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Arts Incubator to Open in Downtown on July 30

Community Invited to Arts Ensemble’s Outer Space Gallery Opening

Winter Haven, Fla. — The Outer Space Gallery, an arts incubator project led by the Arts Ensemble Education Foundation, will officially open its doors on Thursday, July 30th, at 5:30 p.m. This ribbon cutting is open to the public, and local artists are especially encouraged to attend. The Outer Space Gallery is a partnership between artists and local businesses, nonprofits, higher education and government to promote the arts.

Resident Artists Trent Manning, Adam Justice and Karen Retana and representatives from the Polk Museum of Art and Polk State College will be on hand to show their support for the exciting project.

Local developer Six/Ten, LLC made the space available to the Arts Ensemble in one of its downtown buildings, located at 230 Avenue C S.W. The Polk Museum of Art came on board to help identify and feature local artists in exhibitions, provide opportunities for Polk State College students to learn about organizing and managing exhibitions, and to provide learning opportunities when the Museum has visiting guest artists.

The Outer Space Gallery will serve as a fine arts gallery for the community and a place for artists to display their work. The space will offer three very specific purposes in the community: gallery, working studio and professional meeting space for downtown agencies in need of a creative place to think. It will also be open to the public during the day for art viewings. This downtown Winter Haven project will provide a venue for artist residencies, arts education, community-based arts projects as well as exhibitions, performances and talks.

“We started developing this concept about a year and half ago,” said Jane Waters Thomas, Executive Director of the Arts Ensemble. “Thanks to Six/Ten for providing the space, we were able to move forward with our vision. We hope everyone will come and check out this new project.”

Polk State College is also partnering with the Arts Ensemble to create an internship program for its art students. Participating students will receive the full experience covering the business of art, including what it takes to develop and curate a show.

The Arts Ensemble is a community-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire interest and maximize participation in the arts within Polk County and the surrounding region. The incubator program began in 2006. The Outer Space Gallery will become the newest division of the Ensemble.

Posted in Cultural Arts, Downtown, Member News | 1 Comment

John Corbett named President/CEO of CenterState Banks, Inc.

John Corbett

John Corbett, President/CEO CenterState Banks, Inc.

On July 17, long-time President and CEO of CenterState Bank, Ernie Pinner, passed the baton to a very familiar face to us in Winter Haven, Mr. John Corbett. Mr. Pinner sent the following note to the CenterState Bank team:

It is with great pleasure and pride I advise you that the Board of Directors, as of July 17, 2015 and on my recommendation, elected John Corbett as our new President and Chief Executive Officer of the Holding Company, CenterState Banks, Inc. 

As many of you know John and I have been working partners since John was in college, now over 25 years. In 1999, John and I left First Union to start CenterState Bank, later consolidating all of CenterState affiliates into a single bank. Mr. Corbett’s vision, goals, and corporate culture for all practical purposes are the same foundation that has propelled us to our present success. His leadership and your continuing support will rocket CenterState to even greater heights. Please join me in congratulating John as our new CEO and for his high energy, hard work and caring leadership.

Mr. Corbett has served as executive vice president of the company for 8 years and the president and CEO of its banking subsidiary, CenterState Bank of Florida, since 2003.

CenterState Banks, Inc. is a swiftly growing company operating 58 banking centers and 4 loan production offices, and as of December 2014 maintains approximately $3.7 billion in assets and $3.1 billion in deposits.

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Merlin Entertainments Expands Operations in Winter Haven & Lake Wales

Additions to Include Global Support and North American Operations

It’s another month and another announcement about Merlin Entertainments expanding their Central Florida presence (and we are all thankful for so much good news)! But this is HUGE news. Merlin Entertainments, the parent company of LEGOLAND Florida Resort and the second largest attractions operator in the world, has decided to make Polk County home to their North American Operations and global support through two new support locations – one in Winter Haven and one in Lake Wales. Why is this so beneficial? Because this is a sizable investment in our area outside of the traditional jobs one relates to the theme park industry. It will benefit the citizens of Winter Haven and Central Florida to have this variety of positions available. It’s just another sign that Merlin is committed to and confident in the growth and direction of our community.

