By Fallan Patterson, Around Osceola
Kissimmee leaders are working on a decades-long plan to redevelop the downtown district into a residential and tourist destination complete with a new lakefront park, a multimodal transportation hub, and housing.
At the first downtown Kissimmee Area Council Update Wednesday at the Kissimmee Civic Center, presentations showcased the SunRail commuter train stations planned for Osceola County, the progress on Lakefront Park’s overhaul, and preliminary plans to update downtown with residential housing, additional parking options and new business ventures.
“This all fits into a grander vision set up by the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) and the City Commission 10-15 years ago,” Kissimmee City Manager Mike Steigerwald said. “All this plays into the grand plan to redevelop downtown.”
This includes facing businesses toward Lake Tohopekaliga, adding a parking garage to the rear of the civic center and adding residences to downtown.
“If you don’t have that disposable income within a two-mile radius (of downtown), you won’t grow,” Steigerwald said, estimating downtown has 30 acres of development opportunity in a half square mile area “in a quaint, walkable area serviced by more transit in south Central Florida then other community.”
That would be attributed to the current Amtrak station on Dakin Avenue being turned into a multimodal transportation hub serving SunRail, Amtrak, Lynx and Greyhound.
The station, one of three planned for Osceola County due to the new commuter rail service, will open by mid-2016, according to Marianne Gurnee, the public liaison for SunRail.
The current station brings 64,000 people annually to Kissimmee, Steigerwald said, estimating the number of visitors at a quarter of a million once all the moving parts are completed.
Osceola County Commissioner Brandon Arrington, who sits on several transportation company boards, said SunRail will cut down on commuting time and is more productive as riders can work using the train’s wireless Internet access during the ride. It also lowers emissions and allows riders more time with families, as the train is a faster alternative to traditional motoring.
“SunRail is a new chapter in Osceola County because we’re moving differently,” he said. “Our expectations can be what we make them.”
According to the Florida Department of Transportation, who will be operating SunRail, projected daily ridership for the Osceola Parkway/Tupperware station is expected to be 586 passengers, 623 passengers for the downtown Kissimmee multimodal station, and 309 daily riders for the Poinciana Industrial Park station.
Additionally, the city is completing a master plan for a seven-mile bike trail from downtown through Shingle Creek to cut down on the dependency on vehicles and will promote eco-tourism.
“The goal is to make downtown the transportation hub of Osceola County,” Steigerwald said.
Anyone who has traveled near Lakefront Park in recent months has noticed the amount of construction and detours in the area.
Dan Loubier, director of Kissimmee’s Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities department, announced Wednesday the project is ahead of schedule and under budget, saving the city more than $550,000 between phase 1, which was complete in July 2011, and phase 2, still under construction.
“It’s a long project to design and construct. We have a very aggressive timeframe,” he said. “We had to budget our dollars to go along with the timeline.”
The $30 million project is slated for completion by January 2015.
Residents will enjoy a lighted, covered playground, new pier, a community stage, 10 state-of-the-art pavilions and the revamped Community House, complete with facelift and additional parking to celebrate weddings and other events, all a part of phase 2, which is expected to be completed in October.
Parts of the park will be opened for the Fourth of July celebration.
Phase 3 will include the construction of a new bait shop and marina, an event lawn, six additional pavilions, another playground, and a splash pad featuring native habitat sculptures such as cypress trees, a Florida panther and a Great Blue Heron.
“There’s a lot of great history with this lake, great culture,” Loubier said, adding new signs will be placed throughout the park with facts on the local history, Lake Tohopekaliga and the plants in the area. “It’s just a huge example of what we’re doing to redevelop our community.”