Mayor Brad Dantzler officially welcomed that crowd, which included his of his fellow commissioners and over 150 Chamber members. He remarked, "What personally makes me so excited is to see the young people on our staff taking initiative, developing new and innovative ideas and helping our City be progressive and forward-thinking. For you out there listening today, I want to challenge you to become engaged with the City. We have to cultivate the next generation of citizen advocates, community volunteers and, frankly, elected officials. If what you hear piques your interest today, help us by becoming a part of it all." You can watch the State of the City at the YouTube video below or read a summary below. You can also click through the slide presentation here,
Winter Haven Growth & Development
Eric Labbe, City of Winter Haven Director of the Department of Economic Opportunity & Community Investment
Over the last ten years, the Winter Haven population has grown about 50% since 2011-2021 according to US Census with 50,000 residents within the City limits and almost 100,000 in the service area. Over the next 10 years we are expected t grow by another 50% with over 76,000 people living in the City limits. In 2020, over 1,000 single family home permits have been issues and another 930 in 2021.
Winter Haven housing development has grown primarily in single-family homes, mostly in the north and southeast portions of the city. There is a tremendous demand to diversify our housing stock to include more multi-family or townhomes or other types of residential dwelling units.
Multifamily Residential is Coming:
Tourism Related Growth
Eric: As we know, LEGOLAND just celebrated its tenth anniversary and over that time have add they have three hotels to the resort offerings. Their parent company, Merlin Entertainments, will also open the World's First Peppa Pig Theme Park just outside the gates of LEGOLAND on February 24, 2022. They will also open the Pirate River Quest attraction that will bring back to life the canals that meander through the historic Cypress Gardens.
We are seeing additional tourism-based growth in the accommodation industry. Currently, four hotels are working through the approval process, one of which is a 89-room Best Western under construction off of Cypress Gardens Blvd near the Golden Corral. Two, a Staybridge Suites (108 room) and a Residence Inn by Marriott, (130 room) are locating in downtown. A 105-room Home 2 Suites is also in the process to be located on the old K-Mart site across from LEGOLAND. Additional restaurants are also opening, including Lucille's in downtown Winter Haven.
Sports tourism has continued through the pandemic period, and the City's AdventHealth Fieldhouse & Conference Center which opened in January 2020 is welcoming thousands of participants for sports and cultural events and tournaments every week.
Central Florida Logistics Park
Eric: This is a long overdue opportunity coming to fruition for the City. The Central Florida Intermodal Logistics Center and the adjacent Logistics park has intense interest from developers and in 2021 we saw two projects call it home.
In the next week or two the Florida Can Manufacturing Facility should receive their final certificate of occupancy. We have worked closely with the WHEDC, owners and developers to bring to the city to bring several hundred million dollars worth of capital investment and 300 new jobs to the area. Coca-Cola relocated into the 400K sq-ft warehouse for distribution and manufacturing, creating roughly 185 new jobs for Winter Haven, and relocating another 175 from Lakeland.
We recently applied for and received a $9 million grant from the state of Florida to build a new road through this facility that will provide workforce access and make this industrial area far more attractive to prospective tenants. There is a partner in the ownership of the property that is currently in design for a 1.2 million square foot spec warehouse to go into the park and they will be submitting plans for that shortly and have multiple tenants lined up to be at this facility. There are also other possible tenants that will bring several hundred or thousands of jobs to the city of Winter Haven through construction of additional facilities at the ILC.
Access to Parks, Recreation & Green Space
Julie Adams, City of Winter Haven Director of Parks, Recreation and Culture and M.J. Carnevale, City of Winter Haven Public Works Director
Southeast Pocket Park: One of the newest amenities in the southeastern section of our town will be the pocket park adjacent to the brand-new Fire Station 3 on Eloise Loop Road. We've opened our first dog park open on the site, with separate sections for little and big dogs. Adjacent to that will be some recreation amenities, restrooms, a picnic pavilion and shade structures. We are aiming to open mid or end of summer this year.
The Chain of Lakes Phase II: A complete redevelopment of the remaining portion of the current site adjacent to the AdventHealth Fieldhouse and Conference Center, to include four baseball fields, a multipurpose greenspace, shoreline enhancements/access, playground and internal access improvements. This project is being done in partnership with Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing.
