Bok Tower Gardens embarks on largest expansion in its history

The Board of Directors and executive staff of Bok Tower Gardens is hosting a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday, October 24 at 11 a.m., representing the start of the largest garden expansion in the 85-year history of the National Historic Landmark.

In February of this year, the Gardens announced the public phase of a $12 million capital campaign, Preserve the Legacy, Steward the Future to keep the Gardens relevant and sustainable.

To date, the Gardens has raised nearly $10.5 million, which is enabling construction to begin on the major new garden spaces, including a new:

  • Children’s Garden
  • Outdoor Kitchen and Edible Garden
  • Wild Garden
  • Oval Lawn and Pollinator Garden

“It’s an exciting time in the history of Bok Tower Gardens as we are starting to realize our vision for the future,” says Gardens’ president David Price. “We’re making big changes as part of this first phase of our 25-year master plan, and everything begins October 24 as we break ground on exciting new gardens.”

“The community is invited to come out for free and join our Board and staff for a ceremony at 11 a.m.,” Price said. “We’ll have a few guest speakers, followed by visits to the sites of the outdoor kitchen, children’s garden, pollinator garden, and wild garden.” Three undeveloped acres of land north of the Visitor Center is being transformed into two of these distinctive and engaging garden spaces—the children’s garden and outdoor kitchen.

Bok Tower Gardens Rendering

Children’s Garden

Keeping children in touch with nature is important to building their confidence, independent spirit, critical thinking, and ultimately their capacity for environmental stewardship. The new 2.7-acre children’s garden will be a place of hands-on fun, natural beauty, learning, and creative play.

Reflecting the unique spirit of Bok Tower Gardens, this garden will teach conservation and the vital connection between animals, plants, and people. There will be beautiful art, cooling water features, vibrant plantings, a boardwalk, performance stage, and music area. Children will have things to climb on, under and through, as well as places to build, dig and create.

“We need to have refuges like this that can be maintained for future generations,” said Board Chair Michael Aloian. “If this place were to go away, I feel that the State of Florida would turn into a big parking lot. We have too many places where we have immediate need for gratification, and I think the Gardens offer the complete opposite of that.”

Outdoor Kitchen and Edible Garden

Adjacent to the children’s garden will be a new kitchen garden that connects farm to table. Lake Flato Architects of San Antonio has designed an inviting outdoor open kitchen space in harmony with the landscape. A gift from Danielle Fence & Outdoor Living is helping make possible a pizza oven, fire pit, grills, cooktops, and other appliances.

Edible display gardens surrounding the kitchen will be a welcoming destination for daytime or nighttime educational programs and events showcasing lifestyle gardening and the culinary arts. Cooking demonstrations, receptions, school group programs, and private rentals will make this area a hub of horticultural and culinary activity.

The nearby discovery center, also designed by Lake Flato, will offer space for scheduled programs, small classroom learning, and staging for field trips or groups.

Wild Garden

Campaign funds are also transforming seven acres of the northern garden into a haven for wildlife and native plants. The expanded wild garden, encompassing the existing Window by the Pond and Endangered Plant Garden, will showcase a variety of Florida native plants and landscapes including an oak hammock, wet prairie, sandhill preserve, wetland and bog.

The new bog will serve as a natural filtration system for the exiting pond. Water-loving plants will absorb excess nutrients that otherwise contribute to algae growth. The pond itself will be made deeper, repaired, and replanted with a rich variety of Florida natives to attract birds and wildlife. A 170-foot boardwalk through the new wetland and bog area will provide visitors with an immersive experience into the new landscape.

Oval Lawn and Pollinator Garden

A gentle grade to a spectacular new oval walkway and special event lawn is being constructed behind the Visitor Center to help guests more easily find their way to Pinewood Estate, the Singing Tower, and the new expansion gardens to the north.

Because increasing numbers of visitors with limited mobility utilize wheelchairs and families with young children require the use of strollers, the primary path is being re-graded and paved to meet ADA compliance, using a material and color that blends with the garden setting.

“A ribbon of pathway was paved through the historic core gardens this summer,” explains Price. “We used a reddish-brown aggregate that will give the surface a warm brown tone as it wears. This treatment is already making the walk smoother for visitors with strollers and wheelchairs.”

The Blue Palmetto Café will offer expanded outdoor seating next to a colorful pollinator garden which will attract birds and butterflies, while a new dedicated shuttle route through the core garden will offer a convenient pick-up point adjacent to the Visitor Center, enabling guests with limited mobility to enjoy more of an immersive garden experience.

“Accessibility for everyone has been a really important piece of our planning process, so that young and old can together enjoy the entire Gardens,” said Cindy Alexander, co-chair of the campaign.

Restoration work on the Tower begins next summer and will focus on removing rust, sealing, and painting the iconic tile grilles surrounding the bell chamber at the top of the Tower.

“Most designated construction areas won’t disrupt our current visitation, and we’re staging things in a way that least impacts the visitor experience,” Price said. “This will be about an 18-month-long project and is expected to be completed in late spring of 2016.”

