Clermont’s City Manager shares the hidden impacts of the new park, which opened July 27
| Story & Sunrise Photos by Kathryn Deen | Grand Opening Photos by Larry Oskin |
Stroll the scenic grounds of Clermont’s newest park and marvel at the possibilities.
On the west side of Downtown, the $10.2-million Victory Pointe Wetlands Park offers landscaped walking paths, cascading ponds, a boardwalk, a 40-foot observation tower and an event pavilion.
Clermont’s 24th park is a lovely outdoor destination to take in views of Lake Minneola with family and friends.
Victory Pointe, which held its grand opening July 27 with 400 guests, also will host community events and will boast a new start/finish line and awards area for athletic races.
Clermont Magazine captured the excitement and fanfare at the grand opening, which included a presentation by the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team.
Victory Pointe will increase foot traffic downtown and will shift activity from the east end (Waterfront Park) to a more central location to bring businesses more customers.
“It’s exactly what we envisioned,” City Manager Darren Gray told Clermont Magazine. “I have goosebumps just thinking about it.”
It’s all part of the City of Clermont’s $30 million master plan, adopted in 2015 and fully funded to revitalize the Downtown-Waterfront District.
And it all traces back to one incredible leader and his passion for the residents.
Darren became City Manager in 2012 and decided to take an unconventional route. Before hiring a consultant, he led three years of thoughtful visioning sessions, which drew over 1,000 residents to express their deepest desires for Clermont’s future.
As an aside, the “Clermont Choice of Champions” phrase was inspired by a resident’s comment at one such forum.
“They wanted that heart and soul back in the Downtown, so we looked at, What can local government do to help spur that?” he said.
With Darren at the helm, GAI Consultants’ Community Solutions Group conceptualized those dreams into a plan that’s already been recognized by the Florida Redevelopment Association and Lake-Sumter MPO.
“We have one of the best downtowns in the country,” Darren said. “Six square blocks and it’s expanding even more — and 2 1/2 miles of waterfront property on one of the outstanding lakes in Florida, and a trail that runs right by it. So you can’t ask for anything more.”
Victory Pointe is the first major project completed for the master plan. And its inaugural event is a round of three bicycle races sponsored by Fondo Cycling Circuit USA on Sept. 30. Clermont was one of six U.S. cities chosen by the renowned company.
“It will show what this event area can do,” Darren said, mentioning the push for new rowing, sailing, biking and running events at Victory Pointe, too.
But Victory Pointe’s impact goes way beyond the surface — literally. Below the 10-acre park lies a regional stormwater drainage system.
This elaborate, cutting-edge project alleviates Downtown’s businesses on the west side from having to pay for and make space for stormwater drainage on their own property.
“It’s a great benefit to businesses,” Darren said.
It was a welcome addition indeed.
Onsite stormwater requirements made sites in west Downtown 15 percent less functional than in other parts of Downtown that are served by regional ponds. And the City’s stormwater ponds were at capacity.
Now, the western properties’ rain water can feed to Victory Pointe’s centralized system. And that means those businesses save the cost and space of having to install stormwater drainage on their own properties. (The State of Florida requires businesses to take care of this.)
The cost savings of the City’s system can be monumental for small businesses.
“It can make or break them,” Darren said. “That’s a huge incentive in this city. It’s very essential for development and redevelopment.”
As for space savings, on-property drainage can eat up perhaps a fourth or a third of your plot, Darren said.
In fact, the stormwater utility solution means Downtown business owners can use and develop more of their properties, creating $18 million to $26 million in incremental residual land value, according to the City.
And that could help add over $200 million in indirect market value to the area through the re-/development and eventual build-out of properties in west Downtown.
Needless to say, it’s been a big selling point for developers seeking a desirable piece of property for their hot new real estate projects, Darren said.
On the commercial side, new boutique shops, breweries and craft food spots have already lined up to take advantage of the stormwater perk.
Darren attributed it to being a big selling point for soon-to-open Suncreek Brewery, Michael’s Ali and Savoree, for instance.
Local residential developers also are upping their games Downtown.
While about 650 residents currently live Downtown, the stormwater incentive is attracting more housing projects that will naturally lend themselves to more regular foot traffic to the shops and restaurants.
A 2-acre condominium project was just approved for 17 units Downtown, Darren said.
“Having more people living Downtown really helps its viability and sustainability,” Darren said.
Inspired by the economic analysis that supported that sentiment, the City Council approved an increase in the density of residences Downtown from 12 units per acre to 40 units per acre. And builders looking to develop 25 units or more per acre will be required to contribute to the area with public art, trails or other enhancements, Darren explained.
Overall, Victory Pointe brings to life the master plans’ goals to preserve and protect Lake Minneola and the Clermont Chain of Lakes; support vibrant, walkable and bikable spaces; help the private sector thrive; and make Downtown a destination.
Environmentally speaking, a filtration system will purify the stormwater before it drains into the lake.
“It will significantly reduce the nutrient level in Lake Minneola, which helps all the Chain of Lakes here,” Darren said. “It’s already low, but it will decrease it by over 30 percent. When the nutrient level is low, the water is clean, which is very good for the environment and for our residents and people who enjoy the lake. It’s a win-win.”
It all sets Clermont up to be one of the state’s “hottest investment opportunities,” attracting a mix of commercial office space, hotels, apartments/condos, entertainment, urban living and environment, Darren said.
(In case you’re wondering about parking, a garage is already in talks to supplement the 1,200-plus spaces already Downtown.)
“We’re starting to see the changes happen that we discussed just a few years ago,” Darren said. “I truly love this community and I have a passion for it. There’s so much potential.”
And that’s thanks not only to the City for championing the project using the One Penny Sales Tax, but also to donors like Lake County Government, St. John’s River Water Management District and the Sate of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection for helping fund the project.
“The implementation is so challenging but so rewarding,” Darren said. “Everyone is committed and is working together to make this a success.”
Clermont already is one of Florida’s fastest-growing cities, known for its business-friendly environment. (Wallet Hub ranked it the 2017 “Most Business Friendly” small city in Central Florida.) Victory Pointe will only build on its progress.
And that, my friends, is why Darren calls Victory Pointe “The Game Changer” for Downtown Clermont.
Beyond Victory Pointe, the master plan also will include these improvements that are scheduled for completion by 2022:
- Clermont Legacy Loop Trail to bring bikers into the downtown core
- An enhanced City Hall Park Plaza with shade, seating and games
- Champions Wi-Fi Trail, providing free, open access to the City’s fiber-optic high-speed Internet along the South Lake Trail
- A 19-block area with re-/development incentives, such as grant-matching programs for commercial enhancement, food and related services; and community arts and culture, established by the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency
- Meet Us in the Middle Plaza down by Lilly’s on the Lake to mark the exact center of the Coast-to-Coast Trail (101 miles from the east and west coasts of Florida)