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Waterfront concepts net likes and dislikes

SEBRING — The Jack Stroup Civic Center was close to capacity with citizens Thursday evening who expressed their opinions on two proposed designs for the redevelopment of the city’s waterfront property.

At the joint meeting of the City Council and Community Redevelopment Agency Board, the design firm Kimley-Horn provided details about their two concepts/proposals for the waterfront. The proposals were based on input from stakeholder meetings, a public meeting in March and online input.

While some would like little or no change at the waterfront, most were receptive to redeveloping the area. There were concerns about parking, the Civic Center not being in the plans and the fate of the historic Weigle House (Yellow House) and Clovelly House (Green House). Also, there were concerns about funding for the waterfront project and the maintenance costs.

A preliminary plan for a new location for the Civic Center, Sebring Historical Society and Highlands Art League was revealed at the meeting. (See story in Sunday’s edition of the Highlands News-Sun for details).

Councilman Charlie Lowrance said if you don’t change it, it will be the same result. He liked Plan 2 better with its bigger event lawn.

Mayor John Shoop said the current state of the waterfront is “deplorable.”

“We have to do something,” he said.

Shoop favored a combination of both proposals with the larger beach in Concept 2 and take the top 25% of Concept 1 with the original pier.

Councilman Tom Dettman said the big question is parking as many people his age don’t want to park across the street (and have to cross Lakeview Drive).

He was concerned about the boat dock at the bottom of Concept 1 and the safety issue of having powered boats close to a swimming area. Many subsequent speakers noted the same concern.

Councilman Lenard Carlisle said he didn’t like either concept, which prompted applause from the audience. He would like a bigger beach, but wouldn’t want to change the pier.

Councilman Mark Stewart said without a doubt this area is underutilized and at times it is not safe because at times no one can see what is going on back there.

“I feel both of these plans are innovative; there are good points to all of them,” he said.

He also expressed concerns about parking.

There is a difference in opinions by age groups with this whole thing, Stewart said. “The young people want this and some of the old people, and I am one of them, are not so receptive to change.

“But, we need to think about all of Sebring and a lot of the older people here ... you’re going to be dead in 20 years, they’re not [referring to the younger people]. So we need to think about the future, right?”

Stewart’s comments prompted a chuckle from the audience, but also some chatter as he continued to speak, prompting hits of the gavel hits to quiet the audience.

Council President Curt Ivy said he liked the expanded beach in Concept 2.

The CRA Board members favored Concept 2 with the large event lawn and expanded beach.

About two dozen people spoke during the public comment part of the meeting with each person having a three-minute time limit to speak.

Highlands Lakeside Theatre Vice President Tom Staik said he was concerned about parking and the coordination of events. When a large event is held at the waterfront, it affects the available parking for theater events.

Former CRA executive director Pete Pollard said stormwater from Center Avenue and across Lakeview Drive will be an issue.

“Parking is going to be the biggest problem you have with this,” he said.

Downtown business owner and Heartland Triathlon organizer Dan Andrews said, “This waterfront project isn’t the last step, rather the first step in a complete redevelopment of downtown Sebring.”

He said while Concept 1 has eye appeal, Concept 2 is more in line of what he envisions for the community’s waterfront.

Andrews said he studied and went to various waterfront projects in the state and found how those waterfront parks stimulated and spawned their community’s redevelopment.

He concluded with a quote, “Just because something is old does not necessarily make it valuable or historical, sometimes it is just old.”

Sebring businessman Jeff Carlson said this plan provides the opportunity to remake all of downtown Sebring.

“I am excited to see something happening that will bring more people and open up the waterfront,” Carlson said. “If I had my way, everything from Highlands Lakeside Theater all the way across here, level it all, rebuild it, reshape it, reimagine it.

“Make this town something that people are proud of and people want to come. Parking is plentiful all over this area. There are all kinds of parking lots up there. The last thing we need on our lakefront is 100 parking spaces,” he said in conclusion, which prompted applause and a couple of boos.

CRA Board Chair David Leidel said Friday that Kimley Horn put together the information gathered at the meeting from the public, council and the CRA Board to create a conceptual design. The design firm will take the favored aspects from each of the two concepts to create another design.