Supporting the Campaign

To date, the Gardens’ Preserve the Legacy, Steward the Futurecampaign has generated nearly $10.5 million of the $12 million needed to complete all the projects. Publix Super Markets Charities are bringing the Florida water story to life in the new children’s garden with the lead gift for River Run. The Mosaic Company stepped forward with both a financial gift and 492 tons of rock to surface secondary walks in the pollinator garden, kitchen garden, and along the Pine Ridge Trail.

Last month, an anonymous donor within the GiveWell Community Foundation issued a challenge gift of $250k to support the new children’s garden because they were inspired by the Gardens’ vision for the future.

Dozens more unique donor stories are surfacing with this campaign. Jeanne Jahna, also known as “Granny Greenthumbs,” will forever be remembered with a gift made by her children through the Jahna Foundation to establish the Fairy House Trail in the children’s garden. Long-time supporters Frank and Carol Drake considerBok Tower Gardens one of their favorite places in the world, and with five grandchildren decided to invest in helping make the children’s garden a reality.

“We enjoy how peaceful the Gardens are and appreciate just how hard the staff works to preserve its natural beauty,” says Frank and Carol Drake. “We’re excited about the Gardens’ plans for the future, and we love the idea of a children’s garden to connect young people with nature.”

Options are now available to honor someone with a commemorative bench, chair, or table and chair set. Gifts of cash or securities may be made outright or pledged up to a maximum of five years. Specific gift provisions through one’s estate, for donors over age 70, will qualify for campaign recognition.

According to Joan Thomas, director of development at the Gardens, there are a variety of creative naming and recognition opportunities in this campaign. “You can make a gift in honor or memory of someone close to the Gardens, associate your name with a major feature in our new garden areas, or consider an endowed fund opportunity,” Thomas said.

For more information visit

Information provided by Brian Ososky, Director of Marketing & Public Relations via a press release 

Posted in Member News, Parks and Green Space, Tourism | Leave a comment

A hometown firm just got a little bigger…

Straughn & Turner, P.A. is pleased to announce the addition of a new partner and two new associates to their expanding practice in Winter Haven. Prominent local attorney Douglas A. Lockwood III will join the firm as a partner, while Richard Straughn’s daughter, Marie Straughn Prisco, and her husband, Matthew W. Prisco, will become associates.

Doug Lockwood brings more than 30 years of experience to the firm. The Winter Haven native has primarily handled civil litigation and dispute resolution matters throughout Florida. He is board certified in both civil law and business litigation, an honor held by only two percent of the members of The Florida Bar. He will join the firm on October 20.

Straughn & Turner, P.A. has been a strong supporter of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce for decades and now they are home to three Past Board Chairman, Richard Straughn (1993-1994), Mark Turner (2001-2002) and Doug Lockwood (2005-2006). 

The addition of Marie Straughn Prisco marks the third generation of Straughns to practice law with the firm. Born and raised in Winter Haven, Marie Straughn Prisco graduated from Stetson University College of Law in May 2014. While she hopes to develop a working knowledge of several areas of law, her current interests are real estate, contracts and business law.

Florida native Matthew Prisco also graduated from Stetson University College of Law earlier this year. He looks forward to concentrating on business transactions, estates, trusts and commercial litigation.

From Left: Doug Lockwood, Marie Straughn Prisco, Richard Straughn,  Matthew W. Prisco and Mark Turner

From Left: Doug Lockwood, Marie Straughn Prisco, Richard Straughn, Matthew W. Prisco and Mark Turner

Founded by Jack Straughn in 1950, Straughn & Turner, P.A. has been serving clients with exceptional legal services for more than 64 years. With core values of integrity and trust, the firm’s comprehensive practice provides counsel in a number of areas, including business law, real estate, estate planning, trusts and general litigation.

The firm has long been active in civic affairs and community service. In addition to performing countless leadership roles in local community organizations, all three partners have served as president of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce.

This expansion of the firm will allow Straughn & Turner, P.A. to continue to meet the business and litigation demands of its growing client base.


Posted in Member News | 1 Comment

Groover Exterminating, Inc. Turns 50!

Recently, Amanda Jo and I got the chance to visit with the entire team at Groover Exterminating, Inc. “Team” is probably too corporate of a word as it truly seemed like we were visiting a family.

John A.and James Groover featured in the paper for starting their business.

John A.and James Groover featured in the paper Feb. 2, 1964, for starting their business.

Over 50 years ago, Groover Exterminating was started by John A. Groover and his wife Annette, along John’s father, James Groover (pictured left). They opened up shop on Dundee Road, where the business still stands today, albeit in a newer building.

Original Groover Exterminating office, located in the same location on Dundee Road that the current office sits today.

Original Groover Exterminating office, located in the same location on Dundee Road that the current office sits today.

While John A. and Annette are still involved in the business today, the reins have been passed to their son John “Desi” Groover, Certified Pest Control Officer, and his wife Debbie, the Chief Financial Officer, who now own the business. Other team members include Sal Marchese, Service Manager, Tony Self and Dorsey Branch, service technicians and Mark Jone, Office Manager. Help us congratulate them on 50 years of service to this community!

