“I like Haines City and Polk County,” says Garrett Kenny. “There are tremendous growth opportunities here. Going back 15-16 years, I saw a lot of growth in the Interstate 4 and U.S. 27 corridors. Looking forward another 20 years, I see Polk County expanding a lot.”
Garrett Kenny was at home in Ireland when he was reading a magazine about doing business in Polk County. He came across the name of Jim DeGennaro, the longtime head of economic development here.
“He was my catalyst, my stimulus, to build in Polk County,” said Kenny, CEO of the Feltrim Group, which built the $110 million Balmoral Resort, a 115-acre vacation home resort in Haines City. “I had breakfast with him in 1998; he was the individual who educated me on Polk County. Prior to that, I tried to get deals in Tampa, around the airport (as he had done in Ireland). But Tampa was too big and too expensive. I tried Sanford, which was very busy, but I was always outbid on deals.”
Although Kenny started working in Florida in 1996, he didn’t move to Polk County full time until 2000. His company employs 60 people, but indirectly employs many more, such as landscapers and repairmen — all of which contribute to the economies of Polk and Osceola counties. About 85% of his work is in Polk County; the other 15% in Osceola.
Since 2002, Feltrim has built such things as new homes in the Loma del Sol community, condominiums on Secret Lake Resort in Davenport, warehousing and commercial properties in Haines City, and homes and a restaurant in ChampionsGate.
Kenny said he likes working in Haines City, which gets a lot of attention because “good people work there. You can go in and talk to them. At the end of the day, business is about people. You are able to talk to real people who make decisions.”
Haines City City Manager Deric Feacher said Kenny is “an essential part of the transformation” in the area, the type of developer communities want.
“Balmoral is considered a vacation rental community, but it provides a horizontal hotel accommodation for the visitor wanting the comforts of a home in a resort type atmosphere,” Feacher said. “Garry’s background and connections have been essential to our development team in understanding the needs of the developer and helping to remove bureaucratic barriers to doing business.”
Being an investor in the Central Florida Development Council also helps Kenny, he said. “I get to talk to relevant people for advice or decisions I have to make.”
Growth and More Growth
As the international scene changed about 18 months ago (think Brexit and tariffs on Chinese goods), Kenny said he realized he had to change his company’s model of selling to international buyers.
Balmoral Resort remains the jewel, where the R9 Ronaldo Soccer Academy, developed by the Brazilian soccer star, is scheduled to open in late September. “It’s in the final stage of construction,” Kenny said. The Ronaldo Academy in Orlando, which opened in 2015, has been a huge success so far.
Sports and sports marketing are strong markets in Polk County, he said, one reason he’s putting the finishing touches on the design of a 65,000-square-foot indoor sports arena adjacent to Balmoral. The arena will include facilities for basketball, volleyball and weightlifting, along with a gym.
“I’m also trying to educate myself in e-sports. I’m trying to be ahead of the curve,” he said.
The company has already started construction on a banquet building and event center, which will be able to accommodate everything from weddings to small company meetings to events for school kids, Kenny said. “Anyone can rent it. We think we will have a lot of business from Polk County” when it opens in March 2020.
Other construction is underway or about to start:
- A brand new 100-bed hotel adjacent to Balmoral.
- A 117-townhome community at the back of Heart of Florida hospital on U.S. 27.
- A residential community with 350 units on S.R. 535, the road to Grenelefe in Haines City.
And a 500-residential-unit development is in the works for the end of 2020.
Giving back to the community is important to Kenny, which is why he’s working with Polk County to open a charter school in August 2021.
“Education is my issue. I feel none of us can grow our area if we don’t have the proper education. That’s what put me on the path,” he said. “If we can provide a charter school and help with education, we can combine it with sports” so children have a place to go to school and then practice afterward.
He’s got another goal in mind, too.
“My aim and ambition in 12 to 15 months is to have a Haines City soccer team,” Kenny said. “We would bring in local kids. I want them to be part of what we do. Our company will find kids who have the potential but maybe don’t have the money. We will take them under our wing.”
Beyond sports and education, Kenny, Feltrim and Balmoral support Haines City and its chamber, sponsoring a variety of community events.