Finding New Ways to Grow

City of Kissimmee, FL

The City of Kissimmee is Osceola County’s crown jewel and county seat, and, while this is one of Central Florida’s favorite tourist destinations, there is much more to this well-organized city than first meets the eye. From being the first city in Florida to run all of its City-owned facilities on solar power, to being home to one of Florida’s most remarkable airports, the City of Kissimmee means business.

In Florida’s race to maximize solar power, the City of Kissimmee now has the great honor of being the state’s first city to run all its publicly owned facilities completely on solar energy. On average, this alternative energy use consumes approximately nine percent of Kissimmee Utility Authority’s (KUA) energy supply.

“Since the end of June 2020, all of the City’s facilities have been powered with solar energy. We were KUA’s first clients to make the transition,” says Melissa Zayas-Moreno, the City’s Communications and Public Affairs Officer.

KUA is part of the Florida Municipal Solar Project. This project is a collaboration between the Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA) and sixteen Florida public utility agencies that generate affordable power, with a locked-in rate for the next two decades.

The City of Kissimmee committed to a major energy transformation several years ago with electric vehicle charging stations, LED lighting, and hybrid-electric sanitation vehicles already being commonplace here.

In 2007, Osceola County was named in Forbes as one of the country’s fastest-growing counties, with the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan area climbing to fourth place, on the same publication’s list, in 2018. It comes as no surprise, then, that the City of Kissimmee has many new realty developments, providing a selection of housing from multi-family to single-family units. “We have several big projects that will be breaking ground within six to twelve months, offering a range of housing throughout the City,” says Craig Holland, Development Services Director.

Most of the single-family construction is happening in Florida Ridge and an area known as Tapestry. Around 850 to 900 new multi-family units are being planned around the downtown area, all with easy access to the SunRail train network, making commuting to and from the City a breeze. The railway line was part of SunRail’s southern expansion that has been in the making for over a decade, with careful planning going into every detail.

As a result, Kissimmee’s downtown has seen tremendous improvement, as several projects bring new life into the area and make it inviting for locals and visitors to enjoy. There is also abundant free public parking. “For the last ten or fifteen years, we’ve been striving to create a residential base downtown, with people who live, shop and take the train to and from work. A successful downtown translates to a successful city,” Holland says.

The City’s downtown area is being revitalized toward a more pedestrian-friendly experience. A master drainage system, installed around seven years ago, was designed to enable high-density living here. Downtown Kissimmee’s groundwork is solid, and the City is positioned to boom.

Kissimmee was originally designed to face away from one of its greatest assets, but City planners are turning new amenities toward Lake Tohopekaliga, adding to the area’s already abundant charm. Lakefront Park, a $65 million space on the lake’s shoreline, offers public picnic areas, lawns, and playgrounds, close enough to the local civic center for optimum use of small conventions, receptions, and so much more.

A network of walking, running and cycling trails will eventually bind the cities of Orlando and Kissimmee, as well as Orange and Osceola Counties, with a twelve-foot-wide trail which runs parallel to the Shingle Creek waterway through urban and rural landscapes. It also features a two-mile circular walk around Lake Fran, and links with the International Drive tourist corridor, also known as I-Drive. This 11.1-mile (17.9-kilometer) tourist route is reminiscent of a family-friendly version of the Las Vegas strip, offering visitors a smorgasbord of the city in one place.

This year, the City of Kissimmee opened the doors to an $11 million public safety training center for Kissimmee Fire and Police departments. The 27,460 square foot facility boasts a 20-lane firearms range, defensive tactics lab, 40-seat classroom, weapons cleaning area, and administrative offices for police and fire personnel. The facility is also home to a five-story training/rappelling tower and burn building for the Kissimmee Fire Department.

The Kissimmee Fire Training Tower was dedicated to the memory of Lieutenant Bill Manning. The Kissimmee Police Department Firearms Range was dedicated to Sergeant Richard “Sam” Howard and Officer Matthew Baxter’s memory.

Kissimmee Gateway Airport started as a 1940s military airstrip and is now a driving force behind Kissimmee’s great success as a tourist destination and business hub. Its marketing teams have gone all out to celebrate its eighth decade in business, launching a large-scale media campaign: #FlyKissimmee.

This next-generation airport boasts the closest proximity to Central Florida’s theme parks, the Orange County Convention Center, and other world-famous destinations that make this region unique. The airport “generates an economic impact of $190 million for Central Florida. We’re very proud of the airport’s accomplishments,” says Shaun Germolus, Director of Aviation for Kissimmee Gateway Airport.

To increase the airport’s prominence even further, the City Commission rezoned 160 acres of land previously used as a golf course. The land will be put toward establishing Gateway’s new aerospace park. “We are moving forward with great opportunities enhancing both property use and aeronautical activity,” Germolus adds. One recent project driving opportunity is the new Aerospace Advancement Initiative, an economic incentive program to stimulate new airport investments.

Additionally, an airport twenty-year master plan study will be looking at ways to meet the airport’s growing economic and tourism demands, as overall sustainable growth is the key to any future plans.

But there is even more to Kissimmee Gateway Airport than business and pleasure. It also acts as a Florida aviation education hub. With four flight schools and a state-of-the-art flight simulator center, an avionics school, and an aircraft mechanics program, Kissimmee’s high schools have no shortage of opportunities for passionate students. Florida is taking strong, proactive measures to ensure that its skilled workforce can answer employer needs, regardless the direction of the aviation industry.

There is also Experience Kissimmee, an organization concentrating on tourism in and around Central Florida. “They’re very instrumental in assisting in planning trips so that people can maximize their experience here in the Kissimmee area,” adds Germolus. That brings an added boost for the region and its businesses and amenities.

The City of Kissimmee has responded to the pandemic with tremendous organizational skills and a drive to overcome whatever difficulties stand in the way, but the economic impact is real. “Orlando International Airport has gone from transporting seventy-nine million passengers a year to operating less than a dozen flights a day at peak pandemic,” says Belinda Ortiz Kirkegard, Economic Development Director.

However, on the upside, she notes steady consumer spending across the region, indicating a certain level of consumer confidence in recovery efforts. This comes despite large unemployment figures of just over twenty percent and underlines the positive impact that government support packages have had on the local economy. “If you were to analyze sales tax numbers, and account for the tourism percentages that we have no control over right now, you’ll see residents are still spending money, almost at the same rate as pre-pandemic. They’re still moving forward with their lives, and that to me is a positive sign of the public’s confidence,” she says.

More good news is that the City of Kissimmee is seeing continued investment in several fields. Alongside aviation and other economic investment, its medical facilities are continually being upgraded due to rapid growth. “The hospitals have continued to grow. In the last seven years, they’ve not stopped construction,” says Kirkegard.

Also, the City works hard to entice new businesses to move here, as well as retain existing businesses and support expansions. It collaborates with and provides financial support to non-profit organizations that help new and fledgling companies become established. This includes agencies like Prospera, which provides business support in both English and Spanish. A business incubator also exists within the downtown business district, to encourage home businesses to further grow before leaping into a permanent home and signing a long-term lease.

With leadership as visionary as that of the City of Kissimmee, an annual population increase of around two to three percent is not surprising. Moving forward, the City’s focus will remain on creating more high-value, high-wage jobs and supplying its citizens with a quality lifestyle and all the perks that come with living in a beautiful, prosperous city.