Energy sector emerges as driving force in affordable, accessible heartland.
Water is the Draw: In Glades County, River Forest Yachting Center opened its new 200,000-square-foot indoor yacht storage center in 2008 on the Okeechobee Waterway, which crosses Florida from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. The center offers inland storage facilities for nearly 300 boats of up to 90 feet each in length and is expected to be a catalyst for further development. Area economic development officials see the influx of big boats as an important first step in attracting a buyer for eight ripe-for-development waterfront acres adjacent to the Moore Haven city marina. A hotel and restaurant sited on that property, they say, could serve as the anchor for “Main Street Moore Haven,” a program aimed at reviving downtown with 25 commercial spaces. Also planned are improvements at the marina, including 200 linear feet of floating dock, a sea wall, 40 feet of accessory dock for smaller boats, a pump-out station, restrooms and a ships’ store. Nearby, the former Moore Haven Hotel, built in 1915, has been refurbished and renamed. The River House now includes four 3-bedroom apartments.
Promoting Natural Beauty: In addition to providing easy access for companies with widespread logistics and distribution needs, Okeechobee County is noted for its natural beauty. With a host of visitor amenities, this county is particularly appealing to travelers seeking a glimpse of “old Florida.” In early 2008, the city of Okeechobee approved a pact with the nonprofit, Gainesville-based Florida Trail Association (FTA), a volunteer organization that builds, maintains, protects and promotes the 1,400-mile-long Florida Trail, one of only eight National Scenic Trails in the U.S. One objective of the Okeechobee-FTA agreement is to raise awareness among local businesses of the trail’s value as an economic resource. Both parties also may apply for targeted grants to assist in community efforts aimed at developing promotional products, educational resources and/or signature events designed to boost nature-based tourism, foster economic development and improve trail-related infrastructure.
In the city of Okeechobee, a new Home Depot opened in early 2008, and KiteProperties plans an 84-room Hampton Inn, slated to open late in 2009. The six-acre Hampton Inn site is off State Road 70 and includes out-parcels where restaurant, retail and office space could be developed.
Hikers enjoy natural sights along the 1,400-mile-long Florida Trail.
[Photo: Florida Trail Association]