If Wilton Manors wants to significantly improve its economic situation, its needs to make four things happen: get a Tri-Rail station, reduce lanes on Wilton Drive, get a boutique hotel, and identify itself more.
Those were the major points of the city’s 2016-2021 Economic Development Strategic Plan, developed by Strategic Planning Group.
“You’re a very good community today. But this would move you to the next level,” said Bob Gray, president of Strategic Planning Group.
In the report, Gray and his team stated that the city being awarded one of the planned Tri-Rail stations would have “a huge difference in terms of a multiplier effect.” The hope is that with more visitors going through the city, local businesses would see an increase in customers. If built, a station would most likely be located south of Northeast 26 Street and east of Dixie Highway.
The boutique hotel would also supposedly give a boost to tourism and local businesses. In the past, city officials have tried unsuccessfully to form a public/private partnership to develop a hotel and parking garage on the Hagen Park parking lot. The estimated number of rooms for a boutique hotel is between 80 and 150. “They’re not very big by nature,” Gray said. In the plan, the Hagen Park parking lot and the Shoppes of Wilton Manors were identified as two possible locations for a hotel.
Linking the hotel and Tri-Rail station together is Wilton Drive. In addition to stating that the road was too wide, something the Florida Department of Transportation plans to change by reducing the street from four lanes to two, the road was criticized as uninviting, lacking a sense of place, not pedestrian friendly, and not being a major destination. “We need to move forward.
It really does change the economic character of Wilton Drive,” Gray said.
That sense of place, added Gray, could be improved if Wilton Manors did a better job of branding and setting itself apart from Fort Lauderdale. “We just don’t see the branding and the signage that says ‘hey, you’re here in Wilton Manors. You are a community and that needs to be visualized,” Gray said.
Also laid out in the report was the need for parking solutions along Wilton Drive, the viability of all the city’s corridors, becoming an LGBT vacation destination, keeping residential home prices stable and affordable, more Class A office space, and more encouragement of business investment. Motor vehicle and dealer/parts, general merchandise and building materials were the largest business opportunities identified, but the city doesn’t have enough vacant land to accommodate them.
But, Gray said, the report can be adapted and tweaked as needed. “This is not done in stone. This is fluid. You almost have to look at everything every year.”
Vice Mayor Justin Flippen said the city needs to “demonstrate our commitment” to the plan.
But that doesn’t mean the commission will take up every suggestion. “Not everything will be implemented. We will do what we want to,” said Commissioner Tom Green. While Mayor Gary Resnick added “It is a start. We needed to get started somewhere.”
The commission will discuss the plan again at a future commission meeting.
A copy of the plan can be downloaded on the city’s website and is located in the commission agenda for Dec. 13.