Everyday I drive to work through the 12 mile long tourist trap that we know as Highway 192 (aka, Irlo Bronson Hwy). The area known as Kissimmee-St. Cloud was undergoing a recession even before 9/11. When the tourist dollars completely dried up in 2001, so did all the development in the area. That has all changed in the last 2 years. Leading to this year’s increase in tourism numbers.
The 192 is a picket fence of new development, old tourist attraction standbys, and abandoned buildings. As an example, in one 200 ft stretch, an abandoned building sits next to a go-kart track that needs repair, which is next to a McDonalds, that has been remodeled inside, but lacks a major change on the outside that sits next to a motel which appears to be mostly weekly tenants and very little tourist business. It’s true that there has been some recent improvement, but mostly it’s a stretch of road desperately in search of an identity.
If Kissimmee wants to continue it’s recent trend toward growth, then they really need to address the problem of the 192.
- The first thing I would do is give the road a better name. Something catchy that you can brand like “The Kissimmee Strip” or “America Avenue”. The challenge is that it stretches from one side of the Disney property all the way down to Medieval Times. Frankly it might require two brands.
- Then encourage some pedestrian friendly districts by zoning for parking structures and mega-hotels (which will bring convention traffic and tax revenue).
- Build overpasses for those pedestrians to cross the road too.
- All those stripmall developments with parking in front should be encouraged to remodel with the goal of welcoming pedestrians through covered air conditioned breezeways and move parking to the rear.
- Play up the nightlife aspect of the area. Many of the area attractions close early these days that a few closely bundled themed districts would attract regular shows. With these businesses spread out as they are now, you have to decide what you’re going to do before you get there. Tourists are not always the best at planning ahead. Get a couple good Dance Hall/Concert Venues in the mix too.
- Arrange for some sort of regular mass-transit beyond Lynx. A light rail that starts at one end of the 192-strip and ends at the OIA would be ideal.
- Finally, attract investors to that 434 acre property that sits smack in the middle of the 192-strip. Don’t let anyone build or develop that property that isn’t planning to add at least one themepark, a shopping area, and two large hotels. This is what will separate you from International Drive.
This is not rocket science. There are plenty of successful examples that city planners can look to for guidance. But it is crucial to develop a brand to support the development and zoning to support the brand. This is something Kissimmee officials missed during their first attempt at this in the 90s.