Bronce Stephenson and his wife for some time have wanted to live among Florida’s beaches and outdoors activities – and the right career opportunity has come along for him to make that happen.
“We have traveled to Florida for years, and it has always been our goal to live someplace that fits our values such as education, parks and quality of life while being able to live somewhere closer to the ocean,” he said.
Winter Park’s new Planning and Community Development Director begins work Oct. 3, bringing with him experience in handling centralized business districts, balancing city needs with those of a university and enabling architecture to create a sense of place.
Most recently serving as director of community development for the city of Owasso, Okla., Stephenson has also worked as planner for the city of Stillwater, Okla., and assistant city planner for the City of Del Mar, Calif., after graduating from San Diego State University. He earned a master’s from the University of Oklahoma.
Details of past projects stick in Stephenson’s mind, illustrating the kind of attention that’s necessary for working on projects such as Owasso’s Redbud District created from scratch to help establish a CBD, employing a tax-instrument financed district – or Stillwater’s athletic village, which gave the nationally-known Cowboys of Oklahoma State University, backed by billionaire T. Boone Pickens, new places to call home.
Stephenson is eager to use those skills to maintain the beauty of Winter Park amid change, and says he comes in with no agenda in mind other than being a public servant while collaborating with others such as the historic board and the city commission.
“I’m kind of a bit of an architecture nerd, and obviously the first thing about Winter Park that jumps out at you is the fantastic buildings, the beautiful homes – Park Avenue is what everybody else is trying to do, and it happened organically,” he said. “It wasn’t pushed. It’s been there for years and years. I love the architectural variation that Winter Park has. There’s not one definitive style; there’s a place for every time of architecture.”
His experience in the Midwest brought lessons that many cities that grew out from their urban core eventually saw the value in coming back to make the most of existing buildings and a walkable environment.
“The city planners of yesteryear really knew what they were doing,” he said.
He remembers thinking about construction at an early age, Legos included of course, but eventually finding a love for bringing public and private areas together by ensuring infrastructure and buildings under construction dovetail together. “City planning was always a natural fit for me.”
Stephenson even met his wife through work, as she was an accountant But the personal side of moving his family doesn’t escape his thoughts. His wife, Robby, and four children – Jaden, 15, Aly, 6, Joss, 3, and Cole, 1 – are preparing for the Sunshine State.
“A lot of who we are and what we are aligns with Florida and specifically with the Orlando and Winter Park area,” he told GrowthSpotter. “... We’ve got a couple of trips planned as soon as we get there, going to Crystal River to see the manatees, then we’ll take the kiddos to see the ocean for the first time.”
And as for Central Florida’s best-known tourist attraction? “When I first brought up the subject of moving with our 6-year-old, she asked, ‘Can I see a picture?’ So I did a Google search, and the first things that came up was [Cinderella’s] Castle. She said, ‘What is that?’ And when I told her, she said, ‘Well, I want to move to Florida then.’ “
-- Bill Zimmerman