ORLANDO – At the corner of Semoran Boulevard and Curry Ford Road stands the quiet oasis of the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and Preschool, which faces out onto the steady rush of traffic along the very busy commercial strip known as State Road 436.
The traffic made up of cars, vans, trucks and commercial vehicles flowing continuously down that road got so noisy at times that Jeff Arms had to pause and let the trucks move past, even though he had a microphone to speak into.
But standing there on the front lawn of Prince of Peace Church, alongside Mayor Buddy Dyer and City Commissioner Tony Ortiz, Arms said he had no complaints whatsoever about that busy traffic.
“Traffic is a good thing in the city of Orlando,” he said. “It shows we have commerce.”
Arms, the project manager for the city of Orlando’s ongoing efforts to improve and beautify Semoran Boulevard, joined Dyer, Ortiz and other city leaders on Tuesday to officially break ground on the Semoran Boulevard Sidewalk and Streetscape Improvement project.
Designed to further enhance the Semoran business corridor, it is, Arms noted, the start of an effort to launch a long-term vision to revitalize the main gateway for visitors to Orlando.
“This represents the start of construction on improvements to Semoran Boulevard,” Arms said.
The construction work will feature landscape improvements, including installing small flowering trees, using decorative gravel mulch, and building concrete paves.
The streetscape elements also include new eight-foot wide sidewalks, upgraded crosswalks at signalized intersections, and upgrades to ramps mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. These proposed changes are meant to improve pedestrian safety and make the entire business corridor more attractive to new companies.
The project will extend from Curry Ford Road to Colonial Drive along Semoran Boulevard, and the construction work is expected to be completed in the summer of 2013.
As Dyer noted, this project is crucial because Semoran Boulevard represents such an important traffic corridor in the city.
“I’ve stressed for a long time the need to invest in local commercial districts and small businesses, and Semoran Boulevard truly serves as a small business gateway to our community,” Dyer said.
And noting that it goes directly to Orlando International Airport and is the first highway that tourists in rental cars ride on, Dyer added, “It also serves as the gateway to our airport, and we want to put our best face forward to our visitors.”
The Semoran Boulevard Vision Plan, a long-range proposal for future development and improvements in the area, has been a key project for Commissioner Ortiz, whose commission district includes SR 436, and who has been pushing these efforts since he first got elected in 2008.
Ortiz isn’t alone. A lot of local residents have said for years that Semoran Boulevard needs a serious makeover.
Last year, Orlando secured a $1.2 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to enhance the Semoran Boulevard corridor. The grant is being used to help cover the costs of the Semoran Boulevard Sidewalk and Streetscape Improvement project.
Semoran Boulevard is a northwest-southeast beltway running from U.S. 441 in Apopka through Altamonte Springs in Seminole County, to the Beachline Expressway near OIA. It was constructed in the late 1960s.
On its Web site, the City of Orlando notes that its Semoran Vision Plan is long range, and a response to both positive and negative changes along this corridor in the past decade.
As the Web site notes, the corridor “has experienced significant changes during the past decade. Neighborhoods surrounding this corridor have taken on an increasingly Hispanic or Latino character, while at the same time maintaining the strong values and home ownership that have always existed in this part of Orlando. Changes to the businesses and properties within the commercial district have been both positive and negative.”
While some national chains like Pizza Hut, Arby’s, Winn-Dixie and Wendy’s have moved out, the city’s Web site notes, there have been some vibrant new Latin-themed businesses that have replaced them, including the Oh! Que Bueno, Bravo! and Las Americas supermarkets, and La Tortilleria restaurant.
But the site also notes that “some of the properties within the corridor have fallen into disrepair, while others have become the home of businesses that detract from the character of the area. Crime has become a problem in some parts of the corridor.”.
With the groundbreaking ceremony, the entire Semoran neighborhood is now ready to start a new chapter, Ortiz said.
“I’m very proud of our district,” he said. “We’ve come a long way.”
He noted that credit should be shared with the small business owners operating on SR 436, who are a part of the Semoran Business Partnership, and helped make this project a reality.
“They have been instrumental in making things happen,” Ortiz said. “We know we will continue to see great things happen on Semoran. But before we can have a great reality, we need to have a superb vision.”
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