Winter Haven – a Music City?

Many of you may not know this about Winter Haven, but we have a rich and diverse musical history! Today Main Street Winter Haven, Inc. announced a revival of one of the gems of our musical past – The Derry Down. Several well-known artists, including Gram Parsons and Jim Stafford got their start at this historic venue. See Main Street’s release below. You can also follow the progress of the project on The Derry Down Project Facebook page.

This is an older photo of the Derry Down Building, located on 5th St just beyond Ave N NW.

This is an older photo of the Derry Down Building, located on 5th St just beyond Ave B NW.

“The Board of Main Street Winter Haven, Inc., announced today the acceptance of the historical property known as the Derry Down, which was donated by Six/Ten, LLC, a Winter Haven based real estate company.  The site of the original Derry Down Club was deeded to Main Street as part of the “The Derry Down Project,” which aims to restore the 1960′s teen music venue made famous by Gram Parsons.

Due to the Derry Down’s historical significance, the building, once restored, provides considerable cultural tourism opportunities for Winter Haven’s downtown economy, adding to the growing energy generated by its existing amenities.  Additionally, Main Street hopes to give a new generation of aspiring musicians the same opportunity to gain experience performing in front of a live audience.  The Derry Down will once again be opened as a “listening room” for those who love to play and those who love to listen.

A vibrant part of Winter Haven’s history, the Derry Down opened its doors on December 20, 1964.  Established by Parson’s stepfather, the site became an integral part of the popular Central Florida youth circuit that supported up-and-coming Polk County talent, like Jim Carlton, Carl Chambers, Jon Corneal and Jim Stafford, among others.  Parsons was born in Winter Haven and is widely recognized for his popularizing what he called “Cosmic American Music”, a hybrid of country rhythm and blues, soul, folk and rock.  He is ranked No. 87 on the “100 Greatest Artist of All Time” list compiled by Rolling Stone.

“The intriguing history of Gram Parsons, and the Florida music scene, isn’t complete without the Derry Down building,” said David Kraai, New York-based country/folk musician.  “The project to resurrect this Americana landmark is a vital way to honor and celebrate this area’s rich past while looking toward its future: by bringing people together to create new music, memories and history.”

The Derry Down first came to Main Street’s attention after Bob Kealing held an event at the Winter Haven Public Library for his Gram Parsons biography: Calling Me Home, Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock.  “We began to receive inquiries regarding saving this piece of Winter Haven’s history” said Jay Gray current Main Street President.  Main Street adopted the restoration project in January.  After months of negotiations, it was decided the building must be donated for the project to move forward.  “As part of the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources, the Main Street program was a logical choice to steward the building’s historical preservation while honoring its original purpose” said Kerry Wilson of Six/Ten, LLC.

Derry Down Fundraiser PosterThe Derry Down Project committee headed by Jamie Beckett will begin an aggressive fundraising effort, including a kickoff party at the Derry Down on June 28th, as well as a crowd sourced Kickstarter campaign.  Once open, the Derry Down will be available as a rental facility to offset operational costs.  Learn more about the project on the Derry Down Facebook page or the

Main Street Winter Haven, Inc. is a not-for-profit 501©(3)established in 1995 to oversee the revitalization of downtown Winter Haven.  Using a preservation based approach to economic development, the Main Street organization aims to transform America’s downtowns into prosperous and sustainable community centers that reflect each city’s authentic identity.”

Posted in Cultural Arts, Downtown, Economic Development, History of Winter Haven, Main Street Winter Haven | 5 Comments

CSX Intermodal Facility – Fairburn, GA

At the beginning of this month I had the opportunity to travel with the Central Florida Development Council and a regional delegation of Polk County commissioners, City of Winter Haven and City of Lake Wales officials and business owners to visit the Fairburn, GA CSX Intermodal facility. The purpose of the trip was to observe how development occurred around the Fairburn site and pick the brains of local economic development officials and CSX staff. Being familiar with the theory of the Central Florida ILC but not actually seeing how one worked yet, this was an eye-opening experience. It also gave me a chance to become more familiar with what CSX is like as a company. Here are a few take aways from the trip:

