When Assistant to the City Manager came to the mic during the 2020 State of the City, her lead-in said it all, "Winter Haven has a big story to tell." During the Chamber's State of the City Breakfast on January 31, attendees heard from almost every department head within the City of Winter Haven about their department and what they are doing to elevate our community and prepare it for the inevitable growth ahead. You can watch the entire State of the City on Youtube below (apologies for the sound quality) or read the recap in this post.
Overview of Fieldhouse & Conference Center
presented by City Manager Mike Herr
City Manager Mike Herr opened the program discussing how he wants his team to focus on "playing with an edge" to show exceptional customer service and forward thinking outlook when working with our constituents and finding solutions to the challenges and opportunities ahead for our community.
He opened the program celebrating the opening of the new AdventHealth Fieldhouse Conference Center as an iconic landmark in our community. This facility houses the Lakeland Magic practice and some office staff, the national headquarters for the Youth Basketball Association of America, a gymnasium that can be divided into 12 volleyball courts or 6 basketball court, wrestling pads, gymnastics stations, dance and cheer competitions and more. In addition the space can be used for large meetings and business expos. In addition to the brand new addition, the original side of the building was renovated in many areas including two conference rooms, a small boardroom, an elevator, a new circular drive drop off and box office for Theatre Winter Haven and the fieldhouse, new HVAC system and lighting. The reconfiguration of the space also allows for the theater to have a separate set building workshop and a space to be built out as a black box theatre. The City Commission recently approved renovations to the pool's locker room facilities as well.
Growth Management Overview - we're growing fast
presented by Eric Labbe, Director of Economic Opportunity and Community Investment
Eric opened the program celebrating the crowd gathering in downtown Winter Haven, voted the #1 Great Place in Florida by the American Planning Association. The theme of his presentation was very similar to years prior - we are growing! According to the Milken Institute Best Performing Cities, the Winter Haven-Lakeland MSA (Polk County) has moved from being ranked #114 in 2016 to #47 in 2018. That factors in job growth, wage growth, GDP etc.
Our population continues to grow at a rate of about 4% per year for the 3rd year in a row with a projection of over 60,000 (just within the City limits) by 2030. We are averaging about 100 new residents a month.
Single family home and commercial construction permits continue to be strong. Based off of current applications at the City 2020 could be a record year with over 900 lots to be approved in the first quarter.
From an economic development perspective, Polk County is currently ranked #1 in the state of Florida in Industry Diversification.
To prepare for the growth and build opportunity, the City's growth management department is making changes to be more nimble and responsive, elevate and position assets, such as the City of Winter Haven Regional Airport for greater success and economic opportunity, and to continue to focus on neighborhood and community development. It's not all about new construction. It's also about revitalization.
In 2019, The City of Winter Haven performed 16,338 inspections. By the end of 2020, all of the City of Winter Haven's inspectors will be certified to perform any inspection to provide the best customer service. i.e. pluming, roofing, electrical, etc. The city will also be budgeting for drones to perform inspections to capitalize on technology to make each inspection faster, better and less expensive.
The City of Winter Haven averaged 1.79 reviews per site plan submittal in 2019, which is the best rate since they started tracking submittals in 2015.
City Investments & Projects
presented by T. Michael Stavers, Assistant City Manager
Michael Stavers informed the crowd of the major projects the City of Winter Haven has coming down the pipeline in 2020 and the investments the city will be evaluating in the near future. The focus of the projects include creating a more liveable outdoor experience, utilizing the downtown space for a more enjoyable atmosphere for local residents, and the reconstruction of roadways to ease transportation bottlenecks within the city limits.
One of the 2020 goals is to evaluate the downtown outdoor space to see if there is a way to create more dining/extended business space on the sidewalks, shown in examples in the image below. The challenge is of course the existing roadway and street parking.
Another project going under review is the area of Joyce B. Davis Park (the park directly behind the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the City Public Parking lot next to the Chamber of Commerce. This space is currently being evaluated for a Dog Park and streetscaping including the potential of a market piazza for weekend events.
Two projects that have been talked about but will make major progress in the coming year include the renovation of the Winter Haven Recreational and Cultural Center and the development of the MLK Jr. Park on Lake Silver including the skate park, amphitheater and berm seating. he City feels confident they could get some funding from the state to make ADA upgrades to MLK Park as well. Making Lake Silver Drive a "complete street" will start in the coming weeks. Other complete street projects include Avenue C SW, 2nd Street SW, and Avenue K.
Another project that will begin in 2020 will be the construction of a new fire station in Southeast Winter Haven which will also include a small playground.
There are also numerous FDOT partnerships and studies ongoing in the City to evaluate better ways to get our people where they need to be. Two of note include a study from Cypress Gardens Rd to Winterset Neighborhood on Cypress Gardens Blvd. The other is an evaluation of the corridor from the entrance to the Chain of Lakes Park on US 17 all the way past Havendale Blvd towards Lake Alfred.
presented by Gary Hubbard, Utility Department Director & Mike Bitt, Assistant Utility Services Department Director
The City of Winter Haven has been a leader in the state in determining ways to plan for water sustainability. Mike Britt, walked the audience through the history of the City's water management strategy and informed the crowd of the goal of the One Water Master Plan. The goal of the One Water Master Plan project, in its beginning phases right now, will be an integrated planning and implementation approach to managing finite water resources for the long-term resilience and reliability, meeting both community and ecosystem needs.
