Designing the future of downtown LaBelle
September 18, 2015
A city can’t survive on history alone. LaBelle certainly has plenty of history, having started as a settlement of cattle ranchers and trappers in the 1880s. “The belle of the Caloosahatchee” was chartered as a town in 1911 and became the seat of a newly christened county in 1923, named after Captain Francis A. Hendry, “Cattle King of South Florida.” In 1925, befitting a county seat, the Florida legislature chartered the city of LaBelle.
Fast forward 90 years, and “The City Under the Oaks” has lots of potential. Its downtown possesses many assets, including charming historic buildings, green spaces and parks, waterfront, a pedestrian-friendly street grid and much more. Its biggest asset, though, is the passion of its residents, who are engaged in taking the raw beauty of LaBelle and polishing it to a shine. One such resident is our own Shellie Johnson, who is president of the LaBelle Downtown Revitalization Corporation. That’s a motivated group of volunteers determined to improve the appearance and economic stability of historic Downtown LaBelle, while preserving its rich heritage and contributing to the livelihood of its residents, business owners and community.
EnSite is pleased to help develop and facilitate a community vision for Downtown LaBelle, and to create a plan for realizing that vision. As stated in the Historical Downtown Walking District Plan, “Downtown LaBelle is like a photograph that is out of focus. While the elements are in place, the current vision is not quite clear enough to appreciate.” Many of the historic buildings could be put to better and more consistent use, and some are unoccupied and in disrepair. Sidewalk continuity could be improved to achieve better walkability. Some businesses have left downtown to avoid maintenance costs.
Already, the vision is becoming more crystalized for Downtown LaBelle. A robust schedule of events has focused more energy downtown, like the popular Wharf Walk. Adaptive reuse is a favorite term recently. What better home for an ice cream shop or boutique than a funky, historic building? Loyal customers at Forrey Grill will soon be able to enjoy al fresco dining while taking in the sights and sounds of the historic downtown. There’s just something magical about people uniting in their love for a place and to design its next 90 years. It’s going to be beautiful!