On Tuesday, City Manager Deric Feacher, Community Services Director T. Michael Stavres and Growth Management Director Merle Bishop presented to the Endeavor Winter Haven young professionals group on some "hot topics" coming forward in 2016. They also shared a few site plans for new recreational developments. You can view parts of the presentation at the video below or I gave a brief synopsis below in writing. Warning with the video - I am not a videographer but I wanted to give you the chance to listen to the presentation in their own words. Motion sickness may be a side effect.
T. Michael Stavres, Community Services Director, outlined some of the capital projects the City will be working on over the next 6 months to 6 years. Not all of the exact site plans are approved for each project, but the projects have been approved.
Tennis Courts located on 3rd St North of Nora Mayo Hall. Last spring the courts were resurfaced however that is maintenance that has been done over the years to maintain the courts. They are looking at the possibility of clay courts or other soft court surfacing. Winter Haven High School Tennis as well as other collegiate sports tournaments currently use the courts in additional to citizens recreational use. It will potentially be 10-12 clay courts or some mixture of those and a new clubhouse facility. They hope to have this out to bid in 2016.
The first phase at Sertoma is to pave the parking lot and create more organization to the parking. This will occur in 2016. Following that project, they will work on lighting improvements, extending fence lines, etc. based on the needs of the athletic leagues. Just south of Sertoma is Lake Shipp Park. The parking improvements at Sertoma will also benefit Lake Shipp Park where they have just recently enhanced the playground on that site and improved the boat ramp.
The City is in the design phase of Lake Maude park located just north of the Diamond Plex off of Ave O. The building in the lower right hand corner is Hurst AME Church to give you an idea of where this is. This will be targeted to youth sports. This is a $3M project. This site plan above is purely conceptual and has been used in discussion with the neighborhood community. You can see that the site is designed to accommodate numerous sports on three multi-purpose fields - think football, baseball, softball and even marching bands. There is also the possibility of a walking path that goes all the way around the property to tie into Laude Maude Nature Park. The addition of this site would mean from Polk State College's Winter Haven campus where there are several soccer fields, to Diamond Plex for softball, baseball and kickball north to Lake Maude would be an area entirely activated with youth and collegiate sports (and don't forget the City rec leagues). Lake Maude will probably go to bid in late 2016-2017. Diamond Plex has also just had all new shade structures installed, which take it from someone who watches rec softball leagues out there, it will now be at more bearable during summer months.
In cooperation with Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing, the City of Winter Haven is moving forward with the design phase of this project. The County has committed $10 million toward debt service, while the entire project will probably cost around $20 million. This site has not been masterplanned yet so it is a "vision" at this point. The existing Chain of Lakes Complex would be renovated for Arts & Culture with Theatre Winter Haven, visual arts exhibits and perhaps converting the gymnasium into a black box theatre and additional office and training space. The School Board has expressed interest through their staff in creating a FAME-style performing arts academy. The pool would remain.
Moving further into the park, they would develop a fieldhouse which is basically a giant gymnasium that is multipurpose for numerous sizes of courts and sports with drop curtains etc. Think basketball, wrestling, volleyball, cheerleading, gymnastics, martial arts etc. It would be a giant wide open space unlike anything we have in Polk and could also be used for community events, indoor expos etc.
They will also take a look at the baseball fields to see how they could be better used. T. Michael mentions that the masterplan for this site needs to be fleshed out in cooperation with Sertoma to make sure the needs of the community are being met.
The work on South Central Park began in 2008 but was stalled when the economy crashed. They are refreshing the designs to meet the changing landscape of downtown (i.e. its increase in popularity for business relocation, festivals and events and residential). This is the park in between Central Ave and Ave A SW.
The refreshed design proposal is below:
The design includes multipurpose pavered areas that can serve as parking during the work day and event space on the weekends (farmer's market, craft festivals, art fairs etc.) all on a nicely bricked area with plenty of shade from surrounding landscaping. The design also corrects the strange alignment of Ave A SW in front of Andy Thornal's making it easier to cross the street and making the traffic flow less confusing. You'll also see in the design above the triangle space which is where the Hill Building stood. That will also be repurposed as pavered parking and event space. In this rendering Magnolia Ave that cuts diagonal to 3rd Street will become part of a longer bike path and, again, create less confusion from motorist on how those roads flow.
