The cities of Winter Garden and Ocoee will serve as bookends for the major joint project along East Plant and West Franklin streets that will change the face of — and economic impact of — this important connector corridor.
The city of Winter Garden always has a detailed plan for each of its projects, and East Plant Street from Dillard Street to State Road 429 is no exception. Plant was recently widened to three and four lanes along most of this corridor to make way for an easterly extension of downtown Winter Garden.
The first major project will be high-end townhomes on property owned by the Battaglia family just west of the Winter Garden Library. The process is expected to begin later this month, and a public meeting will be held Jan. 17 so neighbors can see details of the project. The Battaglias plan to contract with a builder.
“If everything goes well, they could probably start site work at the end of 2016,” said Mike Bollhoefer, Winter Garden city manager.
The second project will take place on the Strates property, the large pastureland near the 429. In all, there are nearly 100 acres of buildable land; some wetlands are located here, as well.
“We believe this should be the major piece with high-paying jobs,” Bollhoefer said. “If you want to maintain the quality of life and the values of your community, you have to have high-paying jobs. That is critical. In economic development, your economy is really driven by 20% of your jobs.”
The city would allow structures up to five floors on this property.
“Strates is probably the biggest and most important piece on Plant Street,” Bollhoefer said. “We're working with the developer to make it … some high-end, some living units and maybe a hotel. With this master plan finished and starting to work on design on infrastructure, it's possible that this could actually start in 2016.
“We're looking for (a developer) to follow the basic plan; and Ocoee is master-planning its side with a similar mixed-used (project) with commercial, some retail and probably some living units. The goal is to make this the highest and best use possible.”
On the north side of Plant, across from the Strates property, where bald eagles frequently perch high in the trees, the city envisions a high-end grocery store there.
Some of the proposed projects after these two could be in development at the same time, Bollhoefer said.
The city of Winter Garden has been purchasing select properties for years to either develop or later sell. The property at 848 E. Plant St., where it intersects with Ninth Street, was formerly Grayline Trucking and is owned by the city. Bollhoefer said the city envisions a mixed-use development with retail or restaurants on the bottom floor and offices on the second and third. The city allows no more than three floors this close to downtown.
Winter Garden owns the property at the northeast intersection of Hennis and Plant, too, where an old convenience store stood. The city also owns the Florida Film Academy building and the former Florida Power building, both near Highland Avenue and Plant.
As development continues east of downtown along the Plant corridor, Bollhoefer said, people will see a shift from industrial to commercial and residential. The city's goal is to move industrial businesses off of Plant and closer to other existing industrial areas north of Hennis Road and along Story Road.
“You don't want industrial on your main streets,” he said. “Industrial is important; you just don't want it there.”
He said he fully expects the former citrus industrial section of the city to begin redevelopment.
“It could be mixed-use retail or clean industry — industry without a lot of chemicals — which brings you high-paying jobs,” he said.
“We've got a lot of exciting projects in Winter Garden, and we keep moving forward with the redevelopment,” Bollhoefer said. “We're lucky; doing the downtown first was critical. It increased our tax base, which brought more development, and it gave people confidence in us doing other projects.”