Gary Hubbard explained that the city is evaluating alternative water sources to provide water not only Winter Haven but to all of Polk County. A part of the One Water Initiative is to examine what water is currently being used vs. what water we will need in the future for our growth.
Possible locations are being considered to store water which would double the amount of water around Winter Haven.The green lines in the map below represent the trail system around the city. This would put 30 miles of trails surrounding the city.
Utility Customer Service
presented by Amanda Wisham, Utility Customer Services Manager
Amanda walked us through the importance of customer service with the City of Winter Haven and and the goals to improve, strengthen, and enhance the lives of their customers.
The 2020 goals for the customer service department is to focus on the organizational structure, policies and ordinances, and ease the technology experience by implementing an upgraded billing system and creating an online customer portal and mobile app.
Smart City Winter Haven
presented by Hiep Nguyen, Smart City Officer
Hiep explained how technology is forcing us to re-think, re-tool, and re-imagine the traditional ways of doing things. The City of Winter Haven currently has a few projects coming down the pipeline that are both aspirational and transformational.
One project that is being implemented is 25 public "BigBelly Smart Waste Bins" that will automatically compress once they are full. These bins will also have a second side attached to them to store WIFI equipment so they can notify the city once they need emptied. Because of that technology these bins can also act as a hotspot, helping to close the digital divide offering high-speed, public WIFI all while creating a cleaner more enhanced public space.
Another Smart City project the city will be pursuing is the Dark Fiber Enterprise. The City has been using a "dig-once" policy over the last 15-years to lay conduit and in many cases, fiber, to expand the digital connectivity of our community and beyond our city borders. The City does not plan to be its own internet service provider, but instead the idea is to take unused or "dark" fiber strands and leasing them to service providers to light and connect the "last mile" to the customer.
presented by Donna Sheehan, Assistant to the City Manager
Partnering with chamber member CNP, the City will complete a digital communication plan. The goal is to provide better, faster and more effective communication with customers regarding everything that is happening in Winter Haven. This will help define their customers and provide a better understanding of the target markets and how to relay information appropriately.
presented by Charlie Bird, Public Safety Director
Public Safety Director "Chief" Charlie Bird informed the crowd about the public safety model that is being implemented in the City of Winter Haven. Preserving the quality of life and protecting life and property is the number one mission for Public Safety Department. Some highlights from his speech include:
- Comprehensive training to prepare for an active shooter drills.
- Community grants in excess of $48,000 have also been provided to ensure new equipment, such as vests, and helmets are available for firefighters and update equipment for police officers.
As a part of the Neighborhood Initiative the city has created a partnership with Heart for Winter Haven which has helped connect the dots when it comes to resources.
The Public Safety department is going to implement an updated software program that will allow citizens to file code compliance violations, check the status of code violations, and search compliance issues.
The Public Safety department is constantly looking to enhance their methods to cater to the citizens of Winter Haven.
Public Works - Informed Resource Management
presented by M.J. Carnevale, Public Works Director
M.J. gave insight to how the City of Winter Haven is growing and changing as a community. He emphasized that using data to make decision is paramount and the City's smart city efforts make that possible.
One goal is to transition from semi-automated to fully automated solid waste vehicles. A fully automated style service vehicle takes 1 person to operate the vehicle rather than two people. This will allow recycling services to be conducted in house. Since the recycling market it evolving, performing these services in house will allow us to be resilient in adapting to those changes.
The public works department is also reviewing how to shift the downtown solid waste strategy to make that waste more manageable as the downtown area continues to develop.
A large focus for the public works department will be striving to achieve the best practices to protect our water quality and lakes with street sweeping. This program will keep roughly 100 dump trucks worth of waste out of our lakes.
They are also pursuing recreation grants to clean up and restore the Lake Conine Wetland in the coming years.
Inventory of all of the trees within the city began in January after receiving a grant from the Florida Forest Service. This data will help the city assess the status of the urban forest and will shine light as to how to manage as the community continues to grow.
Economic Opportunity Workforce Investment
presented by Mike Herr, City Manager
The City of Winter Haven was reviewing 203 acres of property in southeastern Winter Haven with the idea to develop that property and sell it to create a smart city business park.
Florida Can Manufacturers, a manufacturing and distilling company, now has plans for a three-phase project that could yield approximately 800,000 square feet of advanced manufacturing, and a potential creation of more than 500 new jobs on that property. The first phase of this project is estimated to add about 160 jobs here in Winter Haven.
presented by Michele Stayner, Executive Services Director, ADA Officer
Lastly, Michele explained the partnerships the city has with Baycare and Polk State College that are helping advance the workforce. She also explained the steps the city is taking to establish a strong commitment to diversity and inclusivity by cultivating an environment of collaboration, flexibility, and fairness.