FOUR CORNERS – The ongoing efforts to revitalize U.S. 192 could mean a more vibrant economy future for those business owners working in the tourism and hospitality industries there, including those who run vacation homes.
“It’s time they bring some awareness to the area and not just spend millions on convention centers for people who don’t leave their hotels and just stay for the convention,” said An Flamand, the president of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the trade group that represents the managers of vacation homes.
A fast growing industry, these are fully furnished houses with multiple bedrooms, a kitchen and a private pool, rented on a short term basis to tourists. The industry has grown rapidly in recent years, providing an alternative to vacationing families who want more room than what a hotel offers.
As Flamand noted, the vacation home industry has a strong presence on U.S. 192, and last year Osceola County commissioners appointed a special committee to recommend ways to make the highway more economically vibrant.
Flamand said the vacation home industry has a definite interest in this ongoing effort.
“We have a large proportion there” of vacation homes on U.S. 192, she said. “The county is working hard to fix up the abandoned hotels along there.”
At the same time, Flamand runs her own property management company, U.S.A. Vacation Homes. The firm, though, is not on U.S. 192, but on the highway that starts where U.S. 192 ends at Polk County, the highway known as U.S. 27. Flamand’s company is just a mile from the U.S. 192/U.S. 27 line, and since Northeast Polk County also has a thriving vacation home industry, they’re now asking the same question: can Polk County look for ways to make U.S. 27 more attractive and pedestrian-friendly as well.
“We’ve raised the question to Polk County, where (U.S.) 192 and Osceola County have the nicer walking paths and trails,” Flamand said. “Can we count on that on (U.S.) 27 as well?”
The association raised the issue when the CFVRMA held its monthly meeting at Universal Studios on Thursday, Aug. 16. As Flamand noted, there are probably more vacation homes on U.S. 27 in Northeast Polk County than along U.S. 192 in Osceola.
But so far, she added, only Osceola County is pushing for a serious revitalization effort.
“There is no way that there are more vacation homes in Osceola County than Polk,” she said. “I am 100 percent sure there is the same amount of homes, or more, on this end of town. It’s not like one end is more saturated with vacation homes than the other.”
The West 192 Redevelopment Council will host a Redevelopment Plan Community meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 28 at the Holiday Inn Main Gate East at 5711 W. U.S. 192.
There will be two open house sessions, from 9-11 a.m., and then from 1-3 p.m. Area residents and businesses operating on the highway are encouraged to attend and hear what future plans Osceola County’s government has for U.S. 192, and to provide feedback and other suggestions.
Flamand is encouraging members of the vacation home industry to attend, but she also wants to see if a similar effort can be enacted for U.S. 27.
“Right now there is nothing in the plans for that, but maybe in the future that can change,” she said. “We’d like to have palm trees on U.S. 27, and room for walking paths and bike paths.”
The vacation home industry is big business in Northeast Polk County. As Flamand noted, “In Polk County, 55 percent of tourism tax money comes from vacation homes. The numbers definitely prove that Florida and Orlando benefit from the incoming tax funds that vacation homes bring in. They have to recognize it. Disney and the other big attractions already recognize it.”
One of the challenges, though, is that in addition to vacation homes and resorts like SummerBay and Orange Lake, U.S. 192 also hosts a lot of restaurants, gift shops, miniature golf courses and other tourist attractions, particularly in the area around Four Corners and Celebration.
U.S. 27 has numerous shopping plazas, like Polo Park, Berry Town Center, and Posner Park, but fewer restaurants and other attractions in-between them, Flamand said.
“(U.S.) 192 definitely has that advantage, because of all the restaurants that have been popping up there, from Formosa Gardens to where the Target is” at Rolling Oaks Common, she said.
“That definitely has helped that area,” she said. “(U.S.) 27 has the Posner Park area. In-between it looks like there is no business here, and that makes it feel like there are no vacation home. But there are a lot more developments with vacation homes inside them on (U.S.) 27. If you see the amount of tax money that comes in from vacation homes, there should be enough money to where we can make the area nicer and more tourism-friendly. But a lot of times they don’t focus on the Polk County area.”
If the county government did, Flamand said, it could help spur even more tourism-based businesses along U.S. 27 in the future.
“I think that over time, some of the restaurants will come along on 27, and that will bring the changes we need for walking paths and bike paths,” she said. “CFVRMA will support whatever is needed to get it done, where we are getting more recognition, and our tourism corridor will be made more presentable.”
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