There will be another public meeting to see if the new design is closer to meeting the consensus of opinions for the waterfront, he said. Once a consensus is reached for the concept, it would go before the City Council for approval to allow the process to begin. That would probably be around September.

At the start of Thursday’s meeting, Leidel said as a reminder, “This is a process; there are no plans that currently exist; the issues that are raised can be addressed; we will address them as they come and make changes as needed. The CRA did not want to begin this project or create something without including everyone.”

In 2004 the CRA Master Plan made reference to the waterfront district. A plan developed in 1991 focused on the redevelopment of the triangular area from Circle Park and expanding out to the lakefront. The plan called for residential infill with high density lakefront condominium towers, a refurbished waterfront park with a new band shell, a possible hotel, expanded retail along Center Avenue, and a marina with about 120 wet slips.

That plan is 30 years old, Leidel said. It needs to be addressed and acted on.

Citizens used to have access to Lake Jackson from U.S. 27, but with the expansion of the highway, the beach access to the lake was lost, he said. Lake Jackson is the reason Sebring is located where it is today. Citizens should have access to Lake Jackson.

The waterfront property is prime real estate and an asset to the community, however it is underutilized and in disrepair.

The story of Juneteenth, the new federal holiday

The U.S. government is catching up with Black people who have been commemorating the end of slavery in the United States for generations with a day called “Juneteenth.”

President Joe Biden is expected to sign a bill Thursday that was passed by Congress to set aside Juneteenth, or June 19th, as a federal holiday. The Senate approved it unanimously; only 14 House Republicans — many representing states that were part of the slave-holding Confederacy in the 19th century — opposed the measure.

What is this federal holiday, and what is its history? Here’s a look:

The originsThe celebration started with the freed slaves of Galveston, Texas. Although the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the South in 1863, it could not be enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Laura Smalley, freed from a plantation near Bellville, Texas, remembered in a 1941 interview that her former master had gone to fight in the Civil War and came home without telling his slaves what had happened.

“Old master didn’t tell, you know, they was free,” Smalley said at the time. “I think now they say they worked them, six months after that. Six months. And turn them loose on the 19th of June. That’s why, you know, we celebrate that day.”

Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his troops arrived at Galveston on June 19, 1865, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. That was more than two months after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia.

Granger delivered General Order No. 3, which said: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

The next year, the now-free people started celebrating Juneteenth in Galveston. Its observance has continued around the nation and the world since. Events include concerts, parades and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation.

What does ‘Juneteenth’ mean?The term Juneteenth is a blend of the words June and nineteenth. The holiday has also been called Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day.

Often celebrated at first with church picnics and speeches, the holiday spread across the nation and internationally as Black Texans moved elsewhere.

The vast majority of states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or a day of recognition, like Flag Day, and most states hold celebrations. Juneteenth is a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia and Washington, and hundreds of companies give workers a day off for Juneteenth.

Why now?The national reckoning over race helped set the stage for Juneteenth to become the first new federal holiday since 1983, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and had 60 co-sponsors. Bipartisan support emerged as lawmakers struggle to overcome divisions that are still simmering following the police killing last year of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Supporters of the holiday have worked to make sure Juneteenth celebrators don’t forget why the day exists.

“In 1776 the country was freed from the British, but the people were not all free,” Dee Evans, national director of communications of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, said in 2019. “June 19, 1865, was actually when the people and the entire country was actually free.”

There’s also sentiment to use the day to remember the sacrifices that were made for freedom in the United States — especially in these racially and politically charged days. Said Para LaNell Agboga, museum site coordinator at the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center in Austin, Texas: “Our freedoms are fragile, and it doesn’t take much for things to go backward.”

Celebrate 156 years of Freedom
  • Updated

SEBRING — On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday, effective immediately.

If you plan to celebrate this new federal holiday – the first in 38 years – people in Washington Heights have you covered with a street festival featuring all the typical family fun of a summer event.

Festivities this year start at 11 a.m. Saturday at 749 Booker Ave., just north of Lemon Avenue off Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard, and runs until 3 p.m. Organizers wish for all members of the community to gather and celebrate a day to build understanding, unity, brotherhood and friendship for every race and nationality.

