners.
The plan, which is available for review on the CFRPC’s website, www.cfrpc.org, identifies every parcel of land within the greater downtown area as well as addresses other potential improvements. Among the other ‘big ideas’ included in the plan are suggestions to make the community more walkable by providing easy links to the Fort Fraser Trail and existing historical development, such as the Polk History Center and the L.B. Brown House.
It also includes enhancing and preserving residential neighborhoods, said CFRPC planner Eric Labbe. He said that the plan calls for using bicycle and pedestrian opportunities to connect the central downtown business area to both east and west Bartow.
“We need to see that there is a real connection from both the east and west of Main Street to the central hub,” he said. “And, this walkability should also extend to Mary Holland Park to the south. This common area would connect what is already in place and expand the entire downtown as an inviting place for people to go.”
A lot of the plan, according to CFRPC Executive Director Pat Steed, hinges on what happens to the old cigar factory.
“We’re seeing that developed into an event space and the commons around it used for festivals, farmers’ markets and other community activities,” she said. Also included in the plan is the conversion of the Main Street/First Street/Second Street intersection into a roundabout. “That would create a safer crossing and would be more inviting.”
Longtime community development proponent Mamie Burdin Clark said the plan should quickly be adopted and a CRA director hired to implement it.
“We need to be doing something,” she said. “We are losing time and need an economic development person to spearhead this.” The CRA presently has not had a permanent director for about a year-and-a-half and those responsibilities fall under the Bartow city manager’s office.
First Street property owner Geneva Mollinaro weighed in with similar thought as had Clark.
“(I) am concerned about progress. It’s taking a long time to get anything done,” she said.
She also said she had hoped the plan would call for the construction of two-story town homes in that area that would provide storefronts downstairs and residences upstairs.
“But I also know we need more parking for the courthouse, so what’s more important?”
East Bartow community leader Clifford Lewis asked if the plan would raise property values in that area.
“Any community improvements in this vicinity would help do that,” Steed explained.
Trish Pfeiffer, a business owner from west Bartow, also said the CRA “needs a dynamic mover and shaker to lead the ship. It’s been vacant for 20 months.” She also claimed the plan was tempting yet frustrating. “(It) is dangling a golden carrot in front of us, but without someone to spearhead it, that’s all it is.”
Property owner and real estate agent Karen Guffey, currently president of Main Street Bartow, said the new plan was all well and good, but “if it’s not going to be maintained by the city, and keep the landscaping alive and clean, what good will it do?”
Former downtown business owner S.L. Frisbie voiced opposition to the roundabout, but the plan fails to address the city’s most critical need.
“This doesn’t enhance the downtown business climate,” he said. “We need someone to direct a major effort to get more businesses to locate in the downtown area.”
The plan will be finalized, according to Steed, incorporating the Tuesday comments, and presented to the CRA for adoption at the board’s March meeting.