Recap written by Brianna Price, Chamber Marketing Coordinator
This morning we welcomed over 150 people into The Ritz Theatre to hear the State of the City, sponsored by Tinsley Family Concessions. The City of Winter Haven has an amazing and passionate staff whose top priority is to our see our City thrive, and we were honored to have them share with us the many facets of Winter Haven’s growth and what we can expect for the future.
Read a recap below or watch the entire presentation on the YouTube video below.
City Manager, Mike Herr
After thanking our city officials and honored guests, City Manager Mike Herr began the State of the City speaking about the City of Winter Haven’s mission, vision and values. Through exceptional service, the pursuit of excellence and commitment to integrity, financial stewardship, inclusivity and vision, the City of Winter Haven continues enriching the lifestyles of Winter Haven residents and visitors. But excellent city services don’t come together without a strong team behind them. Mike introduced the city staff who would give us a peek into the various sectors of our city.
Assistant City Manager, T. Michael Stavres
T. Michael Stavres, Assistant City Manager, took to the stage to talk about the capital projects that are underway. Before delving into what to expect in 2019, T. Michael took us through the numerous capital projects completed in 2018:
T. Michael explained that the forward momentum of capital projects to improve and enrich the quality of life for citizens of Winter Haven continues in 2019 with the following projects:
Growth Management Director, Merle Bishop
Because Winter Haven is growing so rapidly, it’s only fitting to talk about growth management. Merle Bishop, Growth Management Director, was able to give us an update on Winter Haven’s growth in regards to population, building permits, taxable value and what we can expect for the future. “It’s a great time to live in Winter Haven.” We are one of the fastest growing municipalities in Central Florida, according to Merle’s research, and this truly is a testament to the support of the community and to the City who has invested largely into Winter Haven through special projects.
Merle also spoke specifically about certain hot spots for growth and development including the Cypress Gardens Boulevard corridor. With LEGOLAND drawing many to this area, city facilities such as the Fieldhouse and Conference Center and new fields for sports will also add to the attraction of visitors. The Courtyard by Marriott Winter Haven open this month, with Starbucks and Tropical Smoothie soon to follow in front of LEGOLAND. “With the fieldhouse on the west end and LEGOLAND, and the possibility of a development at our gate way on 27, we are going to see this area really take off.”
All of this growth has been incredible for Winter Haven and we know it will only continue! So, what’s next?
Public Works Director, MJ Carnevale
Watching all of these developments is surely exciting and we know it only creates more brand ambassadors for Winter Haven. But, MJ Carnevale, Public Works Director at the City, was able to give us more of a “behind the scenes” look on how data is driving the decision making processes at the City.
“One thing that we were able to do last year that we haven’t been able to do before is holistically look at all of our roads. We were able to go out, drive vehicles down the road, scan them, take measurements and then that allows us to classify.” With this data, they are able to compare roads and prioritize them based on their condition and available finances. They gather similar data to sidewalks and road way stripping as well.
The Storm water Assessment & Improvement Project has been in the works for a few years and Chastain Skillman has been a helpful hand behind this project. Again, this took a lot of collecting data and measurements from infrastructure in the city. Through flying a plane above the city, they were able to develop high level topographic information by scanning the land with a laser. This projects allows them to focus on the areas that need help and that, in turns, allows them to make smart decisions about what should happen next.
MJ also spoke about completed traffic studies and improvements made by the city. On last year’s 6th Street project they were able to reduce travel time in the corridor by 30 seconds. “It might not seem like a ton if you are running late for work, but it means that there are 100 hundred less hours spent just traveling this corridor by the community each day.” To further make his point, he explained that by reducing travel time on the corridor for an individual by 30 seconds, you also created 6,344 less stops per day which saved 5,550 gallons of fuel per year which led to a 3% reduction in emission on this corridor. And who doesn't love reducing our carbon footprint?
Smart City Officer, Hiep Nguyen
Hiep Nguyen, Smart City Officer for the city, shared information on our smart city initiatives. This terminology has become very popular recently as communities realize the potential of technology. But the definition of a ‘smart city’ is different most of the time, depending on who you speak to. “To me, a smart city is less about the technology, but it's harnessing the power of technology to connect people," he explained.
Winter Haven has 5 miles of fiber network that is growing quickly. By the end of this year, we expect to have 60 miles of fiber. Every project that T. Michael spoke about, they made sure to put in conduit to so that fiber can be added. This past year they completed laying over 30 miles of conduit from Lucerne Loop Road to US 27 from Eagle Ridge Mall, all the way to I-4 (so Winter Haven will be able to lay and own fiber all the way to I-4!) Hiep joked, "No we aren't annexing all of those cities, but we are leading the way on connecting all of Polk County." For 2019, they are hoping to connect to Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Lakeland. “We are literally miles away from having multiple loops connecting the county together.”
Fiber has a transformative power. This changes how we educate, share medical information and how we connect with one another. This also changes our innovative capacity. “How do we attract and retain talent?” , he asked. The city has an award-winning internship program that connects to the community. They also partner with organizations like Florida Polytechnic to leverage the community and resources to achieve talent retention.
Hiep feels that creating a smart community lies on collaboration. In order to see our goals and dreams come to fruition, we have to work together.
Public Safety Director, Chief Charlie Bird
Last but certainly not least, we heard from Public Safety Director, Chief Charlie Bird. He shared that the first initiative of the Public Safety Department involves a pin map that shows where crimes, fire and code enforcement cases are taking place. On the map, you can find “hot spots” where they happen the most. This initiative will marry the police, fire and public works departments together to improve safety to make neighborhoods more appealing and safe.
They are taking a new approach to code enforcement that leans more to compliance and not just creating citations. The first step is figuring out how they can gain compliance from everyone in the neighborhood. Instead of enforcement, they want to get everyone involved in their neighborhoods again by saying, “You have a violation, but what resources can we offer to get you back into compliance?” They will take one hot spot at a time and focus in on it and provide the resources to help those neighborhoods. Charlie shared his excitement for this initiative that is expected to start in February.
The Police Departments will also start using Drone Response. The outcomes for drone usage is quicker response time, immediate response for searching for missing people, ability for air support during inclement weather, ability to search confined areas and less danger to citizens and officers.
They also launched their Police Department app during the event! “You can submit a tip directly from your phone and that tip will be sent to everyone on an administrative level.”
The City of Winter Haven staff is committed to excellence and they use it as a foundation for everything they do. From initiating city projects to creating a smarter city, Winter Haven is full of people who are devoting their lives to ensuring this is a place to stay, play and live.
Thank you to Tinsley Family Concessions for being the sponsor of the Coffee and Conversation series, The Catering Company for the delicious breakfast and the City staff for all of the hard work they put into their presentation.