The following are my thoughts and my thoughts alone, although some may feel the same.
I won’t get deep into the non-word “Centerplace” too much, but it does pair into our “City Leader’s” vision of changing our town into something else.
And I guess it was nice to see an individual with zero history in our town recently try to explain “Centerplace”, and get you to understand it in a publication I’d rather not mention.
That, my friends, is called “spin”.
When our Council spends that kind of money on something overwhelmingly unpopular, they have to try to justify it and get your “buy in”.
Funny that this individual also had a hand in helping our Representative with his ask of funding for the subject at hand….
So with the Seaplane Base, I had heard the rumors and had read about it in the past, but after Governor DeSantis vetoed it last year, I did not expect it to be back so soon.
Seaplanes and the proposed “Seaplane Base” has been on “City Leader’s” radar for a while now, and now as we get closer to this becoming a reality, I have my thoughts…
But before I get to that, let’s talk about some history for some context….
There is historical reference to a seaplane base here on East Lake Toho on the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce’s Web site (www.stcloudflchamber.com/Go To/History.asp).
The site notes that St. Cloud, which as you know was founded as a retirement village for military veterans, had on Jan. 18, 1940, conducted a ceremony to dedicate an “officially approved seaplane landing base.
The site was christened with a bottle of orange juice and 3,000 were in attendance.”
Around the year 1917, Florida became a training ground for Navy seaplanes.
A base in Pensacola was the Navy’s only air station when the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.
It soon opened the Navy’s primary seaplane training station in Key West, followed by similar seaplane training bases in Pensacola, Miami, and along the Banana River.
Kissimmee and Orlando’s airports can trace their beginnings to the Army Air Corps training bases opened during the early stages of World War II. The Navy also opened a base in Sanford.
Back then, German U-boats that were spotted off the Atlantic coastline forced the United States to step up patrols and provide escorts for oil and other cargo ships.
The military soon had twin-engine patrol-bomber seaplanes, some converted from pre-war commercial airline fleets, stationed in Florida.
That may have been the inspiration and reason for St. Cloud to take on the cost of building a seaplane base on East Lake Toho back then.
The sad fact is no military seaplanes had ever landed in St. Cloud during that era.
Fast forward to 2 years ago.
Former HD 42 Representative Mike LaRosa filed an appropriations project, HB 3857 on 11/19/19.
The ask was for $375k for a St. Cloud Seaplane Base.
And an article was published in the Orlando Sentinel in December of that year that talked about this.
In the article, it talks about the seaplane base being a part of the City’s plan to bring the shoreline to life and attract tourism.
It also talks about the plans for Florida Avenue to connect the waterfront to downtown with trails for bikers and walkers (recently passed by the Council), and potentially future talks about launching bike-sharing, connecting the Lakefront to the downtown area.
St. Cloud City Manager Bill Sturgeon is quoted as saying, “We want people to come here and enjoy our Lakefront. We want to open it up and have people from all over the state come and have some events also.”
Our City Manager, Bill Sturgeon, was formerly the Assistant Fire Chief of Tavares, which bills itself as “America’s Seaplane City”
“We’re not trying to take business from them,” he said. “I’ve been down there at lunch and it’s really cool to see people come in from all over the state and have lunch and fly back to their home base, and we want the same thing.”
Governor DeSantis vetoed Mr. LaRosa’s bill on 6/29/20.
So this year, Mr. LaRosa’s replacement, Representative Fred Hawkins, submitted HB 3911 for the same seaplane base, but this time asking for $500k.
It has made its way through committees and unless vetoed by the Governor, this will become a reality.
No worries though, Mr. Sturgeon. I don’t think Tavares has anything to worry about in regards to us “taking any business from them.”
St. Cloud is not a tourist destination.
Now some will say “neither is Tavares”.
Well, Tavares whole image is “Seaplanes”.
A Seaplane is in their logo and like stated prior, they are billed as “America’s Seaplane City”
Tavares is a Lakefront City, situated on Lake Dora. It’s entire economy is tied to seaplanes and it’s entertainment and downtown district is situated on its lakefront, whereas our Lakefront is surrounded by residential.
Restaurants, boat rides, train rides, shops, music venues, pubs, and a seaplane themed water park are all on or around their Lakefront.
Seaplanes have been very good for Tavares so I can see why City Leadership might think this is the way to go to attract tourism dollars, especially with Mr. Sturgeon’s history with Tavares.
