With a population nudging its way up to 15,000 residents, the city of Tavares, Florida, is a small city with big dreams. Nestled in the green expanse of aptly named Lake County, there is arguably more water in the western side of the county than there is dry land. Perhaps that realization was the impetus that caused a bright idea to form at city hall — an idea that has grown to fruition and is about to be big news in this corner of the world.
Tavares has taken the bold step of embracing a unique segment of the general aviation market in a way that would cause most city administrators to wince with concern. But this little city has high hopes and a plan to help revitalize their community. Tavares has branded itself as the America’s Seaplane City — and they’re not kidding in the least.
With an investment of millions of dollars in the Lake Dora waterfront area, Tavares Seaplane and Marina Base has installed boat and seaplane docks within a short walk of the downtown area. Fuel is available and ready to pump into aircraft or boats, and a 3,000-foot virtual landing strip has been established approximately half a mile off the community’s downtown shoreline.
Opening day of the new facility is scheduled for April 10 – just days prior to the start of Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland – an event that is typically accepted as the start of the year’s fly-in season.
It is good news that Tavares is a city that sees potential in general aviation, seaplane operators, and visitors who just might enjoy a destination that is slightly off the beaten path. Yet, even as an out-of-the-way location, this little city is close enough to get to the center of things in a hurry. If they can find success — and all indications are that they will — other municipalities will be more inclined to follow in their footsteps.
Nothing breeds success like solid examples of that success being possible.
How close to the center of it all is Tavares? The Class D airspace surrounding Leesburg Airport slips over the shoreline of Lake Dora to the west, while Orlando’s Class B airspace limit crosses the lake to the east. Even for central Florida, this is centrally located. But it’s also just slightly out of the way, which is just about perfect for seaplane aficionados.
With the ability to offer visitors fishing, boating, waterskiing, and seaplane operations on their vacation itineraries, Tavares appears to be confident that they can do more than be a fuel stop on the way to a sunny vacation destination. They’re poised to become the destination of choice for a significant segment of the GA population — a fact that gives hope to every other pilot or GA operator who is fighting an uphill battle with city hall. Because if the folks on the Tavares City Commission can be made to see the benefits of GA, there is at least a chance that a significant number of other city administrations can be convinced, too.
Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.