Placemaking in Florida – Exciting New Developments and Lots of Potential

Yesterday evening the Mayor and City Council of Kissimmee, Florida approved a master development agreement creating a public/private partnership to develop two parcels adjacent to downtown Kissimmee, the new commuter rail station and the banks of Lake Toho. The agreement was the result of months of negotiation between City staff and the developer, Mosaic Development Partners IV, LLC and included developing a conceptual plan including multi-family rental apartments, for sale townhomes and condominium flats, a public parking garage, retail space and a hotel and associated amenities, and creating both a land pricing schedule and a development timeline.  As counsel to the developer, the most exciting part of negotiating this agreement was that the City came to the table with a clear understanding of its goals: improving housing stock and quality in the downtown area, increasing disposable income of downtown residents, capitalizing on public investment in the Lake Toho park and marina, and connecting downtown to the recreational amenities at the lake. During the hearing last night, the City Manager was able to tie the master development conceptual plan to specific goals identified by the City in its planning and economic development documents. The Mayor talked about Kissimmee wanting to create areas for people to live, work and play downtown and how the City’s participation in the development project would catalyze that process.  Best of all, because of the groundwork the City had done with stakeholders prior to opening the RFP to the development community, there was no opposition. It was an exciting night, and it will be an exciting project to be involved with over the next five years.

On my drive back to Tampa, I started thinking about why some communities succeed at creating quality places where people want to live work and play, and why some do not.  In “Four Types of Placemaking” (, Mark Wyckoff describes four methods of placemaking undertaken by communities.  While the goal of all methods is to make quality areas to live work and play in, each method employs different strategies and results in different outcomes. Kissimmee seems to be pursuing “strategic placemaking.” Wyckoff writes:

“Strategic Placemaking is targeted to a particular goal in addition to creation of Quality Places. It may aim to develop places that are uniquely attractive to talented workers, that attract businesses, and that catalyze substantial job creation and income growth. This adaptation of placemaking especially targets knowledge workers who, because of their skills, can choose to live anywhere and who tend to pick Quality Places offering certain amenities. Strategic Placemaking is pursued collaboratively by public, nonprofit and private sectors over a period of 5 to 15 years, often in downtowns and at nodes along key corridors. The term was coined by the Land Policy Institute at Michigan State University based on research into why communities are gaining or losing population, jobs, and income.”

Based on my experience working on other public/private partnerships in other communities, it seems to me that, like in Kissimmee, this type of placemaking can be particularly effective for Florida cities and community redevelopment agencies.  What it requires is a plan (we have lots of those in Florida) that people have actually bought into (a rarer thing, but it happens) and a government committed to putting available resources to work to further the goals in the plan.  Of course, the devil is the details, but the ingredients for strategic placemaking exist in almost all Florida communities.

There are exciting examples of strategic placemaking throughout the Tampa Bay region.  Encore is revitalizing the area between downtown Tampa and Ybor City; the City and the Tampa Housing Authority are collaborating to expand the boundaries of downtown Tampa across the river with a widescale redevelopment effort; the City of St. Petersburg is offering one million dollars of incentives to further its vision of the Skyway area; and the City of Clearwater is facilitating the development of the Nolen, with live/work units and high quality residential apartments near the downtown core.

Placemaking can also further other less urban goals.  I recently wrote about chicken regulation and the challenges of urban farming (/the-farmer-in-the-dell-challenges-of-urban-agriculture/).  But some suburban communities are also being organized around farming – essentially making a communal farm the “place”. Called “agrihoods”, CBS News recently profiled four such places: Serenbe (near Atlanta) The Cannery (near Sacramento), Prairie Crossing (outside Chicago) and Willowsford (outside Washington D.C.).  While I have not visited these places yet (but it’s on my list), it strikes me that these types of places can soften the line between urban and rural and might be a good fit in Florida communities struggling with economic transition and maintaining agricultural community character.  Is this something the public sector could take the lead in by seeking out developers interested in these type of communities?

Another opportunity for placemaking in Florida is combining the great weather, the arts and (I’ve said this before) breweries – either as permanent fixtures in a community or as pop up places that attract people for specific events.  Do you know how many festivals Florida communities host? Seafood, possum, strawberry, art, steeplechases, beer, wine, holiday, bluegrass, jazz (and let me put a plug in here for the Encore Jazz Festival in Tampa on December 12) – these are temporary “places” that people love – and they can be used strategically for short term and long term economic development.

To summarize my drive time musings, I applaud Florida communities engaging in the work of strategic placemaking.  I hope more community leaders will work to create visions that increase the economic strength of their communities by creating quality places for people to live, work and play, and I hope to have more hearings go the way the Kissimmee hearing did last night – it was definitely a happy lawyer moment.

Leigh Kellett Fletcher has been practicing land use, environmental and real estate law since 1997 and regularly represents clients acquiring, developing and selling real estate in Florida and the U. S. Virgin Islands. She has been involved in the purchase, sale and redevelopment of multi-family residential projects, office, commercial and mixed use properties and has worked with clients to obtain land use entitlements and environmental permits to develop and expand commercial development.