The city is starting an ambitious redevelopment project along South Dillard Street and has plans to realign the West Orange Trail in two places and create a downtown “Central Park.”
Dillard Street is an important north-south gateway to downtown Winter Garden, but this main thoroughfare — which brings residents and guests to the bustling Plant Street corridor — is an unattractive one-mile, five-lane stretch of road as far as the eye can see.
City leaders have been working on a plan that drastically will change the aesthetics and the driving experience along Dillard, creating a respectable entry to downtown that is safer for the community.
The city has held workshops to gather input from residents and businesses. Their suggestions included a more attractive, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly roadway with slower speeds and the ability to draw quality commerce to the city.
Once the Dillard Street Reconstruction Project is completed — officials estimate around one year — the road will have three lanes, three roundabouts, a bike trail, landscaping and about a dozen pedestrian crosswalks.
City officials have been working with a consulting engineering firm, Cribb Philbeck Weaver Group, and a design contractor, Toole Design Group, to create a concept and carry out the vision.
City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said the total cost is $19 million and includes stormwater and utility work, as well as power line burial. The largest portion of the cost is replacing all of the old underground pipes, he said.
About 80% of the power lines will be buried, eliminating most of the unsightly cables above. The remaining 20% are high-energy transmission lines and cannot go underground, Bollhoefer said.
Dillard originally was a two-lane road until the Florida Department of Transportation made it four lanes with a continuous center turn lane. The state transferred the street to the city of Winter Garden in 2010 and provided $608,000 from its paving account.
The width of Dillard will remain the same — but it will have single northbound and southbound lanes with a center flex lane, a two-way divided bike path on the east side of the street, major landscaping and widened sidewalks.
With the narrower street, people will drive slower, making it more of an urban roadway, he said.
“Right now, (Dillard Street) is a somewhat hostile, fast and dangerous street, so we’re trying to make it a friendly, green, multi-modal street that would be attractive to most people.”
— Ian Lockwood, a Livable Transportation engineer with Toole Design Group.
“It turns it into a nice, little, local road yet will still move the same number of cars from Plant Street to (West Colonial Drive),” Bollhoefer said.
A study conducted in 2017 revealed the average annual daily traffic on Dillard Street was 23,730 vehicles.
In a presentation Ian Lockwood, of Toole Design, gave to the Winter Garden City Commission last year, he said Dillard receives a low volume of daily traffic and his firm does not see a need for more lanes.
To maintain traffic flow — and to avoid the sudden stops and starts at traffic lights that can lead to crashes — three roundabouts will be constructed along Dillard where it intersects with Plant and Smith streets and Story Road. Each will be single lane.
“Intersections will determine the capacity of the road, not the lanes,” Bollhoefer said. “Like a water bottle, it doesn’t matter how much water you put into it; it all depends on the size of the opening.”
There are people who oppose the roundabouts and fear they will create bottlenecks and congestion. But Bollhoefer disagrees.
“I feel 100% confidence it will work,” he said. “Ian Lockwood from Toole Design (is) the best in the country at this.”
The center median actually will be designed as a flex lane, which can be used when making a left-hand turn or if delivery drivers need a temporary place to park.
The speed limit also will decrease from 35 mph to 25 or 30, Bollhoefer said.
Just north of West Colonial, South Dillard will have a stamped brick section of roadway that will indicate that folks are heading into the corridor to downtown. The two lanes will merge into one around Morgan Street.
Heading south on Dillard, the single lane will widen out to the current four lanes.
“To get the redevelopment, you really have to redesign the way the road works,” Bollhoefer said. “When you’re looking at planning, road design will determine the architecture and kinds of business you have.”
The idea is to extend the positive impact of the Plant Street streetscape project along Dillard Street.
“Once you do that, the private investment will follow,” he said. “It will be a 20-year process, but you will see Dillard Street change.”
The city expects the north-south corridor to take on an urban, neotraditional design over time. A good example of the changing trend is the new office building at the northwest corner of Dillard and Vining streets.
“They moved this building up to the front, and the parking is in the back,” Bollhoefer said. “It brings better-quality buildings, you start to get nice restaurants. … It will change like Plant Street has.”
There definitely will be a return on investment of the $19 million, he said, and the transportation system will be much improved.
“If you look at Dillard Street right now, it looks like an industrial road,” Bollhoefer said. “And that’s what Plant Street looked like.”
DOWNTOWN ‘CENTRAL PARK’
Imagine lying on a blanket on the grass, enjoying a live concert, just steps from the Plant Street Market and the West Orange Trail.
The city of Winter Garden is working on a plan that will bring what Bollhoefer is calling a miniature Central Park to downtown Plant Street. This is part of a larger $1.35 million project that includes creating the first real park downtown and realigning the West Orange Trail so it crosses West Plant Street at a safer location than the current one.
The roughly one-acre park will incorporate two empty parcels of city land near the northeast intersection of Park Avenue and Plant, and it actually will separate West Plant Street into two roads to the north and south.
“When you have events, you can shut down one street and keep traffic flowing,” Bollhoefer said.
The realigned trail will meander through the park.
This new park space will give the city even more opportunities to hold events.
“If you wanted to do a big concert, you could literally set up a stage and have (thousands of) people in the park,” Bollhoefer said.
He anticipates hearing from residents who don’t want to draw more people downtown, but, he said, “You can’t make it attractive and keep the people away. To be a successful downtown, you have to have lots of people walking by.”
TILDENVILLE TRAIL REALIGNMENT
Further west on the West Orange Trail, city leaders are planning another realignment, creating a defined three-way stop at Tildenville School Road and Civitas Way and building a safer crossing for trail users.
The trail will be moved slightly north of its current location and will be built as a speed table to further slow traffic.
The $150,000 project is part of the redevelopment plans for this area and is expected to be completed by summer. These improvements are being made ahead of a larger project at the old packinghouse on Tildenville School Road.
The facility is going to be renovated and turned into a place similar to Plant Street Market with shops, food vendors, restaurants, boutique stores and more. A golf cart and bike path, in addition to vehicle parking, are part of the plans.