Also, the cities of Winter Haven and Miami have public seaplane bases, and those along with Tavares’ bring an economic impact of about $52 million, according to a Florida Department of Transportation study.
Tavares’ facility, however, accounts for $39 million of that figure.
Like I said, Tavares’ economy is tied to Seaplanes.
The Winter Haven base is basically a training facility and a stopover for fueling. Nearby is Fantasy of Flight. You’ve probably seen the signs for it going down I-4 to Tampa.
The Miami seaplane base is located between Miami and Miami Beach and runs charters to the Keys and the Bahamas.
I get why those seaplane bases generate revenue. And especially why Tavares takes the majority.
Tavares built their image around Seaplanes and built up their Lakefront to accommodate.
St. Cloud has a very underutilized Lakefront, there is no doubt about it. But my thoughts are if this is the image that St. Cloud leadership wants, to take on Tavares’ identity, we need a solid reason for tourists to come.
Right now, I don’t see it.
In Tavares, their downtown area is on Lake Dora. The city borrowed about $8 million 10+ years ago to build new facilities at the city marina.
60 slips for planes, two fuel stations (one on land and a floating station in the lake), an airport terminal building, and a pavilion for weddings and corporate retreats.
The City Manager of Tavares is John Drury, and he is credited with the revival of Tavares, whose economy was in decline before he came on board.
If you know his story, his background, and the layout of Tavares, then you understand why this works there.
“We took a very civic and entrepreneurial approach,” Drury is quoted saying. “We knew if we provided jobs, parks, and entertainment the rest would come.”
Our Lakefront has Crabby Bill’s. And a beach area and picnic areas. The other side of Lakeshore Drive is residential homes.
And a 10 block walk to the downtown area through residential neighborhoods.
Once downtown, we have a few great restaurants, but no “tourist attraction”.
Even if the plan was to have bicycle or some type of scooter transportation going up and down Florida Avenue, it’s a mile up Florida Avenue to the downtown area, and for what? Lunch?
That’s quite a ways to go through residential areas… whereas if you look at a map of Tavares, you have less than a block, perfect walking distance.
Also, it would have been nice to disclose this plan for possible transportation up and down Florida Avenue to the residents when they did their “Florida Avenue Multi-use Trail” presentation. They’ve had multiple opportunities.
They did present this as something for the residents, did they not?
A beautiful Lakefront and our downtown area 10 blocks away through residential neighborhoods is not enough to attract regular tourism revenues.
Downtown is great when we have events happening and could be a draw, but how often is that happening?
And I think the bigger issue is this is being done, not for the residents, but for tourism dollars.
At last count, the City of St. Cloud has 55,000+ residents and continues to grow. When is the City going to do things for the residents? For our children?
We have plenty of money here in St. Cloud, but the residents have more reason to spend it outside of St. Cloud.
I always think about what my friend, Chris Ladas-Drake says…67 cents of every dollar spent in St. Cloud stays in St. Cloud.
Maybe if there was more thought to attracting things to the area to get the residents to stay here and spend their money here, we would not need to think about trying to attract tourism dollars to prop up St. Cloud’s economy.
It has to start with keeping your residents in mind and think about how to get them to spend their money here.
Invest money into the Lakefront for the residents. Fishing charters, boat tours, water activities, vendors, boat races, etc.
You’d need these to build up the Lakefront if this is the direction that the City wants to go anyway with these seaplanes.
Until they do that, St. Cloud might be great for a quick stop over for refueling, but I don’t see much more than that until you give the residents, let alone tourists, a reason to stay for a while.
And has anyone asked the residents that live on Lakeshore if they want this?
Lakeshore Drive residents, have you seen what this looks like? The plan (at least originally) is to build this on Lakeshore Drive near the marina.
Take a look at Tavares…
Tavares is set up much different than St. Cloud. This will not work in the same way.
St. Cloud would be better off fixing what’s wrong and making it easier for our citizens to enjoy themselves in St. Cloud and spend their money in St. Cloud.
Understand, I am not totally opposed to this idea. I think it would be “cool” to see the planes. I just see this as another case of “putting the cart before the horse”.
Until the City has attractions geared towards fun and entertainment for it’s residents, you really can’t expect to generate regular tourism revenues..
That’s just reality.
And these friends, are just my thoughts…
The following are my thoughts and my thoughts alone, although some may feel the same.