Monday, September 17, 2007

Celebration Continuing to Evolve

Driving through the "Town of Celebration," Matt Kelly is relaxed and enjoying the sights. Kelly, president of the Celebration Co., which owns the Osceola County development, trades jokes with a colleague in the back seat -- John W. Smith, head of commercial real estate sales for Buena Vista Land Co.

And why not? The community that the Walt Disney Co. built is maturing right along with the trees and landscaping.

Kelly and Smith note the professionally made campaign signs neatly lining the tree-shaded streets -- made for residents who are running for seats on the seven-member homeowner association's board.

Kelly and Smith admire the new, 240-room Mona Lisa condo-hotel under construction and several commercial buildings taking shape nearby. One office complex has a swath of pale-pink paint on the side -- a sample placed there for Kelly's drive-by review.

"We like color, but it won't be that color," Kelly said with a smile. He and his colleagues at Disney have the final say on such things in Celebration.

Disney held a lottery for the first 300 home buyers in 1995, demand was so great. Now the community has 9,000 residents, and room for 3,000 more. Except for resales, though, all the single-family lots have been sold. Now the development, which opened its town center in November 1996, is marketing the last of its commercial land.

Disney has three parcels left, 30 acres in all, along Celebration Boulevard. It's mostly cleared and ready to go, surrounded by trees, creeks and wetlands in preservation land. Duke Realty Corp. also owns 8 acres of adjacent land that's vacant and developable.

Although technically not a town -- it's not legally incorporated -- the community is gradually being turned over to local, citizen control. All seven members of the homeowner association's board, for example, are now independent residents, not Disney representatives or Celebration employees, as in the past.

There's a hospital, school, shops, restaurants, offices, a water tower -- with no water. In all, a dozen buildings with 1.7 million square feet of commercial and office space are built or planned.

Sure, the "Town of Celebration" sign at the entrance is a marketing thing. But Celebration was never just a subdivision, Kelly said, and now it's evolving and growing into a full-blown community, just as Disney planned. Courtesy of Orlando Sentinel 9/17/07.