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Back in January of this year residents of the Island City were asked to participate in the Wilton Next Branding Strategy Study.

Our city’s Economic Development Division reached out to area businesses, neighborhood associations, and residents city-wide to take part in this study and to help shape the future vision of our Island City. This past week the results of this outreach were presented to the city commission in a draft presentation by Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA). Many residents following the project were left scratching their heads. Westside residents in particular were questioning the data that supported Andrews Avenue being promoted as the new Medtail and Wellness District of the city.  

In case you haven’t kept up with branding lingo or marketing catchphrases, Medtail is the new buzzword that refers to medical or healthcare tenants located in a retail setting. The pitch done by RMA sounded wonderful, clean, healthy and futuristic. Medtail and Wellness businesses will create a vibe for the “Avenue,” bringing in daytime foot traffic and saving us from the vacant retail storefronts plaguing so many communities. As with most advertising and branding strategies the goal is to sell something, to make you believe, and to get you hooked. Not all Westsiders were ready to drink the Kool-Aid. Boutique health, wellness, and dentist offices lining Andrews Avenue are not what most Westside residents are looking for. Of the over 300 survey responses received from residents — none of them mentioned health, wellness and medical district. What they did mention were more cafes, restaurants, and retail options, along with thriving mixed-use zoning areas that would bring in new residents and neighborhood-oriented businesses.  

In our little two-square-mile city, perhaps it might be best to promote the entire city as a health and wellness opportunity and not just along a distinct corridor of the city. The east side of town already hosts an Urgent Care Center, a veterinary hospital, the Marrison’s Independent and Assisted Living Residences and numerous other health and wellness businesses. The central area along Dixie Highway has numerous gyms, yoga studios, pet daycare and similar Medtail and wellness operations. Why not incorporate all that exists already in a city-wide promotion rather than recreating the wheel with RMA’s suggestions to have Andrews Avenue become the Medtail and Wellness District.? 

There is plenty in the presentation to be excited about. Many of the suggestions have already been worked on or in the planning stages for some time and others were a welcome addition to highlighting this special place we call the Island City. Gateway signage and unique lighting features to make people know they have entered our Island City was a welcome inclusion in the study. This idea is not anything new but all part of our Wayfinding Project approved years ago and with much public input. Hopefully one day soon, now that the funding should be in place, we will finally see this vital project transform our city. Glad to hear it is supported so strongly in the branding strategy.  

Another goal that many residents would like to see included in future city planning would be a high priority placed on bicycle and pedestrian safety. Now that we have successfully established our mixed-use zoning corridors throughout the city, it’s time we think about making them pedestrian-friendly with shade structures, trees, wide sidewalks and gathering spaces. Bike lanes should not only exist within certain areas but should have total connectivity throughout our city and be tied into neighboring cities' pathways and bike lanes.  

An upcoming Bike Safety Day sponsored by the Community Affairs Advisory Board highlights our city’s deficiency when it comes to the safe connectivity of bicycle lanes. The event includes a Bike Scavenger Hunt, but organizers did not look to include the entire Westside Community due to safety concerns of the bikers crossing Andrews Avenue. This reality sums up the concerns many on the Westside have been expressing for years, to have safety issues addressed not just on Andrews Avenue but along Powerline Road and throughout our community. These concerns are not just limited to vehicular traffic but also need to address the shared usage of our roadways with bicycles and pedestrians. Hopefully the Westside Traffic Study will produce a roadmap for necessary improvements and not just offer sidewalks as the solution. Creating fully connected, clearly marked, dedicated bike lanes that transverse our Island City and connect to neighbors across our waterways would do wonders in promoting and branding our city as a great place to live, work and play.  

Asking residents to participate is great, but you also have to listen to what they are saying. Working together and creating a plan for Wilton Manors next 75 years needs to include what residents want for our Island City. Having this conversation and debate is what makes life just better here.

Sal Torre has been a columnist for the Wilton Manors Gazette since its inception. Sal has served on the Wilton Drive Task Force, Budget Review Advisory Board, and Charter Review Board, among others. Sal is currently President of the Westside Association of Wilton Manors and Secretary for the Friend of the Wilton Manors Library. He is employed with Broward County in the Human Services Division.