Economic Development Council director Jim Bell has tendered his resignation, effective March 31.
The news came in a letter to Chamber members, citing he wanted to take time to spend with his family.
Bell, by phone Tuesday, noted that he originally committed to one year when he was hired in June by the Chamber as the EDC director, but had said that if his grandson moved to Florida, “That’s a two-week notice.”
“I’m giving them five weeks, instead,” Bell said.
Bell says that his second daughter, who lives in Utah, is expecting another “grandson” in the middle of April, and he wants to be free to travel to see them.
“I just have got to have more free time to spend with my family,” he said.
“You don’t live forever. I need to do some of these things.”
Bell said his largest accomplishment in the time he’s served was to help bring the EDC into fruition, noting “that was a big step” with the Chamber, bringing the EDC with the City, to the Chamber’s oversight.
“That’s what I was hired to do, to get that established. With a lot of good help, I think we have succeeded. We’ve got the train on the track. I think it is going to continue on the track. I am still willing to help out when and if I can,” he added.
He says he would like to see the economic initiative work to continue, “for the betterment of our community.”
“I don’t have any doubts … that it will continue on.”
There were struggles, rather, issues, he faced, in trying to bring some attention to Lake Wales.
“I think getting Lake Wales recognized in the county as a viable city, desirous of economic development, and making the connections around the county with key people and functions, as well as other cities … and I’ve had a good working relationship with the county and other economic development cities in the county, including Lakeland, Winter Haven and Haines City. I think we’ve shed some light on Lake Wales that we are here in the southeastern corner of the county and that we’re open for business.”
And Mayor Gene Fultz had highlighted many of those developments in his State of the City address at the Lake Wales Chamber luncheon Friday.
Bell says he feels there are “some exciting things down the road” in Lake Wales for economic development.
“I think it is going to continue and going to blossom.”
As for the downtown area, he notes, as the mayor had noted, the Grand Hotel was a major issue at reigniting downtown commerce.
“The city has a 2008 development plan, if you look at that, even back then it was addressed as a key issue,” he says, adding that the hotel “either needs to be fully developed or it needs to be eliminated.”
“It’s going to take a lot of money to bring that thing up to a useful life, but I’m not sure with our economy these days, it would be sustainable.”
His hope is that everyone in the city can reach a common agreement, to develop it or to tear it down, and that “everyone gets on board with the decision and not have a divide in the city.”
“I can understand the sentiment of that building,” he noted, of those born and raised in the community, with various attachments to the old green hotel.
“Sometimes you just have to be realistic about these things, and don’t let your emotions get in the way of making a good business decision,” he said.
Meanwhile, City Manager Ken Fields said that he was a little surprised that Bell was stepping down so soon.
Both he and Bell had mentioned in recent city meetings they spend a lot of time together, going to the various county-wide functions and meeting people.
Fields said he really appreciated Bell’s “mentoring” of him, and “introducing me to the community.”
“I am sorry we are not going to get a chance to work together,” he said.
He doesn’t think Bell’s decision will wreck the economic development momentum building in the city.
“It really is going to depend on who steps into those shoes,” he said.
Fields said the position is a really “attractive” one for someone just because the city is moving in the right direction.
He added that this is why he came to Lake Wales as city manager, because he could see the city “was on the verge of turning things around.”
“I don’t think we’ll skip a beat. I am sorry to see him go. I understand exactly the way he feels though,” Fields noted, the latter comment regarding Bell’s decision to spend more time with his family.
“He’s not moving out of the area,” he said. “I can still pick up the phone and call him.”
Chevon Baccus, of the chamber board, notes, “We are greatly saddened by Jim’s decision to leave, but we fully understand that family comes first. Jim has gotten the EDC off to a very strong and solid start.”
Baccus said that the chamber board was active in rolling out the EDC initiatives and that “whenever you have a void, people step up to make things happen.”
“It’s too important to Lake Wales to bring jobs here, for us to take even an inch step backwards,” she said.
“We are seeing progress.”