DAYTONA Rising has begun. The $400 million project will redevelop the grandstands and make other refurbishments along the frontstretch of the legendary track. Photo credit: Daytona International Speedway
The iconic Daytona International Speedway conducted a ceremonial groundbreaking for city and county officials in July for its $400 million renovation, called DAYTONA Rising. The project will redevelop the grandstands and make other refurbishments along the frontstretch of the current 147,000-seat track. On hand to work the bulldozer and “dump the dirt” was NASCAR Driver Greg Biffle, who was joined by fellow driver Trevor Bayne. There was, of course, a race—of the obstacle course variety with front-end loaders. Biffle and Bayne beat the teams of Sprint Cup drivers Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman and also television announcers Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. “In keeping with the Speedway’s tradition, we wanted to find an innovative way to honor history and create memorable moments for our fans, which is ultimately what the DAYTONA Rising project is all about,” said Joie Chitwood III, president of the Speedway. The massive overhaul will include removing the stands along the backstretch. Fans will be treated to five grand entrances, 40 escalators and a dozen elevators; wider, more comfortable seats and elegant suites; larger concourses for a greater variety of concession and merchandise choices; and remodeled bathrooms. The renovation is scheduled for completion in January 2016.
Much to the delight of city and county economic developers, the Sid Martin Biotech Incubator at the University of Florida has added another award to its long list of accolades: World’s Best University Biotechnology Incubator. A nearly yearlong international study conducted by the Stockholm-based UBI Index was unveiled as part of a 70-page report that benchmarked 150 university business incubators in 22 countries. “Being recognized as the world’s top biotech incubator is especially gratifying because UBI’s rankings are data-driven,” says Patti Breedlove, incubator director. UBI reviewed more than 50 performance indicators, including job creation, talent retention, access to funding, network enhancement and post-incubation relationships. Built in 1995, the UF Sid Martin Biotech Incubator has attracted more than $1 billion in equity investment, contracts, grants, and mergers and acquisitions.
Brevard County Fire Rescue and Palm Bay Fire Rescue formed a partnership in July whereby they will share a facility, including department resources and personnel. As a result, BCFR Station 84 was officially moved to PBFR Station 1. The step was the first of three designed to improve both level of service and response times for residents of Palm Bay and Brevard County. The agreement stems from Harris Corp.’s decision to expand its Palm Bay Road facility that encompasses BCFR Station 84. There were other developments, as well, all designed to place the emergency units closest to areas of higher call volume, providing for improved response times. “Shrinking budgets and demands for increased service affect both departments,” said Brevard County Fire Chief Larry Collins. “This sort of innovative thinking, however, demonstrates the agencies’ commitment to operating safely, effectively and efficiently, to the benefit of the citizens of both communities.”
Bicyclists are pedaling happier and safer in Citrus County, thanks to the recently completed Bicycle Boulevard. By connecting Withlacoochee Trail with its more than 46 miles of paved pathways for cyclists, Inverness city officials hope the new boulevard will bring more business to downtown. The improvements include widening of North Apopka Avenue, new landscaping, more bike racks and sensors on the trail to alert drivers of approaching bikes. The project’s goals are to beautify, increase business and slow traffic. Also in 2013, a Trail Network Map was approved to “close the gaps,” enabling cyclists to travel the county with the addition of connecting trails and trailheads.
Good news for the county’s public school district: Three students received national recognition at the annual Health Occupations Students of America conference in July. Aaron Houser placed second in the Nursing Assistant category, Brianna Blosser placed third in the Home Health Aide category and Joelia Avila placed seventh in Personal Care. Houser and Blosser competed as students from South Florida State College; both graduated from DeSoto County High School last year. The conferences, which began in 1980, are part of this national organization devoted to fostering students interested in health-care careers. Each year, DeSoto students attend the conference, and for the past several years the county has had several students excel on the national stage.
Happy Centennial, Bunnell! On July 8, the city of Bunnell, county seat for Flagler, celebrated its 100th birthday. The current city commissioners and many city staffers wore 1913 period costumes and walked by vintage cars along with the city’s victory float. The festivities included the burial of a time capsule, to be opened in 50 years. The city’s first commission meeting, known then as the Bunnell City Council, was re-enacted inside City Hall.
The Florida Association of Counties (FAC) presented Hardee County Commissioner Sue Birge with a Presidential Advocacy Award during the 2013 Annual Conference & Exposition in July. The award is given annually to those county commissioners from around the state who have demonstrated exceptional leadership in partnering with FAC. Birge, chair of the Hardee County Board of County Commissioners, is a graduate of Hardee High School whose career includes positions in banking, finance and real estate. She was among 12 commissioners honored during the event. For 80 years, the FAC through advocacy, education and collaboration has represented the diverse interests of Florida’s counties, emphasizing the importance of protecting home rule—the concept that government closest to the people governs best.