  • CSX’s top priority is safety. And this is apparent from the minute you step onto their property. Our first meeting started off with a “Hello my name is … and by the way the address you are at now is X. Is anyone CPR certified? Yes, ok. Who will be first to respond, who will be second? We have a no-typing-on-or-looking-at-your-phone-while-walking policy. Also, no hands in your pockets while you walk. In case you trip you will catch your fall much better that way.” All seemed like basic stuff, but I soon noticed I walk with my hands in my pockets! Who knew? All this to say, it doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or the newest hire, you are expected to live by these guidelines and the photos lining the walls of the families of CSX employees serves as a constant reminder to them of why it is important to be constantly aware and safe. They have four other core principles each employee is expected to internalize and live daily – It starts with the customer, People make the difference, Fact based and Right Results, Right Way.
  • Planning can be our competitive advantage. The Fairburn, GA Intermodal facility is different from the facility we have in Winter Haven. The Fairburn facility is roughly 15-years-old – and it’s still astounding how they move so much freight so quickly. Winter Haven’s Central Florida ILC has newer technology and a top-of-the-line, modern operating system that when fully operational allows for the more efficient throughput of the rail cargo. Early estimates project the Winter Haven facility will process up to 300,000 containers a year. When the Fairburn facility opened there was no master plan for the development of warehousing, manufacturing and distribution centers close to the facility. The growth they experienced was very much organic. Individual companies seeing the value of rail access and buying land and building facilities. The result is a somewhat scattered clusters of warehousing and manufacturing facilities throughout Fairburn (and I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative sense as they have several big wins such as Clorox and Purina that have set up shop there). However, in Winter Haven we have a very unique and fortuitous opportunity to develop a predesigned “integrated logistics center” directly adjacent to the intermodal facility. Convenient. Efficient. There are 932 acres planned for development of up to 7.9 million square feet of warehouse distribution centers, light industrial and office facilities.
  • Businesses want to distribute from Central Florida. Within 100-mile radius we have approximately 9 million people. We have access to multiple ports that serve the domestic and global markets. We are perfectly positioned to be a hub for transporation and logistics in the Southeast. And that’s not just coming from me. While on the trip we heard from a site selection consultant who said the same thing. That’s not to say that we will snap our fingers and immediately have a boom in development, but what that does say is that we have great opportunity ahead of us in Winter Haven.

The CFDC documented the trip to Georgia. This is the *rough* cut video:

Posted in CSX - Winter Haven, Economic Development | 2 Comments

Reflection and Expansion in the Summer of 2014

Duplo ValleySenior Gardens DaysLEGOLAND® Florida announced this week a special summer series featuring two days of highly discounted admission to seniors 60 years of age or older. Entitled “Senior Garden Days,” on either May 31 or September 1, 2014 seniors can purchase a ticket to get into just the historical botanical gardens for a highly discounted rate of $30 per senior. Former Winter Haven Chamber Director and passionate Winter Haven historian Mr. Bob Gernert will be making short presentations and will be available for questions. Tickets can be purchased at the LEGOLAND® Florida ticket window the day of the event.

Duplo ValleyDuplo ValleyThis Thursday LEGOLAND® Florida marks the opening of the expanded DUPLO® Valley! The significant renovations to the theme park’s toddler-dedicated area include a train, a mini tractor ride, new farm-themed attractions, an air-conditioned indoor play area and a water play area all geared to toddlers ages 2 to 5. The central feature will be the DUPLO® Train where toddlers can board a train on their own or with their parents to explore countryside-themed DUPLO® scenery passing through farms, fishing holes and campgrounds. Just across the way, toddlers can jump on a tractor just their size and help the farmers plow the cornfields and hunt for missing farm animals. For those looking to cool off, the new splash and play area will be refreshingly fun with intermittent water spouts and interactive water elements set among larger than life farm animals with a soft deck for safety.

Posted in History of Winter Haven, LEGOLAND® Florida, Merlin Entertainments, Tourism | Leave a comment

Florida Poly Names University President

Florida Poly Names Dr Avent

Dr. Randy Avent (left) shakes hands with Florida Polytechnic Board of Trustees Chair Rob Gidel.

Florida Polytechnic University‘s admissions campaign slogan is BE THE NEXT and today they gave Dr. Randy Avent an end to that statement – BE THE NEXT University President.

Florida Polytechnic University’s Presidential Search Committee has selected Dr. Randy K. Avent, an accomplished academic leader and current Associate Vice Chancellor of Research Development at North Carolina State University (NC State), to be the University’s first president.

