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Plant City Observer Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 11 months ago

Waters at the helm: Plant City’s Main Street gets a new leader, more focus on arts and culture

Jane Waters is the new interim executive director of Historic Plant City Main Street following the October departure of Karen Thompson.
by: Daniel Figueroa IV Staff Writer

It started about six weeks ago.

Just before she headed to Daytona for Biketoberfest, Jane Waters got a call from Ronni Wood, the coordinator for Florida’s Main Street program, telling her an opportunity might be opening up in Plant City. Three weeks later, Historic Plant City Main Street, the city’s young organization aimed at revitalizing and preserving Historic Downtown, had a new captain at its helm, its second since March.

“She is the perfect fit for the job,” former executive director Karen Thompson said. “With her years of experience, her passion and drive for community greatness and her love of arts, Main Street hit the Executive Director lottery.”

Lizzette Sarria, president of the Main Street board of directors, said Thompson’s departure to lead the Lake Wales Main Street program came as a surprise. They had just laid organizational framework and she feared the organization would lose momentum. Wood, she said, recommended Waters straight away and the board agreed to bring her on as an interim director, reevaluating the options at the end of the year.

“She came across strong,” Sarria said. “Her references were strong her resume was strong. I thought she would be someone who could really hit the ground running.”

Like Thompson, Waters comes to Plant City from Polk County where she was heavily involved in community revitalization while overseeing the Arts Ensemble Education Foundation, a nonprofit arts incubator that brings communities, especially impoverished ones, together through the arts. And, that passion for arts and culture is something she is hoping to bring to Plant City’s downtown in her new role.

“It’s kind of a personal passion for me to preserve the past while sort of embracing the future,” Waters said. “I definitely see revitalization occurring in every city through culture and art.”

Waters brings more than a decade of nonprofit and community revitalization expertise to Main Street. In Polk County her Arts Ensemble established the Eloise Arts Center, coordinated internships and art shows with Polk State College and helped coordinate the Arts4Vets program with the Polk County Veterans Council.

Her strength in coming to Main Street, beyond administration and nonprofit business, she said, will be being able to reach out to young professionals and the arts community to find ways to make Plant City’s downtown and its business thrive.

Though Thompson’s tenure in Plant City was brief, Waters, who coordinated with Thompson on projects while Thompson was overseeing Winter Haven’s Main Street program, said a solid foundation was laid, allowing her to hit the ground running.

“I plan to build on what Karen was doing because it was well implemented,” she said. “Karen set the administration really well. Being a reestablished organization, the first project of any board should be setting the administration. I walked into a well-oiled machine.”

This is Plant City’s second run at a Main Street program. The city was initially one of the first charters when Main Street programs came to Florida in 1985. The parent organization, Main Street America, is a national group combining grassroots organizations and coordinated programs through all levels of government to aid in preservation and revitalization of historic downtown districts.

Since forming around 1980, the organization has secured more than $65.6 billion, netted more than 55,000 new jobs and rehabilitated more than 260,000 buildings in about 2,000 communities across the country, according to its website.

Creating a downtown master plan is the immediate goal for Waters, as it was for Thompson. The master plan would set 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 master plan is key,” Thompson said. “It’s what sets the formula and the formula is success.”

Additionally, Waters said she wants to revamp some existing events like adding themes to the monthly food truck rally. February will feature a steampunk theme, including art from the popular sci-fi subgenre. She also wants to add new events like a monthly pop-up social hour, a sort of guerrilla-style cocktail hour to take place at a new business every month.

Despite being an interim director, Waters said she took the role with the idea of being in Plant City for a minimum of five years or “as long as it takes to get the downtown master plan implemented, greater foot traffic on the streets and better marketing for merchants and business owners.”

Most importantly though, she wants the shoppers and merchants of downtown to know that Main Street belongs to them, no matter who is in charge and her door is always open to them.

When one nearby merchant stopped by Wednesday morning to ask how he could get involved with the program, her answer was simple:

“You just did.”

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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