LAKE WALES, Fla. — Popular Florida artist E.J. Nieves excels at the bold, the superheroic, the amazing.
So he's the perfect talent to kick off the triumphant comeback of a historic Black neighborhood in Lake Wales.
His lion mural will cover the entire intersection in the heart of the once-vibrant, and soon-to-be roaring again, Lincoln Avenue area.
"I'm really excited to be a part of this project because I want this lion to instill courage and strength and power and unity to this community," says Nieves, who feels a spiritual connection to the majestic animal.
The artist will paint the first official brush stroke of the mural this weekend in a dedication ceremony. New retail and residential opportunities will follow in the coming months.
Nieves is just one of many visionaries leading the charge to bring life back to Lincoln Avenue and other parts of this Polk County city, which was once segregated into different "downtowns."
City manager James Slaton calls the new direction a "renaissance."
Community Redevelopment Agency coordinator Darrell Starling says they're "paying homage" to the Black leaders of the past.
Maybe the most excited is Sara Jones, a "fifth generation Lake Wales" resident.
Jones, a lawyer and a key force behind the area's comeback, says Lincoln Avenue was bustling not too long ago. The past two decades were especially tough on the area. She plans on building a new law office on Lincoln Avenue.
"I'm super super excited about everything that's going to happen here," Jones says.