After months of planning and preparation, Ocoee city officials finally unveiled the first draft of the concept plan for Ocoee’s Downtown Redevelopment Project at a June 13 workshop.
Pete Sechler, senior director of GAI Consultants — the firm hired to devise the plan — asked Ocoee residents to express their level of satisfaction, or lack thereof, of the concept plan by a show of hands.
Using a scale ranging from one to five, with one indicating complete disapproval, the majority of the 139 people in the room raised their hands at four.
The concept plan certainly is ambitious. It includes upgrading the water-management system from septic to sewer; revamped gateway entrances to Ocoee; an expanded and more pedestrian-friendly road framework; the relocation of City Hall; and the addition of several lakefront features and park.
The plans for the road framework include two roundabouts, a truck route, the expansion of McKey Street, the rebuilding of Bluford Avenue, the expansion of Silver Star Road to the west and a bike trail that connects to the West Orange Trail from the north.
Also include are projects to renovate the lakefront by adding dining opportunities and a pier and dock for kayaks and canoes so that Ocoee can be both an arrival and departure point.
The concept plan incorporates a storm water creek that will solve storm water problems for almost all of the downtown blocks and double as an environmental feature for a park, as well as a B&B and restaurant where City Hall currently is located.
Mitzi Turchiano, an 11-year Ocoee resident, lamented the initial decision to build City Hall so near to the creek considering the city already owned the property on which it would be relocated.
Andrew McCown, a GAI consultant, estimated the relocation could cost about $6 million.
“I like all the parks and what they’re doing with the creek,” Turchiano said. “I’m a little upset about City Hall, though. I don’t understand who built City Hall and put this on a piece of property that is so unstable.”
The timeframe for the downtown project ultimately will depend on funding and which projects city commissioners approve.
“If you have a lot of projects you want to do and you can only get a little bit of money, it takes longer,” McCown said. “So generally, we try to do plans for 20-year time frames, but there’s going to be phases.”
Local residents will vote on the first-phase projects. GAI Consultants then will relay that input to the city to decide which priorities make it into the final timeline for the plan.
A detailed study of how much all the projects will cost has not yet been done, but McCown said most of the funding will likely be borrowed via bonds, and the rest
might be sought from multiple sources, such as the state government, the federal government in the form of grants for specific projects, money generated from utility bills and city coffers.
Jason Gage, an entrepreneur who has owned property in Ocoee for the past 18 years, thinks the connection to the West Orange Trail is the best idea and believes the downtown Ocoee plan has potential.
“Winter Garden looks very nice, and I think that we have a lot more potential because of the lake and the water features and everything,” Gage said. “Winter Garden does not have that, but I feel like it’s going to be a little tougher because they already had the structure and the buildings, so they had a little more to start with.”
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected]