City of Lake Wales

City of Lake Wales

Crown Jewel of the Ridge

BY TAMMY SEREBRIN

City Manager Kenneth Fields has been on the job in Lake Wales, Florida, for 2-1/2 months, but brings 30 years of local government experience to the job. Beginning his career in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as the city’s budget director, then moving to the private sector; he missed working for local government and seized the opportunity to become budget director and assistant city manager in Hollywood, Florida. He then enjoyed a unique stint as tribal manager for the Seminole tribe in Hollywood and Tampa, followed by three years as village manager of Islamorada in the Keys. “Although it would have been nice to have had the stability of one location throughout my career, I have enjoyed the great diversity of what I have done; and whatever I have learned in one place I have applied in another.”

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Located in the geographical center of Florida, the City of Lake Wales, population over 13,000, lies among rolling hills on the highest ground in peninsular Florida. Many clear lakes, a 2.25 mile bike/hike path along the shores of Lake Wailes, and more than 250 acres of public parks and athletic fields furnish year round recreational activities.

Lake Wales was founded in 1911 by the Lake Wales Land Company, a group of businessmen who purchased 5,000 acres in the hilly wilderness around Lake Wailes – a pristine lake named after Sydney Wailes, a land agent employed by the State of Florida after the Civil War. The founders believed that the plentiful pine forests would form the basis of a thriving turpentine and lumber industry; the sandy soil would be ideal for growing citrus; and the rolling hills would be the perfect site for a town. The first settlers arrived in 1911; the town was incorporated in 1917; and the City of Lake Wales was granted its municipal charter in 1921.

Lake Wales has a Commission/Manager form of government. Fields explained that the “city charter was revised a year ago with the mayor’s responsibilities changing significantly. He is expected to advance initiatives and has both a ceremonial and leadership role to promote the city’s quality of life. Our mayor, Eugene Fultz, is everywhere. He is enthusiastic about Lake Wales and very much involved in getting the city moving.”

Fields sees “this area as having great potential… there is great quality of life … it is very livable. The charter school system is doing a lot for education.” He also is aware of what needs improving. “We need better recreational facilities for our kids. The recession beat everyone down, but things are coming back.

“ The city commission has big priorities. “An economic development council created with the Chamber of Commerce, with Jim Bell at the helm, is jump starting and get more things happening.”

“One reason the city manager job was attractive to me is the potential of the Highway 60 and 27 corridor. If you look at the long range economic picture, this has potential of becoming a major distribution center of Florida.” The CXS intermodal facility in Winter Haven will result in traffic coming south on Highway 60 through Lake Wales. “We will see a lot of opportunity coming out of that. If people are heading to Southeast or Southwest Florida they are going to go through Lake Wales.” Lake Wales is in a position to provide land and infrastructure and take advantage of its location. There are untapped retail possibilities. We are already seeing an uptake in the housing market with two major housing developments. People are looking for homes and rental apartments. It is a long term process but we hope to see results in the next three to five years… the future is very positive.” A corporate training facility along the Highway 60 corridor is considered a great selling point for people who want to locate in the area. An upcoming tour by the chairman of the Central Florida Development Council validates that there is statewide interest in Lake Wales.

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The city boasts several major annual events including Pioneer Days, the Lake Wales Arts Council Spring Fest and a Mardi Gras celebration. “I am looking to expand this by recognizing the community’s Hispanic population. I am used to cities that do a lot of special events to celebrate diversity.”

Fields is supportive of the arts “which can be used to enhance economic development. It is important for quality of life. That is one of the things I like about this area. The murals on the walls downtown are a distinctive feature of the city.”

The Polk State Art Center houses the art program for Polk State College and is home for the Lake Wales Arts Council. The thirty-five year old Lake Wales Community Little Theatre provides live theatre opportunities and the thirty-seven year old Depot Museum has evolved into a resource center for the collection, conservation, exhibition and study of materials pertaining to Lake Wales. The internationally known landmark, Bok Tower Gardens, has offered experiences to 23 million visitors since 1929. Through its historic landscape gardens, unique Singing Tower carillon and magnificent 1930s Mediterranean-style mansion, the Gardens offer unparalleled opportunities for artistic, cultural, personal and spiritual enrichment.

The City of Lake Wales is truly accomplishing its goal of “encouraging and facilitating quality growth and economic development without compromising the vintage charm that is so important to the residents of the community.”

For more information about Lake Wales, visit its website at www.cityoflakewales.com.

 

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