The team at Groover Exterminating

The team at Groover Exterminating

Debbie, Desi, John and Annette Groover

Debbie, Desi, John and Annette Groover

With a slogan of “The Bug Stops Here” they offer pest management with the integrity that has been passed down through three generations.

Services include:

  • General household pest control
  • In the wall pest control
  • Boracore termite prevention
  • Termite bait stations installed and monitored
  • Dry wood terminate prevention/control
  • Rodent control
  • Flea & tick control
  • Spider prevention
  • Bed bug treatment
  • Automist mosquito control
  • Commercial pest control
  • Restaurant pest control
  • Lawn and ornamental pest control
  • Lawn and ornamental fertilization
  • Soil testing
Posted in Member News, Success Stories | 2 Comments

Past President and Banker’s Cup Winner Judy Cleaves Retires

Published: Sunday, October 12, 2014 at 9:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 12, 2014 at 9:42 p.m.

WINTER HAVEN | In the business of selling houses, Judy Cleaves has long been a household name.

The owner of Winter Haven-based Judy B. Cleaves Properties officially retired this month, bringing an end to a 35-year career in real estate.

“I’ve been saying I want to stop while I’m ahead and I feel good and can enjoy life,” said Cleaves, 74. “I don’t want someone tapping me on the shoulder saying, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that anymore.’ “

There is still a full itinerary ahead: time with grandchildren, games of bridge and trips to Sarasota, where Cleaves has been a devoted admirer of the local arts scene.

And this isn’t the last you’ll hear of her name. An associate, Carol Sheil, has purchased the real estate business and will continue to operate it as Judy B. Cleaves Properties. Cleaves herself will remain among the six agents on the firm’s roster — “just in case,” she says with a laugh.

“I’m not going anywhere, I’m just not going to be working so hard.”

Looking back, Cleaves said her career began as a way to prove something to herself.

A native of Savannah, Ga., and valedictorian of her high school, she moved to Winter Haven with her parents in 1957.

Going off to college was not an expectation of the young women of Cleaves’ generation, she said. She spent a year at the University of Florida anyway, before getting married and starting a family with three children.

In the late 1970s Cleaves found herself in need of a job, and she got into home sales when a local agent suggested she would be good at it.

She spent nine years with a company in Winter Haven before establishing her own firm in 1989. At the time, Cleaves knew of only a small handful of female Realtors in the area who had done the same.

“I think one of the reasons I worked so hard was to prove to myself that I could succeed even though I didn’t have the opportunity to finish college,” she said. “I did self-educate. I took classes for the management of the company. I owe a lot of my success to that.”

Longtime friend Bonnie Parker said she admires Cleaves for her acumen and drive.

“She has a way of having that Savannah charm that makes her seem understated, but I can assure you she is highly intelligent. She’s well-traveled, cultured, and well-read,” said Parker, a senior vice president with Citizens Bank and Trust in Winter Haven. “She’s been a good role model for me as a businesswoman.”

In a momentous step during the business’ early days, Cleaves hired Chris Nikdel — now the CEO and art director of Winter Haven’s Clark/Nikdel/Powell — to design a logo.

She developed with a little orange house surrounded by two green trees, which is still in use today.

Cleaves had the logo emblazoned on contact paper and used it to adorn the mailboxes of her homes for sale.

“People loved them, they loved them. They were cute, they looked friendly,” she said. “That helped get me going. It was good promotion.”

She also raised her profile by getting involved in the community.

Cleaves has served as president of Winter Haven’s Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce, and has been involved with organizations including Girls Inc. and the Polk Museum of Art.

“Winter Haven is a very special community,” she said. “If you support them, they’ll support you, and I’ve had huge support from the community.”

She also has served in multiple leadership roles with the East Polk County Association of Realtors, and was named Realtor of the Year in 1994.

When Cleaves announced her

retirement to her firm’s associates in June, Sheil scrambled to obtain her broker’s license and purchase the business.

“Judy has such a spectacular reputation throughout the community, and has been so involved that it just made sense to keep the name,” said Sheil, who has worked in real estate for about 15 years after a previous career in nursing and health care. “It’s carrying on a tradition of integrity and good service.”

The business has relocated from Central Avenue to an office at 131 Fifth Street NW, facing the park in downtown Winter Haven.

There are no other changes to the business planned for the near future.

“I can still do referrals and consult. I can be around if they need me,” Cleaves said. “I love people and I enjoy the real estate business; I totally invested myself in it … it’s been a wonderful life for me.”

[ Kyle Kennedy can be reached at or 863-802-7584. ]

Posted in Real Estate | 3 Comments

Celebration of Winter Haven 2013-2014

Feeling Good

This past Tuesday the Chamber held the 2014 Annual Meeting and the theme was It’s a New Dawn… It’s a New Day… It’s a New Life… And We’re Feeling Good! And after taking a look back at everything that has happened in the last year, we certainly have reasons to feel good!