Sertoma Park Expansion: This is planned improvements to the existing Sertoma Park that will build capacity and durability of existing community hubs for residents. This project includes renovation of the park expansion including field dimensions, new field sod, fencing, dugouts, backstops, upgraded LED Sports Lighting, drainage, and lakeside sidewalks connecting Lake Shipp and lakeshore enhancements. This project is under construction and should be completed by the end of February 2022.
Lake Howard Nature Park Expansion: The project will address a failing stormwater pipe by implementing an expanded natural wetland treatment park to filter pollutants before entering Lake Howard. Recreation enhancements are planned for subsequent phases to make the site a functional expansion of the existing South Lake Howard Nature Park, one of the city’s most popular parks.
The South Lake Howard nature park will have some expansion and the parks and rec team will come in and add onto that boardwalks, trails, park amenities. Before that, they will build stormwater infrastructures with recreation elements and bring expansion to that.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park Refurbishment: In addition to the new skate park and amphitheater improvements in 2020, the new park will feature a new restroom/concession building with an observation deck, ADA water entry, shade structure, new sidewalks, lakeshore stage, picnic area, and a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Educational Kiosk Area. This park will host the 2022 World Championship of Water Show Skiing in October which will cap off the 100th Anniversary of Water Skiing in 2022. This is a partnership with Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing. This park will also serve as a hub with wifi for connection.
Lake Maude Park- Phase II: This expansion will add two baseball fields, a multipurpose field, additional parking, and infrastructure work that will provide opportunities for more community events and involvement.
Lake Conine Nature Park: The Lake Conine Wetland Restoration Project is complete and is ready for Phase II which has to do with adding the recreation elements. The recreation elements include trail systems, boardwalks, playground, fishing pier, kayak launch, picnic areas, and restroom amenities. This is an opportunity to pair the wetland restoration goals with active recreation.
Complete Renovation of the Winter Haven Recreation & Cultural Center: This project will include a complete redevelopment of the site including the two gymnasiums (from one), a new aquatics area including a pool and splash pad, and outdoor amenities. Programming is expected to include summer camp, after-school programs, E-Sports, library access and resources, classes, technology lab spaces, a community room, and fitness facility.
Improving Water Quality & Quantity:
Gary Hubbard, City of Winter Haven Utilities Director
The One Water Master Plan is a comprehensive planning effort for all aspects of water that affect Winter Haven from utilities to how planning, zoning and development occurs and more. This includes protecting these resources, preparing for future development, and making it better for the future. This is a 70-year plan and will take support of the local, state and federal dollars to bring to fruition. But this plan will be the basis that the City Commissions will be able to make decisions off of for many years to come. Every five years this plan will be evaluated.
The Sapphire Necklace Initiative under the One Water Plan will ensure currently undeveloped wetland or recharge areas are used to their most effective potential to improve water quantity stored, improve lakes, and green space areas alongside new development. What is wonderful about this plan, is that much like the other nature parks in the City, to the every day Winter Havenite it will be a place for recreation and reflection adding numerous natural park areas to the City, all while recharging Florida's aquifer and retaining water in our community. A great example of something similar in action would be Boston's Emerald Necklace which was a park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. the father of the landscape architect as Bok Tower, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.
Infrastructure Rehabilitation: This ongoing project is for new water lines and rehab projects that will renew drinking water infrastructure to ensure continued water quality. In 2021, 6 priority lift stations were rehabilitated and 3,500 ft. of AC water main was replaced and three water towers were rehabilitated. This project has cost $4 million and is ongoing.
Alternative Water Supply Project: This project will connect two wastewater treatment facilities and help provide more reuse water for alternative water supply projects in the future. AWS projects will offset the demand for the current potable water supply. Reuse water is anticipated to begin flowing in the Summer of 2022. A five-mile section is already complete from the Chain of Lakes Complex to Pollard Road.
Septic to Sewer Program: Septic tank conversion improves lake water quality by reducing seepage from tanks that pollute water bodies. Winter Haven Water's Septic-to-Sewer program is underway in Boggy Bottom. The full plan aims to address priority conversion areas, primarily in outer areas of the city.
Improving Transportation Flow & Pedestrian Connectivity
M.J. Carnevale, City of Winter Haven Public Works Director
Transportation flow through & around the city will be improved by several municipal and FDOT-partnership projects:
Cypress Gardens Blvd. Improvements: FDOT has partnered with the city to bring improvements to the Cypress Gardens intersections at Hwy 17 and 1st Street, from Cypress Gardens Boulevard to Avenue O. This project has been under design and engineering for the last few years is going up to bid this year. The construction will start by the end of the year.
