Generally, I agree with many of Norm Kent’s commentary and editorials. However, I must take issue with his headline and subsequent article entitled “PLANNERS STRIKE OUT AT THE PLAZA”.
As one of the advocates for this project and vice chairman of the Wilton Drive Improvement District, I can attest to the numerous meetings, workshops and public hearings that have been held over the past ten years to make Wilton Drive safer, more beautiful, and cooler with the addition of many more trees and plants along the Drive.
The real catalyst came about four years ago when well-known singer and Gay Men’s Chorus member Greg Futchi was killed crossing Wilton Drive.
A huge rally was quickly organized that got the attention of our elected city officials and the Florida Department of Transportation-FDOT. Norm may not be aware that prior to Greg’s death, on several occasions the city commission chamber was filled to capacity with support for narrowing Wilton Drive and many of the supporters were Wilton Drive business owners as well as residents. Greg’s death was not the first and it was time to find a way to save lives and improve Wilton Drive at the same time. The exaggeration of “blood on your body” that Norm states in his articles hardly compares to the number of deaths and blood that has been shed on Wilton Drive with pedestrian fatalities.
Thanks to the efforts of many of the commissioners including Vice Mayor Tom Green and Mayor Justin Flippen who worked closely with the Metropolitan Planning Organization-MPO, the MPO agreed to fund more than three million dollars in construction costs. City staff, FDOT, engineers and landscape consultants spent countless hours in meetings over the past two and a half years working and reworking plans to optimize the funding resources from the MPO for a better and safer Wilton Drive.
Several workshop meetings were held where the public and business owners could offer comments. Ironically, I don’t recall seeing Norm or anyone from SFGN at those meetings.
What the public and many businesses don’t realize is the contractors that FDOT hired were ahead of schedule on other projects and were able to move ahead faster on the more challenging portions of the construction on Wilton Drive. While we didn’t expect that we would have this much construction during our peak winter season, the good news is that as of today, barring no unforeseen circumstances, the completion may be sooner than previously expected.
The Wilton Drive Improvement District also made it a priority to keep all businesses notified of scheduling and the segmenting of the construction process. Lightship Media was contracted to create a Website dedicated to the narrowing project and has done so with informative videos and weekly notifications to help businesses stay informed and help them navigate the inevitable growing pains of construction. I encourage everyone to check out Wiltondrive.org. There is a narrated video that will help explain more about the changes and challenges we face in improving Wilton Drive. We are also contracting a visual artist to render three prominent locations on Wilton Drive to depict realistic changes that will dramatically affect businesses and pedestrians in a very positive way. The City and the Wilton Drive Improvement district also funded a discount program for Lyft and Uber to help bring patrons to the drive during the construction.
In the meantime, YES, we have to deal with barriers, dirt, dust, a bit of inconvenience and in some cases, businesses may realize a slight decrease in business. I have been reaching out to several businesses in the past week and some have seen no effect in their numbers, while others have mentioned 10-20% reduction. I spoke with Mark Seymour, owners of Hunter’s Night Club located in the Shoppes of Wilton Manors and he is very excited about the improvements and despite the construction, his business is surviving fine. In one case, interestingly enough, Ethos, Greek Bistro has seen an increase of 35% in its revenues over the past few months and construction is directly in front of its location.
In closing, it is not the planning that is to be blamed, but perhaps the timing. There are so many aspects of these changes, like drainage, fiber optics, utility lines, etc. that inevitably there are challenges for the contractors as well. It is our sincerest hope that business will show support for a NEW, IMPROVED and SAFER Wilton Drive. We strive to promote all businesses and it is our fervent hope that the positive changes to Wilton Drive will enhance the economic vitality of the Wilton Drive businesses and our entire city. We ask that you encourage everyone to have patience and assure them that the result will be amazing.
Be assured, despite Norm Kent’s insistence that the re-design plan was not thought out carefully, I assure you it was. Growing pains hurt, we all recognize that and there is no good time to close an entrance or block a sidewalk, but in the long run, I am certain Wilton Drive and all business will soon be on the road to recovery and better than ever.