Osceola County's W192 Development Authority is moving quickly to implement a new strategy focusing on defined target areas and capital projects.
Executive Director David Buchheit presented his plan on April 19 to subdivide the 17-mile corridor into eight distinct zones, or subdistricts, beginning with the Four Corners district and ending on the east side with the Reedy Creek district.
The board will reconvene on Wednesday to vote on the plan and rank the different zones.The top-ranked zone could receive millions of dollars in improvements over the next few years. The idea is to completely revitalize that area before moving on to the next one.
Those improvements could include a new streetscape, landscaping, placemaking signs, public art and burial of overhead powerlines.
Buchheit said the Authority could work with the developers of Margaritaville to design a new streetscape and landscape package tailored to that resort's Key West theme. The biggest drawback for that area is the northern side of the road is in Orange County, which doesn't contribute to the agency and hasn't adopted the same development standards.
The Old Town zone includes the entertainment and shopping district and takes in Fun Spot, which is building a new roller coaster. Buchheit said he elected to extend this district to Poinciana Boulevard to include the future Magic Place site.
"I know it's a long district, it's a big district," he said. "It will be one of our resort districts."
The Roomba Inn property, slated for a pair of new flag hotels, and the Xentury City development which includes the Gaylord Palms Hotel and Convention Center and has more than 200 acres of pad-ready sites within the Old Town zone.
Xentury City President Nick Pope and Project Manager Dimitri Toumazos were among a handful of W192 property owners who traveled to Anaheim last month with the Authority. It was insight gathered from that trip which convinced the board they needed to change their redevelopment strategy.
Board member John Classe, administrator for the Reedy Creek Improvement District, said it makes sense to invest the agency's tax increment funds first in areas that will generate a quick return. Both of those sites qualify.
"We're at that fork in the road," Classe said. "We need to plan for next year's budget. It would be nice if we could start announcing those projects that will create some buzz."
The other subdistricts are:
- Disney Gateway, which extends from Formosa Garden Boulevard to the western edge of the Disney World property. Some of the key projects in that district include Magic Village 1 & 2, the new Walmart Supercenter and the Toscana Suites renovation;
- Celebration, I-4 interchange to S.R. 417. This is one of the healthier segments of the corridor with a strong mix of national retail and restaurants. Active projects include the Vacation Village expansion. The former Orlando Sun Resort, owned by Fortuna Realty in New York, sits on 77 acres of land primed for redevelopment;
- Lake Cecile, starts at Poinciana Boulevard and ends at Lake Cecile Drive. This subdistrict is home to some big-box retail, but a collection of 1-star motels on W192 are dragging down the area's values, Buchheit said. Active projects include Lennar's Storey Lake community and Intram Investments' Sunrise City Plaza.
"I think in the future, this area could be a shining jewel for Osceola County," Buchheit said;
- Neighborhood, from Lake Cecile Drive to Bass Road. The W192DA master plan calls for multifamily residential development in this segment. Buchheit said the authority should encourage the construction of new multifamily product in place of the underperforming, one-star motels.
Toumazos said one of the things that impressed him most about the Anaheim trip was the testimonials from local hoteliers. "While we were in Anaheim, they brought in some of the one and two-star hoteliers – they said it helped them and it raised their (average daily rates)," he said.
But Buchheit said those properties don't appeal to today's tourists, so they have effectively transitioned into housing for the the working poor.
"I look at our corridor everyday," Buchheit said. "I'm being blunt. There are owners that are in essence slumlords that masquerade as a hotel or motel. If we don't elevate the brand, we shouldn't even be in the business."