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Okeechobee Main Street Designated Florida Main Street Program of the Month

seal of florida

Florida Department of State
Kurt S. Browning
Secretary of State

For Immediate Release
November 12, 2009

Joan Jefferson

Okeechobee Main Street Designated Florida Main Street Program of the Month

Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning announced today that Okeechobee Main Street has been named the Florida Main Street Community of the Month for November 2009. Selection for this award is based on a record of active participation in the Florida Main Street Program.

“Okeechobee Main Street has helped revitalize downtown, while remaining true to Okeechobee’s unique heritage and attributes,” said Secretary Browning. “By incorporating input from business and property owners and focusing its programs on local issues and concerns, Okeechobee Main Street has developed projects and initiatives that have improved all aspects of downtown.”

The written history of Okeechobee can be traced to the early nineteenth century, when the Seminole tribe began establishing settlements in the region. In 1880, northern industrialist Hamilton Disston bought four million acres in central and south Florida, including the Okeechobee area. After he dredged the Kissimmee and Caloosahatchee Rivers, steamboat service connected what would become Okeechobee to other Florida cities like Kissimmee and Ft. Myers. The first permanent settlers to Okeechobee arrived in 1896, and by the early 1900s, the local economy had grown steadily due to the catfishing industry on Lake Okeechobee. In 1915, the City of Okeechobee officially incorporated, followed two years later by the creation of Okeechobee County.

The community continued to grow over the next decade, and by the mid-1920s it was connected to the east coast of Florida by the Connors Highway. In 1926, construction of the Okeechobee County Courthouse and Okeechobee City Hall created the infrastructure for local government. Just two years later, the devastating Okeechobee Hurricane killed over 2,000 people and decimated the commercial catfishing industry. This catastrophe led to construction of Herbert Hoover Dike, which today spans 110 miles around Lake Okeechobee and is home to the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail section of the 1,400-mile Florida National Scenic Trail.

In the decades following the hurricane, Okeechobee County developed a strong agricultural economy, including the cattle, dairy, and citrus industries. In addition, the City of Okeechobee and the county have continued to benefit directly from the close proximity of Lake Okeechobee, the second-largest fresh water lake in the United States, which boasts thriving sport-fishing and eco-tourism industries.

Since its designation as a Florida Main Street program in 2004, Okeechobee Main Street has utilized community partnerships, and local resources and initiatives to help revitalize the city’s downtown. Its “Finding Our Way” program has developed signs to provide visitors with directions to downtown shopping and parking areas, restaurants, and historic buildings. It also has initiated a matching grant program to assist program area business owners with façade and landscaping improvements. Okeechobee Main Street’s Mural and Visual Arts Program preserves and celebrates Okeechobee’s heritage by depicting the community’s rich history, cultural heritage, wildlife and environment, and local recreational activities.

Through these and other efforts of Okeechobee Main Street, the city has benefited from reinvestment of over $36 million in public and private funds toward downtown revitalization and rehabilitation. Okeechobee also has gained a net of 117 new businesses and 409 new jobs within the local program area. Following the Main Street Four-Point Approach, Okeechobee Main Street has been able to rekindle entrepreneurship, downtown cooperation, and civic pride.

Florida Main Street is a technical assistance program of the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources, Florida Department of State. The Bureau conducts statewide programs aimed at identifying, evaluating, and preserving Florida’s historic resources. Main Street, with its emphasis on preservation, is an effective strategy for achieving these goals in Florida’s historic retail districts. Since 1985, the Bureau has offered manager training, consultant team visits, design and other technical assistance, as well as the benefit of experience gained by other Florida Main Street Programs.

To learn more about Okeechobee Main Street, contact Toni Doyle by phone at 863.357.6246 or e-mail okms@mainstreetokeechobee.com.

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