\This past Saturday’s edition of the Highlands News-Sun featured two separate stories, in which the Sebring City Council and Highlands County Board of County Commissioners outlined their priorities for the new year.
After reading through what both government bodies had to say, I am excited to see what they are able to accomplish in 2021. Mayor John Shoop stated that the downtown area would be a center of focus in order to attract new businesses to the area.
Since I began writing, Sebring’s downtown area has always been a topic that I felt very passionate about. I have always felt that in a small community, like Sebring, the downtown area should be filled with businesses and a centerpiece of the community. For a while, it seemed as if the downtown area was getting emptier and more isolated. Especially after the demolition of the Nan-ces-o-wee building, it left a huge hole in the area.
After seeing that Mayor Shoop listed the downtown area as a priority, I am hopeful that 2021 can be a turning point for the area. However, it is here that I want to include a disclaimer that I do not believe improving the downtown area should be done by tearing down the standing buildings. That is a sentiment that many residents share and has to be understood by the City Council and the Community Redevelopment Agency. These buildings are pieces of living history that should be respected.
Commissioner Kathy Rapp mentioned this in her priorities when she stated that she did not want to see a “hole in our downtown” like the one left by the demolition of the Nan-ces-o-wee. The City Council also touched on multiple infrastructure needs, such as the ones present along Lakeview Drive. The road is consistently facing problems with potholes, uneven roads, and even drainage problems during a heavy storm. It would be nice to see this scenic roadway repaired and brought to a higher quality.
From the Board of County Commission list of priorities, I can continue to agree with the outlined list they presented. Recovering from this pandemic is definitely going to be difficult, but it can be done if the commissioners take it seriously. Commissioner Kevin Roberts sees COVID-19 vaccines and rapid testing as a priority, two crucial things in our older communities. Commissioner (Scott) Kirouac also calls for improved personnel and infrastructure to store the vaccine, a realistic approach. As soon as the vaccine becomes available to Highlands County residents, we need to vaccinate as efficiently and safely as possible.
For the county commissioners, the economy is again an important topic for them. Commissioners Rapp and Kirouac went as far as to specifically point to the Lakeshore Mall as a potential project. They are looking for ways the county can collaborate with the owners to see the empty retail spaces repurposed.
Finally, something I agree with most strongly is Commissioner Rapp’s priority to find the best ways to preserve the historic buildings in our downtown. There is great potential in downtown Sebring that does not just involve tearing down historic buildings.
My second disclaimer in this column is that all of this is just words. As responsible citizens, we have to be fully aware of what our city and county government do over the next year. We have to show up to meetings, write to our local officials, get informed with their actions, and fulfill our civic duties. If they fulfill their promises, then let’s show praise and support their work. If their words remain just that, we have to push them for more.
Miguel Arceo is a student athlete at Sebring High School.