Sebring’s downtown headed in right direction, director says
SEBRING After hearing a revitalization and redevelopment expert speak, one downtown business owner said she believes a change in focus is needed to improve the city’s central business district. Rosalind Smile, owner of The Three Bears Antique Shop, said the focus should be on getting more restaurants rather than specialty shops because the eateries would draw in potential shoppers. Smile was among a small group of people attending a presentation by Marjorie Ferrer, executive director of the Delray Beach Downtown Development District. Ferrer, who had first visited Sebring two years ago, said she sees improvements in terms of more businesses and efforts to make downtown more attractive.As the city moves forward, Ferrer suggested that the city should take advantage of Lake Jackson’s close proximity to the downtown area. More water activities, including water skiing, could draw people into the downtown area, she said. She also said that with improvements to Wall Street, the city could capitalize on the name, such as by having an electronic ticker showing activity on the stock market, enticing an investment-stock market-related business to the area and working with someone to open a Wall Street coffee house. Kelly Cosgrave, another attendee at the meeting, said she liked another one of Ferrer’s suggestions, which is to seek more input from shoppers and downtown visitors on what they want. Others said they wondered whether Ferrer’s experiences in developing downtown Delray Beach are relevant considering that the population and income levels are higher in much of that area. Marie Yolette Rhau, the owner of the former Nancesowee Hotel in downtown, noted that Ferrer’s report at the meeting initially indicated that Sebring has only just over 10,000 residents and was concerned about that in considering plans for the building. But Ferrer said that a smaller population base doesn’t mean that Sebring can’t have a successful downtown. She said that Sebring’s downtown is smaller in size and couldn’t handle the many more thousands of people that Delray Beach typically attracts. Sebring has to do what best fits its community, rather than aspiring to be something else, she said. As far as attracting residents, Ferrer said, the downtown district gave money to a restaurant to relocate to downtown and that led to more restaurants. Creating a clean, safe environment, providing a reasonable level of parking and having events to draw people have helped, she said. She said outdoor cafes with fans have drawn people, even during the hot weather. “People love to socialize,” she said. Ferrer said Sebring’s downtown may not have reached the ultimate goal, but “it looks different. It feels different.” “It doesn’t happen overnight,” she said about the transformation of downtown.