Open for business
Marc Valero | Highlands TodayAVON PARK - It's historic, peaceful, friendly, has a mile-long mall, plenty of parking and reasonable rents, say owners of new and "coming soon" businesses in downtown Avon Park.
Published: February 1, 2013
Published: February 1, 2013
The City of Avon Park has also been doing its part to make the City of Charm a friendly place to start a business.
Maria Tejon opened Super Chicken Brasa & Grill on Jan. 7 at 123 W. Main Street. She has four sisters who have businesses in the area so she decided to move up from Miami to open her own.
"The people are unique; they are really polite. I feel I will able to be here for a while," she said. Miami has such a fast-paced life where everybody is in a hurry.
Tejon welcomes the news that more restaurants are coming to town. Anything that can bring life back to this historical town would be great, she said, because she had heard at one point it was a good spot.
"So maybe by people bringing good flavor in we can make it come back to life and put us back on the map," Tejon said.
One of the new businesses coming to town will be an Italian restaurant at 825 W. Main Street in the old Huntington Bank location.
Bernardo "Denny" Fischetti runs his father's restaurant, Portofino's, in St. Petersburg, but with a pizzeria on every corner in the Pinellas County city he looked elsewhere to open his own Italian restaurant and chose Avon Park.
"I like the town; it's peaceful; it's a very nice town; it's beautiful," he said.
He likes the expanse of the mall between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Main Street, he said. "It's really cool; it's really nice."
As soon as they get all the permits and blueprints set they will start renovating with the hopes of opening in March, he said.
"I have been saving up forever to do this," he said.
Felicia Caldwell opened a hair salon seven months ago on Main Street.
She grew up in Avon Park, but lived in Virginia for 10 years before returning to open a business.
"I went to Sebring first and the rents were so high," she said.
Then she checked Avon Park.
"I saw there were a lot of empty shops and stuff and I thought, 'Hey, maybe I can get in there,'" she said. With no deposit and rent at half the price of Sebring, she decided to open up on East Main Street, next to the Depot Restaurant.
David Ailstock opened his Eighteen East restaurant and bar in November 2011 at 18 E. Main St.
A couple years ago he was riding his motorcycle around checking various locations including downtown Sebring, but then saw the "for rent" and "for sale" signs in downtown Avon Park.
In two days he bought two buildings, but he wasn't sure what he was going to do, Ailstock said.
"I like the straight streets of downtown Avon Park; the cute buildings; the Jacaranda is just full of history," he said.
Many downtowns lose parking space when they remodel, but almost every building on Main Street has parking in the rear, which is an enticement for potential businesses, he said. There is more parking than he can fill within 100 yards of his place.
Ailstock, who had a restaurant in a small town in Indiana, feels welcomed in Avon Park.
"They have taken under their arms and welcomed me like one of their own so its been really good," he said.
The City of Avon Park has been easy to work with to start a business, he noted.
At Monday's city council meeting, City Manager Julian Deleon noted that one of the council's previously established priorities was a "business-friendly atmosphere."
That priority resulted in the council passing a resolution and ordinance in March that allows new utility customers to finance their connection fees, he said. The program is being used extensively. It promotes the utilization of the older downtown buildings, Deleon said.
Administrative Services Director Maria Sutherland noted that new business slated to open include the Italian restaurant, a Mexican restaurant in the old Progress Energy building and a Latin restaurant on Lake Avenue.
Councilman Garratt Anderson said in relation to the business-friendly atmosphere, the city should have a citizen-friendly atmosphere as well, including more city activities such as recreation.
Deleon asked if Anderson meant more community programs such as the Springtime Festival on the Mall.
Garrett said "Yes."
The city's annual Oktoberfest has grown into a major event in five years, with attendance around 4,000 people this year. The Avon Park Community Redevelopment Agency Main Street District and the Avon Park Chamber of Commerce host the community event.
In other measures to help residents and businesses, in 2011/2012 the city reduced its sanitation rates and sewer rates by 10 percent for customers within the city limits, Deleon said, and for 2012/13, property taxes were reduced by 39 percent, going from the highest to the lowest in the county.
"I am also forecasting as we get into the 2013-14 budget year there will likely be some other heavy reductions in the ad valorem millage," he said.
"Despite the downturn in the economic cycle we are seeing growth in downtown Avon Park," Deleon said. As long as the city keeps doing the right things it will make it easier to relocate and open a business in Avon Park.
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