Another benefit of paving a portion of Central Ave in the entryway of downtown between 5th St and 4th St is that vehicles crossing that area would feel a noticeable difference in the road and therefore slow down when entering the downtown area, creating a safer walking environment. This project is planned to go to bid in late Spring and be under construction in late summer 2016. It will take between 10-12 months to construct and approximately $3.5 million.
This park is located on the North side of downtown. They goal is to make it more ADA Compliant and user friendly, especially for the Cypress Gardens Water Ski team that brings crowds down on a monthly basis. This project is estimated at $2 Million and includes a walking trail all the way around this lake through a partnership with FDOT on a complete streets project.
There is also an existing playground at Trailhead park next to City Hall and the Garden Center. This splash pad would be an additional amenity at this site and is planned to be completed by next summer. The construction bid opened Dec. 16.
This is a very active sight in Florence Villa. It was build in the 1970's and needs quite a bit of renovation. This project is about $1 million to renovate the interior to be a more functional space for today's demands.
Annexation and How We Grow
Merle Bishop, Growth Management Director, gave an overview of annexation and how the city grows. The census we received this year showed our population at 38,038. That number is projected to well exceed 40,000 this year. But if you take into account all Winter Havenites (meaning those that may be in the county but are in the City of Winter Haven Water/Sewer Utility Services area that number reaches 78,000.
One challenge is the somewhat 'wonky' (my word) City limits. Merle describes this as irregular and ragged. A good example of this is if you look at the City limits on Cypress Gardens Blvd. See the photo below or view an interactive version on Google maps provided by the WHEDC.
Merle went on to explain that annexation into the City is not an easy process. When a new commercial property is being built it is slightly easier. Take Ruby Tuesday's outside of LEGOLAND for example. They were in the County, but they needed City water/sewer services. In order to do that they had to agree to be annexed. Now if that commercial property is connected (or contiguous) with other City property it can be annexed in immediately. When it is not contiguous, it cannot be annexed until it is. It's a puzzle, basically.
Residential is a much different story. The majority of registered voter residents in an area have to go to the polls and vote to be annexed. When you are annexed into the City you have to pay both City and County taxes. The cost differential comes with your utility bill. Right now the City charges a surcharge of 25% for those people using the service but not located within the City limits. That would go away if you are annexed into the City. Each property is different based on values so for some residents it would be a 0 cost proposition but for others it could cost more. Hence the issue of annexing residential property. What is the individual homeowner's value proposition (besides the important benefit of being able to vote in City elections and saving on your water bill but does that offset the increase in taxes?).
The annexation agreement for the LEGOLAND property was signed all the way back when it was Cypress Gardens Adventure Park. However it needed to be contiguous land and it was going to be a tremendous expense for the park. The taxes (based on land and tangible property) was estimated to be over $500,000. When you factor in the savings of the 25% utility surcharge the net increase in taxes would be $350,000 a year. There are some other savings from fees they would no longer have to pay at the County.
One added benefit would be the City maintenance of the roads in front of the park. The FDOT has a 11 cycle a year mowing schedule of the CGB Corridor. So imagine what your yard would look like if you only moved it 11 times a year. I mow over 11 times during the summer! The City mowing cycle of 41, meaning residents and visitors can enjoy a much more manicured and clean appearance of our community's gateway from Highway 27. Some of the money from the additional taxes LEGOLAND pays will go toward the maintenance of CGB to benefit both the park and the hundreds of businesses and neighborhoods on the corridor.
Adrian Jones, General Manager of LEGOLAND Florida Resort, has also commented that "We at LEGOLAND decided to annex as we fully support the visionary leadership of Deric and his team."
In addition a taskforce created from the CGB Corridor Study by the Winter Haven EDC includes Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing, LEGOLAND, the Chamber and many other business and community partners who are working to masterplan that corridor. While you can't discriminate or prevent certain commercial businesses that meet zoning (i.e. this restaurant vs. that one just because you don't like the brand), you can raise the standard of development to avoid a 192 or I-Drive North of Sandlake Rd scenario.