East Polk is growing fast, further diversifying the amenities, restaurants and residential opportunities within Polk County.

Living and playing is an important part of our daily lives. This blog post is one in a five-part series about quality of life in Polk County — beyond jobs.

Winter Haven

Winter Haven’s 42,000 residents can do everything from walking around a lake at sunset to visiting the internationally recognized Theatre Winter Haven, said Parks and Recreation Director Travis Edwards.

“The inventory is made up of facilities that serve all ages and helps to build” a strong sense of community.

The city doesn’t try to provide everything itself; instead, it partners with private vendors to fill any gaps in its offerings, he said.

Winter Haven has several sports and recreation projects in the works:

  • A park in Southeast Winter Haven.
  • A skate park, which is expected to open in September 2020.
  • Renovation of the Trailhead Splash Pad and Playground, which will be completed this year.

It also continues to focus on practice space for youth sports, Edwards said the city recently opened the AdventHealth Fieldhouse & Conference Center, which will not only provide increased recreational opportunities for residents but will increase tourism.

“It is a catalyst for increased investment within the city,” Edwards said. “This facility provides the residents with a facility unlike any within the county with six basketball courts, 12 volleyball courts, a walking track and a fitness area.”

Housing, retail and restaurants are also booming in Winter Haven, which is working with the Florida Department of Transportation on a study to make Cypress Gardens Boulevard more pedestrian-friendly, safer and urban in nature, said Growth Management Department Director Eric Labbe.

“The goal is to ensure that not only cars can traverse the corridor efficiently, but to make sure our residents and guests can get out of their cars to enjoy the services and entertainment as pedestrians.”

The city is also working with developers who would like to build along the road, he said.

“The Courtyard Marriott sits up closer to the roadway, creating a more urban feel for the corridor, and the Starbucks utilizes cross access with the Cypress Gardens Town Center plaza to minimize driveway cuts and provide for better traffic flow.”

Labbe said other projects are in the works:

  • Culver’s is under construction on Cypress Gardens Boulevard and Southeast Plaza Road, just east of Publix.
  • First Watch is locating in the new building at the northwest corner of Cypress Gardens Boulevard and Sixth Street Southeast.
  • Dunkin’ Donuts is locating in front of High Point Plaza.
  • Azteca Mexican restaurant recently opened across the street from Legoland.
  • A fairly large development at U.S. 27 and Cypress Gardens Boulevard received zoning approval to construct a mixed-use project, including 183,000 square feet of retail, 215 apartments and a 110-room hotel. The project is modeled after Lakeside Village in Lakeland.
  • A site plan is being reviewed for an 89-room hotel behind the Golden Corral.

The housing market also remains strong, Labbe said. “In 2019, we permitted 675 new single-family lots within the city limits and 20 new apartment units were constructed on Second Street in the downtown area.”

More growth is underway, he said:

  • A small 15-unit apartment is being built in the Downtown Oaks neighborhood on Avenue C Southwest.
  • About 350 single-family lots are under construction near Lucerne Park Road in the northeast part of the city.
  • A 1,100-unit single and multifamily project is currently under construction on Thompson Nursery Road near U.S. 27.
  • The city is reviewing final plats for about 900 single-family lots that will hit the market in the first quarter of 2020.
  • A possible 100-unit multifamily development will be built on Avenue C behind Grove Roots brewery.

Auburndale

Riding the coattails of employment growth in Auburndale, housing and recreation are booming, bringing new residents to the city, which already has a population of about 16,000 residents.

Amy Palmer, Auburndale’s Community Development Director, said new single-family residential subdivisions are growing throughout the city, with about 2,500 new homes in the development pipeline.

“The Community Development Department is reviewing plans for a new apartment complex that will contain about 400 multi-family units.  The city hasn’t seen a multi-family development in decades.  The housing market is strong right now in Auburndale.”

The city has been doing some work on its own. After it built the Auburndale Community Center on Bennett Street using Community Development Block Grant funds, it realized it had a lot of vacant residential lots in the nearby Preston neighborhood.

“The city has been able to acquire those lots using CDBG dollars and has been donating them to Habitat for Humanity to build new homes on.” Habitat has built three homes in the neighborhood.

The strong housing market attracts new residents and, to keep up with demand, the city started a visioning process for what it calls The Lakes District, the area surrounding the SR 559 corridor.

“The residents stated there was a greater need for park facilities and trails in the area.  As a result, the City Commission now requires new subdivisions to provide land set aside for recreation facilities,” Palmer said. The city is also working with landowners “who own agricultural land in The Lakes District to identify property for a park and corridors for new trails in that area.”

Cody McGhee, Parks and Recreation director, said Auburndale offers a wide range of recreational facilities for everyone, from competitive players to the casual user.

“We have the common recreational facilities — parks, walking trails and building rentals — that are used on a daily basis by residents and non-residents alike,” McGhee said. “The typical users for these facilities are families looking for outdoor recreation through open space and playground areas or indoor recreation through scheduled events, such as weddings or birthday parties.”

And it has competitive athletic facilities like the Lake Myrtle Sports Park and the Auburndale Softball complex, which are mostly used for tournaments and youth athletic programs.

In the middle, the city offers the Cindy Hummel Tennis facility and the Auburndale Community Center.

“Both of these facilities attract competitive athletics, but they also attract leisure usage as well,” McGhee said. “The user for these facilities are men and women, young and old, looking for something a little more physically involved to participate in — whether it be pickleball, tennis, ping pong, karate or to just shoot some hoops.”

This year, the city will:

  • Build a five-field complex for youth baseball at Lake Myrtle Sports Park that will include an all-turf field for T-ball and players with physical disabilities.
  • Replace playground equipment and artificial turf at two of its most-used parks, McGhee sid.
  • Extend the TECO-Auburndale Trail by a half-mile, “which will bring the trail closer to downtown Auburndale and all of the recreation opportunities at the Auburndale beach and downtown park.”

McGhee said he thinks Auburndale offers a wide range of activities but must continue to focus on what residents want.

“As our city grows and the generations change, we must continue to seek the best opportunities for our active community through events and facilities,” he said. “I believe in the next five years we will see enhancements to our athletic facilities and building rentals, and additions to our parks as the trends point toward bigger indoor event spaces, more playing surfaces for our athletic events and a passive leisure concept for a park.”