Life in Winter Haven Florida
Great write up on Life in Winter Haven and what our area has to offer. Check it out the full article by clicking on the following link: What’s It Like to Live in Winter Haven, Fla. | Places | HGTV FrontDoor
Looking at a map, one quickly sees that Winter Haven is truly at the heart of Florida. Centrally located between two metropolitan areas, Tampa and Orlando, the city is less than a 90-minute drive away from two international airports and can count on easy commuting for work or play with an interstate highway or expressway only a few miles away.
Historical records show settlers moved into what is now Winter Haven as early as the 1860s, though the city did not incorporate until 1911. Farming and citrus were early hotbed industries but Winter Haven went on to inspire many business “firsts” including site of the first store of the Publix supermarket chain in 1930 and home to the first theme park in Florida when Cypress Gardens opened its doors in 1936. Though the park has since closed, the gardens remain the property of the people of Polk County and are now maintained by its current leasee of the property, LEGOLAND® Florida.
And this picturesque town of rolling hills, a wealth of waterways and lush greenery so rich in history and natural resources has something to offer everybody. Whether you are a nature lover, sports aficionado, culture seeker or simply someone looking to plant roots and raise a family, Winter Haven is a bit of a paradox reflecting a charming small-town feel with its population of 35,000 yet also offering the same access as any metropolitan area to the culture, technology and modern amenities of contemporary living: And no matter how you choose to embark on life in Winter Haven, one common element weaves throughout: water.
Every Day Is Waterfront Living
Dubbed the Chain of Lakes City, Winter Haven, the second largest city in Polk County, is nestled among more than 50 lakes that either touch city limits or are located within them, with 24 lakes connected by a series of canals. Sixteen of these interconnected lakes make up the Southern Chain and eight, the Northern Chain.
“We are not at the coast yet water is such a massive part of our community,” says T. Michael Stavres, Director of Community Services for the City of Winter Haven. “People spend a lot of time out on the lakes, waterskiing, fishing, taking in the view, and there’s a lot of emphasis on caring for and protecting those lakes at the same time.”
Among the neighborhoods of Winter Haven, not surprisingly, many offer lakefront property, with location referenced by two things: its chain of lakes and its quadrant. Winter Haven is divided into four quadrants – NW, NE, SE, and SW – with the SE quadrant, along one of the area’s busiest roads Cypress Gardens Blvd. (S.R. 540), and many of its gated communities experiencing some of the highest growth during the past decade, says Bob Gernert, executive director for The Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce. Some of the more established neighborhoods in Winter Haven include Interlachen in the NW, with its rich diversity of properties including homes built in the 1960s and 1920s and Stately Oaks in the NE.
The most recent U.S. census data paints a picture of Winter Haven as a popular place to start a family with nearly 63 percent of all households with children under 18. For Winter Haven homeowners, the median home value is about $115,000 in comparison to $170,000 for the state, so Winter Haven can offer growing families a lower cost of living than other Florida communities.
Cultivating a Community
Since its designation as a Florida Main Street City in 1995, Winter Haven has seen an ambitious revitalization strategy put in place to reinvent its main downtown area and create a supportive environment to encourage new businesses to emerge and an appealing centralized hub for neighbors to come together and share unique cultural and social experiences. During this time, Winter Haven has seen a combined reinvestment in its buildings, city design and infrastructure of $30.6 million and the net gain of 77 new businesses.
“Everyone works together so well here, because we all have the same goal, which is promoting Winter Haven and creating a lifestyle here that we would all like to live,“says Anita Strang of Main Street Winter Haven.
Some of the more notable efforts to preserve history and revitalize the downtown area include: ongoing preservation efforts of The Ritz Theater, a 50-year old historic theater and event space; the development of a 32,000-square-foot state-of-the-art library; a new well-lit, 267-space downtown parking garage; and a comprehensive city redesign to create a more pedestrian friendly layout and implement new lighting and storefront facades.
With the expanded presence of four-year university Polk State College and an emerging downtown technology core, Winter Haven’s business footprint continues to grow in the region. The addition of a new CSX Integrated Logistics Center to the area will only widen this footprint, as the new center is expected to bring 8,000 new jobs and more than 5 million square feet of development to Winter Haven.
Always Something To Do
Rarely is there a weekend with nothing happening in Winter Haven. The city is host to more than 100 events each year in its pedestrian-friendly downtown district and Central Park, which features selected art sculptures on display year-round in partnership with the Polk Museum of Art and City of Lakeland as part of the museum’s Florida Outdoor Sculpture Competition.
Some of the city’s most popular annual events include the Central Park Art Festival (March), Bark in the Park (April), Food Truck Wars (September), and Carols in the Park (December). Each month, the city also offers a Food Truck Rally and First Thursday events which vary.
“Living in Winter Haven is an exciting adventure. I like to think that we are continually looking for new ways to enjoy this community and we’re not afraid to try new events or reinvent old ones,” says Gernert of the Chamber.
The City of Winter Haven hosts a number of competitive youth sports programs including baseball, football, soccer, basketball and swimming, with meets held throughout the year at the Chain of Lakes Complex which features an Olympic-sized pool named for Rowdy Gaines, past gold-medal Olympian born and raised in the area.
That same multi-purpose complex is also home to two popular art programs in the community, Theater Winter Haven and Ridge Art Association. Ridge Art is a non-profit competition art gallery which oversees the city’s popular outdoor art festival in the spring and coordinates art competitions to get local artists’ work seen. Executive director Christy Hemenway finds one of the benefits of living in a place like Winter Haven is the opportunity to learn, interact and get involved.
“You only get out of a community what you put into it, so if you go home and sit every night and you don’t try to meet people, then you won’t. But if you’re involved and you care about your community and making it better, it only enriches your life,” she says.
Right on the Edge of Everything
Sports lovers will appreciate Winter Haven. Its mild year-round temperatures are perfect for hitting the links at the city’s Willowbrook Municipal Golf Course or one of dozens of area courses. And for those who don’t play but simply enjoy stepping outdoors to hike a trail or birdwatch, there are 36 parks in the area waiting to be explored.
For recreation of a more thrilling nature, there are plenty of fun and interactive attractions nearby. In addition to LEGOLAND® Florida located in Winter Haven, families especially can delight in Fantasy of Flight and, Bok Tower Gardens less than a half-hour away.
From kayaking and paddleboarding to boating, fishing and waterskiing, Winter Haven is ideal for those who enjoy the water. Audrey Nettlow is the owner and operator of Paddleboard Winter Haven and has watched her business flourish with the growing popularity of the sport of paddleboarding. She has lived in the area for over two decades with husband Don and her three children and says for her family, moving to Winter Haven was the right thing to do. “My husband had interviewed in a lot of different cities, and we wanted a place to raise our kids. When we came here, it just felt like home,” she says.
Take that friendly small-town community feel and add to it the area’s natural allure and a central location close enough to everything for convenience yet far enough way to enjoy peace and quiet, and you’ve waded into Winter Haven.
Thinking about a possible move to our area? Contact us today to see how we can help!
The Stones – Michael Stone & Deanna Stone