Historic Downtown Thoughts Past And Future

Sometimes I hear a comment along the lines of “Boy Plant City is changing fast and before you know it you don’t even realize it.” I understand where they’re coming from if I’m driving on North Park Road or am unlucky enough to catching the light on Grant Street when I’m trying to cross Alexander Street. But one of the nice things about our Historic Downtown Core is how it was mostly built two and a half generations ago. And while there are small pockets of infill due to minor changes in the area, for the most part our historic downtown is changing not because of growth, but because of the nature of the activity.

My family has more than a little “skin in the pie” when it comes to historic downtown Plant City; and without boring any reader with a history lesson, I just want to tell you how our family’s business offices began with a single room downtown in 1919 and we never had our administrative offices anywhere else. I’ve worked in our downtown area since the mid 1980’s and have enjoyed renovating more than a few old buildings when their time fell on my desk for restoration or repurposing. So perhaps my perspective is of passing interest, so here it goes.

PARK: When asked about a program about our historic downtown area for civic groups like the Chamber Leadership etc., I ask participants what they think is wrong or what needs to be fixed with downtown Plant City. Usually the first knee-jerk reaction is to complain that parking is a problem. While this answer is dead and utterly wrong, sometimes the perception of a parking problem creates one in the minds of experts and those in the know. But in all the years I’ve worked downtown, I’ve never had to park more than two blocks from anywhere I wanted to go. For perspective, that’s about half the usual walking distance from my car to the Publix entrance. But the two big differences in a customer’s opinion are: A) When shopping in a huge mall with a football field-sized parking lot, or visiting a professional, you can almost always see the entrance of your destination from your car. A clear line of sight is reassuring for the paranoid, and B) a first-time visitor downtown may not know where to look to park.

APARTMENTS: A few of us who don’t spit the nonsense that our downtown area is “dead” remember all too well when it really was dead. And by dead I mean it was 80% vacant and rents were reduced below property tax levels. More importantly, all five downtown offices closed at 5 am back then and the only people here over the weekend were a road runner running the US 92 trade to Lakeland and/or maybe a stray dog. But by the end of the 1990s, many renovation and revitalization measures were carried out, so that the trend was upwards again. There were a few restaurants and luckily few broken windows. And one thing that started around then that helped a lot was the people that lived downtown. Second floor apartments popped up and were immediately occupied. People who live downtown need things and they choose.

GOVERNMENT OFFICES: The City Police Station left downtown, despite excellent arguments for keeping and rebuilding them here (they can’t win them all), but City Hall stayed the course of “In the Heart of Plant City, With Plant City At Heart” with one Anchoring at expansion where it is now. The tax collectors, Social Security (the oxymoron of our time), and the US Post Office have all left downtown and/or the City, but the library has stayed there. The County Courthouse has been enlarged and is also located near our historic areas.

ENTERTAINMENT ACTIVITIES: The old train depot was salvaged and repurposed (an effort spearheaded by Gil Gott and the Plant City Chamber of Commerce), and shortly thereafter the city took a bold step with taxpayers’ money by demolishing an old building, allowing McCall Park to relocate Extend east/west from Palmer to Wheeler Streets and beyond. These two things combined allowed for an area for entertainment and scheduled activities like never before. The trend here is rising and positive.

A special mention here goes to Brandon Snyder with the Roots efforts in 2019 and 2021 (with more to come from him I hear). The entertainment value of its boutique craft beer and winery concepts, and its success in getting the city to allow it, paved the way for these residences I spoke of having something to do except after 5 p.m. or on weekends to drive out of town. It’s also helped some of the city’s opinion makers stop fearing they’ll turn our evening streets into the Ybor-esque nightclub buffet of the past 20 years or ruin the Norman Rockwell picture they had of our downtown area. Roots helped prove the concept and provided further encouragement for things like the ones we’ve seen on Evers Street facades. Not wanting to be selfish, but I also like Bruton’s Cigar Shop. All of these places can be profitable businesses that offer an upscale entertainment, social, and pedestrian component, but avoid being a pit stop for 30-year-old kids who leave their mother’s basement to squat like a parasitic toad and her great unfinished Writing a novel while drinking free water and bad-mouthing our country.

PRIORITIES: One of my family’s renovations was the Lee Building, and it’s celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Our family’s offices here celebrated our 20th anniversary four years ago and before the Covid-19 hysteria I was working to celebrate both and maybe throw a party like the 1998 one in our courtyard. In planning a possible program to accompany the party, I’ve compiled a short list of my opinions on priorities for our beloved downtown area. It doesn’t surprise me to read about it again now and realize that my hopes then were the same as they are now. I think our historic downtown area needs more housing to retain our government offices and to continue to encourage things like the Plant City Chamber of Commerce, EDC and Mainstreet offices to reside in our historic downtown area. These have intangible benefits that no other area of ​​Plant City’s past or future should enjoy prior to Historic Downtown. The fact that downtown space is still cheaper should make this a no-brainer, but even if the costs were higher I would argue that the intangible benefits associated with government presence and activity are ONLY ours historic city center should benefit.

Any chance of a police branch?

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