It was a night of celebration as outgoing Chairman of the Board, Mr. Steve Crisman with Cross, Fernandez & Riley, LLP, reflected upon his tenure as chairman. He remarked that “I don’t think that anyone can argue that there is a new energy to Winter Haven. Over the last year we have had some major milestones to celebrate.” He went on to describe the opening of the CSX Central Florida ILC, the “launch” of Florida Polytechnic University, the opening of Polk State’s Advanced Technology Center and the groundbreaking of their college of Public Safety, the sale of the land adjacent to the ILC for development, the opening of the Winter Haven Public Education Partnerships Education Center and the expansions at LEGOLAND Florida including the Florida Pool and Oriental Gardens, Duplo Valley and the groundbreaking and construction of the LEGOLAND Hotel, opening in Summer 2015. And while large-scale additions are important to our economy, there were many small businesses who also made their mark on the year. From dozens of ribbon cuttings, capital investments and new building construction, to those entrepreneurs who have taken the risks and opened their own business – this year was a year of growth.

All in all there were many things to celebrate. A few honors were bestowed as well.

IMG_3062 - Version 2

Ruth Hooper & Steve Crisman

The Chamber inducted a new Presidential Ambassador, Mrs. Ruth Hooper with All About Time Clock Shop. Our Chamber Ambassadors are a dedicated team who work tirelessly to help our members feel WELCOME and VALUED. We currently have 17 Ambassadors that give a great deal of their personal time for the good of the Chamber. Five  years ago our Ambassadors helped to create a program to recognize exceptional dedication and commitment to the role. The ones who meet these criteria are our Presidential Ambassadors. This year Ruth was added to the 7 other Presidential Ambassadors.

Mike Potthast

Katie Worthington, Mike Potthast & Steve Crisman

The Leadership Winter Haven Distinguished Alumnus Award recognizes an individual who has carried through the lessons learned and knowledge gained throughout their time in Leadership Winter Haven into their career and community life. This year’s winner has done that – most notably in this case how one individual can impact the portrait of our community. Mike Potthast began working in his father’s studio at the age of 5, learning how to process film in the darkroom. Since that time, he has loved the art of photography and has spent his adult life documenting the beauty and authenticity of Winter Haven and beyond through his small business, Potthast Studios. Over the years the business has grown and Mike has certainly captured some memorable moments – from Sheriff Grady Judd and his deputies dressed like the Wild West, to local citizens staged for recreation of favorite movie posters, to an annual nativity photo layout that adorns his studio windows on Central Avenue each year, to the most intimate of family moments – a new born or a blushing bride. His business has grown over the years, and besides personal portraits, he has become a go-to photographer for many corporations seeking business photography, headshots and videography.

2014 Winner, Nikki Smith, ASAP and 2013 Winner Dr. Mitsie Vargas with Orchid Springs Animal Hospital.

2014 Winner, Nikki Smith, ASAP and 2013 Winner Dr. Mitsie Vargas with Orchid Springs Animal Hospital.

The Industry Award for a company with less than 100 employees went to ASAP Advertising Solutions and Printing. For over 13 years, ASAP has been making companies look good. From designing unique printed materials to coming up with creative marketing solutions, ASAP Advertising Solutions and Printing, strives to establish tightly knit relationships built on trust, innovative ideas and helping their clients reach a maximum audience for the best price.

A company of only 8 employees, ASAP operates under the philosophy that being strategic and consistent quality and service is what allows them to have grown over the years. During the last 5 years, they have invested over a half million dollars in equipment and facilities to ensure they are staying at the cutting edge of their industry. Just recently they acquired a printer that allows them to print on many different kinds of materials including PVC, magnets, window clings, bad stuffers, signs, posters and so much more, all at lightening speeds, allowing for faster turn around for their clients. They also believe in giving back and allow each employee to take up to a week, fully compensated, for community outreach, mission trips or other charitable acts of service.

2014 Winner Oliver Pietri, The Results Companies and 2013 Winner Peter DeVito with Brown International

2014 Winner Oliver Pietri, The Results Companies and 2013 Winner Peter DeVito with Brown International

The Industry Award for a company with more than 100 employees went to The Results Companies. Located at 5300 Recker Highway, The Results Companies moved into Winter Haven in 2010 and began running their facility with 250 employees offering a premier global customer experience through their uniquely designed, built, operated and award-winning call centers. Their services range from customer service, acquisition, enrollment, retention, member support services, transaction processing and outbound sales.

Over the last four years, The Results Companies have invested in both their facility and their workforce. They recently held a ribbon cutting to celebrate the renovation of their building and received a visit from Florida Governor Rick Scott who recognized them for their investment in creating jobs for our community. Now at 350 employees and looking to add another 100 employees by the end of October, The Results Company is quickly expanding and offering quality jobs to the people of Polk County. They anticipate gaining 3 to 4 additional lines of business over the coming years and project a final employee count of about 600 people. The majority of the staff at the Winter Haven facility is bilingual. Just a brief walk through their call centers gives you a feel to their work environment: Collaborative, energetic and positive. At The Results Companies they don’t just believe in keeping their employees happy. They believe it is their duty to foster employees’ growth. Just over the last 9 months, 30 front line employees have been promoted. They believe their job is to prepare their employees to become leaders both within their organization and within the community.