Lori Romano, a former administrator with 20 years of experience, was tapped as new superintendent of Hernando County Schools in Brooksville, a district that encompasses 22,750 students and 3,400 employees. According to media sources, Romano says her main focus is on fixing the district’s dropout and attendance problems. She plans to make Henando an “A” district and signed a two-year contract with a one-year option to renew. Previously, Romano served as director of adult, community and virtual education for Martin County Public Schools. She also served as director of state personnel development and program evaluation for the Florida Department of Education in Tallahassee.
Thanks to a new state-funded position, county officials received a boost in their efforts to fight school truancy. The Department of Children and Families has provided an additional staff position to work exclusively in Highlands County. While the county previously had to share a staff member with Polk and Hardee counties, as part of early intervention, Gov. Rick Scott approved the new funding and named Highlands County the recipient. The new staff position will be with Youth and Family Alternatives Inc., which serves Tampa and Central Florida, offering substance abuse prevention and intervention services, foster care and adoption services, runaway/youth crisis services, and family counseling. The initial effort will focus on elementary school students.
Plans to further develop Tampa’s Riverwalk gained momentum in mid-July, when the Straz Center for the Performing Arts’ Board of Trustees voted to support the proposed Residences on the Riverwalk project. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn praised the board’s decision: “I appreciate the support [of the Straz Board] for the project. … It is a clear indication that they share the developer’s and my vision for a vibrant, active waterfront and downtown. The Residences at the Riverwalk presented an opportunity for the Straz to have the challenging street grid fixed, while allowing us to activate the Tampa Riverwalk with new residential and retail possibilities. The project and the tax revenue it will generate will allow us to continue to invest in our downtown, shaping an urban core we can all enjoy.”
The Lake County Growth Management Department has made it easier for contractors and developers to obtain commercial and industrial permits remotely via the county’s website at lakecountyfl.gov/growthmanagement. In addition to those permits, pre-application conferences, preliminary plat reviews and site plan applications are being accepted through the website. The online service includes electronic reviews by the county and its Health Department’s Environmental Health Services. Also available are tutorials for each application type, including detailed walk-throughs of the application and submitting process, a breakdown of the potential fees and links to more information. In September 2011, Lake County unveiled a process for accepting residential permits through its website and has been working to continually expand online services.
Pegasus Farms in Bronson is nearing the start of a major aquaponics operation that is anticipated to generate $3 million in profits within three years. Farm personnel are teaching classes on the subject, which integrates fish tanks with vegetable and other seeds, and will use revenue from the classes to build necessary infrastructure. The system uses 6 percent of the water of traditional agricultural operations and will not use any herbicides or pesticides. A total of 24 greenhouses will be built in several phases, which farm officials plan to use as franchise models across the country.
Mike Gore, Manatee’s longtime solid waste division manager, has been selected among a field of 100 applicants as Manatee County’s new Utilities Department director. Gore replaces Dan Gray, who retired after 30 years with the county. Gore was hired by Manatee County Government in 1984 as a part-time distribution tech, assisting with water service installations and repairing broken water lines. He worked for 14 years with Manatee County Utilities Water Division. In 1998, he became the Lena Road Landfill Superintendent, where he helped oversee upgrades at the Southeast Regional Plant Sludge Dryer, which resulted in substantial annual savings to the utility system. He is also spearheading a generator project at the landfill that will allow the Southeast Regional Waste Water Plant to be run almost entirely off energy created at the Lena Road Landfill. That project will result in annual utility savings of about $650,000.
County officials and residents continue to wrestle with a difficult community challenge: finding the ideal location for a homeless shelter, the Open Arms Village. According to Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn, a similar facility and project has worked in Pinellas County and could work in Marion, if the right site is identified. Some residents have voiced concern that a potential property under consideration was too close to residential areas and schools. From media sources, Karla Grimsley, the executive director of Interfaith Emergency Services, hopes for a one-in-two success rate in rehabilitation but cautions that site selection is key, including proximity to a bus stop, crucial for transportation to jobs.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orlando District 6 Commissioner Samuel Ings and city officials broke ground on a $9 million upgrade to North International Drive, an important tourist hub in Metro Orlando. The 1.5-mile project extends from Universal Boulevard to Oak Ridge Road and will incorporate such improvements as construction of an exclusive lane for buses and right turns, bike lanes, 10-foot wide sidewalks and streetscape elements. The project is designed to improve pedestrian safety and help relieve traffic congestion. Project completion is expected by the end of 2014.
