Bob Buchanan served the citizens of Winter Garden for 14 years, helping usher the city into an age of redevelopment and revitalization.
Bob Buchanan has devoted more than a dozen years to citizens of Winter Garden as the District 2 city commissioner — and he says it’s time to let someone else represent the residents in his district. He does, however, intend to continue serving the city in other capacities.
Buchanan stepped down earlier this month after 14 years on the Winter Garden City Commission, beginning his service after running a successful political campaign in 2007.
He is thankful for the residents’ confidence in him, and he’s grateful for the opportunity to help move the city of Winter Garden in a positive direction.
“Whether it be Tucker Ranch, the West Orange Trail, the Heritage Museum, the Garden Theatre, the parking garage, City Hall itself — I like to think that I had a part of all those things happening in downtown Winter Garden because I was on the commission,” Buchanan said. “No one commissioner gets anything done by himself, but I know that I had an opportunity to have a hand in everything that happened in downtown Winter Garden.”
THE STEPS TO POLITICS
Community involvement wasn’t anything new for Buchanan when he began his service to his community. When his children were young, he coached a football team, managed a Little League team and served as a scout cubmaster.
Buchanan has lived in Winter Garden since 1988, when he saw a house in his district for sale by owner and knocked on the door to make an offer.
He served on the board of the West Orange YMCA through its expansion and rebranding as the Roper YMCA Family Center.
He was a member of the original committee for the redevelopment of the downtown sector. He also served on a committee formed to look at restructuring the business tax licenses, which hadn’t been updated in about 15 years.
Buchanan said a Winter Garden resident and friend, Richard Mask, asked him to attend a meeting of concerned citizens who were joining to discuss who would be a good candidate to run against the sitting District 2 city commissioner. At the time, Buchanan was co-owner of a floral business in downtown Winter Garden.
“I went to that meeting — why, I don’t know — and I sat at the back of the room, out of the way, trying to be inconspicuous,” Buchanan said.
It didn’t work; he was asked to run for office.
“It was just because I was a concerned citizen and I had seen what was going on and I didn’t like what was going on,” he said.
He won the 2007 election and would go on to serve five consecutive terms in his district, which stretches roughly from Lake Apopka south to Black Lake and from the city limits east to Park Avenue.
Within that area is a project Buchanan says is his greatest accomplishment: Tucker Ranch. He is proud of his involvement in the city acquiring the land for a 209-acre health and wellness park. The city has received grants totaling $10 million and will be able to include all the proposed projects envisioned for the property.
Maintaining public trust is a responsibility Buchanan doesn’t take lightly. That trust has served him well in his official role as commissioner, as well as in business. During his time as an elected official, Buchanan operated Bob’s Handyman Service
“I had a lot of repeat customers, and it got to where they would give me a key to the house and say, ‘The list of stuff I want you to do is on the counter. Just leave an invoice.’ I had to put in a key cabinet in my truck just to keep up with the keys.
“I felt very honored, very trusted,” he said. “It was a real warm feeling.”
It also has been an honor to be able to go the extra step to make a special event even more so, he said.
In 1993, the city was told it could no longer shoot its fireworks from the Lake Apopka shore during Fourth of July festivities — it would have to secure the fireworks at least 200 feet into the water. Buchanan located three barges in Tampa and asked a local businessman to drive his trucks over to pick them up. The city borrowed the barges free of charge, received a Florida Highway Patrol escort to Winter Garden and borrowed a crane to place them 200 feet out into the lake — and local residents were able to enjoy their fireworks.
AN EXTREME HONOR
“I considered being on the commission a very important job,” Buchanan said. “The people need great representation. After 14 years, I decided it was time for me to focus time on things I wanted to do. Serving the people of this city was a great honor I will never forget.”
He said he’s ready to settle into retirement and take some time for himself. However, he would like to serve on one or more city boards and continue his commitment to the city a few years down the road.
“Winter Garden has been extremely good to me over the years,” Buchanan said. “It’s been an extreme honor to represent all of the citizens of Winter Garden, but especially District 2. I have stepped down from the commission, but I have not left the community, and if there is any way I can help, I’ll be right here.”
The former commissioner is excited about the city’s future, especially the continued vision along downtown Plant Street. There are plans for the land across from Crooked Can, but that won’t happen until the current projects are finished.
“Once we get the hotel, once we get these luxury apartments that are being built, and once we get the condos built at Park and Plant – then the green space out in front Crooked Can will happen,” he said.
“When that’s all realigned, my vision for Winter Garden is that, once this growth settles down, that we need leadership to make sure this does not stagnant,” he said. “Because the businesses downtown are going to need perpetual motion as far as what can we do to make sure these businesses continue to have customers. People have got to have new reasons to come downtown, and this has got to be managed from the top by way of groups like a downtown business board.
“Just managed growth is my vision for down the road,” Buchanan said. “We’ve put together something really good; I’d hate to see it slide backwards now.”
Winter Garden Mayor John Rees signed a proclamation recognizing outgoing Commissioner Bob Buchanan March 11:
“Whereas, James Robert ‘Bob’ Buchanan, a Central Florida native, made Winter Garden his home in 1987. His passion for bettering the Winter Garden community led him to various volunteer boards with the city and culminated in a 14-year career as an elected official, bringing about smart growth and financial accountability; and
“Whereas, from 1994 through 2007, Bob filled many positions in Winter Garden’s City Government – he served over seven years on the Code Enforcement Board, a year-and-a-half on the Planning and Zoning Board and spent time in the Code Enforcement Department as a city employee; and
“Whereas, he began serving District 2 as city commissioner on March 13, 2007, and was elected for five terms consecutively. He ran unopposed during his last two terms and concludes his time in office on March 25, 2021; and
“Whereas, Bob was instrumental in bringing Tucker Ranch Recreational Park and Nature Preserve to fruition. After being contacted by the Tucker Family, he shepherded the purchase of the 209-acre property by the city of Winter Garden, which opened as a park in 2018 and has been established as one of the most popular in the region; and
“Whereas, he served on the West Orange Chamber of Commerce Executive Board from January 2008 to December 2014, representing the city of Winter Garden. Bob was as active member of the Rotary Club of Winter Garden and held the position of president. He is a recipient of both the Paul Harris Fellow and the Ted Van Deventer Award for “Service Above Self”; and
“Whereas, Bob has supported many community non-profits, including the Garden Theatre, Oakland Nature Preserve, Friends of Lake Apopka, the Winter Garden Community Garden and the West Orange Habitat for Humanity’s Home At Last Project; and
“Whereas, he played an integral role in the revitalization of Winter Garden and is commended for his dedication and commitment to the Winter Garden community.
“Therefore, it is my great pleasure and privilege as the mayor of the city of Winter Garden to honor Bob Buchanan for his commitment to Winter Garden. …”