FOUR CORNERS – As soon as Hector Lizasuain walked into his office this morning, the phone started ringing and the emails just kept coming.
“The emails are flying back and forth,” he said. “First thing this morning I came in and had an email from Disney saying ‘What can we do to assist you guys on U.S. 192?’ That’s very encouraging.”
Lizasuain is Osceola County’s West 192 coordinator, and the county is likely to need as much help as it can get ensuring that the deadly fire which destroyed a hotel on West 192 in Four Corners doesn’t become a blight to this busy tourism corridor.
The fire destroyed the Vacation Lodge Maingate at 7514 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway in Four Corners. The property is located just a mile or so from Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. The blaze left 150 residents homeless.
On Tuesday, the State Fire Marshal completed the on-scene investigation of the fire, and samples were taken and interviews made to help determine of the cause and origin of the deadly blaze. Osceola County Fire Chief Rich Collins noted afterwards that “Everyone involved has done a remarkable job. The Osceola County Fire Marshal will continue to work with the State Fire Marshal on the investigation, and once the investigation is final, the results will be released.”
Lizasuain is also the chairman of the Four Corners Area Council, a group of business owners in Four Corners who meet once a month and organize events in the community, and work to make Four Corners’ business environment healthier and more successful. Lizasuain said the tragedy here is not only the loss of a place to live for more than 100 people, but also the fact that this tourism corridor – known for its hotels, restaurants and gift shops close to Disney – was experiencing a rebound in recent months.
“We’re starting to see permits for new commercial uses and a lot more development in that Four Corners area, which we are extremely happy to see,” Lizasuain said, adding that the local tourism industry has been on the rebound all year.
“With the tourist numbers up and the number of new properties coming to the community out there west of Reedy Creek Boulevard, it’s very encourgaing, so we have to be proactive and support that,” Lizasuain said.
Having a burned down hotel on the corridor – the blaze toppled the lodge’s roof – won’t help and could become problematic for remaining businesses trying to attract visitors, he said, adding that the county needs to step in as quickly as possible to get the property cleaned up.
“We’re out there right now, kind of doing intake and finding out what we need to do,” Lizasuain said. “This is something we need to do. It’s just the right thing to do. We now have a 19-acre property that will sit there, burned down.
“I’ve sent emails out to zoning, the CVB (Kissimmee-Osceola County Convention and Visitors Bureau) and all the different teams and said, ‘Hey, we need to get together and see what we can do,’ “ Lizasuain added. “Obviously there will be an investigation (by fire officials), and we can’t step in until that’s been completed. Once that does happen, the question is what kind of time frame do we have to deal with this. We’re going to look at our options on what we can do to not leave a sense of blight in the community.”
The lodge was an extended stay hotel, meaning it generally did not attract tourists but long term residents unable to afford the cost of a permanent house or apartment. The county is also looking for ways to help those 150 families, Lizasuain said.
“We’re not just being reactive with the situation, but also finding out what we can do for the (Four Corners/West 192) community,” he said. “That’s what we’re working on. We’ve been working closely with all the neighboring counties, and Disney has even sent an email offering asidsstance. We are already seeing the support groups come together, and we’re going to try to help thos families and help the (hospitality) industry.”
Lizasuain said this is a unique situation, and he can’t ever recall a fire destroying an entire hotel.
“Not that big, no,” he said. “We’ve had small fires, a room here and a room there, but usually it had to do with a cigarette in the trash can, something along those lines – nothing like this.”
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