Looking to Disneyland for inspiration, can the highway around Walt Disney World become a major hospitality district?

U.S. 192 is known for popular tourism destinations like the Arabian Nights Dinner Show. But can economically ailing sections of the highway get revitalized? (Photo by Dave Raith).

FOUR CORNERS — It remains a study in contrasts: a highway with a brand new elementary school, newly built shopping plazas and successful resorts on one end, and on the other, closer to the county’s urban core, scores of abandoned and dilapidated properties.
Figuring out a way to make the entire stretch of U.S. 192 into a thriving business corridor is now the challenge that Osceola County is tackling. It was earlier this year when the commissioners formed a W192 Economic Advisory Committee, to come up with suggestions for how U.S. 192 could be improved. The special committee now has until Dec. 16 to make some recommendations to the commissioners.
“The area that we’re interested in extends from Four Corners on the county line on 192 east to the Kissimmee city limits near the Bass Road/Medieval Times area,” said Jeffrey Jones, Osceola County‘s strategic initiatives director. “It’s about 15 miles, give or take. And the idea is to look at different strategies that could help revitalize that corridor and make it more competitive.”
That corridor starts in Four Corners, where U.S. 192 ends at U.S. 27 in Northeast Polk County. This section of the highway has a relatively new school, Westside Elementary K-8, new shopping plazas like Rolling Oaks Common, and some of the region’s best known time share resorts like Orange Lake Resort, as well as older, established shopping plazas like Formosa Gardens.
The highway continues on past Celebration into the urban core of Kissimmee and St. Cloud, before extending outside of Osceola County. The section close to downtown Kissimmee has been hurting for years, and has its share of abandoned restaurants, gas stations and gift shops that didn’t survive the recession.
Jones said the special committee was formed to look for creative ways to make the entire corridor vibrant again.
“We’re still working on exactly what the answer may be, what some appropriate strategies might be,” Jones said, adding that while the tourism businesses in Four Corners, close to Walt Disney World, still seem to be doing well, the ones farther away from the theme parks are not.
“Having that entire stretch of highway as something devoted to tourism is no longer viable, and as land use it would have to evolve into something else,” he said.
Four Corners is represented on the committee by Mary Ellen Kerber, the manager of Formosa Gardens and a member of the Four Corners Area Council, a group of business owners in the area who meet once a month and organize special events.
Kerber said she’s trying to get more business owners in Four Corners to attend the meetings and let their concerns be known.
“I have received a couple of phone calls about this,” she said. “There are some concerns I’ve heard from business people here.”
The committee’s next meeting will be on Tuesday, Dec. 6 from 1:30–3:30 p.m. in Conference Room 4727 of the Osceola County Administration Building. Kerber said she hopes local business owners turn out for it.
“There was a study done, and they broke it (U.S. 192) into three sections,” she said. “The Four Corners area is in section 1. There are different issues that affect each corridor. That’s our main concern, that our corridor’s concerns are addressed properly.”
Jones said revitalizing aging highways is not a challenge that Osceola County is facing alone.
“Everybody across the country has their highway corridors that are pretty much devoted to commercial activity — perhaps not tourism in every case — and they’re very, very difficult to redevelop,” he said. “There have been some success stories, and something that may not be comparable but certainly offers some interesting ideas is what they did around Anaheim by Disneyland, where they had these sort of highway commercial corridors surrounding the park, and they revitalized them with heavy streetscaping and landscaping.”
It became known as the Anaheim Resort District. It’s the area of the city of Anaheim, Calif., that surrounds the Disneyland Resort, Garden Walk, and the Anaheim Convention Center. The district is also the home to the Anaheim/Orange County Walk of Stars and a growing number of hotels and hospitality industry businesses.
“That has been successful and it has revitalized those corridors, and has contributed to the overall tourism industry in Anaheim,” Jones said. “There are other areas where they’ve had success in a particular part of a corridor, if not on the entire corridor.”
For Osceola County, he said, the challenge is to “figure out a way to redevelop and revitalize and enhance what’s already there. It’s why there is a committee, and why there’s this effort under way to figure it out.”
Part of the challenge, he said, may be figuring out a way for the county government to provide incentives for private industry growth along the corridor.
“I think that at the end of the day, there is this public-private partnership that would include incentives to redevelop properties, but it’s just not the county coming in and putting a lot of money out there and hoping for the best,” Jones said. “It’s very specific items and places that the county would look to give out public money to leverage investment, and we’re trying to figure out what that would be.”
That’s why the committee was formed, he added.
“It’s designed to come up with a set of strategies by the end of December, some broad strategies, so we’ll be taking those to the board and asking them to give us direction on whether they want us to continue with those ideas,” Jones said.

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