Where will the festivals go? Groups search for solutions

With upcoming development scheduled to begin by the end of 2022, the area near Cinépolis in Hamlin is no longer available for events.

The Horizon West Regional Park will provide potential event space to the rapidly growing community.
The Horizon West Regional Park will provide potential event space to the rapidly growing community.
  • West Orange Times & Observer
  • News
  • Share

As growth continues in Horizon West, open space is becoming increasingly more difficult to find, making it hard for organizations to host large-scale community events in the area. 

One of the most popular spaces that has hosted events in the past is the three acres of greenspace near Cinépolis in Hamlin. 

Boyd Development Corporation, a Winter Garden-based real estate development company, has both hosted and allowed events on the space in the past. 

However, as the area is approved for additional retail development, the space is unavailable. 

“We anticipate construction beginning in that area by the end of this year,” Alexander Pantaleon, leasing associate for Boyd Development, said. “In general, we will develop a mix of retail, restaurant and entertainment uses within that area.”

Boyd began assembling property for its Hamlin community in 2011. Since then, the firm has curated more than one thousand acres of land surrounding State Road 429 and the New Independence Parkway interchange.

David Terry, president of Legacy Events for Education and the mastermind behind the recent Central Florida Chili Cookoff, said the nonprofit has run events in Hamlin the last two years. 

“The developer has been incredibly kind and generous to donate the use of available land for our fundraising efforts,” Terry said. “They were clear from the beginning — the initial space offered near Cinépolis would eventually be leased, and we would have to move on. When we ran the Central Florida Chili Cookoff this year, we knew it would be the only time for that location.”

Unfortunately, Terry said Hamlin is growing faster than predicted and potential other locations were leased or sold sooner than expected. That has caused his organization and others to search for alternative solutions.

“As executive director of an events-based nonprofit, that makes life very difficult and is pushing at least some of our events out of Horizon West and to other locations,” Terry said. “We would love to continue offering entertainment and shopping opportunities for the Horizon West community. However, the space is quickly disappearing, and there has not been any assistance so far from the county government to help. Events in Horizon West run by us and other organizations have provided entertainment for tens of thousands of attendees and those events are on the verge of disappearing for good unless something can be done.”

The space has previously served other popular events, including Horizon West Fest and Flavor Fest

“Other communities that are already built out — we’ve been lucky out here that we’ve been able to utilize land that was slated for development but not developed on yet,” Orange County District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson said. “Other areas get flexible and adaptable as their community gets stronger and bigger.”

Hannah Gutner, policy aide to Wilson, said for special events and food trucks, the only park available in the area is Deputy Scott Pine Community Park off Ficquette Road, about five miles from Cinépolis. 

However, Parks Director Matt Suedmeyer said the allowed usage for the park would depend on the event and the amount of parking needed.  

Wilson also is helping to work on the upcoming Horizon West Regional Park, a 215-acre park, about 11 times the size of most other regional parks, with bike and pedestrian trails, a playground, picnic pavilions, restrooms, parking, and more.

Construction is set to begin on the park later this year.

Gutner said the park will have an open field space for special events, as well as an indoor event space in the future. 

Suedmeyer said the park currently has budgeted $15 million to develop the first phases of the park. Phases 1A and 1B currently are under design and include the open space for public events, as well as space for food trucks and a farmer’s market. 

“There’s plenty of space, but there’s not a lot of infrastructure, and I think it’s going to depend on what phase of development we’re in as to how difficult it’s going to be for a specific type of event,” Wilson said. 

Suedmeyer said anticipated construction completion is fall 2024. 

The master planning process for the park began before COVID-19, where an in-person community meeting was held at Bridgewater Middle School in May 2019. The meeting had more than 200 people in attendance. 

Nicholas Kuhn, a planning consultant on the project, said the survey received more than 7,000 views and included 1,920 participants. The survey received more than 40,000 responses pertaining to votes on questions and 1,704 written comments. Some of the top facilities voted on included bike and pedestrian trails, picnic pavilions, hiking paths, a farmers market, and a splash pad. 

“There was clear vision by the people in Horizon West for what they want, and a lot of it was passive space,” Wilson said. “So areas to hike and open areas where there’s some space for flex use, or events or just a meet-up for kicking the ball around, or having a picnic and not necessarily everything being super structured and over controlled by an institute.”

In addition to the parks, the long-awaited Horizon West library is on its way, which could provide possible space for events depending on what qualities are needed.

The Orange County Library System officially approved the lease for the new location in June and will be located at the Horizon West Regional Park. 

The new 20,000-square-foot branch will include an outdoor pavilion, with parking and additional outdoor space being shared with the park, which will be operated by the county.

“The creativity and flexibility in finding good partnerships with businesses is essential in exploring alternative temporary solutions,” Wilson said. 

Terry said although there have been meetings with for-profit and not-for-profit businesses in Horizon West and there are many ideas in the works, without the support of the community and county governments, the “ideas will go nowhere and these events will disappear before we know it.”

Melissa Kratish Depot, co-founder of the Horizon West Theater Company, said she moved to the area in 2008 and realized there wasn’t much opportunity for community theater close by, and when she asked her friends, they told her they drove to areas such as Winter Park, downtown Orlando or Clermont to pursue their passion. Kratish Depot knew if she wanted community theater in Horizon West, she would have to create it.

Although theater is now available in the Horizon West community, an ongoing complication the company is continuing to face is its issue of space. 

When the theater was founded as a company, Kratish Depot said Windermere Prep allowed it to rent the space to both rehearse and perform. However, following the pandemic, the school still is not allowing external rentals. 

Kratish Depot said the theater group is grateful to some of the churches in the area that have given them space and they are now renting the performance space from Orange County Public Schools at the new Horizon High School. With the continued challenge of space, the company is currently still searching for local places to perform, but continuing to stay positive and work hard.

One of the possible solutions being discussed is the possibility of a Horizon West Community Center. 

Several Horizon West locals held an unofficial community meeting on Wednesday, June 29, at The Blake in Hamlin.  

“It’s hard to wait when you need that space now,” Wilson said of the upcoming projects. “I understand the need, but I love the idea of there being not only the county-run and county-operated public spaces, but something that’s more of a public/private partnership.”

Although the discussion and plans are in early stages, community attendees and local businesses have high hopes for a space where the community can gather together, enjoy the arts, learn and grow. 



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

Latest News