Adrian Jones

Adrian Jones, LEGOLAND Florida

The announcement comes as Merlin continues to expand its Global attractions. “We are thrilled to bring even more Merlin support jobs to Central Florida.  We chose sites within close proximity to LEGOLAND Florida Resort because of the excellent community support we have received since opening.” said LEGOLAND Florida Resort General Manager Adrian Jones.

Initially, each office will bring a total of more than 50 full time jobs to the area with plenty of additional office space to allow for growth.  The roles will vary, but will focus on fulfilling the needs of guests visiting Merlin Entertainments attractions.

Bruce Lyon, WHEDC

Bruce Lyon, WHEDC

Enterprise Florida and the Winter Haven Economic Development Council worked closely with Merlin Entertainments to make this expansion possible. “We look forward to welcoming Merlin Entertainments to Downtown Winter Haven. The presence of such a strong global brand in downtown Winter Haven confirms that the IT infrastructure, high-quality office space, restaurants, abundant parking and welcoming nature of the community make Winter Haven an extremely competitive value proposition for growing companies,” said Bruce Lyon, President of the Winter Haven Economic Development Council.

A customer care center, situated in the ‘heart’ of Downtown Winter Haven, is managed by Six/Ten, LLC. It was selected because of its IT infrastructure, support, and accessibility. “Partnering with LEGOLAND Florida Resort is a great fit. Our companies share in the vision for Downtown Winter Haven as a place to work, live, and play,” said Bud Strang, President of Six/Ten LLC.

A property in Lake Wales will become the creative ‘hub’ for Merlin Magic Making. It will also be home to the company’s 6th team of Model Builders and Designers to support the ever-expanding LEGOLAND Resorts and LEGOLAND Discovery Centers around the globe.

“I have been thoroughly impressed with the professionalism and cooperation of all of the parties involved in bringing such an impactful project to Polk County and Central Florida. We welcome Merlin Entertainments with open arms and enthusiasm and are thrilled the company has chosen our area to expand,” said Kevin Kieft, President/CEO of Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council.

Both locations are expected to be fully operational by Fall 2015.

From an economic development perspective, this is a win for Winter Haven, a win for Lake Wales, but also a win for the strategic direction of cooperation and support in the arena of economic development. It was top priority to find a place in our community that met the needs of Merlin. Through the leadership of the Winter Haven Economic Development Council (WHEDC) and partner organizations Enterprise Florida (state-level), Lake Wales Economic Development Council and the Central Florida Development Council (county-level) Merlin selected multiple sites that met their unique needs.

If you are interested in learning more about the careers available at LEGOLAND Florida Resort or Merlin Entertainments, please visit

Posted in Economic Development, LEGOLAND® Florida, Merlin Entertainments | 15 Comments

Cross, Fernandez & Riley, LLP joins BDO USA, LLP

CFR JPEGThe team from Cross, Fenandez and Riley, LLP (C/F/R) just got a lot bigger. National firm, BDO USA, LLP, announced today that they will merge with C/F/R to expand into Central Florida. BDO USA, LLP, (or just BDO as they are branded) is a U.S. professional services firm providing assurance, tax, financial advisory and consulting services to a wide range of publicly traded and privately held companies.

The local team at C/F/R’s Winter Haven location embrace this merger as it will expand the resources available to their clients. C/F/R came to Winter Haven in 2008 when they merged with Beckert, Price, & Rowse, P.A. (BPR & Company), which was founded in 1980 in Winter Haven. They a long history and fully intend to continue to be an active member of our community. The team at C/F/R have served in multiple volunteer roles at the Chamber of Commerce, including multiple Chairman of the Board, ambassadors, event chairs and more.


