Driven in great part by the hugely successful Legoland Florida Resort and thriving economy overall, the hospitality industry is doing very well in greater Lake Wales — providing evidence of opportunity for the launch of more lodging and restaurant businesses here.
Anecdotal information making its way to the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council is telling us that the Hampton Inn & Suites and Holiday Inn Express off U.S. Highway 27 North both are enjoying occupancy levels well above the industry average throughout the year. We’ve also learned that the Chili’s Grill & Bar, located near both of the hotels, is one of the most successful restaurants in the entire Chili’s operation.
Even with all the welcome new commercial construction in the area of the Eagle Ridge Mall, at U.S. 27 North and Thompson Nursery/Chalet Suzanne roads, plenty of room is available — given the right conditions — for development of another hotel and more dining-out venues.
Local tourism is booming. Build the hotels — like Marriott is doing and another hotel company is planning to do near Legoland in Winter Haven — and build the restaurants, and the great expectation is the guests will come.
Opportunity in south Lake Wales, too
Recent and recently announced developments in and for the area south of State Road 60 and along U.S. 27 South suggest that the time also might be ripe for the development of a nice new hotel there.
New and significant private investment has been made in the Lake Wales Commerce & Technology Park (formerly the Longleaf Business Park), and the operations already there, including the Kegel Training Center for bowling and Merlin Magic Making, are doing quite well and even expanding. The Kegel ownership already is on record in support of a good plan to construct a quality new hotel near the training center.
In addition to the activity at the commerce park, a Love’s Truck Stop is going in across from the park, on the east side of U.S. 27, and there’s great excitement about Nucor, the steel company that will open a new $250 million rebar manufacturing plant in Frostproof.
Those projects show promise of more development to come south of Lake Wales — the kind of residential and commercial development that can drive local and visitor traffic to a hotel and adjacent new restaurants.
Positive thinking about the Central Polk Parkway
The team at the Lake Wales Chamber-EDC was pleased earlier in the year to learn that the once-shelved Central Polk Parkway project had some new life. Local and state transportation officials and supporters in government are inching along the proposed East Polk project, but that’s OK. “Inching along” is much more preferred than no progress at all — or, worse, no possibility of the project ever even happening.
In a nutshell, planners envision the Central Polk Parkway as being a two-leg toll road. A western leg would connect the Polk Parkway with S.R. 60 between Bartow and Lake Wales. An eastern leg would start a few miles east of S.R 60, near the CSX intermodal center south of Winter Haven, and run north, paralleling U.S. 27 and terminating at Interstate 4, north of Davenport.
In our view here at the EDC, the Central Polk Parkway is an opportunity to provide relief for the always-increasing traffic volume on U.S. 27, east Polk’s major north-south route. U.S. 27 can’t get any wider, drive times are getting longer, and projections for East Polk growth indicate that 30 to 40 percent more people will be living on this side of the county within the next 15 years.
The Central Polk Parkway might not be the perfect transportation solution for East Polk right now, but it is an option. Doing nothing about our local north-south transportation challenges is not an option.