a “Best-Kept Secret” in the Heart of Florida
BY TAMMY SEREBRIN
I caught up with Haines City’s City Manager Ken Sauer and Assistant City Manager Jonathan Evans at the Wednesday farmers market in the square across from the beautiful new Haines City City Hall and Library which opened in November 2012. They were surveying the Military Court of Honor that is under construction in the square. It will be a big five point star depicting each of the five branches of the military, flanked with a U.S. flag and a POW flag. Upon its completion, people will be given the opportunity to purchase bricks with their names on them.
The three of us then walked across the street where they proudly showed me the new state of the art City Library, double the size of the old one. Residents were busy using the 20 plus computer stations and reading and checking out books. Next door is the new City Hall which replaced the 48 year old building the city had outgrown. Both are attractive stucco and brick buildings with red tile roofs.
Haines City, located in the heart of Florida, 30 miles from Orlando and 45 miles from downtown Tampa, has increased in population over ten years from 13,000 people to over 20,500. Platted in 1885 and first known as Clay Cut, Haines City was established and named in 1914 for senior railroad official Colonel Henry Haines in exchange for the railroad company agreeing to build a station in the city.
Ken Saur, 59, has been at the helm as City Manager since 2011, previously serving five years as Assistant City Manager. Jonathan Evans, 32, previously the assistant to Largo’s city manager became Haines City’s Assistant City Manager seven months ago. Both have Masters’ degrees in Public Administration.
They function under a council-manager form of government. The elected city commission establishes the vision of the community and the city manager’s office implements the vision. On a daily basis, they administer to the 240 city personnel in city management, the clerk’s office, public works, police, fire and rescue , building services, community development, finance, library, human resources, and public works. They manage public funds, implement programs and coordinate efficient delivery of services. They also are charged with monitoring trends to keep Haines City a community of excellence, anticipating demographic changes, and planning for the future. According to Sauer, the duty and goal of the city manager’s office is to take care of those things “mandated by the state/federal government and those demanded by the constituents/community – those things that the community says they want and need.”
One of the plans for the future is to fully utilize the City’s recently renovated Lake Eva Park. The City’s primary objective in renovating the Park (according to a 2012 application for the “Livable Polk Award” ) was “to provide much needed new recreation and open space in response to high demand from a rapidly increasing population by updating existing facilities and redeveloping this centrally located public land. The redevelopment of Lake Eva Park has significantly enhanced the social, environmental and economic sustainability of Haines City.”
After concluding my interview with Mr. Sauer and Mr. Evans, I drove the several blocks to Lake Eva Park. It is now a pristine, beautiful area with sparkling white buildings topped with red roofs and includes an aquatics park with its 25 meter pool, splash pad and wading pool, tennis and basketball courts, a band shell, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, and a “great lawn” which provides a wide variety of recreational opportunities and walking paths all located adjacent to beautiful Lake Eva. The new Band Shell was designed to provide event space for a wide variety of community concerts and performances including the annual “Thunder on the Ridge” Fourth of July celebration. The 13,000 square foot majestic looking Lake Eva Banquet Hall, with modern-Victorian themed architecture set among live oak trees on the shore of Lake Eva, is host to many events. Sauer said the new Hall “was booked for 36 weekends in 2012 and is booked every weekend through June of this year. Moving forward, residents will see the benefit of all the improvements at Lake Eva Park.” Evans added that it is “the place to be on the Fourth of July with its many activities, music, food and fireworks.” Some other events that take place there are Ribs on the Ridge in February and Glitter, Glisten and Snow in December.
In May 2012, the two day triathlon event, IRONMAN 70.3 Florida, signed a five year contract for the event to take place in Lake Eva Park. The Ironman website described it as being “a perfect triathlon venue with large grassy areas for spectators, two large children’s playgrounds and an aquatic facility. A fresh water lake swim with a beach start and finish, the 56-mile bike course goes through rural Polk County past orange groves and cattle farms. A three loop run course around Lake Eva provides a great place for fans to cheer on their athletes during the race.”
Sauer and Evans project that the Ironman will generate $30,000,000 in revenue to Polk County. They said that “the community is looking for other opportunities to bring other big scale and hopefully televised events which will showcase the city’s facilities and amenities to surrounding counties.
The pair are enthusiastic about their city and its potential. “Haines City is a best kept secret. Residents and visitors enjoy small town life style amenities while still being within driving distance of larger cities and airports.”