Kevin Smith, Lake Mary’s city manager, shares his perspective on the future of our economy and our community
Publisher’s Note: This interview occurred in early March, before the coronavirus put our local economy on lockdown. While today’s economic reality is certainly not what Kevin could have predicted, we believe his plans for the future are as important as ever. The current crisis won’t last forever, and the first steps toward recovery we take will be critically important, which is why we want to share this Q&A with optimism that a bright tomorrow is closer than we think.
We’re sitting down on the occasion of your one-year anniversary as the city manager of Lake Mary. What has surprised you the most during that first year, and what are you most proud of?
I’ll start with the second part of the question first. When I took this job, my primary goal – literally objectives one, two, and three – was to preserve the extraordinary legacy of success that has been created by the administrations before me. My biggest accomplishment, as silly as it may sound, is that I was able to acclimate myself to become part of this incredible team. I didn’t want to just bring people over to my way of thinking, I wanted to adapt to the team’s way of thinking.
Regarding that team, that’s been my biggest surprise – just how everyone comes together for the sake of our city. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was just so rewarding to see. The passion for Lake Mary inside the city administration itself is remarkable.
Now that you’ve settled in, what is your vision for the future of Lake Mary, and what can you do to make that vision a reality?
My vision is to provide the best possible service to our residents and the lowest possible price. To me, that begins with customer service. When someone comes to a city employee for help, whether it’s at the permitting desk or in one of our parks, or with one of our first responders, I want that employee to respond with enthusiasm and an eagerness to help. Frankly, it’s rare that I hear about an instance where our team doesn’t meet that expectation, but if and when it doesn’t happen, I want to hear about it.
In terms of our economy, there’s work to do in Griffin Farm [which is addressed in the next question], but we’re very excited about the future of the Rinehart Road corridor, thanks to our excellent partnerships with Orlando Health and AdventHealth. The economic impact will be fantastic, but we’re also working hard to make sure the new businesses, including Orlando Health’s new hospital, will work in harmony with the existing neighborhoods on Rinehart. There are a lot of plans and improvement projects in the works to make that happen, because it is essential.
Also, we’re doing a lot of planning right now surrounding downtown Lake Mary. We want the concept of our downtown to be more than just 4th Street. I can’t share details yet, but we’re talking to a number of businesses that will enhance the area and help draw folks in from the SunRail station and attract local residents from all parts of Lake Mary and the surrounding communities. It’s very exciting and very important.
The grocery store situation at Griffin Farm has been very disappointing to everyone in the city, especially the businesses that bought into the development expecting a major anchor and attraction. It’s easy to say this is the developer’s problem, but really it’s everyone’s problem. What can the city do to help?
I’m never going to be the guy that sits here and says, “My hands are tied. There’s nothing we can do.” That’s not the city manager I want to be, and it’s not the kind of guy I am. It’s the developer’s job to fill the space – Unicorp, in this case – but no one expected Lucky’s to go out of business, or other specialty grocers like Earth Fare to go out of business, as well [for clarification, both chains closed even before the coronavirus situation hit].
But instead of sitting here and talking about what we can’t do, I’m more interested in what we can do. When Lucky’s fell through, our own economic development team sat down and created, in my opinion, an outstanding package that developers like Unicorp would send to site selectors to lure businesses to a place like Griffin Farm. No one asked us to do it, and it’s not the city’s job to do it, but we did it, and we sent it to site selectors that represent a number of grocery store clients and other potential fits for the space. It would make no sense to me at all if one or more of them don’t see Griffin Farm as an ideal fit. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, we can stay in constant communication with Unicorp as we work with them and with the existing businesses in Griffin Farm to find a solution. Those businesses bought into Lake Mary just as our residents buy into Lake Mary, and it’s imperative we help them succeed in any way we can.
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