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Updated: 12/02/2012 08:00:05AM

City, parade organizers should keep tradition

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It would be nice if the City of Lake Wales and the Kiwanis Club would reconsider their decision to reroute the annual Christmas parade outside of the downtown commercial district.

For years, the Lake Wales Christmas parade has traveled down Central, Stuart and Park avenues. Just like countless of other parades in small towns across America, the parade would travel through the commercial district, spotlighting not just the parade but the downtown business district.

Nice deal for everyone and a good way to have hundreds of people visit the downtown area and shop before and after the parade.

Last year, the city and the Kiwanis Club decided to reroute the parade so that it eliminated two of the streets – Stuart and Park avenues.

The city said it wanted to make the move to protect the new landscaping and to keep costs down.

One downtown businessperson, Keith Thompson, feels the city is not helping the downtown merchants by caring more about a few plants than its own historic commercial district.

We agree.

Thompson wrote the city and said, “When the rate of plant growth exceeds the rate of business growth in downtown Lake Wales, there will be no reason for landscaping of any sort!”

Thompson wrote the city commissioners and none of the five representatives responded. City Manager Terry Leary did answer his letter to explain the city’s reasoning behind the route shift.

Leary explained that the Kiwanis Club was asked if they wanted to change the parade back to its traditional route. She said the club declined.

“When Kiwanis applied for the permit this year (October 2012) Katie asked Mr. McKeon (TJ McKeon is the Kiwanian in charge of the parade) if he wanted to change back to a downtown route. He said no, that he wanted to do a straight shot up Central. Had I known that there was concern from businesses such as “Beans and Brushes” etc., I would have recommended to the Commission that they reconsider the route. I also would have made Katie (Leary’s assistant) call a meeting with Mr. McKeon to discuss the situation before it ever got to a Commission vote,” Leary told The Lake Wales News.

City Commissioner Betty Wojcik also commented about he issue and said that the Kiwanis Club wanted the straight route down Central, bypassing the traditional route.

We think the route should have been changed back after last year’s controversy and are surprised that at least one of our commissioners, who we know care deeply about the downtown district, would have raised a red flag and discussed the matter. Even asking the downtown merchants what they thought about the route might have been a good idea. The city has tried a lot harder recently to interact and help the downtown area thrive. City Manager Terry Leary and Jennifer Nanek, the city’s special projects manager, have become involved with Lake Wales Main Street. The relationship between the city and the downtown area is better than it has been in recent past. Leary and Nanek should be commended for that.

We understand that the city wants to save a little money and not have to pay for the extra police officers who might be needed if the parade went down a couple of extra seats. But, how much money are we talking about, an extra $1,000?

What if the city or the Kiwanis Club had come to the downtown merchants and asked for the financial help needed to keep the traditional route? We think the downtown merchants would have responded and come up with a way to pay help pay the extra costs?

What if the city were to kick in a little more to help out? It is Christmas, after all. How many volunteers would help out with crowd control and other duties if they were asked?

We think the city commission and the Kiwanis Club dropped the ball on this one for the second year in row. There is still time to change route back, if not for this year, then surely the next.