FOUR CORNERS – For any business owner operating along U.S. 192, the main reason for studying another major tourism corridor like Orlando’s International drive is to see what works there, and to get ideas for how to revitalize their own highway, Bruce Meighan said.
“At least we have some models to go by,” he said.
But the down side of doing that, noted Mary Ellen Kerber, is that not much of what exists on I-Drive – from landscaping to pedestrian walkways to shuttles and the nearby Orange County Convention Center – is a new addition.
“That project planned that corridor that way,” said Kerber, the manager of the Formosa Gardens shopping plaza on U.S. 192 in Four Corners. “It was developed that way. That makes a difference. It’s important to have those plans when you first start out.”
That, of course, is not what happened with U.S. 192.
Just the same, Meighan said, even older corridors can study the ways that other tourism highways have found ways to successfully lure in more visitors.
“The goal is to get the discussion started,” said Meighan, a principal with the firm Logan Simpson Design, which has been hired by Osceola County commissioners as a consultant on the ongoing effort to revitalize U.S. 192.
On Tuesday, Osceola County hosted its first Community Meeting for business and property owners on U.S. 192. The goal in this first in a planned series of public hearings held now through November are to gather ideas on how to move forward with improving the 192 Corridor. The meeting was held at the Holiday Inn Maingate on U.S. 192 in Four Corners.
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. It goes past the cities of Kissimmee and St. Cloud, before moving on into Brevard County and the city of Melbourne.
Different sections of the highway are doing better than others, with the stretch through Four Corners experiencing some new business growth, while the section closer to Kissimmee remains an eyesore with far too many vacant, abandoned buildings.
By holding these public workshops, “This is about helping our businesses and property owners,” said Hector Lizasuain, Osceola County’s West 192 coordinator.
Meighan, who conducted the meeting, asked the participants to study five other major tourism corridors and think about what they like – and don’t like – about them.
They were I-Drive, Busch Boulevard in downtown Tampa, Katella Avenue in Anaheim, Calif., Las Vegas Boulevard, and Kalakaua Boulevard in Hawaii. Each one represents a slightly different approach to the concept of a tourism corridor, Meighan said.
On I-Drive, for example, there is “the use of plazas on the edge of the street and the series of destinations. You can go place to place all along the corridor.”
In addition, I-Drive has lots of attractive landscaping and is “heavily vegetated,” he said. “It’s a pretty busy road.”
It also has public transit alternatives, Meighan said, including a shuttle that moves people along the I-Drive corridor.
“Can we ever get a suttle service that runs up and down 192,” he asked. “All of this makes the (I-Drive) corridor feel pretty friendly to the pedestrain.”
I-Drive also as the benefit of being home to a Convention Center, he said, which also brings visitors to the corridor.
“We don’t have a convention center (on U.S. 192), so that makes a difference in terms of activity,” he said.
Jeff Chase, who operates a vacation home propery maneement firm on U.S. 192 called Villa Direct, noted that I-Drive simply looks very inviting.
“Even if you took the vegatation out, it’s still a nice area to drive down,” he said.
Busch Boulevard in Tampa, Meighan noted, has a difference approach that includes pole-mounted signs and spacing regulations in-between the local busineses.
“This is considered by many to be a good corridor,” he said. “It’s clean. This is more of a conservative approach.”
Katella Avenue is the gateway in Anaheim to Disney Land, and it also has a convention center as a main draw, Meighan noted.
“They use corners really well, with buildings set forward,” he said.
Chase said he’s visioted Katella, and it actually reminds him of a major roadway in Orlando, and not far from Walt Disney World.
“It’s very similar to Sand Lake Road,” Chase said.
The busy Las Vegas Boulevard is unique from the others in a lot of ways, Meighan said. For one thing, to get from one side of the street to the other, “You cannot cross, you have to use barriers,” he said. “They also use water as a soft edge, with buildings up against the water as a nice place to be. They also have pole-mounted signage, built and integrated with the buildings. It’s strictly regulated.” The water is in fountains in front of many of the casino resorts.
Chase agreed that Las Vegas did its homework.
“If you look at the themed signage, it’s an inviting place,” he said. “The foliage looks nice, the signage looks nice.”
South Kalakaua Avenue is in Waikiki Beach in Hawaii, which Meighan said is different as well because it is “heavy on crosswalks. It’s all about pedestrians.”
All of these tourism corridors, in some ways, offer creative ideas for signage, landscaping, pedestrian paths, and local transit options, Meighan said — ideas that U.S. 192 might want to emulate.
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