FOUR CORNERS – There’s a lot to be learned, Bruce Meighen said, from taking a cruise along Orlando’s International Drive or Tampa’s Busch Boulevard.
“It’s about the ideas that can come out of this,” he said.
Of course, Meighan said it as he was making a presentation at the Holiday Inn Maingate, a hotel on U.S. 192 in Four Corners. The reason he didn’t make the power point presentation on either I-Drive or Busch Boulevard was because the focus really was on U.S. 192 – specifically, how to give that tourism corridor a boost and find ways to revitalize it and make it more economically viable.
By studying other successful tourism corridors, “This is a look at what it can be,” said Meighan, a principal with the firm of Logan Simpson Design, a consulting firm hired by Osceola County.
On Tuesday, Osceola County hosted its first Community Meeting for business and property owners on U.S. 192, designed to gather ideas on how to move forward with revitalizing the 192 Corridor.
“The purpose of this meeting is to get input on what’s an appropriate vision for the corridor,” said Jeffrey Jones, Osceola County’s strategic initiatives director, “so we can take that information and determine where we want to go.”
The county held the first community meeting on Tuesday, and will continue holding future ones through November.
“In November, we’re going to ask people to select a future,” he said.
This first meeting, Jones added, was “the starting point for what we hope will be a successful set of strategies for the entire corridor.”
Also known as West Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, U.S. 192 runs from the Polk County line at the exit for U.S. 27, down through the four-county Four Corners area past Celebration, into the cities of Kissimmee and St. Cloud, before moving on into Brevard County.
Different sections of the highway are doing better than others. The stretch through Four Corners has seen new business growth in shopping plazas like Rolling Oak Commons and Formosa Gardens, while the section closer to Kissimmee is plagued by a rising number of vacant, abandoned buildings.
Jones said that reflects the ability of Four Corners to continue to attract tourists, while the sections closer to Kissimmee cannot.
“The Four Corners area, that is doing pretty well,” he said. But the section past the exit for Interstate 4, which leads to Walt Disney World, and then continuing on past State Road 535, is not.
“When you go east on 192, that’s the area where you find it’s the oldest part of the corridor,” Jones said. “When you look at the corridor and look at the economic health of it, it’s no longer able to compete in the tourist industry. Its time has gone, so it needs substantial redevelopment. With some help, it can probably be successful.”
Jones said he also hopes to bring the governments and economic development teams in Polk and Orange counties on board for these efforts as well.
“We’re looking from the Polk County line over to the Kissimmee city limits, that 15 miles that are unincorporated,” he said. “When we get up to that area, they will be involved, absolutely.”
In the meantime, the county wants to work with local residents and business owners on U.S. 192 to develop ideas for the future, said Hector Lizasuain, Osceola County’s West 192 coordinator.
“One of the things I’ve always been pushing for is engaging the property owners,” he said. “We have finally got to the point where we’re bringing the true stakeholder out here. We want to be able to at least come to a consensus that we can’t keep doing things as we have for the past 30 years.”
That’s why Meighan invited the participants to look at what other tourism corridors have done, to gather new ideas about signage, landscaping, pedestrian walkways, and transit options.
“We need to really say what could be, and we do that by looking at what other corridors are doing,” he said.
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