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Plant City Observer Friday, Sep. 8, 2017 2 months ago

Main Street Plant City hits the ground running

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With boards and plans in place, Main Street Executive Director Karen Thompson is ready to revitalize downtown.
by: Daniel Figueroa IV Staff Writer

She sees her office like a fishbowl.

Through floor-to-ceiling windows she watches the activity in the Arcade Building — the beauticians, the branders and the bustling. Downtown has got potential and Karen

Food trucks with cuisine ranging from Southern to Thai gather in Historic Downtown Plant City each month for the rally.

Thompson, after six months at the helm of Historic Plant City Main Street, is pushing to see it realized.

“Organization-wise, we had to get our footing,” Thompson, executive director of Plant City’s Main Street said. “I’m consistently surprised, in six months, what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

Since taking the job to lead Main Street in early March, the former director of Winter Haven’s Main Street program has overseen the formation of boards in the Main Street program’s four vital areas: promotion, design, economic vitality and organization. Thompson and Lizzette Sarria, president of Main Street’s board, recently presented an update of the organizations work to the city commission during the Aug. 28 commission meeting.

In the coming budget, Main Street is asking for a $50,000 investment from the city and is readying to ask the Community Redevelopment Agency for a matching grant to complete a downtown master plan.

The city included $50,000 in the current budget cycle to help the organization off the ground, but commissioners, in a July budget meeting, asked for an update to understand what that money would be used for moving forward.

“I’m very pleased to see this presentation come before us tonight because, as you know, I’ve been wondering what you’ve been doing,” Vice-Mayor Bill Dodson said. “I’m thankful to know that there are projects that are planned and activities that will occur so we will start to see some results.”

Plant City residents could begin enjoying those events starting in November, Thompson said, as the promotions wing of Main Street brings in new events like Bark in the Park and revitalizes old ones like Food Truck Fridays with the addition of a movie night and partnerships with local nonprofit groups. Thompson said Main Street is also looking into bringing Big City Hunt, a popular smartphone based scavenger hunt, to Plant City. Big City Hunt has games all over the country, including many in nearby Florida cities Saint Petersburg, Tampa, Orlando and Winter Park.

The Mobile DJ Truck joins the festivities each month near the train depot providing entertainment for the dining attendees.

The organization side, she said, is focused on managing the day-to-day operations and establishing the framework for sponsor levels, one of the ways Main Street programs are funded. Thompson said she hopes the city’s investment will help attract more private sponsors.

“Public investment,” she said, “breeds private investment.”

The economic vitality board is creating an inventory of all things downtown, including parking availability and storefront usage. It’s also tasked with attracting new businesses to downtown. Thompson said she’d like to see a brewer, like Grove Roots in Winter Haven, come to Plant City.

“At Florida Main Street (conference), that’s all we heard,” she said. “Overwhelmingly, people want more restaurants and nightlife downtown.”

Breweries, she said, can satisfy a great deal of that need, offering a community gathering

Vendors like GTE Financial set up at each event promoting their products and services to those in attendance.

place with culture and entertainment for families to enjoy. Breweries like Grove Roots and Crooked Thumb in Safety Harbor frequently attract everyone from young families to date nights and are frequently packed with all ages from infant to elderly.

To get it all started, though, Main Street needs a plan. Creating a master plan for downtown is one of the top priorities for Plant City Main Street’s design board.

“The timing is perfect,” Thompson said, floating the idea that midtown’s proposed developer, E2L could help create the master plan.

The master plan would layout specific aesthetic guidelines for Plant City, from the type of benches and planters on the streets to identifying needs like pressure washing sidewalks and what businesses and features to bring downtown. The success of Winter Haven’s Main Street program, Thompson said, is largely due to following its master plan “to a T.” Main Street plans to ask the CRA for a matching grant to hire a consultant for the creation of the master plan.

Commissioner Nate Kilton said public investment in downtown is needed if Plant City wants to continue to see it grow. Businesses downtown have lost potential tenants who were unsure of the city commitment to downtown, he said.

Businesses like the Kandy Shoppe and Dark Horse Music Store stay open late for the event.

“That baffled me,” Kilton said. “I was shocked that anybody could think that about our city, our civic organizations who are fully committed to seeing downtown and midtown be a full success. Clearly there’s a little more work that we need to do to send that message loud and clear.”

Daniel Figueroa IV is a Staff Writer at the Plant City Times & Observer. He has been covering Plant City since 2017. Previously, he was the politics and veteran affairs reporter at the Ledger of Lakeland. He probably wants to ride motorcycles and trade books with...

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