FOUR CORNERS – The proposal uses strong terms, such as “blight,” to define the problem.
And it’s that blight running along certain sections of U.S. 192, the tourism corridor that runs from Four Corners to St. Cloud and across four counties, that is “keeping this area from realizing its full potential as a regional tourist destination and a primary economic engine for the county,” the new report notes.
That report is actually an ordinance being submitted to the Osceola County commissioners, asking county leaders to establish a West 192 Development Authority Trust Fund that could be used to pay for proposed revitalization efforts on the tourism highway, and establish a board of directors to oversee it.
This is all part of an ongoing effort by business owners and county leaders alike to not sit back and let a corridor that once could draw tourists away from the theme parks to its moderately priced hotels, restaurants and gift shops, to continue to fall into a serious state of — as the report warns — blight. That’s particularly true for the sections around Kissimmee, where U.S. 192 is plagued by far too many abandoned, vacant and dilapidated businesses.
The draft Development Authority Ordinance was put together by Osceola County’s West 192 Economic Advisory Committee, a group formed by county commissioners and given the task of finding ways to help transform U.S. 192 into a thriving economic corridor – since, as the proposed ordinance notes, “It is the policy of the county to promote sustainable economic growth.”
Michelle Beamon, a strategic initiatives analyst for Osceola County, said the committee hopes to present the plan to commissioners next week.
“We covered part of the agenda at our last meeting, and we’re still working on all of the strategies,” she said. “The Development Authority strategy is going to the Board of County Commissioners on the August 20 meeting, and this group made to recommendations to that.”
There are 14 different strategies they are looking at, she said, including the creation of the trust fund to generate revenue that can be used to improve the tourism corridor.
“The only other topic we got to was the re-naming of 192,” she said.
The highway is now known as Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, named after former state representative, state senator and cattleman Irlo O. Bronson St.
U.S. 192 is an east-west route of the United States Numbered Highway system that runs 75 miles from U.S. 27 in Polk County, east past Walt Disney World, Celebration, Kissimmee and St. Could, then continues on into Melbourne. It’s also known as the Space Coast Parkway since it leads to the Space Coast in Brevard County.
Members of the West 192 committee have indicated that Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway is a tough name to sell to tourists, and they have suggested renaming it to something like Vacation Way.
“The group had a list of names vetted, and the group eliminated some, and we’re moving forward with a list of 10 names,” Beamon said. “We have a direction, and now we’re refining the strategies as we go on.”
Jeffrey Jones, Osceola County’s strategic initiatives director, said the committee already has a master plan for U.S. 192 – encompassing a long-range vision for the corridor’s future. But they still hope to get more feedback from the public, including the businesses that operate on U.S. 192.
“As part of the master plan effort, we’re just starting up,” Jones said. “The kickoff event for that is at the end of the month, on August 28. It’s going to be a daylong community event. We’re asking people from around the corridor to come in and help us envision what a more prosperous corridor might be, and how we can get there.”
Then over the next six months, Jones said, “We’ll be taking all of that information and putting meat to the bone and figuring out if we’re going to pursue the type of vision that came out of that meeting, in terms of infrastructure improvements, streetscaping, changing development patterns, and providing expenses to bring in the types of development that could help revitalize that corridor.”
That would be one use for the trust fund.
“At the end of the process, we would have a lot of information that’s formatted in such a way to say ‘This is the type of future we want, this is what it takes to get there,’ these types of activities and projects,” Jones said. “We’ll also look at ‘Here is the cost involved in doing that,’ and at this community event we would ask them to indicate whether the public — the business owners and property owners out on the corridor – are willing to be expending tax dollars on these things. Over those six months, we’ll be working through the type of projects and programs that we need to put in place, and then we’ll be going back out on the corridor and talking about those individual projects.”
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