KISSIMMEE – Looking out at vast stretches of U.S. 192, the tourism highway that runs from Four Corners to Kissimmee and St. Cloud, Hector Lizasuain said the roadway needs to be viewed as an industry.
And that industry, he said, is failing.
“We see a dying product,” Lizasuain said. “It’s a product that can no longer compete.”
Lizasuain is Osceola County’s West 192 redevelopment coordinator, and his job is to find ways to improve and revitalize the roadway that leads to the theme parks like Walt Disney World – but has fallen on some very hard times, particularly in the Kissimmee area, where motorists can drive by a sadly increasing number of vacant, abandoned storefronts.
So how to get things turned around? Lizasuain said Osceola County has several ideas in the works.
“The task we have been given is to take (U.S.) 192, as an industry, and reinvent ourselves,” he said.
This morning, Lizasuain made a presentation to the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the trade group representing the short term vacation home industry that has grown so rapidly in Polk and Osceola counties. The association’s monthly meeting was held at the Mystic Dunes Golf Resort.
Many of those vacation homes are in the Four Corners area of U.S. 192, which is actually one of the few sections of West 192 that’s still experiencing some economic growth. Lizasuain said he hopes to build on that, by getting the counties to invest in Community Redevelopment Agencies.
“I’ve already approached Four Corners, and there’s been some concensus there,” he said. “We are now in a study that will alow us to create two to three CRAs on (U.S.) 192.”
These agencies work to find ways to boost economic development in the areas they cover, and look for incentives that can be given to new businesses that relocate there.
“For years, the industry has felt that the county and local government agencies have not paid enough attention to this corridor, and by that I mean providing incentives,” Lizasuain said.
By creating CRAs to cover different sections of the highway, “It gives us an economic development tool we didn’t have before,” he said. “We need to do something to save our corridor.”
At the same time, Osceola County is considering adopting what Lizasuain said would be “minimum maintenance standards,” which would make it difficult for absentee property owners or banks that have foreclosed on commercial properties to allow those buildings to sit vacant and unused for months or years.
“We have properties that people have completely walked away from,” Lizasuain said, adding that his office recently counted 93 altogether in the Kissimmee area alone.
“It shows you where we’re at and where we’re headed now,” he said.
The new standards, he said, would not be punitive, but educational, designed to help the owners find ways to improve or find a new use for their property.
“We’re going to be holding workshops with these people,” he said.
Finally, Lizasuain said, the county is considering changing the name of this busy road, which is currently called West Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, although at different stretches it has other names, including Vine Street and the Space Coast Highway.
“It’s got a lot of names and you can see where it would be confusing to our guests,” he said, adding that the new name should highlight tourism in some way.
That’s an idea being embraced by the hospitality industry, said Jeff Chase, a CFVRMA board member. He said a name change would definitely be welcomed by those working in tourism and hospitality in Four Corners.
“One of the things we’ve been working on locally is changing the name of 192 from West Irlo Bronson Highway to something like Vacation Way,” Chase said.
Colin Young, president of the CFVRMA, urged the association’s members to provide some input to Osceola County officials on their efforts to remake and revitalize U.S. 192, and become a part of the process.
“Please respond to them, and give them your information,” he said.
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