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Osceola's W192 Development Authority could spend millions around Margaritaville

Osceola's W192 Development Authority could spend millions around Margaritaville
This is a rendering of the Margaritaville Resort shopping and entertainment complex on W192. The W192 Development Authority wants to enhance the corridor in front of the resort. (Encore Capital Management)

Osceola's W192 Development Authority wants to change how it spends its tax dollars, choosing to focus on specific target areas rather than spreading it around the 17-mile corridor.

And Margaritaville Resort, scheduled to open in 2018, could be the first beneficiary of the new approach.

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Over the last two years, the authority has allocated millions for grant programs to pay for new monument signs and facade improvements.

The new strategy comes after Executive Director David Buchheit and several board members traveled to Anaheim, California, to learn from that city's redevelopment success. Their biggest takeaway from the trip, according to Buchheit, was that they needed to concentrate spending in smaller areas to make a bigger impact.

"If you put a drop of food coloring into a bucket, it doesn't do anything," Buchheit said. "But if you drop it in a cup of water, it changes the color."

Out of that idea, the authority this month agreed to designate specific zones, or clusters, to prioritize spending. After meeting this week to develop a new mission statement and vision plan, the authority will reconvene next week to identify the clusters and rank them.

The top-ranked cluster 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, placemaking signs, public art and burial of overhead powerlines.

Two potential segments have already been mentioned as top priorities: the segment between U.S. 429 and Formosa Gardens Boulevard that fronts Margaritaville Resort, and the segment between Celebration and S.R. 535, which is home to Old Town.

Authority Vice Chairman Mark Miller said both are obvious choices because they are primary tourist destinations at major gateway intersections, and would reward property owners who are making significant investment in the area.

The W192 Beautivacation project, which includes winding sidewalks, lush landscaping and decorative purple lights and milemarkers, ends just east of the new Margaritaville Resort.
The W192 Beautivacation project, which includes winding sidewalks, lush landscaping and decorative purple lights and milemarkers, ends just east of the new Margaritaville Resort. (Osceola County)

The district's "Beautivacation" streetscape, which includes colorful sidewalks, seating, lighting and landscaping, as well as themed milemarkers, ends at Inspiration Street -- the first of three main entrances to Margaritaville Resort.

Buchheit said the Development Authority could try to extend the existing themed streetscape or collaborate with Encore Capital Funds and Margaritaville to develop a new streetscape tailored to that resort. He pointed out that Celebration has as a different color scheme and streetscape than the rest of the corridor.

"We could make a bigger impact if we do Margaritaville, but we have hurdles in Four Corners," Authority Member Mary Ellen Kerber said. "What's going to happen across the street?"

One reason the project hasn't been extended into the Four Corners area earlier is because of challenges in getting Orange, Lake and Polk counties to commit any funding to the district. The north side of W192 across from Margaritaville is in Orange County.

The Old Town segment is also experiencing an infusion of private investment. Old Town owner The Travel Corp. is in the midst of a $20 million makeover of the 30-year-old complex. Fun Spot is currently building a new $6 million wooden roller coaster that opens this summer.

That segment also takes in the Roomba Inn property, which will be redeveloped by CTN Developments into a shopping and entertainment complex anchored by two new hotels, beginnng with a 140-room Home2 Suites.

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Working with Duke Energy to bury the utility lines on that segment of the corridor has been a high priority for the board, so that project will likely have its champions.

Buchheit is working with new board member John Classe, district administrator for the Reedy Creek Improvement District, to develop the agency's first five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and hopes to bring it to the full board, along with recommendations for the cluster project and rankings list this summer.

One emergency project that will be added as soon as possible is immediate replacement of the pedestrian streetlights along the entire corridor.

Buchheit said two light posts are fallen and many others show signs of deterioration. "Whoever installed them 15 years ago put aluminum poles on a steel base," he said.

The board has authorized Buchheit to get a price estimate for replacing the metal lightposts with either granite or concrete posts and new LED lights. The posts also will be wired to allow for technical upgrades, such as pedestrian/traffic counters, security cameras or motion-sensors with dimming capabilities.

The funding would come from the district's Municipal Service Benefit Unit (MSBU) budget, which funded the Beautivacation project and still finances the ongoing maintenance. Buchheit said the new posts will cost more upfront, but will end up saving the district millions in lower energy bills and maintenance because they never have to be repainted.

"We have $1.5 million in our MSBU contingency budget," Buchheit said. "If it's not enough to do them all this year, we'll phase it over two years."

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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