Lessons Learned From America’s Seaplane City
Some 10 years after Tavares, dubbed “America’s Seaplane City” created a seaplane base and rebranded itself there have been three hotels and nine restaurants added to its downtown area. Before that, Tavares a Central Florida city about 45 minutes north of Orlando, had 11 percent unemployment, an Irish pub and view of a Lake Dora in its downtown. Much has changed for the charming city and its making waves.
Tavares rejuvenated itself through accomplishing the feat of attracting seaplane pilots and their aircraft to the area. Jones Brothers Seaplanes operates a flight school and sightseeing business there, Progressive Aerodyne manufactures the SeaRey and thousands of tourists and visitors flock around the area to enjoy the sights and entertainment options.
What worked for Tavares could be the key for Fort Pierce and its concept to develop a seaplane base on its own downtown waterfront. There are five publicly owned seaplane bases in Florida – Tavares, Winter Haven, Palm Coast, St. Augustine and Miami.
Fort Pierce city pitched the idea to the City Commission in October, after touring Tavares seaplane base this summer. State open-meeting laws prohibit the City Commission from going together on a tour. It would cost at least $380,000 to build a base for four planes, a bit north of half a million to accommodate 6 seaplanes. The city would need to invest in a ramp and a loading zone for passengers on what now is the shuffleboard courts near the River Walk Center.
Fort Pierce is realizing that having seaplanes in town increases economic development and brings more tourists into town. Visibility and exposure which would be highly beneficial and likely fairly profitable for the city. The Tavares Seaplane Base, which shares space with the city marina, had about 30,000 seaplane takeoffs and landings last year, City Administrator John Drury says.
Before Fort Pierce now starts to design a seaplane base, it first must decide what planes it wants to attract. Next, the Fort Pierce shoreline must be cleared of obstructions, including power lines. Fort Pierce’s location would look enticing for a seaplane pilot to swoop in for lunch or a quick dinner, and a seaplane school could use the ramp for its students to practice, city officials think.
Tavares is quite a success story, seaplanes and boats work in near perfect unison many of the environmental concerns so often brought in opposition of seaplane operations are simply not materializing. Investing in seaplanes requires to put money on the table. Tavares borrowed $8 million to build new facilities at the city marina.
Tavares sports 60 slips for planes, two fuel stations — one on land and a floating station in the lake — an airport terminal building and a pavilion for weddings and corporate retreats. “Invest in yourselves and then others will invest in you,” Drury of Tavares, says. Opportunity is knocking for other towns, not only in the U.S. to take a close look at Tavares – America’s Seaplane City – and come up with ways to bring this special flair to their town. The money and business will follow!
The Seaplane Pilots Association in Florida was quite involved in the creation and realization of the Tavares story, but could not be reached for comment.