Lake Howard Pedestrian Enhancement: Aims to create a safe pedestrian corridor along the southern side of Lake Howard from the Canal bridge to 15th Street SW. This is in early design but should be in construction by the end of the year and done by early 2023.
SR 542 Widening (Dundee Road): Phase one of Dundee Road/Central Avenue from 1st Street to Buckeye Loop Road is complete. Now in phase two from Buckeye Loop to Highway 27, the FDOT has funded 43 million to address the traffic volume in this area. This should help alleviate traffic on Cypress Gardens Blvd. and is 50% complete, with it projected to be done by the Spring of 2023.
Lake Elbert Trail: The city is designing a trail that will circle Lake Elbert. This project has been on the City wishlist for decades. The FDOT already completed a good portion of the sidewalk with the realignment of Dundee Road. The design is underway with the completion being in 2024. As of Monday night January 10, project manager Andy Palmer reported that every resident around the lake has agreed to the right of way acquisition to allow the project to move forward! Not only will this be a fantastic place to run, but it will also provide a safe walk for Polk State and Elbert Elementary students.
Eric Labbe, City of Winter Haven Director of the Department of Economic Opportunity & Community Investment and M.J. Carnevale, City of Winter Haven Public Works Director
Downtown has gone through tremendous revitalization and in the next few years, it will get even better. Part of this growth is that we want to provide opportunities to live, work, and play in the heart of downtown. We are seeing residential development in the area so that there are opportunities for residents to have everything in the heart of downtown. The Raindance apartment complex is under construction. There could be up to 500 new downtown living units in the next 5 years. We have seen through the pandemic several retailers and restaurants come to downtown. We are also working on several transportation projects and improvements coming to downtown. The city is engaging with the FDOT in the redesign of 1st Street heading from Central north through Florence Villa as well. Downtown projects include:
Sidewalk Café Project: The City is nearing final design on adding cafe seating along Central Ave and one location on 4th Street outside of Tempo 1930. Main Street Winter Haven has advocated for this addition to downtown for over a decade, but the pandemic amplified the need for restaurants to have more open-air seating.
Downtown Solid Waste Enhancement: Creating a solid waste collection facility for the northern quadrants of the blocks around Central Avenue and 3rd Street NW. This is adding onto the existing parking garage so that residents will not be able to notice that it is a solid waste facility. This creates activated alleyways where the garbage cans were once located.
Complete Street Projects: “Complete Streets” projects operate on the dig-once philosophy, and aim to make multiple improvements for a road corridor simultaneously to maximize efficiency. The improvements include roadway improvements, pedestrian safety enhancements, fiber conduit and drainage solutions but are tailored to the unique situation of each corridor. The following are projects currently under design, engineering or construction:
Streetscape Piazza Project: This will take the parking lot east of the Chamber and turn it into a piazza. This will be similar to South Central Park. Streetscaping elements will be added by 4th street, towards Carlton’s Music.
In Joyce B. Davis Park (right behind the Chamber) there will be improvements such as additional greenspace, gathering spaces, improved lighting, Chain of Lakes Trail connectivity, park amenities, and tie into the new Streetscape and Piazza Project. This is currently in design and should be completed in 2023.
Grow Smart... Smart City that is
Robert Van Druten, City of Winter Haven Business Tech Support Manager
As the city continues to grow, we also want to continue our investment in fiber and smart city connectivity. We want to utilize our fiber footprint to install smart city elements and high-speed gigabit wifi in all of our facilities and parks. We want to provide gigabit speed wifi access to the public and all of our citizens. As we have seen from the pandemic, some do not have access to some technologies and internet access. This can be problematic, and to address that digital divide we are providing wifi in all of our facilities and parks to provide the best technology and accessibility to our citizens. We are working with the county and the Department of Broadband to provide funding opportunities for future fiber investments.
Winter Haven Regional Airport - A Future Business & Education Hub
Alex Vacha, City of Winter Haven Airport Director
The Winter Haven Regional Airport has been growing and doing well. The aviation fuel sales and aircraft operations have been growing in the last two years despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Our partnerships with FFA FDOT are big supporters of the capital improvement program. Currently, the Taxiway B Rehabilitation is under construction. This is a 3.5-million-dollar construction project fully funded by the FFA. This will include a mill and overlay to the existing asphalt pavement along with the installation of new LED lighting and signage. The anticipated completion date is 4/14/2022.