See the official press release below:

 Chicago, IL – BDO USA, LLP, one of the nation’s leading professional service organizations, today announced an expansion into Central Florida through the addition of 95 professionals and staff from Cross, Fernandez & Riley, LLP (C/F/R).  Founded in 1963, C/F/R is one of the largest firms in Central Florida with offices in Orlando, Tampa, Winter Haven and Lakeland.  C/F/R professionals have a long history of providing accounting services to technology & life sciences, nonprofit, manufacturing & distribution, real estate & construction, hospitality, healthcare and other midsized clients.  Combined with BDO’s existing presence in Miami and West Palm Beach, these new resources will bring BDO’s total staff in Florida to more than 200.  C/F/R had previously served as BDO’s Orlando office from 1970 to 2000, and the practice has been a member of the firm’s BDO Alliance in the intervening years.  The combination of BDO USA and C/F/R, which brings 9 partners to BDO, is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to be completed on August 1, 2015.  

“I want to welcome – and in some cases welcome back – the partners and staff of Cross, Fernandez & Riley to BDO,” said Wayne Berson, CEO of BDO USA.  “In 2000, BDO was transitioning some of its smaller offices in what were then considered non-core markets to its Alliance program.  At that time, our Orlando practice, which would become C/F/R, was deemed to be a better fit for the Alliance program.  In the intervening years, Central Florida has become one of the fastest growing markets in the country and C/F/R has expanded to become one of the leading practices in the I-4 corridor.  With C/F/R, we aren’t just entering a new market, we are gaining a leading accounting practice with a great reputation throughout the region.”

“Over the past 15 years we have been very successful in growing our practice and expanding our footprint throughout Central Florida.  In rejoining BDO, we intend to amplify that growth even further.  As our clients have grown, they require the additional resources and services of a national firm.  In joining BDO, clients will continue to receive the close attention they have come to expect, while gaining access to a wider array of services, extensive industry experience and the resources of BDO’s extensive global network,” said Jim Cross, managing partner of Cross, Fernandez & Riley.  “As part of a national firm, our people will now have access to many more opportunities to pursue career growth. This will greatly enhance our ability to attract and retain the best and brightest talent in Central Florida.” 

 Melanie Fernandez and Jennifer Spooner, who each have more than 20 years of accounting experience, will lead BDO’s new Central Florida practice.  Ms. Fernandez will serve as the assurance managing partner and Ms. Spooner will serve as the tax managing partner.

 BDO will maintain all of the previous C/F/R office locations.  See office contact information below:

BDO USA, LLP                                              BDO USA, LLP

201 South Orange Ave, Ste 800                     525 Pope Ave. NW

Orlando, FL 32801                                          Winter Haven, FL 33881
Tel: (407) 841-6930                                         Tel: (863) 299-5638
Fax: (407) 841-6347                                        Fax: (863) 299-8944


BDO USA, LLP                                              BDO USA, LLP

Cypress Bay Corporate Center                       124 S. Florida Avenue, Ste 200

5550 W. Executive Drive, Ste 200                  Lakeland, FL 33801

Tampa Bay, FL 33609                                    Tel: (863) 937-9520
Tel: (813) 321-6869                                         Fax: (863) 299-8944
Fax: (813) 448-1886


Cross, Fernandez & Riley has been recognized by numerous business and industry publications for its workplace accomplishments.  C/F/R has been named a “Best Company to Work For” by Florida Trend, a “Top Company for Working Families” by the Orlando Sentinel, a “Best Accounting Firm” by the Orlando Business Journal and, most recently, a “Best Place to Work for Millennials” by Best Companies and the Center for Generational Kinetics.

