Last Thursday Bruce Lyon with the Winter Haven Economic Development Council (WHEDC) provided Chamber members with a debrief on the findings of the Cypress Gardens Corridor Study. This study was done for the WHEDC through a partnership with the Polk County Board of County Commissioners and was conducted by Dr. Joshua Harris and The Lakemont Group, a real estate and economic consultant out of Orlando. Dr. Harris is also a professor at the University of Central Florida Dr. P. Phillips Institute for Research and Education in Real Estate.The impetus for the study stems back years to the community’s desire to see a development and growth plan in place for this corridor when LEGOLAND® Florida announced it’s arrival (and maybe even before that point). It has taken some time to get everyone moving in the same direction (remember, so much of this road zigzags in and out of the city/county limits). As you will read, the information provided in this study shows a strong business case for the highest and best use developing the corridor as a tourist destination to maximize the positive economic benefits such as employment growth, local and state tax revenue growth, maximum property values as well as maximum quality of living and amenities for Winter Havenites.
A summary of the debrief follows, but if you would like to watch the presentation a link to the youtube video is below.The study area for the corridor is shown below. This area is defined as the area from Overlook Drive to US Highway 27 along Cypress Gardens Blvd (State Road 540).
It comes as no surprise to any of us locals that the dominate feature of the corridor is the presence of LEGOLAND® Florida Resort. While LEGOLAND® Florida Resort (LLFR) does not publicly disclose their attendance numbers, Dr. Harris estimates an annual attendance of at least 1.5 million guests based on info from knowledgeable parties and their parent company, Merlin Entertainments plc financial disclosures. LLFR’s visitors come from around the globe, with many coming from Florida via Highway 27 and I-4, the bulk coming from the east and Orlando area.
Where are all of those visitors?
Again, not a surprise to us locals, but Dr. Harris also found in his study that the vast majority of associated expenditures and economic benefits of LLFR such as hotel room night stays, retail shopping, complimentary entertainment expenditures etc. are being leaked out of the corridor to more established tourist markets, mainly Orlando. To put it plainly, the corridor is not currently capturing the economic benefit brought to us by LLFR.So why is that? Dr. Harris identified three primary issues:
- The corridor lacks any feeling of a “tourist destination” upon the approaching driving in or once within the cooridor itself (editorial note: this DOES NOT mean it should look like a 192 with t-shirt shops and ticket booths. I think we can all agree that is the exact opposite of what we want. But what it does mean is that there is no sense of arrival.)
- The corridor lacks adequate hotel lodging options to support additional entertainment/tourist activity development and is likely constraining attendance at LLFR itself.
- The corridor and the greater Winter Haven/Polk County area are generally not perceived as a “tourist destination” and lack an adequate range of options for a mutiday stay. This of course is a circular problem with the lack of adequate hotel rooms to service such development and lack of entertainment options etc.
Dr. Harris goes on to note that while the primary consideration for the study is tourism development potential, there is significant need for hotel room demand due to growth in other segments (such a CSX Intermodal Logistics Center, growing businesses and industry (State Farm, Winter Haven Hospital etc.)
Another key note from Dr. Harris – Polk County is highly regarded by investors nationwide.
Dr. Harris notes 6 key findings from his work studying the corridor:
- The corridor TODAY could support at least 240 net new limited service hotel rooms given the existing demand (editorial note: this number is disputed by people in the industry as too low given the other drivers such as the increase demand in sporting events and business industry growth, but remember that’s TODAY. See next line)
- There is a significant demand that could be captured such that the need for hotel rooms could exceed 1,200 net new rooms by 2025.
- There is significant evidence to support at least 1, and perhaps as many as 3 upscale, full-service restaurants in the corridor today given existing demand.
- There is a strong demand and a large available market for additional entertainment facilties and activities to compliment LLFR.
- The corridor has a lot of growth potential; however it needs significant improvements in terms of appearance, sense of arrival, linkages and overall branding and theming to make such growth potential a reality.
- The local Winter Haven/Polk County market living within a reasonable drive time to the corridor will reap the direct benefits of additional entertainment and restaurant options while also serving a base of additional demand for new establishments.
Projection of Potential Visitor Growth:
So what are the WHEDC’s action plans?
Working with economic development partners such as the county, the city, the Chamber and other area economic development partners etc.:
- Develop urban design concept that unifies the corridor for maximum potential
- Create a sense of arrival, improved linkages and a brand
- Develop consistent development regulations from the urban design work
- Support development of the hospitality sector
- Encourage property and business owners to work together to achieve higher outcomes
- Work with City and WHEDC to unify our approach to development matters on the corridor
- Identify a staff member for WHEDC’s CGB Corridor Committee to provide county perspective
- Identify a county planner ‘resident expert’ for the corridor
- Provide a County Attorney work with WHEDC and City of Winter Haven on the exploration of corridor improvement options/programs
- Explore Business Improvement District options
- Encourage traffic study by City of Winter Haven
To view the presentation made by Dr. Harris to the Polk County BOCC, click here.
To view the Corridor Study in its entirety, click here. (May take a moment to load, it’s 103 pages).
To view Bruce’s presentation at the Chamber click here.