Past Presidents Pass the Gavel

As is tradition, past presidents from the 80′s to today gathered for the passing of the gavel that ended with outgoing Chairman Steve Crisman passing the gavel to Greg Littleton, President of Citizens Bank & Trust, the 2014 – 2015 Chairman of the Board.

Outgoing Chairman Steve Crisman passes the gavel to incoming Chairman Greg Littleton.

Incoming Chairman Greg Littleton accepts the gavel from outgoing Chairman Steve Crisman.

Greg looked forward, outlining the three year strategic plan that the Board of Directors put into place during their summer board retreat.

The following installations were approved:

Nominated to a first three-year term:

  • Jennifer Fasking, State Farm Insurance
  • Angel Neubrand, Winter Haven Hospital
  • Bob O’Malley, CSX
  • Claire Orologas, Polk Museum of Art
  • Martha Santiago, Polk State College

Reappointed to a second-three year term:

  • Mike Mahalak, Chrysler Dodge Jeep of Winter Haven
  • Ingram Leedy, Protected Trust
  • Amy Sumerlin, Bright House Networks

Officers for 2014 – 2015:

  • Chairman                                      Greg Littleton
  • Chairwoman-elect                       Debbie Harsh
  • First Vice Chair                            Hap Hazelwood
  • Treasurer                                      Adrian Jones
  • Immediate Past Chairman        Steve Crisman


Check out the video below created to kick off the program and view photos from the event on our Facebook page.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 10.23.32

Posted in Chamber Events, Economic Development, Education, Florida Polytechnic, LEGOLAND® Florida, Observations, Perspective, Polk State College, Small Business Opportunity, Success Stories, Tourism | Leave a comment

United Way of Central Florida Recognized for Highest Levels of Excellence

Congratulations to chamber member, The United Way of Central Florida, for being rated at the highest levels of excellence for non-profits in the country. Read more in this article, reposted by from The Ledger.

Repost from The Ledger, published Wednesday, September 1o, 2014.


United Way of Central Florida has been recognized by one of the nation’s leading charity watchdogs for excellence in fiscal accountability and financial health.

Based in Highland City, the local United Way that covers Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties earned four stars, the highest rating from New Jersey-based Charity Navigator, for fiscal year ending June 2013. It’s the third such honor for United Way in recent years.

Perhaps even more notable is the high numerical score United Way received since Charity Navigator’s switch in August to a new, 100-point ratings system. The former system rated charities on seven financial measures for a total score of 70.

The new system adds another 17 measures for accountability and transparency.

Under the new system, United Way of Central Florida garnered a score of 97.48, one of the highest compared with other United Ways in Florida awarded four stars by Charity Navigator.

“That should make their donors feel good,” said Sandra Miniutti, Charity Navigator’s vice president of marketing.

The scores are based on an analysis of a charity’s federal income tax filing, which is public information. Charity Navigator rates some 8,000 public charities, a slim portion of the nation’s 1.4 million nonprofits.

But those 8,000 receive half of all donations, Miniutti said, including dollars given to churches and other nonprofits whose tax filings are excluded from public disclosure because of religious exemptions.

Donors more and more target donations based on the guidance of Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and other watchdog groups that offer critical financial data through easy-to-use websites.

In a sense, United Way is viewed by some as a reputable clearinghouse for a community’s nonprofits, primarily in the human services arena. The umbrella organization enlists volunteers who visit the agencies it supports to monitor efficiencies and scrutinize financials.

But Charity Navigator provides another layer of scrutiny independent of United Way, said Sherri Riccio-Diaz, a spokeswoman for United Way of Central Florida.

“It’s a good tool, if people trust it,” she said. “It’s great that there are organizations aggregating these data.”

Charity Navigator adopted a 100-point scorecard to streamline its methodology. Charities earn four stars for a score of between 90 and 100, while 80 to 89 earns three stars and so on. A score of 55 or lower garners no stars.

In a recent interview with The NonProfit Times, Ken Berger, Charity Navigator’s president and CEO, said his company will be adding even more measures in coming months that focus on effectiveness and communication. For instance, does the charity publish evaluation reports that cover the results of its programs at least every five years?

For fiscal year 2012-13, United Way of Central Florida scored higher than its counterparts, marginally besting the Fort Myers-based United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee counties, which garnered an overall score of 97.

At a glance, the Charity Navigator tool shows the percentage agencies spend on program services, compared to administrative and fundraising expenses.

United Way of Central Florida reported fiscal year 2012-13 revenues, including grants and other income, of $11.9 million, of which 84.3 percent went to program services, while 7.3 percent was spent on administration and 8.4 percent on fundraising expenses.

United Way of Central Florida has a long-term reputation for being a good agency — congratulations to them,” said Cliff Smith, president of UnitedWay in Fort Myers. “We should be completely transparent. We should be an open book.”

Eric Pera can be reached at or 863-802-7528. See original posting here:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Familiar name, new lakeside location

Tanners logo      A new restaurant and bar destination operated by familiar Winter Haven restaurateurs will open soon on the beautiful Chain of Lakes. Coming in September 2014, Tanners Lakeside Restaurant & Bar will be located at 1006 South Lake Howard Drive on Lake May, on the site formerly known as Sally’s Shrimpboat and most recently McGillicuddy’s.

