-- The advance of upscale retail and residential development
southwest down Interstate 4 gained ground Thursday with
a $500 million project that could put an end to the property's
Park, brainchild of the late Miami Beach tycoon Victor Posner,
got under way in the shadow of the former Baseball City's
scrapped stadium for what local leaders hope will usher
in a new class of development to Polk County and the Four
hope it sets a trend that others will follow -- the beginning
of east Polk maturing into an urbanized area," Polk
County Commissioner Don Gifford said at a ceremony.
Park, rising from the rubble of failed predecessors Circus
World and Boardwalk and Baseball at I-4 and U.S. Highway
27, has the potential to impact the area with a projected
build-out that eventually will make it home to 4,500 people.
The area is booming with residential development, but shopping,
restaurants and other businesses have lagged.
are starting to see a phenomenal amount of rooftops to the
north and south," said Greg Arnone, director of land
procurement and development for Boardwalk Land Development.
"As the residential developers continue to see a market,
those rooftops are going to demand services."
Park's pedestrian-friendly "Garden City" design
will incorporate big-box retail as well as boutique shops
with condominiums and apartments above, along wide, landscaped
boulevards. There also will be a 25-acre business park,
2,600 hotel rooms and an open-space preserve.
acres for the big-box retail stores are under contract with
Atlanta developer BVT Land Development, which also owns
the ChampionsGate shopping center in Osceola County.
properties will be the first to get under way and the market
will dictate the development's progression, said Richard
De Lotto, senior vice president of Kitson & Partners,
which is handling site development.
Posner Park planted its flag on 365 prime acres, Osceola
County monster resorts ChampionsGate and Reunion -- 1,200
and 2,300 acres, respectively -- were the farthest upscale
outposts on the path to Tampa.
land is far from virgin territory, though, having hosted
elephants, roller coasters and major-league baseball over
the years. Investors have always recognized the valuable
location but just couldn't come up with the right business
plan at the right time.
saw the site as "underdeveloped," said Brenda
Nestor, chairman of Victor Posner Enterprises, but he wasn't
Inc., which owned Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey
Circus in 1975, attempted a circus theme park, hoping to
feed off the recently opened Disney World. But the park,
Circus World, never took off.
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich took its best shot, trying to
capitalize on the American pastime in the mid 1980s. The
company bought Circus World in 1986, closed it and redeveloped
the site as Boardwalk and Baseball, which became the spring-training
home of the Kansas City Royals.
Entertainment Corp. acquired Boardwalk and Baseball in a
package deal that included the four SeaWorld parks and Cypress
Gardens in 1989 but closed the theme park the next year
and spent a decade searching for a buyer for the property.
Royals' contract expired last year, making the site much
more flexible and attracting Posner, who bought the land
in 2001 and let it be known baseball's days were numbered.
The former owner of Arby's and Royal Crown Cola died a year
envisioned a center that would give a downtown to northeast
Polk County and generate quality jobs, Arnone said.
will have a lot to do with Posner Park's success. In addition
to all of the area's new residences, the plans will come
to fruition as I-4 and U.S. 27 are widened, relieving past
bottlenecks. Also, the site's previous incarnations competed
with the big Orlando theme parks whereas Posner Park will
be complementary, Arnone said.
you ask residents what they want, they say 'places to eat,
sit and enjoy,' " Arnone said. Posner Park will answer
that with a "pedestrian-friendly gathering place."
dignitaries gushed at the plans they hope will make the
spot a gateway to Polk County.
certainly are expecting great things," County Commission
Chairman Randy Wilkinson said. "This is one of the
highest-quality developments, if not the best, along this
Cunningham, executive director of the Greater Haines City
Chamber of Commerce, said Posner Park will be a catalyst
for economic growth in the area.
is one of the most terrific things that has happened for
economic development in our area," she said. "It's
going to beautify this intersection and put Polk County
on the map."
Sherman can be reached at email@example.com or