Tavares Population 17,777 (2019 BEBR Estimate)
Lake County, Florida's 2018 population was estimated to be more than 342,000, with a growth rate of 3.16% in the past year according to the most recent United States census data. Lake County has ranked among the top 10 fastest-growing counties in Florida. As the Orlando urban core continues to approach build-out, Lake County is expected to experience significant population growth over the coming decades. Forecasts predict Lake County’s population to grow more than 427,000 by 2030 and more than 484,000 by 2040."
Source: BEBR Bureau of Economic and Business Research, University of Florida Florida Estimates of Population 2018
Tavares – from “Anytown USA” to “America’s Seaplane City”
By John Drury, Tavares City Administrator
I am frequently asked, “How did they do it?” How did Tavares transition from “Anytown USA” to “America’s Seaplane City”? The short answer is, everyone started rowing in the same direction at the same time at the right time. The long answer follows below.
There are approximately 19,500 cities in the United States, 400 in Florida, and 14 in Lake County. Most cities have no brand. They are perfectly content being who they are – Anytown USA. There is nothing wrong with that. They are proud and welcoming cities perfectly satisfied as is, with no distinctive brand. Some cities have a brand. Key West, for example, has a brand, as does Boulder, Colorado, and Daytona Beach, Florida. What is a brand? In short, a person’s brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room. Similarly, a City’s brand is what people say about the city when they have left the city and reflect on it.
About 15 years ago, under the leadership and guidance of then-Mayor Nancy Clutts and East Central Florida Regional Planning Council’s Executive Director Phil Laurien, the citizens of Tavares assembled for about a year and ½ studying their current state of affairs (a struggling downtown) and developing a road map for the future. The result was the creation of a citizen-led, City Council-approved “Vision Statement” and supporting Downtown Redevelopment Plan. The leadership understood a vision without implementation is a hallucination, so included in the 169-page redevelopment plan was Chapter 11’s “Implementation Plan” describing what would be built, when, by whom, and how it would be funded.
The citizens, business community, faith community, City Council, and their city staff put their oars in the water at the same time and began rowing in the same direction in unison to get the job done and complete the “Implementation Plan” together. By 2010, America’s Seaplane City was formed, a seaplane base and marina constructed, a 3,000-foot FAA-approved virtual runway on Lake Dora was permitted and three boutique hotel buildings were under construction, along with a wedding events pavilion. What followed was 10 years of a renaissance period with both the business community and city government investing in itself and as the saying goes, “When you invest in yourself, others will invest in you,” which is exactly what happened here in Tavares.
First, a seaplane scenic tour operator, then a flight training center, followed by an FAA-approved passenger air charter operation, a seaplane manufacturing facility, many restaurants, and too many new businesses to list here. From practically a ghost town with very few businesses whose tax base was 90% funded by the residents and only 10% by the business community, to a tax base funded 35% by the business community and only 65% by the residential community. This shift in tax contribution for city services like police, fire, libraries, parks, and recreation is important because for every dollar a resident contributes on average in taxes to a city, they consume about $1.20 in services on average, and for every $1 a business contributes, they only consume about 80 cents, as they do not use parks, recreational services or libraries, nor call for police and fire services nearly as much as the residents do. So the business community ends up not only creating good jobs but also subsidizing city services for its residents.
Tavares continues to shift the tax burden from its residents to its productive business community, has lowered its tax rate three years in a row, and is growing its brand as “America’s Seaplane City”!
The City of Tavares has served as the County's Seat for Lake County Florida, since 1888. Downtown Tavares, which lies on the shores of Lake Dora, has that small-town charm and feel, which is lacking in most cities. The picturesque Wooton Park sits only one block from Main Street and offers families everything from picnic pavilions to boat ramps. Tavares is also home to the Dora Canal, known as one of the most beautiful waterways in the world. Tavares is located in the center of the State of Florida 45 minutes northwest of Orlando.
Back in the 19th century, Major St. Clair Abrams began implementing a vision for Tavares. He not only oversaw the development of the hub of rail lines converging in Tavares, he saw the future capital of the state waiting to be realized. Had it not been for an inadvertent fire 125 years ago, the major’s vision of Tavares being the state capital may have become reality. The spark from a train ignited the adjacent lumberyard downtown, destroying three dozen buildings in a matter of minutes. That same year, the Florida legislature removed Tavares from consideration as a potential new center of state government. Although the times have changed, one factor remains a constant for Tavares. It is the center of government for Lake County and it is, therefore, Lake County’s Capital City. A partnership has evolved through the years between Lake County’s Board of County Commissioners and the Tavares City Council. The two elected bodies work together to make downtown Tavares a supportive home for the civic activities of Lake County.
Modern Day Tavares
The Tavares Seaplane Base (FA1) is a public use seaplane landing area owned by the City of Tavares, Florida. The facility was licensed as a public airport by the State of Florida in 2010. City officials launched the idea for a seaplane base, as part of a plan to reinvigorate business and tourist activity in the downtown area. The Seaplane Base has been a major success and the City of Tavares is now known as “America’s Seaplane City”.
Tavares, Florida, has experienced a renaissance. Inspired by the strategic approach of its citizens, elected officials, employees, and former City Attorney Robert Q. Williams (who served the city for 37-years 1984-2021), Tavares has rebranded itself, appropriately, as America’s Seaplane City. It is an appropriate moniker for a city helping boost the downtown as a Central Florida entertainment spot and serving as the natural stopping point for seaplane pilots en route to the Bahamas and other island nations. However, the rebranding of Tavares to better align with its unique offerings is not the only revolution happening in City Hall. Tavares’ leaders are responding to citizens’ new expectations for personal digital experiences with their local government through their rapid and innovative adoption of smart technology.