Renovations have begun on the 10,000-square-foot location. John and Debbie Tennick are creating a rustic, casual restaurant and bar providing a top-quality dining and nightlife experience in a beautiful lakefront setting. The menu will include a great selection of appetizers, fresh seafood, hand-cut steaks, unique sandwiches, hand-made burgers, freshly made flatbreads and
other creative dishes.

Plans include the creation of outdoor space to enjoy food, beverages and live music. Tanners Lakeside will also be a premier location to accommodate intimate or large private parties. Their catering division will offer a full range of off-site food and beverage services.

“We have, for many years, enjoyed the unique beauty and charm of our lakes and have looked at creating something special in this location on several occasions over the past ten years. After the current owners, Gregg Gay and Philip Van Winkle recently purchased the property, we found the timing was right to move forward with this waterfront project,” said Debbie Tennick.

John and Debbie Tennick opened their first restaurant, Thyme Square Bistro, in Downtown Winter Haven in 1998, moving on to open the first Tanner’s Bar adjacent to that restaurant in 2000. The concept of Tanner’s Pub was developed, expanded and relocated across the street from the original location in 2002, contributing to the major revitalization efforts in downtown for the next ten years.

With the opening of Tanners Lakeside, the Tennicks look forward to their new venture, providing a destination where residents and visitors can enjoy a unique dining and entertainment experience in a beautiful lakefront setting.

Posted in Dining | 28 Comments

Magnuson Grand Conference Hotel Gets Facelift

From marble tile to a KidZone to improved outdoor seating – the Magnuson Grand-Conference Hotel (formerly the Park View Hotel) is investing in renovating their property. Located just outside the gates of LEGOLAND Florida, the hotel owners are trying to upgrade to have a broader appeal to visitors and corporate travelers alike. While more is to come in their renovation plans, here is a sneak peek at some of the changes they’ve made so far.


Second floor landing looking into restaurant and bar



Business center


Fitness center


Lobby seating area


The old lounge has been converted into a kid’s play area










Xbox cubby in the lobby (apparently it’s popular and engaging as this kid barely looked up when I asked if I could take his picture!)


View from the second floor outdoor deck over the pool


Outdoor seating tables that convert to fire pits in the cooler months


Pool deck




King guest room



Posted in Tourism | Leave a comment

Best Places to Work Awards – Our members shine

This morning CareerSource Polk held their annual meeting and bestowed the Best Places to Work 2013 Awards on several of our members! (descriptions courtesy of the event program)

Small Business Category: 



Clark/Nikdel/Powell (CNP) has a primary goal – that their employees love coming to work. Covering the cost of all insurance premiums for full time employees, 401k with company match and a $200 check on your birthday is where it starts. With recognition that their employees are responsible professionals, there is no cap on vacation or sick time and flexible work arrangements are provided to retain talent, even if it means remotely working on a contractual basis while backpacking through Europe. Instituting non-traditional practices to keep morale high, they set aside time for personal development, birthday celebrations, daily Frisbee breaks and use late Friday afternoons to bond as an office. Management is transparent with the company’s financial situation and if monthly goals are surpassed, 25% of the profit goes towards employee bonuses. Community involvement is permitted and encouraged during work hours and pro-bono projects for local non-profits are often taken.

Community Southern Bank


Community Southern Bank is not just another company, they are family, and that’s why they believe it is important to have their staff share in the long-term success of the company. Through stock options, profit-sharing, annual bonuses and pay increases, the bank’s profitability has allowed them to reward their employees in spite of difficult economic times. The benefits package includes 100% employer paid premiums for Medical, Dental, Short and Long Term Disability and Group Life Insurance. In addition, the bank has paid thousands of dollars for a number of programs benefitting employees and sponsored by the local chambers of commerce.

Spherion Staffing

Screenshot 2014-08-28 12.53.55

The average tenure of those at Spherion is 14 years and that is due to the a commitment to make each team member feel as though they are part owner of the company though monthly events, quarterly retreats, an annual all-inclusive three day party at a great destination, and annual profit sharing for all employees. Flexibility is also key to their benefits with unique features including medical expense loan for any employee exceeding their HSA Savings Account, ability to roll over unused medical time off, partial reimbursement for gym memberships and a flexible work schedule. Spherion also boasts of offering the best personal and vacation allowances in the staffing business with 34 paid days off within the first year of employment.

Medium Business Category: 

Center for Retina & Macular Disease


The Center for Retina and Macular Dieseases retention rate for 2013 was 100% due in part for their compensation and benefit philosophy of providing above market pay and benefits to all full and part-time staff. Free healthcare is offered to all full-time staff and those who choose high-deductible plan also receive family coverage at no cost. In addition, staff have access to no deductive CT scans, MRIs, and similar scans. The company also offers generous PTO, AAA and Sam’s Club Group Membership, tickets to area theme parks, Identity Theft Protection, Staples Employee Discount Plan and Emergency Loans (via the 401K plan).