BDO Facts:

  • BDO USA has more than 200 staff serving Florida businesses from offices in Lakeland, Miami, Orlando, Tampa Bay, West Palm Beach and Winter Haven.
  • Over the past three years, BDO has expanded rapidly, entering 20 new cities and adding critical mass in 10 existing markets.
  • BDO USA has industry practices specialized in serving businesses in the construction, energy, financial institutions, asset management, government contracting, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, nonprofit, private equity, real estate, restaurant, retail and technology sectors.
  • For two consecutive years (2013-2014), BDO USA has gained more SEC audit clients than any other accounting firm (source – Audit Analytics).
  • BDO represents companies ranging from closely-held private businesses to leading non-profits to Fortune 500 multinationals.
  • BDO has been named a Best Company by Working Mother Magazine for four consecutive years and been recognized with the When Work Works Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility for six consecutive years.
  • BDO has 63 offices and more than 400 independent alliance firm locations around the country.
  • BDO USA has been serving clients for more than 100 years since its founding in 1910 (as Seidman & Seidman).
  • As an independent member of BDO International Limited (the fifth largest global network of accounting firms), the firm can leverage the resources of more than 1,300 member firm offices in 152 countries around the world. 
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Winter Haven Vet up for America’s Favorite Veterinarian

The American Veterinary Medical Foundation has selected Dr. Mitsie Vargas as a top 20 finalist to receive the honor of becoming the AVMF’s 2015 America’s Favorite Veterinarian. Dr. Vargas was nominated by multiple clients and staff members for her compassion and outstanding care for her patients. Along with this honor of being recognized, this an opportunity for Dr. Vargas to raise awareness and donations for the We Love Pets Fund and the Humane Society’s Second Chance Fund. 100% of donations will go to sick and stray animals.

You can vote once per day until September 1, 2015 at  Read more about Dr. Vargas and why is was selected as a finalist here.

Screenshot 2015-07-16 10.01.12

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Chastain-Skillman Celebrates 65 Years in Business and Names New President

Chamber Member Chastain-Skillman has a lot to celebrate this year. Celebrating 65 years in business is an incredible feat. Though the firm was small in the beginning, Roy Chastain and Joe Skillman nevertheless worked to provide a reliable local engineer resource for Polk County. Over the next few decades, the company compiled an impressive list of engineering projects ranging from work in the phosphate mining industry to local municipalities, land development projects and large commercial sites.

Dr. Jim Chastain

Dr. Jim Chastain

Chastain-Skillman’s Dr. Jim Chastain, began working at the firm while in his teens. Upon graduating from college, he returned to work with his father and has been committed to the same core values. With the help of talented partners, he has guided the firm’s expansion beyond conventional civil engineering and surveying to include environmental engineering, environmental science, containment risk management, industrial hygiene and other public health services.


Jay Chastain

Jay Chastain

This week the firm announced their new president, Jay Chastain.  Jay has worked for the company for the last seven years and has been responsible for marketing, business development and strategic planning.  Jay is also a graduate of Leadership Winter Haven and is a member of the Endeavor Winter Haven Young Professionals Group. 

Dr. Jim Chastain remarked, “Jay represents the values our company has upheld for the last 65 years – integrity, teamwork, exceptional service and technical excellence. We look forward to Jay’s innovation and leadership.” Dr. Chastain will continue with the company working as a full-time Senior Consultant with a focus on project design and mentoring the company’s young professionals.

Chastain-Skillman offers services in:

  • Civil Engineering
  • Surveying
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Safety & Public Health
  • Sciences
  • Biological Sciences

They have worked on numerous jobs in Winter Haven as well as these projects you may recognize:

  • Lake Myrtle Sports Park
  • Florida Polytechnic University
  • Amazon Fulfillment Center
  • Southern Wine and Spirits

Jim At SculptureChastain-Skillman has offices in Lakeland and downtown Winter Haven. They are supporters of both communities in time, talent and treasure and recently sponsored a sculpture for the Florida Outdoor Sculpture Competition that will remain in downtown Winter Haven through February of next year.




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Polk County Residential Market Trend

This post is by guest blogger and chamber member Kyle Winningham of Winningham Appraisals. Here Kyle gives us some great insights into the most frequently asked question, “how’s the real estate market doing?” 

