The east side of Bartow gives no indication that there is a historic downtown nearby and a study by Trent Green, a professor at USF, has recommendations to change that.
In five different areas he is recommending an almost complete makeover but what can be done by the City Commission and the Community Redevelopment Agency will come down to what they can afford. Green will show his findings Wednesday to a combined meeting of the two boards at Bartow City Hall.
“We’re calling for a gateway into downtown,” he said “Right now there is no gateway into downtown.”
One thing Green suggests is a health complex for that area of town.
“We see the Peace River Center site with capacity for new development. We’re suggesting right now health related uses in it … a healthplex. Nothing to compete with the Bartow hospital,” he said.
He also surmises that in looking at the length of U.S. 17 there is nothing that tells people they are in Bartow.
“Starting at Main Street and heading south on some frontage parcels, these are parcels not big enough to attract drive-in bank tellers or fast food places. But we found they can accommodate small scale neighborhood uses.”
Understanding that U.S. 17 is a major truck route, it should still herald something about the city. It has to give drivers an identification that they are in Bartow, he said.
“Here’s a state route almost the entire length of the city and nothing says you’re in Bartow,” he said.
Green said there are 170 vacant lots in this section of town. Some are narrow and substandard and probably could not be built upon but that’s not the case with all.
Different kinds of residential buildings could be built, something that acknowledges different lifestyles of the community, he said. He said the number of vacant lots is high for such a small area and it hurts economic development so near downtown.
“If you have an active downtown you can’t have these types of conditions next door,” he said. “It’s not going work. The city has made a significant investment downtown, but you you can’t neglect or turn a blind eye to what is within walking distance.”
In the LB Brown corridor, there must be a draw to downtown too, and with taking advantage of both the Brown house and the cigar factory, something can be done, he said.
“I’m told there’s a way to cross Highway 60 where it ends. But we see this as a way to get into the heart of Bartow and connect to downtown,” Green said.
Green can see a renovated and active cigar factory and change the cigar factory’s orientation to the east rather than to the west as it is now. He also saw where changes on East Main Street can improve things.
“I can see where the juvenile justice building where it’s in an old supermarket (plaza) and calling for a new town square,” he said.
He said there could be a central park for the city there and commercial uses will activate in that area.
“It can be used for Friday flicks on the lawn, festivals right in the heart of downtown,” he said.
He said coming to First Avenue in the Brown corridor there could be a small heritage complex and a visitor’s center for the city.
In his final area of study, Green said the conditions of the streets need a serious look. The lack of sidewalks and street lighting give a character that won’t attract businesses.
Green said the officials are going to have to digest what they’ve got and figure what it can do. He did a similar study on the west side and pieces of it were attacked piece by piece. More is still planned to be done there.
Green didn’t look into the costs of what needs to be done and he didn’t take in much of the city ordinances are in place that could hamper some suggestions. Those items are for the city and CRA to look into, he said.
“We’re trying to put together a comprehensive vision that the city can look at. This makes sense for the whole area and where we can start,” he said.
What his study focused on is the importance of this area to the economic development of downtown.
“The importance here is it’s a pocket of poverty right next to downtown,” he said. “I don’t think that there a reasonable person who would come to the conclusion that downtown is going to flourish with those conditions next door.”