By B.C. Manion
The city of Zephyrhills is on a quest to build a stronger identity — and in the process make itself a more inviting place for investors to establish new businesses there.
Consultants from Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. and Urbanomics have been working with the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency on creating a plan that would help the city encourage more economic development near the city’s downtown core.
So far, the proposal calls for expanding the city’s Community Redevelopment Area and keeping US 301 as a two-lane road through town, contrary to a proposal by the state Department of Transportation to turn it into a three-lane one-way road.
Other ideas, such as how to create a brand that capitalizes on the city’s strengths, how to dress up its appearance and how to enliven its community life are all being discussed as consultants solicit feedback from residents, business owners and political leaders on creating a redevelopment plan for Zephyrhills.
The consultants were in town last week, conducting sessions with the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce and the Zephyrhills Economic Development Council. They also held a community open house to discuss ideas and glean more direction.
They expect to be back in December for additional sessions, and then early next year will present proposals to the Zephyrhills City Council and the mayor.
Zephyrhills Mayor Cliff McDuffie believes the process is on the right track.
“I think what we’re doing right now with these consultants is very important because we’re getting input from the community,” McDuffie said.
The city is made up of people with diverse backgrounds and coming from various locales, so they have varied perspectives to offer to the planning efforts, McDuffie said.
“What do we need to be?” McDuffie said. The mayor said he doesn’t know when or how the community will answer that question, but he added: “At least we’re trying.”
Marty Black, of Kimley-Horn, said the city is ahead of the game because it is actively seeking ways to make itself more competitive,
“There is demand for additional office and retail in downtown Zephyrhills,” Black said. But new businesses are not choosing to locate there. The growth, at the moment, is happening at the north end of town.
So the question becomes: “What more can the city be doing to encourage economic development in downtown Zephyrhills?” Black said. The city also needs to ask what it can do to make itself more competitive with places like Wesley Chapel and Dade City, he said.
One thing the city might want to work on is its branding, Black said. It has a national reputation for its natural spring water, but visitors and passerby wouldn’t know it.
Suggestions that have been made during planning sessions so far include creating a water feature and establishing a place to give out samples of the city’s drinking water.
Another possibility includes creating a more attractive entry onto US 301, at Fifth Avenue, Black said.
That may include using a grant or other enticement to encourage the tire shop to relocate, he said at the chamber breakfast meeting.
Or perhaps keeping the tire shop there, but housing it in a building that is more in keeping with the desired architectural style, a woman at the meeting suggested, noting a tire shop on the north end of town that’s in an attractive building.
The city might also want to consider doing something on the south end of town to let people know they’ve arrived in Zephyrhills, Black said.
You don’t want motorists driving through Zephyrhills to not realize they’ve been through the city.
Even things like deciding what colors to use on city landmarks can make a difference in the image the city projects, Black said.
“As a community, make more intentional decisions,” Black said. “What can we suggest along (US) 301 to make it better for all of the businesses along (US) 301?” he asked.
“Let’s identify some projects the community wants. Let’s prioritize them,” he said.
The city has strengths.
It’s relatively inexpensive to invest in Zephyrhills compared to some other locations, Black said. At the same time, “you have a resident market — both permanent and seasonal — that can be tapped.”
Vonnie Mikkelsen, executive director of the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, is optimistic about the city’s future.
“There is so much opportunity in this area. It’s incredibly exciting,” Mikkelsen said. People view Zephyrhills as a retirement community, but Mikkelsen said: “The perception is a misperception.”
In fact, there are younger families moving in and the demographics are changing.
Mikkelsen likes Black’s idea that changes must be made with a vision in mind.
“Make it intentional,” she said. “Understand who you are.”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.