TAVARES – Economic development can come in different forms: attracting new businesses, sponsoring events that bring in tourists, or finding ways to help existing companies grow.
It can also come from new transportation projects, which is what the counties of Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia are hoping will happen when the SunRail commuter rail line is built and in operation, giving area residents the option of getting out of their cars and riding a train to work or for shopping and recreation – plus the thousands of construction jobs that are created while the 61-mile long route is being built.
On the other hand, one Lake County city has gotten a boost from a very different type of transportation expansion, one that’s made the city of Tavares something of an inter-modal transportation hub. They key to their success, as it turns out, was what the county is named after to begin with: lakes.
The Lake County city already has trains, planes, a bus system, and boats – and that last option includes two water taxis. That comes courtesy of the seaplane marina in downtown Tavares, where flying boats and float planes gear up on the ramp.
“All of Central Florida is now aware that there’s a seaplane capital of the world here,” said Realtor and business owner Sonny Buoncervello of Reunion. That would be the Tavares Seaplane Base & Marina in the city’s downtown, he said.
Cecilia Smith promotes economic development in South Lake County for the Lake County Office of Economic Development and Tourism. She said this was a project that Tavares nurtured for years – quite successfully.
‘’Before I worked for Lake County, I worked for the city of Tavares to help build that $8 million seaplane marina,’’ she said, adding that as more people discover it, the marina only gets more and more popular.
Some come there to fly seaplanes, while others want to experience this unique way of getting around.
It all started with 14 planes on the ramp on opening day on April 10, 2010.
The facility has two water taxis, obtained through a federal grant, which operate during special events, providing a scenic way to travel between the cities of Tavares and Mount Dora, both on Lake Dora.
Plans for the Tavares Seaplane Base & Marina started in 2004, when a large citrus packing plant on Lake Dora shut down, leaving a huge amount of waterfront real estate available. City officials decided to find creative ways to use this opportunity to revitalize downtown.
“We have a lakefront and we thought that was our greatest asset,” Smith said. “We call it ‘America’s Seaplane City.’ ”
The project has grown, she said, because of “our marketing efforts, combined with word of mouth. They come to it, and see it, and will come back.”
This project has not only helped bring more economic activity to Tavares, but also revitalized the city’s downtown.
‘’It went from a blighted area to one that is coming back and creating new business,’’ Smith said, adding that the new companies relocating there want to be close to the marina and the customer base it draws in.
“We built 42 boat dock slips, and we also have fuel for both seaplanes and boats, so we have a few good revenue generators there,” she said.
This marina has helped provide the fuel for other tourist-related projects in downtown Tavares, Smith added.
“We built a Children’s Splash Park there, that brings in 4,000 people a month,’’ she said, adding that this helps create a stronger tourism base for the city.
The Children’s Splash Park is open April through September, seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $2, with a $15 seasonal pass available for city residents.
“We are sorry, but due to the extreme popularity of our Splash Park, we will not longer be offering Daycare Days,’’ the city of Tavares’ Web site notes. “All entry is first come, first served.”
That says a lot about how much the city’s downtown has improved, Smith said.
“The people there who have given faith to the city have shown a lot of community support for what we do,’’ Smith said.
For more information about activities at the seaplane base, visit the city’s Website at www.tavares.org.