Citizens Bank & Trust


With the belief that a key to their employees’ happiness if the willingness to listen to their wants and values, Citizens Bank & Trust enhances their comprehensive benefits package by including creativity and flexibility. Unused sick, vacation and personal days may be rolled into an extended sick bank, employees can donate vacation or sick time to any employee who has exhausted their own due to medical issues and the company pays 70% of the high deductible medical plan whether the employee has employee only or family coverage. Employee Appreciation Week is also celebrated each year with surprises and treats for all employees.

Lanier Upshaw

lanier_upshaw Lanier Upshaw offers careers, not jobs, and through a Stock Ownership Retirement Plan their employees become owners of the agency and eventually enjoy a financially stable retirement. Other employee benefits include 100% paid dental premiums plus $100 reimbursement for dental services, a “benefit allowance” that equals the cost of the life insurance and the long-term disability insurance, an extended illness bank funded annually with unused PTO and LegalShield and ID Watchdog benefits to protect them and their families. They honor their employees with a Kudos program, a service award pin set with real diamond and sapphires, an employee appreciation afternoon with a luncheon and a special gift at 30 and 35 years of service. Emphasizing education for employees and their families, a Good Report Card program provides $25 gift card to employees’ children who earn all “A’s” and the firm pays 100% for the employees’ education and designation programs.

Polk County Clerk of Courts


The goal of the Polk County Clerk Courts is to help their employees and employees’ families achieve optimum health with unique benefits including: A Beginning Right Maternity program, a $200 Wellness Incentive Credit and a $100 Cash Incentive for completing an individual health assessment. Additionally, they offer an on-site health clinic for all employees and dependents with no cost services that can be accessed on company time. With their Tuition Reimbursement program already established, an Education Incentive Pay program was implemented to encourage employees to advance their education by rewarding academic achievement with cash incentives. Other benefits include allowing children of staff to stay in the employee break room after school, 16 paid hours of volunteer time, and a PTO sellback program.

Rita Staffing


Founded over 40 years ago, Rita Staffing treats their employees like family by supporting each other through the tough times. The company takes care to manage rising health insurance costs and has had an average increase in overall premium over the last four years of less than 1%. As professional development is a priority, they have paid for the training of 9 team members to receive their SPHR/PHR designations and frequently send consultants and managers to local and national industry conferences to advance their teams knowledge and maintain their certifications. All employees qualify for quarterly bonuses based on profitability and incentives are given for recruiting and meeting other department goals. In addition, in 2013 they held a 40th anniversary Beach Party event where the owners paid for a room, meals, gift bags and dinner on the beach for all of their employees and their family members.

Large Business Category: 

Polk County Board of County Commissioners

Polk-County-LogoPolk County BOCC‘s goal is to attract and retain employees who choose public service as a career. An array of incentives, including but not limited to up to $300 wellness incentive for employees and covered spouses, On-Site Physician and Podiatrist, free sick care for covered dependents, Quit Smoking Now program, Diabetes Management program, Hypertension Management program, on-site pharmacist ad nurse educator, healthy pregnancy program, free on-site screenings for skin, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers, and osteoporosis for health plan members. They have a number of programs that demonstrate their interest in their employees’ future such as award-winning succession planning, individual development plans, and SHINE which recognizes and rewards employees who have submitted suggestions adopted by management. So far, 548 financial awards have been made to BOCC employees through this program.

MEGA Business Category


Legoland_FloridaCommitted to providing an environment where everyone feels valued, respected and able to contribute to the business, LEGOLAND Florida covers up to 90% of medical benefit costs for their Model Citizens (MC) and their families. An anonymous, third part hotline is also available for MCs to provide feedback or important workplace information and employees are kept fully aware of what is going on in the business by means of a weekly pocket guide, newsletters, a company intranet and team meetings. Each year, the park play together with a start of the year Launch Party, MC and family water park days, MC and family end of summer picnics and much more. LEGOLAND also takes pride in Merlin’s Breed Rescue Protect global initiative where employees engage in marine conservation.



Sherwin Williams is proud of the company they keep – their family of loyal employees. They are committed to providing employees safe and healthy working environments and have not had an accident in the warehouse in over a year. Sherwin Williams makes sure their employees have numerous opportunities to promote their own health and wellness, whether it is through their corporate run wellness program which provides benefits such as tobacco cessation, Weight Watchers discounts, a subsidized gym membership and more. The also ensure they are taking care of the employees by giving them opportunities to have operational input through numerous employee committees and enjoying recreational activities on the weekend together. Financially, employees are support with stock options, an incentive program, profit sharing a 401K with company match, adoption assistance and tuition reimbursement.

Walmart Logistics DC 6071

Screenshot 2014-08-28 14.43.53Walmart believes in promotion from within at all levels and even the CEO began his career as an hourly order filler. With less than a 10% turnover rate, the average length of service of their full-time employees is 11 to 20 years. In an effort to provide the highest quality care and cost savings, the Centers of Excellence program was created to give access to select hospitals where 100% of inpatient and outpatient costs for hip and knee joint replacement and certain heart and spine surgeries are provided. One employee stated, “I started at Walmart as a part-time office clerk, 3 weeks after I turned 18 years old and began making $8.25 an hour. I didn’t not have any type of college education, not did I have a High School Diploma at the time. In February of 2004, I was promoted to the Human Resources Office and I now make $21.05 per hour.”