Polk County Residential Market Trend 

by Kyle Winningham

A question frequently asked of appraisers is “how’s the real estate market doing?” Answering this question is difficult because of the myriad of property types and the various economic influences affecting each in unique ways. More often than not though, the question is directed toward the single family residential market. This segment is perhaps the easiest to draw meaningful conclusions from, primarily because of the abundance of data readily available. Statistical observations are only as good as the data available; however, even with a plethora of data, statistics can be misleading or convey an answer to a question sought with biased data selection. Mark Twain perhaps said it best, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” The following is my perspective on the state of the single family residential real estate market set forth in the parameters unilaterally deemed most applicable and appropriate.

Most statistical reports use sales that include both market and atypically motivated sales such as foreclosures and short sales, because it takes time to vet a large population of sales. Using this information without understanding the parameters used in the analysis may lead to inaccurate conclusion as it relates to Market Value. A general analysis of Price that includes all sales tends to be what many real estate practitioners and analysts subscribe to and report, but it’s an error to rely on such misleading information. There are many publications stating the average and median home Prices, but the appraiser is most often charged with the task of determining Market Value. Relying solely upon subscription services that only report transactions of users to their service provides a smaller sample size from which to draw trends and conclusions from. As such, a 5 year analysis of residential sales was conducted by extracting sales data from the Polk County Property Appraiser’s database, which encompasses all transactions that occurred within Polk County and includes a population size of approximately 25,000. The sales were not vetted; however the search parameters were carefully chosen to ensure the highest probability of arms length transactions. The parameters of the search include residential properties with an acre or less of land, sales prices between $30,000 and $999,999, no foreclosures, and only qualified sales. A sale is not “qualified” if the sale Price does not reflect the Market Value, the sale involves multiple properties, or the sale involves family members. The results of the analysis are summarized below:

Screenshot 2015-06-22 18.13.25


Screenshot 2015-06-22 18.14.09

The illustration above reflects the market’s transition from sale prices below replacement cost to market equilibrium as well as increased demand evidenced by greater sales volume. Replacement cost, in this analysis, is the average total cost of construction required to replace a residential improvement with a substitute of like utility. These costs include land, labor, materials, supervision, contractor’s profit and overhead, architect’s plans and specifications, sales taxes, and insurance. A market in equilibrium will have sale prices that are nearly equal to replacement cost; however when this does occur it’s typically only in passing while the upward trend continues until the market again has a correction and pushes sale prices down. Sale prices below replacement cost indicate economic obsolescence in the market place and should present less risk to both borrowers and lenders because the market should theoretically correct itself, allowing for large equity gains on behalf of the purchaser. However, both should be wary when sale prices significantly exceed replacement costs because the difference can quickly evaporate leaving purchasers upside down on their loan and lenders potentially adding to their Real Estate Owned (REO) portfolio.

The great recession had a reverberating effect on the market which resulted in declining residential real estate prices extending through much of 2011. However, since the last quarter of 2011 market activity increased as credit markets loosened and property values and transactions have consistently increased year over year. It’s expected that as sale prices mirror replacement costs, the increases in sales prices will flatten and prices should continue to increase but perform only slightly better than the Federal Reserve’s target inflation rate of 2%. The increase will likely be somewhere between 3% – 4% following the same year over year change as replacement costs.

There are many variables contributing to stability and health of the market overall, including political factors as well as monetary policy. Currently the market is greatly influenced by the fed fund rate which is essentially the interest rate that banks charge each other for short term loans; the loans are used to meet the reserve requirement mandated by the Federal Reserve. Currently the target federal fund rate is around .025%, shown below, and has been historically low since around 2009. The average spread, the difference between the 30 year mortgage rate and the fed fund rate, before the near zero target fed fund rate was 2.66%. The current spreads are essentially equal to the 30 year mortgage rates at around 4%, so from a historical perspective, depository institutions are achieving greater returns.

