POINCIANA – Tony Iorio hears it all the time, when residents of Poinciana stop him and ask those crucial questions.
“Everybody has asked for Chinese restaurants and hair salons,” he said.
For a community that grew by leaps and bounds in the past decade, with new residential home construction booming when the housing market was on fire, the 10 villages in Poinciana soared to 84,000 people, larger than neighboring cities like Haines City and St. Cloud.
“In all the years I’ve been here, there have been 10,000 homes built,” said Iorio, the vice president of development for AV Homes, which used to known as Avatar. AV Homes is the largest builder in Poinciana.
But for years, the residents have been asking for more – not new homes, but commercial developments that will bring services closer to their houses and mean a shorter drive to get to restaurants, hair salons, movie theaters and other amenities that a community of this size has come to expect.
Iorio is in a position to move that process along. On Monday, he was the guest speaker at the regular meeting of Poinciana Residents for Smart Change, a civic group working to improve the community that cuts across Polk and Osceola counties.
“I asked Tony to come talk to us about their plans for the future,” said Keith Laytham, the president of PRSC, as the meeting held at the Poinciana Library started.
Iorio said there were actually plans for a lot more commercial development to come into Poinciana, right up until 2008 – when the housing market crashed and the nation went into a steep recession. At that point, he said, no one was looking to expand anymore.
But now, he said, the picture is getting brighter.
“The good news is the restaurants are starting to come back again,” he said. “Why is that? Because a lot of people live here. You have a lot of people here, and if you have food, they will come.”
What’s also encouraging businesses to take another look at building in Poinciana, he said, is the Poinciana Medical Center being constructed here, across the street from the Solivita development. The community’s first hospital is expected to open next summer, and Iorio said that has convinced a lot more businesses that there’s potential for financial success in this community.
“With the hospital coming in now, it’s very positive,” he said. “Everybody knows about the hospital. We’re working on restaurants and we have some national chains in discussions with us, so keep your fingers crossed.”
Those chains include Chili’s and Applebee’s, he said.
A new Twisty Treats ice cream shop is under construction, Iorio said, and another company is looking at the old Winn-Dixie supermarket, which closed down in 2009.
“They’re looking to break it up into three sections,” Iorio said. “That’s expensive. It costs about $3 million to do that. But they’ve got three tenants, all national chains, looking at that space.”
If that deal goes through and the tenants move in, “That’s going to rejuvenate that whole shopping center,” he said.
Another very positive development for Poinciana, he said, is that Valencia College, which already has campuses in Orlando, Winter Park and Kissimmee, is looking at constructing two more.
“They’re soliciting funds from the state for two locations, in Poinciana and Apopka,’’ Iorio said. “It’s a fund-raising issue for them. But we have space set aside for them, on 150 acres of commercial property.”
Less likely, he said, is the possibility of a chain hotel coming to Poinciana.
“No hotels right now,” Iorio said. “One hotel was interested, and they came back and did a study. It came back in that it was questionable that a hotel could be supported here. In this kind of economic environment, businesses are only going for a home run.”
But AV Homes has had discussions with movie theater chains, Iorio said, that look a bit more promising.
“We have talked to the theater operators, and they came down here in 2004 and 2005 when things were booming,” Iorio said. “But many operators don’t want to do what they did in Celebration. Do you know what happened to the theater in Celebration? It was a beautiful place, but it had only two teaters and it couldn’t make money. Even in Disney land, it closed down.”
In November 2010, the Celebration AMC Theatre shut its doors.
Theater operators, Iorio said, want a guarantee that their investment brings in a profit.
“It’s just a big financial commitment,” Iorio said.
Nick Murdock, the chairman of the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance, which has been working on bringing both a theater and a college to the community, said a cinema complex is a huge investment financially.
“It’s probably an $8 million project,” he said.
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