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Kissimmee Merchants Look to Plus Hwy 192

Merchants and business owners along Highway 192 in Osceola County have finally decided to get their act together. Prior to the latest economic meltdown, I wrote about signs of life in Central Florida’s most neglected tourist region. As you might guess, those improvements have been given back and the trend points even more down hill these days.

However the newly formed 192 Business Alliance has a plan to turn that around. The region will adopt a theme of…

“Orange Central” by painting the curbs or sidewalks orange. The theme would continue with a new public-transportation option consisting of two orange-colored shuttle buses. A new Web site would promote the area, and businesses would support the initiative with things like orange mints in their lobbies.

The 192 Business Alliance, the newly formed nonprofit group that drew up the plan, said something must be done, and quickly, to revive the sagging tourist strip west of Kissimmee. “We could have shuttle service here by spring break,” Brisson said. “We need something easy. We need something fast.”

It’s a good start, perhaps mints in the lobby is all that can be afforded in these times, but there are a few cracks in the plan.

Included in the strategy is a plan to build a sports complex focused on drawing amateur competition to the area. I’m a little skeptical of this idea. Have they not heard of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports? Disney is bound to take the lion share of the amateur sports business. That is ESPN WWOS’ whole focus and they can offer the ESPN brand and Disney magic, something Kissimmee can never match.

Perhaps the 192 Business Alliance is thinking that they would attract sports teams who would travel to central Florida and not compete on Disney property, but still package a vacation with their tournament by offering them a cheaper price for the same quality facilities, just without the ESPN experience. That could work, but I don’t see it as being a big driver, if it was, existing regional amateur sports facilities would be full already. Maybe they have a study that says differently.

Moving in on sports instead of convention business is an interesting angle, however think they need to be more ambitious. The name “Orange Central” is neither catchy, nor descriptive. Nobody is going to say, “let’s go down to Orange Central and see what’s going on.” But they’re on the right track, 192 does need better branding.

Follow me below the jump for a few more suggestions for the 192 Business Alliance and the Osceola County government to get moving on.

These are not presented in any particular order, and most require Osceola County to really get involved in the improvements. But if that’s what it takes, so be it.

  • Encourage pedestrian friendly districts by zoning for parking structures and mega-hotels (which will bring convention traffic and tax revenue). Create more outdoor pedestrian spaces visible from the road. Build overpasses for those pedestrians to safely cross the road in those zones.
  • In those zones strip mall 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 central lots or at least off the street. Prevent any more flea-market/low rent malls from opening. Attracting the right kind of merchant is key to attracting the right kind of tourist.
  • Related: Legislate away the clutter. Create a green district where tourist racks are replaced with palm trees and business signs are uniform height and distance from the curb. (Don’t legislate away creativity like International Drive or Anaheim, CA’s Resort District did, however. Your strip needs charm.) Create more outdoor pedestrian spaces visible from the road.
  • Restrict hotels that charge by the week to east of Bass Road. Encourage motels that are experiencing tough times to convert to boutique properties. Demolish those that won’t to make way for entertainment districts. 192 is definitely over saturated with $25/nt hotel rooms.
  • Play up the nightlife aspect of the area. This is one of the areas that Disney has abandoned with the closure of Pleasure Island. There is definitely room to step into this market. Rezone a few areas to focus on dinner shows and Brandon, MO style attractions. A few closely bundled themed districts would attract some big named shows. With these businesses spread out as they are now, tourists have to decide what they’re going to do before they get there. As you know, tourists are not always the best at planning ahead. Get a couple good Dance Hall/Concert Venues in the mix too. More artists are making their living from touring these days, and that would help bring down the locals too.
  • Arrange for some sort of regular mass-transit beyond Lynx. Orange colored trolleys with very low cost are a step in the right direction, however, I don’t think two will be enough. A light rail that starts at one end of the 192 tourist strip and ends at the Orlando International Airport would be ideal. To get really exciting, look into PRT technology. There might be some government grants available for mass transit.
  • Finally, attract investors to the 434 acre property that sits smack in the middle of the 192-strip. Work with the owner to bring his price down, perhaps in exchange for property elsewhere in the county. Don’t let anyone build or develop that property that isn’t planning to add at least one themepark (this would be a much better location for Legoland than Cypress Gardens), a shopping area, and two large hotels. This is what will separate you from International Drive.

Any other suggestions?

(via the Orlando Sentinel)

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