Two of our members were also honored as Employers of Distinction which recognize those companies who have shown consistent commitment to improving the quality of life of their employees. Those are:

Clark & Daughtery 

Cross, Fernandez & Riley, LLP


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Winter Haven leads in the Liveable Polk Awards

Last night, Polk Vision and the Polk Transportation Planning Organization presented the Liveable Polk Awards and Winter Haven was definitely the night’s winner. You couldn’t help but swell with pride as city and private entities in the greater Winter Haven area were recognized one after the other for making Winter Haven an amazing place to live! The Livable Polk Awards recognize conservation and sustainable development and healthy community design efforts that go beyond the ordinary and set an example of what can be done in Polk County. Here are a few of the highlights:




The first awards given were the Community Recognition Awards. These four projects worthy of gratitude in helping create a more livable Polk. All four are in the greater Winter Haven/Eloise area.

  • The Winter Haven Friends of the Library have partnered with the library and City of Winter Haven to create a resource that allows people to learn new skills and utilize technology, most of it in the SEED lab, which stands for Science, Education, Exploration, Design lab.
  • The Eloise Arts Ensemble is being recognized for its community garden, which provides access to fruits and vegetables in a community gathering space where people can learn how to grow their own produce.
  • Greenovative Design and Engineering is being honored for its environmentally-friendly blueprint to turn a dilapidated warehouse into the vibrant hew home of the Humane Society in Winter Haven.
  • City of Winter Haven is receiving a community recognition award tonight for creating more livable space and improved access to the downtown through its trail and road improvements on Third Street.


The second award category highlighted the “Polk County Trendsetters.” Trendsetter awards are given to projects that embody innovation and provide a model for the future. Again, efforts happening in Winter Haven were by far the majority of those honored:

  • The City of Winter Haven is improving water quality and beautifying the urban environment through its Rain Garden Program.  A rain garden is an attractively designed depressed area that allows water to percolate through soil as an alternative to piping it directly into a lake.  It allows nature to pretreat storm water before it re-enters nearby lakes.  The city has installed close to 50 rain gardens and has plans for more. (I bet you’ve seen a Rain Garden and don’t even know it!)



  • Building on the city’s efforts, Polk State College has implemented a Rain Garden Project that is educational and a benefit to the community. At the Winter Haven campus, students in Professor Natalie Whitcomb’s Introduction to Environmental Science Course have planted rain gardens the last three years.  The students have the privilege of interacting with staff from the City of Winter Haven and the University of Florida / IFAS Polk County Extension Office to learn about the Florida aquifer, effects of urbanization on the environment and Florida-friendly landscaping.
  • Chamber member Tampa Electric Company and LEGOLAND Florida were recognized for their partnership in the Solar Photovoltaic Project. On Earth Day 2014, representatives from LEGOLAND Florida and Tampa Electric flipped the switch on a Tampa Electric-owned 30,000-watt solar photovoltaic (PV) system which is installed atop LEGOLAND’S Imagination Zone. A PV system this size is capable of generating enough electricity from the sun to power three average-sized homes and offset about 40 tons of carbon dioxide per year – equivalent to planting more than nine acres of trees. LEGOLAND marked Earth Day by running completely on renewable energy. 

Screenshot 2014-08-28 12.21.10


Chamber members also won several Judges’ Choice Awards including the Chain of Lakes Trial Bridge and Bok Tower Gardens for their rare plant conservation program.



Chain of Lakes Trail Bridge

The first Judge’s Choice Award winner goes to the City of Winter Haven for the construction and opening of the Chain of Lakes Pedestrian Trail Bridge over Avenue T.

The Chain of Lakes Trail Bridge is truly a bridge for the community and the larger regional trail network.  It connects the community and improves safety by eliminating the need for bicyclists, walkers and runners to cross a busy, four-lane road as part of the Chain of Lakes Trail.  It helps to connect population centers to area parks, businesses and other community places.  The trail bridge also provides a critical link for the larger trail system and access to the Lake Alfred Trail and planned Old Dixie Trail.

In partnership with the Polk TPO and the Florida Department of Transportation, the city has constructed an architectural gem that sets the standard for future trail bridges in Polk County.

Cheryl Peterson, Conservation Manager Juliet Rynear, Rare Plant Specialist

Bok Tower Gardens’ Cheryl Peterson, Conservation Manager
Juliet Rynear, Rare Plant Specialist


The next Judge’s Choice Award goes to Bok Tower Gardens for its Rare Plant Conservation Program.

This program is an expression of Bok Tower Gardens’ conservation mission and its commitment to conserving and enhancing our understanding of Florida’s rarest plants.

As part of this program, Bok Towers Garden is partnering with communities in Polk and other conservation groups to preserve and restore rare plant species and habitat.  It is one of 39 institutions nationwide that are part of the Center for Plant Conservation and the program’s efforts include plants that are growing in their natural habits and others that are growing in the Bok Tower Garden nursery.

The nursery has been able to grow many of central and north Florida’s globally endangered rare plant species – plants that grow in a few locations in Florida and nowhere else in the world.






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