The city of Winter Garden held a community meeting Tuesday, June 27, to update residents on the progress being made in the city’s eastside community. Many east Winter Garden residents were in attendance for the presentation and to ask questions of City Manager Jon C. Williams and Mark A. Maciel, the city commissioner who represents District 3.
Maciel said he was pleased with the full Commission Chambers and residents’ involvement and enthusiasm. In attendance were members of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, representatives from nonprofit organizations and current city commissioners, as well as former elected officials from the district. Many of the residents said they grew up in the neighborhood.
“We can’t do this alone, and this is what we need,” Maciel said. “We need involvement … in what we’re doing. I personally have been working on this for 10 years. It’s a lot of people working very, very hard.”
To assist in creating a large-scale collaboration and community action plan, the city contracted with Polis Institute last fall.
“When you understand the need of society and the families you are trying to help, you understand the need in the community — to make it a better place to work, play and build families,” said Chloe Johnson Brunson, of One Winter Garden, founder of I Am Her and member of the city’s Planning & Zoning Board. “Let’s build a community we are proud to call our own.”
The city allowed residents to ask questions before giving the presentation.
Residents expressed concerns about being pushed out of the neighborhood, the lack of black-owned businesses, the lack of community gathering space, drainage issues and affordable housing.
One woman said there is nowhere for people to sit and hang out to shoot the breeze.
“We realized people needed a place to go, so we set aside some space at Zanders Park,” Williams said.
“I hear you keep saying that the people can go hang out at Zanders Park where the children are,” resident Karen McNeil said. “We are adults, and we need a place for adults to hang out. … We’re not going to go to the park where the children hang out.”
Williams replied that public space is part of the master plan.
Resident Gary Johnson inquired about renaming some of the streets in east Winter Garden to reflect the community’s history and to recognize forefathers.
“Why don’t we have some streets in east Winter Garden named for some of the pioneers,” Johnson asked. “When I was growing up, there were barber shops, cleaners, we had cab companies, gas stations, we had shakers and movers, and we didn’t have to cross Ninth Street. We could stay on the east side of Ninth Street, and we could make it. I remember growing up and going in the barber shop.
“The older guys, now that they’re gone — if I had grandkids and they wanted to know about the history of east Winter Garden, how could I explain it to them?” Johnson asked. “We had men who took care of their people, and I think we should recognize them. Who is North, who is Bay, who is Klondike?”
Joseph Johnson said he agreed with his son.
“I’m concerned about history; I’m concerned about our forefathers being recognized,” he said.
Maciel said the idea had been discussed before with residents and folks said they didn’t want to change their street names, legal documents and other important papers. He said the city will address the idea of renaming certain streets for the key players in the community.
Resident Harriette Bouler asked people to be patient with the city because change takes time.
“I love Winter Garden,” she said. “My dad was born here. All his brothers and sisters were born here and died here. My granddaddy started the black center. Let’s be patient with the city of Winter Garden. It’s slow … but (we must) work together.”
ONE YEAR LATER
The city hosted a series of charrettes and community meetings in June 2022 to refocus its efforts on the revitalization of east Winter Garden. The project concentrates on 10th and Center streets, the intersection of Ninth Street and Story Road, and the corner of Ninth and Plant streets — with emphasis on Center Street and Orange Technical College – West Campus. OTC campus preservation is important to residents because it is the former site of the segregated Drew High School.
Last week, Williams presented “One Winter Garden: The Plan,” which includes increasing connections; increasing homeownership and housing options; improving health, recreation safety and security; and creating safe, comfortable and interesting streets.
The city has approved a project at Plant and Eleventh streets — called The Point on Plant Street — that will include more than 30,000 square feet of space for retail, office and restaurant opportunities.
At last year’s meetings, citizens wanted assurance the old Drew High property would be properly preserved after Orange County Public Schools announced it wanted to build a bus compound on the land.
Williams said the city has purchased 15 acres and hopes to work with the Orange County School Board to swap land so the former high school property can be preserved.
In the last 12 months, Williams said, the city has been planning stormwater improvements, water main upgrades and sidewalk improvements; partnering to develop the West Orange Boys & Girls Club at Ninth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue; and redeveloping homes and designing the streetscape at Tenth and Center streets.
The stormwater improvement project is fully funded, he said, and should be under construction in late fall.
The city has begun its plan and has completed the survey work for Center Street and is working to obtain easements for sidewalks and the streetscape plan. City officials have been working with the Dyson family to create a plan for the Dyson’s Plaza area.
Smaller projects are taking place as well, including home renovations and the purchase of property with the idea of focusing on senior housing.
“There’s one thing I want y’all to leave (with) here tonight and that’s the goal of by working together we can transform our past to our present,” Williams said.
The goal is bringing unity back into the community, he said.
“To each resident, each mom, each grandparent, every resident in Winter Garden and east Winter Garden: The way we change our community is for everyone to stand up and be involved,” Brunson said. “We are always better together.”