The committee approved Dr. Avent’s appointment as president at a public meeting this morning at the Lakeland Center. Avent, 55, is expected to begin as Florida Polytechnic’s president this summer. The University’s Board of Trustees will begin contract negotiations immediately. The final step in the University’s hiring process will be a review for confirmation by the State University System of Florida Board of Governors.

As president, Avent will report directly to the Board of Trustees – serving as the chief executive officer responsible for development and operation of Florida Polytechnic. When the University opens in August 2014, it will emphasize STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs, and offer students real-world problem-solving, work experience, applied research and business leadership opportunities through industry partnerships.

In addition to his role as Associate Vice Chancellor of Research Development at NC State, Dr. Avent is also a professor of Computer Science and is the founding director of the university’s Data Science Institute.

Prior to joining NC State, Avent served as the Chief Scientist in the Office of Basic Research in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering where he oversaw scientific programs and developed strategic plans for future science and technology investments. CNPFrom 1986-2009, Dr. Avent worked in a variety of capacities with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory. Notably, Avent served as the Associate Chief Technology Officer, as the Founding Leader of both the Airborne Communications Laboratory and the Advanced Decision Theory Laboratory, and as the Associate Leader of the Adaptive Beamforming Laboratory.  While at MIT, Avent helped to create and execute strategic initiatives that aligned MIT with emerging application- and curiosity-driven research opportunities.

Avent received his B.S. degree in Zoology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He also received an M.S. degree from North Carolina State University in Electrical Engineering, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in Biomedical Engineering and Mathematics. Avent is a graduate of the Boston Executive Program at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.


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Milestone day for CSX Intermodal Logistics Center

Central Florida ILC

Today marks an exciting milestone in the development of the Central Florida ILC! Officials released the following information to mark the occasion.

Evansville Western Railway, an affiliate of CSX, today announced the start of operations at the state-of-the-art intermodal terminal located just off State Road 60. Known as the Central Florida Intermodal Logistics Center (ILC), this facility serves as a centralized hub for transportation, logistics and distribution serving Orlando, Tampa and South Florida.

The 318-acre intermodal terminal is surrounded by 930 acres that is planned for development of up to 7.9 million square feet of warehouse distribution centers, light industrial and office facilities. The terminal features five 3,000-foot loading tracks and two 10,000-foot arrival and departure tracks. It’s estimated the terminal will process up to 300,000 containers a year.

“The Central Florida ILC will add yet another transportation and logistics capability in a state that’s already known for excellent ports, great highways, and extensive railroad connectivity,” said Clarence Gooden, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at CSX. “The terminal will provide an anchor for economic development in the region and position Florida for future growth while reducing congestion on the highways.”

While Evansville Western Railway owns the facility, the terminal is operated by CSX Intermodal Terminals, Inc. with rail service provided by CSX Transportation (CSXT). Containerized freight previously handled at CSX’s intermodal terminal in Orlando is immediately being shifted to Winter Haven. CSX will serve the region’s intermodal market from the new Central Florida ILC and close its Orlando intermodal terminal. CSXT’s Taft yard in Orlando will continue to serve other rail freight needs.

While Evansville Western Railway owns the facility, the terminal is operated by CSX Intermodal Terminals, Inc. with rail service provided by CSX Transportation (CSXT). Containerized freight previously handled at CSX’s intermodal terminal in Orlando is immediately being shifted to Winter Haven. CSX will serve the region’s intermodal market from the new Central Florida ILC and close its Orlando intermodal terminal. CSXT’s Taft yard in Orlando will continue to serve other rail freight needs.

The terminal incorporates cutting-edge technology that is efficient, innovative and environmentally friendly. Several of its green technology initiatives include:

  • three high-powered electric cranes that minimize noise and emissions;
  • solar panels on each building which provide alternative and renewable energy sources;
  • high mast exterior lighting using LED (light emitting diodes) to reduce energy consumption and light pollution;
  • silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for its administration buildings.

“This is one of the most technologically advanced facilities of its kind in the country,” said Tony Reck, Chairman and CEO of Evansville Western Railway. “The ripple effect of this terminal’s operations will be felt statewide and beyond – ultimately setting the stage for future growth in the region. Without the tremendous support and visionary leadership of Winter Haven and state officials, none of this would have been possible.”




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Splash into Spring with a LEGOLAND Water Park Preview!

Dive in Spring at the Water Park Preview

LEGOLAND Water Park Preview April 10th!

