Well, the Apopka City Center, in the making for over a decade is on the cusp of becoming a reality. An array of gathering spaces, grocery stores, upscale sit-down restaurants, medical offices, apartments and a 5 story hotel are part of the forward looking plans. But alas, Taurus Southern Investments, a company who has been in business for decades, with years and years of experience among it’s project managers, planners and others, have come across something that is just too challenging for them to handle: A city landmark and historic house, Highland Manor. Jeff McFadden, managing partner for the developer responded to a question from Commissioner Billie Dean about Highland Manor, “I’m not sure how you keep Highland Manor on this site, to be honest with you… it just sprawls and takes too much of the site”.
Estimates to move Highland Manor from the site, (in fact, it’s 2nd move), run aproximately $1.1 million dollars. No estimates were obtained to simply demolish the property. Emotions are running high on both sides of the house. Many want to preserve the House, perhaps turning into a musuem and/or Bed and Breakfast run by the Apopka Historical Society. Others looking ahead to the future do not attach such sentimentality to the place and ask why it cannot just be torn down. The former president of the Apopka Historical Society, and now mayor of our fine town, Joe Kilsheimer seems to be siding with the group that says to tear it down. Ironic, isn’t it. At a recent meeting, Mayor Kilsheimer responded to an observation by Commissioner Doug Bankson, “These are tough choices. What do the residents of Apopka want? Do they want a gathering place, a city center where people can go and come and have good times.. eat at restaurants, shop at stores, all around Martins’ pond where we’ll have a pedestrian walkway”. There’s little doubt about what the Mayor wants. Out with the old, in with the new.
The legalities of the contract seem standard enough; Taurus is getting a steal of a deal on the land to be sure. And after over a decade of talks, The City Center will be Mayor K’s legacy, his claim to fame and a possible stepping stone to bigger things.Is ensuring a legacy the Mayor’s only reason for pushing the City Center at the expense of an important part of Apopka’s past? It does seem that way.
Just a word of caution, however, about this City Center. EVERY City is building it’s own City Center, from Clermont to Winter Garden and Ocoee, Maitland and Winter Park. Are we building this City Center ONLY for the residents of Apopka, or will the project be marketed to surrounding areas? We still do not have a clear picture of exactly what vendors will be coming to the Center and after the shine wears off, will our City still support this Center? The location of the Center, away from many of the most popular residential areas such as Errol Estate, Rock Springs Ridge, Pines of Wekiva and several news ones that will be going up soon, near Binion Road and Marsden area near the new Florida Hospital makes me wonder just how many residents will actually climb in their cars, fight traffic and then hunt for a parking space to walk around gathering spaces. NOT to mention the enormous and expensive amount of road work that will need to be done even before the first shovel of dirt on the project itself is turned.
I’m not saying not to build the City Center. But maybe the future of Highland Manor should be decided first. Can it be turned into a B&B, a Museum or even an antiques or specialty shop? OR can it not continue to be a special events venue, that could be marketed as such in conjunction with the Hotel that will be put up. Certainly, the creative brain trust at Taurus have had similar challenges before, in their decades of experience and hundreds of projects; I find it difficult to believe they simply cannot work with the structure. OR maybe they are unwilling to work with Highland Manor and then they should just be upfront about that. Must we really bulldoze our past as we move to the future?