FOUR CORNERS – Some of the signs along U.S. 192 have really annoyed Mary Ellen Kerber. But what really made her angry is that exotic dancer who won’t go away.
“How do we combat the exotic dancer on 192?” she asked. “He’s out there shirtless with his ‘We Buy Any Disney Tickets’ sign. It’s just not the image we want on 192.”
Kerber is the manager of Formosa Gardens, the large shopping plaza on U.S. 192 in Four Corners. Kerber is also a member of a special commission appointed by Osceola County’s government leaders, and given the task of finding ways to improve the busy tourist corridor along U.S. 192, from St. Cloud through Kissimmee, Celebration, and Four Corners on the west end, until the roadway ends at U.S. 27 in Polk County.
Kerber said the exotic dancer, who shows up in the morning before the traffic to nearby Walt Disney World starts up, isn’t doing much to help promote the kind of family-friendly image that the region’s tourism industry has been hoping to promote.
“Just go to the Citgo gas station by Angel’s (Diner),” Kerber said. “He’s out there any morning. I was told by some people, ‘Oh, Mary Ellen, you’re just a prude. He’s in great shape.’ ”
Kerber also serves as a member of the Four Corners Area Council, the group of business owners who operate where the counties of Lake, Orange, Osceola and Polk counties come together at U.S. 192 and U.S. 27. The council met this morning at the Kissimmee Utility Authority office in Intercession City, to talk about the work that the new commission is doing to revitalize a highway that used to be a strong tourism corridor, but has suffered in recent years, particularly in the stretch closest to Kissimmee. Far too many of the former restaurants, hotels, gas stations and other businesses operating there are now shut down, the properties abandoned and looking dilapidated.
One of the issues that the commission wants to see addressed, Kerber said, is signage – mainly, too many people posting small signs along the highway advertising everything from a home business to a house for sale or rent. Those signs multiple fast and are becoming an eyesore, she said, and need to be removed.
“That issue got pushed aside because the (county) staff didn’t have time to deal with it,” Kerber said. “But if we’re going to clean up West 192, signage is a major way of doing that.”
The people posting the signs, she said, have figured out ways to avoid county highway code enforcers.
“These people are not out there 9 to 5, they know better,” she said. “They’re out there on the right of way. They’re not on my property. But it’s all part of the blight out there, and we have to do something about that.”
Another issue the commission is grappling with, she said, is the highway’s name. Officially it’s called Irlo Bronson Highway – which Kerber said probably should be changed.
“It’s hard to tell people where you are when they can’t even spell the name of the highway,” she said, adding that new names like Vacation Way and Vacation Highway have been suggested.
Hector Lizasuain, Osceola County’s West 192 coordinator, said different segments of this highway are doing better than others.
“None of us are in denial that 192, especially east of (State Road) 535, is hurting,” said Lizasuain, who is also the chairman of the Four Corners Area Council. “It has crashed and we have to do something about it. West of 192 in Four Corners is where things are happening.”
Osceola County Commissioner Michael Harford said the special commission was formed to address the problems on U.S. 192, and he said slowly but surely, improvements are being made.
“It’s starting that process,” he said. “We are making some changes, and some things are looking better.”
To boost the corridor, Harford noted that Osceola commissioners waived transportation impact fees along U.S. 192, and he noted that a new, luxurious Embassy Suites hotel is being built on the highway.
“I’m excited about where we’re going, not where we’ve been,” he said.
“It was Commissioner Harford who said ‘We need to put this group together,’ “ Lizasuain said. “We are going to see some changes out there.”
Kerber agreed, saying the members of the special commission agree on what their top priorities are.
“It was amazing how quickly we all had the same concerns, and the same love and compassion for what happens on 192,” she said.
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