Ready to dive into the warmer months?  LEGOLAND® Water Park is offering a preview day to all chamber members, their employees,  friends and families!

Join in on the FUN on Thursday, April 10th from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.  Tickets are  $10 per person and include parking adjacent to the water park (car pooling is encouraged). All water park features will be operating and the food venues in the water park will be open for your convenience at regular pricing.

You are encouraged to invite coworkers,  friends and family! 

Warm Weather Fun at LEGOLAND

Come float, slide, splash or just watch. Soak up the fun for just $10.    Tickets are on sale now at:

Chamber Lobby from 9 am. to 3:30 p.m. Monday – Friday

Citizens Bank & Trust Winter Haven and Lake Wales locations

CenterState Bank Winter Haven location

First come first served while they last. 

You may also purchase online and we will have them waiting for pick up in the chamber lobby. All tickets must be picked up by 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 10th. Minimum Credit Card Purchase: $20. No limit on number of tickets, however all sales are final. 

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Grand Reopening – Willowbrook Grill

The City of Winter Haven cordially invites all chamber members to enjoy a Grand Reopening Celebration of the the newly renovated Willowbrook Grill at the Willowbrook Golf Course tomorrow, Friday, March 14th. The official ribbon cutting will be at 11 a.m. Willowbrook Golf Course is located at 4200 State Road 544 E – Winter Haven, FL 33881.
Willowbrook Reopening Flyer



Posted in City of Winter Haven, Sports | Leave a comment

The need for STEM

At this morning’s Focus on Education breakfast hosted by the chamber’s education committee, the overarching message was “Paying it Forward.” From students to principals to members of our business community, we all have talents to share that can support and improve our schools. One way you can help is to take a few moments to participate in a survey for the Public Education Partnership regarding your business’ needs for a pipeline of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) educated employees. See their letter below and please take a few moments to participate in their survey.

Take the survey

Dear Colleagues,

The Public Education Partnership of Winter Haven, Inc. (‘PEP’), a not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) grass roots organization, is committed to assuring that Winter Haven’s schools are unequaled in quality, relevance, and student performance. PEP seeks to improve its schools through advocacy, community engagement, and collaborative partnerships. PEP’s board consists of educators, businessmen and women, and community leaders. A Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)  Sub-committee has been formed to focus on the development of a strong pipeline of talent within our community in the STEM areas. 

To this end, the STEM Sub-committee is gathering information about the STEM “talent gap” that currently exists in our community to understand the jobs (with associated required skills) that are unfilled and the educational/skill development needs that must be addressed in the future.  We need your help!  Please find a unique and important survey at the link below that will ask you to provide the following: basic information, information about STEM position titles in your business that are unfiled, the associated skills with these positions, and the opportunity to provide feedback to the committee.

It is understood that dependent upon the size of your organization, you may need multiple individuals to complete this survey.  Please help us to get this survey to the correct individual(s) in the organization. We request that this survey be complete by March 31st; although, we understand that some of the information will change over time and we will continually be updating the data for our region.

We thank you in advance for contributing to this important project!

The PEP STEM Sub-Committee


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May I say, Thank You Winter Haven …

chamber horizontalWell, the walls are bare and the boxes are almost all packed. The twenty-two months since I tendered my letter of retirement have evaporated and my tenure here at the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce ends today.

As I sit here in what may be Florida’s most functional Chamber of Commerce building I am so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to work with Winter Haven’s finest business leaders. I’ve learned and laughed and shed an occasional tear while making some of the best friendships of my lifetime. I also want to thank our great Chamber staff and volunteers whose dedication and determination make this among Florida’s best business organizations.

I’ve also enjoyed invaluable support from my wife Melea and family.

Please welcome your dynamic new Chamber President/CEO, Katie Worthington. (Notice new title in keeping with Chambers across the country. Steve Crisman will now serve as Chairman of the Board.)

Support Katie and take care of each other. Buy Winter Haven first.

I hope you will stop by this afternoon (Friday, February 28) between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. here in the Chamber Auditorium to meet Katie and allow me to express my appreciation for your support.

Thank you for eighteen wonderful years.  I’ll leave you with these words from Lennon/McCartney …

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more.

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Put a Little PEP in Your Step – Monday, March 3

The Public Education Partnership Invites YOU …PEP Open House

Posted in City of Winter Haven, Education | Leave a comment