Festivities include many cultures through music from a live DJ, games for the young and old, and vendors serving unique and traditional fare. Food is free, as well as the festival. Activities will include a water slide and a competition of speakers who have written about the day.

“That’s going to be the highlight. We’re going to have young kids speaking on what they know about Juneteenth,” said Ada McGowan of Highlands County Citizens With Voices.

Speeches should start at approximately 12:30 p.m., she said.

When asked about the day becoming a federal holiday, she was ecstatic.

“Oh my God. We are so excited, really,” McGowan said. “We weren’t here when they freed the slaves, [but] we’re here when they made it a national holiday. It’s awesome. We’re excited.”

She also said the event will provide people a chance to fight the pandemic that canceled last year’s event. Anyone 12 years and older will be able to get COVID-19 vaccine from the Florida Health Department.

Those who get their first shot today can count on getting a second one July 17 at the Back-to-School Summer Bash, McGowan said. Donations are being accepted to help support that event, designed to be just three weeks prior to school starting back up on Aug. 11 this year.

For today, organizers want people to come out, learn more about history and have a good time.

This is the 22nd year since Sebring first had a Juneteenth Festival and the precise 156th anniversary of June 19, 1865, when Union troops rode into Galveston, Texas, to free people still held as slaves.

On that day, it had been two-and-a-half years since the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on Jan. 1, 1863, and two months and 10 days since Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered on April 9, 1865. Freed citizens rejoiced in the streets, then held celebrations each year, starting in 1866.

“Juneteenth,” a title combining the words “June” and “Nineteenth,” became an official Texas holiday in 1980. Just Thursday, it became an official federal holiday, the first since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially founded in 1983.

County sees 26 new COVID cases in last week

The Florida Department of Health is showing Highlands County with 26 new cases of COVID-19 for the week of June 11-17. The county has now seen a total of 8,745 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

There were 406 people vaccinated during the seven-day period, which raises the total to 47,533 people vaccinated. With FDOH using a population count of 105,105 for Highlands County, that means 45.2% of the total population has been vaccinated. The Florida Department of Health shows 51% of the county’s 12 and older population has been vaccinated. The state average is 56%.

The county’s new case positivity rate was 3%, which is slightly higher than the 2.6% seen last week, but a bit better than the state average of 3.3%.

The state is reporting an increase of 10,629 resident cases for the week, raising the total to 2,310,881.

Deaths went from 37,265 to 37,555, which is an increase of 290, although the state reported just 43 new deaths for the week. The difference in numbers is due to the time it takes for deaths to be classified as COVID-related deaths, as it can take weeks for a death to be determined to have been caused by COVID-19.

FDOH shows 373,438 people vaccinated in the state last week, raising the overall total to 10,659,464. The 373,438 vaccinations are the fewest in the past 10 weeks and 108,422 fewer than the 481,860 vaccines given a week ago.

Most of the counties in the Heartland had low numbers for the past week, with Hardee County having 37 new cases, Okeechobee County saw 34, while DeSoto County had six new cases and Glades saw four. The four counties also fall below the state average in terms of percentage of population 12 and over to be vaccinated, with DeSoto having the highest percentage at 44% and Hardee having the lowest at 34%.

Only Florida resident cases have been counted by FDOH since the switch to weekly COVID-19 updates two weeks ago, as opposed to the daily updates for the first 15-plus months, which also included non-resident numbers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 176.29 million people in the U.S. to have received at least one dose of the vaccine, which is 53.1% of the population and 65.1% of the U.S. adult population. There have been 148,459,003 people declared fully vaccinated, which means they have received both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or one shot of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The U.S. has averaged 1.33 million vaccine doses per day over the past week. At the current rate it will take an additional four months to reach the targeted goal of vaccinating 75% of the population.

Globally, there have been 2.51 billion doses given and countries are averaging roughly 37 million dose per day. The 2.51 billion doses is enough to fully vaccinate 16.4% of the world population.

The Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering is showing the U.S. with a total of 33,515,388 cases and 601,125 deaths.

Globally, there have been 177,573,179 cases and 3.84 million deaths.