Even as they continue to grow, Apopka and Ocoee aspire to reshape their downtowns like Winter Garden, their smaller neighbor in west Orange.
Visitors are drawn to Winter Garden, whose motto is “a charming little city with a juicy past,” by a recreational trail and an alluring array of restaurants.
The Plant Street Market, anchored by the Crooked Can Brewery, is filled with visitors, diners and shoppers every weekend and most weekdays.
“Apopka residents are looking for gathering places — the same kind of gathering places they see in other places like Winter Garden and Winter Park,” Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer said.
His city hopes to provide those shopping and dining options to its 48,000 residents with a proposed City Center at State Road 436 and Orange Blossom Trail. Kilsheimer said the project is expected to begin within the next 12 months but a full construction timeline is still under development.
The city also is developing Station Street and the Sixth Street Promenade, both south of Main Street, into a pedestrian-friendly corridor with broader sidewalks and a bike path that links to the West Orange Trail.
The project depends on an updated plan for Apopka’s Community Redevelopment Area, and the CRA board is expected to review the plan next month.
“We have learned from Winter Garden’s redevelopment that if you bring pedestrians and cyclists to an area using a trail, businesses will follow,” Kilsheimer said. “They will see people using the trail and think, ‘There’s my customers!’”
Residents let the city know what Apopka needed through a series of visioning meetings that invited people to speak up.
When finished, City Center, under development by Taurus Southern Investments, is estimated to be worth more than $100 million, Kilsheimer said.
He said Taurus is actively negotiating with “brand-name” restaurants and retailers.
Ocoee’s downtown makeover, touted in a city brochure as “a vibrant…