Seaplanes Boost Local Economy

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A small town in Florida has found that investing in aviation infrastructure can pay off for taxpayers. In 2010, the city of Tavares, with a population of just 14,000, spent $8.3 million to build a seaplane base. Since then, traffic at the base has attracted 26 new businesses, including eight restaurants, and now two boutique hotels are under construction. "This all happened in the toughest of economic times," the city's economic development director, Bill Neron, told the Orlando Sentinel. "We are the contrarians. When times were booming, before 2007, Tavares had empty storefronts."

The city created a 3,000-foot landing zone on Lake Dora, and built a ramp, marina docks and an aviation fueling station. The city also upgraded its waterfront park, adding electrical facilities for festivals and a snack shop. A seaplane business is based at the lake, offering tours and flight training, and Progressive Aerodyne, which builds the SeaRey amphibian, has set up shop there. A fly-in at the base last weekend attracted 30 seaplanes and a crowd of about 500 who came to watch the flying events. Since it opened, more than 3,400 seaplanes have visited the site. "Seaplane pilots are always looking for weekend adventures and destinations that will cater to them, so those areas and businesses that do cater to them will see a tremendous amount of economic benefit," Steve McCaughey, executive director of the Seaplane Pilots Association, told the Sentinel. "Tavares has become a destination."