Jr. Davis Construction Co. Inc. was unanimously selected by the Osceola County Expressway Authority as the design-build firm for Poinciana Parkway, setting the stage for groundbreaking on the project by the end of the year. The Expressway Authority has been working aggressively on the Poinciana Parkway project since the agency was established in 2010. The Poinciana Parkway is identified in the Authority’s 2040 Master Plan and is a key priority for Poinciana residents. “The progress that has been accomplished thus far is due to the great partnerships with Osceola County, Polk County and Avatar [Properties],” notes Expressway Authority Chairman Atlee Mercer. Jr Davis Construction was selected from a field of 11 applicants; groundbreaking is planned for December.
THe Pasco Economic Development Council selected Krista Covey to manage the SMARTstart Dade City Incubator, the county’s first business incubator. Covey, a manager with the Pasco EDC, has been working with startups through the Pasco Enterprise Network, a partnership of county organizations helping support entrepreneurial activity. SMARTstart is an innovative facility-based program to engage entrepreneurs, grow new businesses and create job opportunities in Pasco. “Krista works with startups on a daily basis and thrives in an entrepreneurial environment,” said John Hagen, president/CEO of Pasco EDC, which is aggressively putting the call out to companies from a variety of industries.
St. Petersburg Police officials appear to have devised a clever solution to at least one of the budget strains that often go hand-in-hand with a growing economy. For about two years, police had been struggling to pay for the increased patrols necessitated by the city’s revitalized downtown. Overtime payments had increased by about 300 percent, with no end in sight. Then St. Petersburg Police created new, regularly scheduled “relief” units, which the Tampa Bay Times reports have virtually eliminated overtime pay and increased police response times downtown. The units work a previously nonexistent eight-hour shift from before dusk to near sunrise the last four days of the week.
The Polk County Transit Authority and Polk County Board of County Commissioners have called for a referendum in November 2014 to seek voter approval for the levying of a one-cent Charter County and Regional Transportation System surtax. It is proposed that half of the tax revenues be used to fund the development, construction, operation and maintenance of county roads and bridges, while the other half will fund the development, construction, equipment, maintenance, operation and supportive services of a countywide bus transit system. The Lakeland Area Mass Transit District supports the proposal.
Economic developers applauded the news in July that Alorica, an international provider of customer management outsourcing solutions, was adding 200 new employees through one of its clients. Most positions will be inbound customer service representatives, although other jobs include support and management. Paid training classes began almost immediately. Alorica covers all service channels—from customer acquisition and sales, customer care and support, to logistics and fulfillment. Its business process outsourcing services span both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business sectors for Fortune 1000 companies. Headquartered in Irvine, Calif., the company has more than 20,000 employees in domestic and foreign customer management centers.
Sarasota County’s Green Business Partnership has added nine new members to a community of companies and organizations that are demonstrating their “commitment to a healthy environment for employees and the community at large.” Core components of the partnership certification include waste reduction, increased recycling and energy and water conservation. The nine new members are BB&T (Jacaranda branch, Venice); Easy Exit Homes LLC; Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida; Heritage Oaks Golf & Country Club; Jefferson Center; Myakka River State Park; Save Our Seabirds Inc.; Smell The Bread Café; and Venice YMCA. A collaborative effort, the Green Business Partnership includes businesses, service organizations and local governments. The program was initiated through a grant awarded to Sarasota County by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The city of Sanford held a groundbreaking ceremony in July for Phase II of its award-winning RiverWalk, a scenic walkway that follows the shoreline of Lake Monroe. The $4.6 million project will extend 3,100 feet westward from French Avenue to Central Florida Regional Hospital. Funding for the project is provided by the Florida Department of Transportation Local Agency Program and the Seminole County Second Generation One-Cent Sales Tax. The city is currently pursuing funding for the final Phase III project, which will connect the city of Sanford to the Seminole County Trail system and extend from French Avenue to Interstate 4 along the St. Johns River, providing recreational users with another opportunity to explore and view the natural surroundings.
In July, the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce presented its fifth annual Valor Awards to outstanding law enforcement professionals, firefighters, emergency responders and corrections officers as “gratitude and admiration to these men and women who protect our lives and property, and who sacrifice their time, effort and passion for our county.” The winners: Correctional Officer Manuel Martinez and Correctional Officer James Schroder of the Federal Correctional Complex at Coleman; Paramedic Luis Irizarry and EMT Joshua Wilson of Rural/Metro Ambulance; Deputy Sheriff Beatrice Ayala of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office; Firefighter Sean Duffy of Sumter County Fire-EMS; Firefighter/Paramedic Jose Labrador of The Villages Public Safety; and Officer Brian Harrie of the Wildwood Police Department.