“Main Street,” a shaded, tree-lined thorough- fare banked with cafes, small stores, and eateries, is the small-town American version of the piazza or square. And at the May 25 Wilton Manors City Commission meeting, the room was filled with all the nuances of a small town.
A Kiwanis Club representative spoke about an initiative to supply food to impoverished school children, a local resident thanked city services for helping her through her mental illness, and Ordinance 962 was debated.
Ordinance 962 is an initiative that will give Wilton Manors the hallmark indicating a small town, namely a Main Street. Wilton Manors Main Street, Inc. has been working on developing a Main Street for a few years now.
“This has been in the works since 2004,” said Doug Blevins, President of Wilton Manors Main Street, Inc. He feels that reworking the drive into a two-lane roadway has become even more viable since then. “Since 2006 there have been eight pedestrians struck by vehicles—three of which died,” Blevins added.“Clearly this is the most important reason for this initiative.”
The City Commission meet- ing brought about a victory by voting against taking the issue to the ballots. Presenting it to voters, while democratic, could have pushed the negotiations back another year. Speakers at the meeting stated that lives, and livelihoods, could not wait another year.
A 70-word referendum on the ballot, people argued, would mislead voters. Taking it away from the voters will allow Blevins’ group to enter into negotiations with the city council almost immediately. He expects that the actual transformation can begin in as soon as six months.
In effect, the drive will be taken back from the State of Florida, specifically the Florida Department of Transportation. With an operating budget under $25 mil- lion, the city’s finances were argued as a reason not to “take back the drive.” A few opponents were as passionately against changing the Drive as those whom were in favor of it. But it appears that the Drive’s importance as a shopping, entertainment, and dining destination won out.
“We are very excited that the community has come together,” said Tom Tabor, Director and Committee Chairman of Wilton Manors Main Street,Inc. “Personally, I am more excited about this, the second vote, which was a unanimous move to forward and help improve the drive.”
He also says that this is just the beginning.Their initial plans will further develop with public involvement in refining the plan.
“Cyclists, pedestrians, locals, residents, employee can all have input,” said Tabor.“And even visitors that frequent the Drive.”
Tabor has researched small communities throughout the U.S. that have developed their main streets into hot, safe, destinations. Locally, Lauderdale by the Sea and Hollywood have “taken back” their main drags with wonderful success.
Former City Council President Diane Cline was also present at the meeting and spoke in favor of taking back the drive.The self-described “strong-willed Irish woman” has been in Wilton Manors since 1977. She is currently a president of the Wilton Manors Historical Society and a vice-president of Wil- ton Manors Main Street, Inc. She has worked with Tabor and Blevins since the beginning.
Her speech was emotional, but this did not get in the way of her careful, thought-outwords. “Trees don’t kill, cars and speed do,” she said to cheers from the crowd at City Hall. She reflected on the initial widening of the Drive in 1983. “I was president of city council then.We had meetings with property and business owners and residents.The $1 million dollar cost was to be shared by property, business owners and the city,” Cline stated.“By befriending a state legislator at that time, the state gave us a million dollars.”
The money turned out to be a Trojan horse.After giving the funds to Wilton Manors, the state then “dictated every nuance of how the drive was to look.”
She said that, 12 years later, after the initial islands went on the drive, the city “swept in” and uprooted the shade trees that made the drive a cool, attractive place to walk at midday. She is happy the City Council has decided to rejuvenate the Drive.
Maciel Cantelmo and Tommy LaFashia, who own Gallery XO on Wilton Drive, were also present and feel that taking back the drive is a step in the right direction for reasons of safety, appearance and increasing pedestrian foot-traffic,which will allow businesses to grow.
“As property owners and residents of Wilton Manors it’s exciting to see our city commission step up to the plate and do what’s right for all of us,” said Cantelmo and LaFaschia.“We look forward to working closely with the city, Main Street group and a task force to evaluate a proper way to take the drive back.Wilton Manors is on the verge of becoming an even greater and more exciting city to live and work in.”
readers who wish to contribute to the civic welfare of the city by giving their input to the Main Street initiative can do so by attending a town hall meeting on June 15, arranged by the city to discuss the plan and other items of interest to the city.
For more information, visit Wiltonmanorsmainstreet.org