Polk County’s Fort Meade is working its way to a new vision, thanks to a $40,000 Competitive Florida Partnership Program Grant.

Fort Meade is one of six small rural communities to receive the award based on their economic need and community support for their partnership with the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

According to the Central Florida Regional Planning Council, who is helping guide the process, the grant will pay for the creation of a strategic economic plan that promotes community design, economic diversity, economic viability and disaster resiliency.

“This is good for Fort Meade in terms of sustainability and setting a vision,” said City Manager Danielle Judd. “We want to make sure we’re in a position as folks start migrating south, we have a lot to offer with places like Peace River Park.”

Judd said the city is working to get developers to look at vacant land on U.S. 17, all while preserving its heritage.

The Grant Process

Judd said the six communities that received this year’s grants met in Tallahassee for a workshop to start the process.

“They were all there to say these are the different grant programs we have. Here are the avenues you can explore to realize that vision and have someone else do the heavy lifting,” she said. “It’s not just dollars, but technology.”

The grant allowed the city to contract with the Regional Planning Council for its professional services.

That’s one requirement of the grant, said Jennifer Codo-Salisbury, the council’s deputy director. The council started its work by taking inventory of all existing plans the city has.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Fort Meade has a lot of tools in its toolbox: They have Brownfield Areas, a Community Redevelopment Agency. They work with developers and applicants to come into the city. We’re looking at what all we have right now, and what’s working.”

The city has four designated Brownfield Areas that total 3,390 acres and are eligible for state grants and loans to spur development.

The visioning process also reviews emergency and disaster preparedness, Codo-Salisbury said, along with what brings people to Fort Meade and what makes them stay – “affordable housing, educational opportunities, job opportunities. It’s really unique. It lets you take that broad view.”

The Central Florida Regional Planning Council is heading the process but works in partnership with the Central Florida Development Council, Fort Meade Chamber of Commerce, Fort Meade Historical Society, Polk County School District and more.

It’s also been talking to residents and partners in the community, Codo-Salisbury said. “What would you like to see? What are the challenges and opportunities? The first workshop was very helpful to have folks come out and give their thoughts. There was so much energy. A lot of people will stay with us.”

In January 2020, the council will meet with stakeholders and then hold an asset mapping exercise with a number of agencies and the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) in March.

“The city will take priority on certain programs and grant applications [because of the grant],” Judd said. “It’s a significant benefit. As the project progresses, you have more help with mapping, the museum. They will tell you, ‘We have this new grant coming online and we hope you all would apply for that.’ It’s a good tie to resources that are available that you may not know.”

The Future

Judd said the city has asked the Polk County Legislative Delegation to assist with the Peace River Park, and members said they are committed to moving forward. “We want to make the community to look sharp, have that curb appeal.”

A sustainability tax base is critical, as is having the infrastructure in place to attract business and industry to the area, Judd said. Valmont Industries recently moved into the city and has hired about 30 people to make concrete utility poles.

“We are hoping we can get housing here, create jobs so when students graduate from school here they have opportunities they want to stay for,” Judd said.

What sets Fort Meade apart from the rest of Polk County? Judd said it’s the quality of life.

“Fort Meade offers some unique assets you won’t see in the northeast part of the county. We have a lot of natural assets and beauty. We have visibility and an active historical society,” she said. “It’s a different pace down here, a different lifestyle. That’s what I want to capitalize on.”