West Lakes Economic Opportunities Council
West Lakes Council History
By Raymer Kelly
Vision To serve as the internal catalyst for the building and improvement of the quality of life for the residents of the West Lakes Communities.
Mission To create an interconnected set of “economic engines” that generate sustainable economic opportunities for the residents of the Communities of West Lakes through partnerships, collaboration, and modernization.
Goals This council’s efforts was centered on a set of key priorities. Other efforts were undertaken from time to time as the community desires, however, the main purposes for this organization will be based on the following goals:
· Establishing partnerships with key external partners that bring new, higher wage jobs to residents of the area, spur economic investment in the area, and create new business opportunities for entrepreneurs originally based in the area
· Diversifying the job base within the defined area
· Increasing average wages in the defined area
· Increasing job readiness and entrepreneurial skills of residents of the area
· Developing and preparing the youth of the area to become contributing, productive adults
· Increasing homeowner equity in the area as the council’s efforts improve the attractiveness of the area as a place to live, work, and play
· Supporting improved economic outcomes through increased educational opportunities for youth and adults in the area
How It All Began
In June of 2013, LIFT ORLANDO, a group of concerned business leaders, took an interest in the area roughly defined as an area of Orlando that is situated west of Orange Blossom Trail, North of Columbia Street, East of John Young Parkway, and South of West Colonial Drive in Orlando. In the now called “Communities of West Lakes” area (in a reference to the fact that all of the neighborhoods are centered around a lake), LIFT discovered an area with a rich African-American history including many residents who pushed through racial and economic inequality in the 1940-60’s to achieve success in business and in life. Yet, LIFT was perplexed by how amidst this a plague of chronic poverty, joblessness, homelessness, and crime was due to neglect. Seated in the midst of all of this was found the Florida Citrus Bowl, an aging, but profitable structure, also in need of repair and remodeling. A renovation was underway.
Eddy Moratin, Executive Director of LIFT and Steve Hogan (a LIFT board member and CEO of Florida Citrus Sports), saw an opportunity to link the ability of the bowl to generate traffic and revenue to the communities of West Lakes through partnerships, collaboration, communication, and relationship development. Steve had for several years been working with the community himself to brainstorm and implement solutions for the problems in the area, particularly in support of the community’s youth.
LIFT brought in The Polis Institute, a community development consulting firm skilled in asset mapping (a technique used to assess areas for needs) to assist. Polis brought with it, a history of successful neighborhood revitalization projects to its credit. Polis dispatched Phillip Hissom, Rene Vazquez, and Dennis Murrill to begin the 30,000 person-hour process of surveying nearly 1,500 residents (35% of all residents in the area) of the areas to discover what some of their desires were for their community. Twelve categories of ideas emanated from this effort. One of these was the creation of an advisory board of sorts to care for the interests of the area and to serve as its voice in the larger community.
In February of 2014, after much dialogue and discussion, the first public meeting was held at the Varsity Club. In that meeting residents expressed their support for progress as well as their concerns about years of broken promises from various governmental entities and other groups. From there, this effort grew to include larger and larger numbers of residents, with focused discussions on improving housing, increasing access to technology, spurring economic development, and revitalizing Lake Lorna Doone (to which Florida Citrus Sports pledged $1million in support).
Lift Orlando also partnered with residents, Eugene and Alice Leach, to promote the project and build community interest in the project. Eugene reached out and recruited area business consultant Raymer Kelly to join the effort. It was in the economic development committee, led by Raymer, that Shirley Bradley, Rosalyn "Tracy" Anderson, Johnnie Mickle, Maxine Hixon, Daphne Brewington, Rodney Walden, and several other concerned residents decided that an Economic Opportunities Council would be the optimal vehicle to move the community’s dreams forward.
Once the LIFT series of meetings concluded, Raymer and Tracy took the lead, continued the discussion and began work on an implementation plan. The pair met several times at Tracy's home on Lake Sunset and later invited Tangia Smikle, long-time resident of the Lake Lorna Doone community, to join them at a meeting. Later in the process, Rodney Walden and Margaret Hill, long-time residents of the area also joined the offline effort.
The group invited the community to meet at the Rock Lake Community Center to discuss what was at stake. Raymer led the meeting and re-introduced the concept of the Economic Opportunities Council to the community. He discussed the possibilities for a vibrant, thriving community with multiple economic engines, inter-connected, and working for the good of the community's current and future legacy residents. Residents were thrilled and agreed to meet again to continue the process of forming their council.
On January 8h, 2015, the community met again. Raymer and Tracy broke the group into caucuses whereby delegates from each of 6 primary areas worked in their individual groups to nominate and select their representatives. As a result, the first Economic Opportunities Council seated the following individuals as council members (known as the C-6):
· Seat 1: Lake Sunset/Luola Terrace/Sunset – Faye Giddens
· Seat 2: Rock Lake – Naomi Bassa
· Seat 3: Clear Lake Cove – Fannie Williams
· Seat 4: Clear Lake/Bunche Manor/Hollando – Shirley Bradley
· Seat 5: Spring Lake Manor – Jibreel Ali
· Seat 6: Lake Lorna Doone/Citrus Bowl Neighborhood/Westfield – Tangia Smikle
The C-6 in accordance with the design of the council has the responsibility of naming its seventh, at-large member. The council held planning and development sessions to prepare itself for its first public meeting, which is expected to be announced in the days and weeks ahead of the publication date of this document.
At a planning session on January 26, 2015, the council members formed a nominating committee and agreed to present recommendations for filling the 7t council seat at its next meeting. As a result, on February 12, 2015, the council selected Raymer Kelly as Chair and other members as shown below:
· Chairman: Raymer Otha Kelly
· Vice-Chairman: Jibreel Ali
· Secretary: Faye Giddens
· Treasurer: Shirley Bradley
· Parliamentarian: Naomi Bassa