One of the focuses is to improve the capacity of the airport. Hangar demand is at an all-time high and we have available land to develop to build hangars. We want to maximize the use of that land. We have contracted with our aviation engineering consultants to produce a development plan that maximizes the aviation and non-aviation aspects of the property. For that project, we are working to create a marketing strategy for that development and the airport as a whole. There are layout plans for the vacant properties including a footprint that we are working to build on for our partnerships for the school district of Polk County and Polk State College Aerospace program, where we would like to see a long-term aerospace education facility. As we look at 2023 and 2024, we are plan to continue to invest in our airport infrastructure. Our partnership with the FAH to help produce a south apron rehabilitation project. This project would increase the safety and mobility of the aircraft. Investments are going to continue to grow and improve to get to the goal of the airport being self-sustaining.
Preserving Public Safety
Charlie Bird, City of Winter Haven Public Safety Director
The Department of Public Safety includes police, fire, and code compliance. Our goal is to protect life, property and improve the quality of life of citizens. One project is the Fairfax Public Safety Complex. This is to be adjacent to the Diamond Plex Softball Complex and house fire staff along with space dedicated to police and code compliance. This will create more citizen accessibility to public safety. This is to be a hub, easy access to continue to build relationships, enhance the quality of life and provide quick service to the community.
Hartridge Public Safety Complex: Based off data collected to improve service and response time during a temporary stand-up to spread out staff during the pandemic, the City will be building a new Public Safety Complex off of 20th Street NW adjacent to the Lake Hartridge Nature Park. This location will house fire and police staff.
A Focus on Exceptional Service, Transparency & Opportunity
Mike Herr, City of Winter Haven City Manager
City Manager Mike Herr discussed the importance of the City as an employers and representative for the Citizens to be transparent, inclusive, accessible and advocates for the community.
Diversity & Inclusivity: Diversity means…The degree to which the leadership and employees of local government reflect the demographic composition of the community. The demographic composition can refer to obvious characteristics such as gender, race, age, and ethnicity, and characteristics such as sexual orientation, disabilities, religious beliefs, income status, and political beliefs. Inclusivity means… The degree to which the organization is open to and responsive to the views and needs of diverse segments in the community. Also, the degree to which members of diverse groups within the organization are included in the daily operations of the organization and have an opportunity to influence organizational decisions.
The City hired Christine Samuel in 2020 as the Diversity & Inclusivity Director and she has formed an internal committee. This internal team focuses on recruitment and diversification of the city workforce. Since forming the team has implemented projects and events to celebrate diversity in the city's team.
Public Safety Community Advisory Committee: Established in 2021, this collaborative partnership between the Public Safety Department and citizens facilitates the flow of ideas related to police, fire, and code compliance. This promotes strategies between citizens, service providers, users, the business community, government agencies, and educational entities. This is for the group to be transparent and address important matters.
Youth Advisory Council: A unique opportunity for middle school youth in the Winter Haven area to be exposed and involved in civic processes, engaged in decision-making, and help shape the future of Winter Haven.
Department of Public Affairs & Communication: Katrina Hill was hired on January 3, 2022. A revitalized focus on enhancing, expanding, and diversifying how the city shares information and dialogues with citizens, businesses, and visitors. Emphasis on digital media, neighborhood and community meetings, and community outreach. The department will play an integral role in navigating legislative items at the local, state, and federal levels.
Legislative Horizon: As Legislative Session began this week, the City is focusing on advocating to keep home rule, a principle that the best governance is done closest to the people. They will be monitoring and advocating at the state level to maintain the rights of local citizens who have the most access to the people they elect to serve at the City and County levels. Bills at the state level that attempt to lessen the power of Citizens locally are often called pre-emption bills and while they are not always negatively impactful to citizens and businesses, it is important that the impacts are thoroughly understood.
The City is also applying for monies through the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program (FRDAP) and Heartland Headwaters Act to off-set the costs to tax payers while still completing important projects.
The City will also be holding public comment sessions on their plans for the America Rescue Plan funding. They have $7.7 million based on a formula allocated by the federal government. This can be used for water, sewer, broadband investments, affordable housing, and recreational. We are advancing a proposed spending plan to the city commission at the second meeting in February. There will be a public hearing so the city can take comments from citizens about that plan. There is also funding through the federal Infrastructure & Jobs Act: This act is 1.2 trillion. The city will search the details of this act and compare that with the needs we have here locally.