Small Town Politics and Aviation

Don’cha just love local politics? Mount Dora is a small, quaint lakeside town, nestled in the hills of Lake County Florida, about 30 miles northwest of Orlando. The town has a New England feel to it, due to many its Victorian style homes and Bed and Breakfasts.

Mount Dora, population 13,500, has always been an artsy, destination town for local tourists and winter residents alike. It is a popular venue for many festivals including a fine arts event, antiques and cyclists. The town sits on the eastern shores of Lake Dora. At 140 feet above sea level, it is one of the highest elevations in the state of Florida, hence the name “Mount” Dora.

A few years ago, Mount Dora lost the annual Antique Boat Festival venue to the City of Tavares, situated to the west, but along the same lakeshore. The Antique Boat Festival was a fixture for years in Mount Dora, but the City of Tavares raised the stakes and won over the event.

Then, three years ago, when the town leaders of Mount Dora learned that Tavares was planning a multi-use redevelopment of the City’s lakefront park, Mount Dora raised questions about Tavares Seaplane Base.

The Mount Dora city manager wrote to the City Manager of Tavares and expressed their concern that the proposed seaplane base would “conflict” with other amphibious aircraft traffic on their way to Mount Dora, which has no base. This was a silly position to take because Lake Dora is not a small lake. It covers 15 square miles, and the City of Tavares is over 5 miles away.

Despite Mount Dora’s concerns, the FAA approved the Tavares Seaplane base, designator FA1, and by all metrics, the newly dedicated base has been a terrific success.

Even after an Orlando TV station ran negative stories on the lakefront investment as “catering to rich toy owners”, Tavares has figured out a way to make money from them. Business starts and new construction in downtown Tavares are up, as is the city’s commercial taxable income. Several fly-ins have been organized, drawing thousands of non-aviation visitors to the city. New restaurants have opened along the lakeshore park, where patrons can watch amphibious aircraft take off and land. The city has claimed the moniker of “America’s Seaplane City” for international marketing purposes.

The seaplane above, a TwinBee based at the Tavares SPB, is also a movie star. Johnny Depp is her co-star in the new movie, The Rum Diary, released October 28th.


Eric Weaver, co-owner of Jones Brothers Aviation at Tavares SPB, and Johnny Depp

Partially as a result of Tavares’ foresight in developing its natural shoreline assets, Icon Aircraft, a manufacturer of single engine seaplanes is considering a manufacturing facility nearby along the shores of Lake Dora.

At the same time, there are many empty store fronts in downtown Mount Dora, due to the economy and the city’s leadership failure to keep up with the times in attracting new businesses. Mount Dora’s marketing and investment efforts have fallen well behind those of nearby Eustis and Tavares. Perhaps the city is sitting on its laurels.

Now, apparently, City of Mount Dora leaders have seen a ray of light. The Lakeside Inn, a vintage hotel that sits directly on the shores of the Lake Dora is promoting the 1st Annual Seaplane Fly-in from October 28-30th, 2011. No doubt some of the City’s blue-hair residents will complain about the noise and traffic, but good for them anyways. Just maybe the City of Mount Dora will move forward with a plan of their own to obtain a seaplane designator for their shoreline.

If you are interested in the fly-in but do not own an amphibious aircraft, you are invited to land at Eustis-Mid Florida airport, X55, 4 miles north of town. Shuttle transportation will be arranged. I will be down at the fly-in at the Lakeside Inn that weekend and if I get any cool pictures, I will be sure to post them on a future update.







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