Screenshot 2015-06-22 18.14.38

It’s likely and necessary that the fed fund rate increase, at which point, a segment of potential buyers will be eliminated from the market because of the increased cost of capital and in turn decrease demand. Although this will have a temporarily adverse effect on sale prices, it will enable an environment more influenced by fundamentals rather than thrift policy.

So to answer the question, “how’s the real estate market doing?” The overall economy and local single family residential real estate market appears to have rebounded with increased sales volume and prices. New developments within the county as well as faster than projected growth from Legoland continue to contribute to the optimism and speculation in the area and Polk County is poised to continue its upward trend towards equilibrium while economic obsolescence contracts. While monetary policy can certainly affect the local market, it’s unlikely that the small increases in rates will have a drastic impact. The outlook for new development and growth is favorable in the coming years.

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LEGOLAND Florida Resort Expands – Again!

88a2a6003a744bc9a54f0da6d8883832This Friday, June 26, LEGOLAND Florida Resort will unveil their newest expansion, Heartlake City. The attraction is based on the popular LEGO Friends product line and is closely modeled after the five LEGO Friends personalities: Olivia, Stephanie, Emma, Mia and Andrea, and their personal interests such as animals, music, nature and fashion. This new area of the park includes  3 new rides and attractions, a new ice cream parlor, shopping area and live show. 

MiasRidingAdventure_414x258The expanded area is located along the shores of Lake Eloise  on the site of the former Fresh from Florida Greenhouse and adjacent grassy area and next to the “Snively Mansion.” The three new attractions include Mia’s Riding Adventure (a disc coaster pictured left), Heartlake Stepping Stones Fountain (interactive musical fountain where guest create their own tunes) and Stephanie’s Newsroom (located in the mansion this attraction allows guests to take over the Heartlake Newsroom and show off their camera-ready skills). All attractions are still geared towards the LEGOLAND target audience, kids age 2-12 years old.

Perhaps the most important take away from this new, very pink expansion, is that LEGOLAND and parent company Merlin Entertainments are once again expanding their investment in the Winter Haven community. Over the last year we have seen the opening of Duplo Village, Buddy’s Character Corner, the grand opening of the LEGOLAND Hotel and the development of a new 4D film to include the characters from The LEGO Movie. In addition to direct investment in Winter Haven, Merlin Entertainments has fully cemented their position as a player in the Orlando tourism market with the opening of I-Drive 360 which includes the Orlando Eye, Madame Tussaud’s and the SEA LIFE Aquarium. Guests can bundle these attractions with LEGOLAND Florida Resort – creating even more power to draw Orlando vacationers to the most beautiful part of Central Florida (even if we are a little biased).



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Take me out to the ball game!

Lakeland Flying Tigers Logo


City of Winter Haven Night 2015

The Lakeland Flying Tigers are excited to announce that they will once again be hosting the “City of Winter Haven Night” in conjunction with the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce on Monday, July 20, 2015. For the third straight year this night will allow Chamber members with an opportunity to not only entertain employees and clients with the game tickets, but afford them the chance to market their business with a marketing table in front of the Lakeland Flying Tigers fan base at an extremely affordable cost. We invite you to join us and take advantage of a wonderful opportunity.

INVESTMENT OF $100 ($750 value)

• 100 General Admission tickets to the game for your business to use and distribute.

• Recognition on the PA system and video board during the game.

• Ability to setup a marketing table on the concourse inside the stadium. Game time is at 6:30 PM and

gates open at 5:30 PM. You are welcome to show up any time before 5:30 to setup your table space. The

Flying Tigers will provide you with an 8ft table and two chairs.

• Distribute flyers, coupons, door prizes, and other company marketing items.



• 50 General Admission tickets to the game for your business to use and distribute.

• Recognition on the PA system and video board during the game.


• 25 General Admission tickets to the game for your business to use and distribute.

• Recognition on the PA system and video board during the game.

If you have any questions, or would like to participate, please contact Dan Lauer with the Flying Tigers at (863) 413-4115,

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