By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
Before a capacity crowd at the Highland Manor, Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson delivered his first State of the City address, but it was the changes to the traditional format that stood out most of all.
Call it the State of the City reimagined.
Nelson and Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce President Robert Agrusa refurbished the old model into an interactive, user-friendly event. First, they moved the usual December date to October, closer to the beginning of the fiscal year. Then, the chamber sold sponsorships, served breakfast and seated attendees at tables instead of rows of chairs.
To some extent, it was an event as much as an address.
“Today was a fantastic beginning to a great partnership between the City of Apopka and Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce,” said Agrusa. “As the leading pro-business organization in the Apopka area, we are thrilled that Mayor Nelson gave us the opportunity to unite with the City once again. With over 200 residents, non-residents, elected officials, business and community leaders in attendance, we believe we fulfilled our mission of updating the general public on the ways that we are going to work together to encourage investment in the area, collaborate to create an environment that supports local business development and job growth and improving our quality of life. The future is bright in Apopka and we look forward to be an integral partner, that helps lead, connect and serve our membership and the greater Apopka community.”
Agrusa and Shawn Molsberger, Senior Vice President of Orlando Health, which was a corporate sponsor of the event, gave opening remarks before Nelson started his address.
“You’d think this was a Mullinax free car giveaway day,” joked Nelson about the size of the crowd. “Instead I’m going to take a couple of minutes and tell you what’s going on in the city of Apopka.”
Nelson spoke for slightly under 30 minutes, but instead of delivering a traditional speech, he moderated a slide show on a number of topics which included updates and details on the City Center, Parks and Recreation, Eco-tourism, the Splash Pad, the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, the Kelly Parkway Interchange, the Apopka/Zellwood Airport, the Apopka CRA, economic development, the UCF Apopka Business Incubator, the Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Apopka Fire and Police Departments, and the budget.
During the address, Nelson announced that Taurus Investments would be signing closing documents later in the day to purchase the property where the Hilton Hotel will be built.
“In the next four weeks we expect to see ground broken on the hotel,” said Nelson. “And we are excited about that.”
Nelson also announced a concert at the (Northwest Recreation Facility) amphitheater that may also see the installation of the long-awaited roof that was destroyed during Hurricane Irma in September of 2017.
“We’re going to partner with the John Land Trust to bring Sawyer Brown and John Anderson to the amphitheater,” Nelson said. “We’re going to call it the Apopka Proud Concert. Both of them are from Apopka and we’re excited to have them come sometime in April.”
During the address, Nelson spent the most time detailing his first budget as mayor.
“It was a challenge. We started in April. (City Administrator) Edward Bass came in a couple of weeks later. (Finance Director) Jamie Roberson started about six weeks after that. It was a challenge this first budget year, but the team pulled together and all the departments did what they had to do… we got the budget down to $114-million, which was almost $10-million less than last year. It was on an unsustainable path, but we feel really good about this budget. We didn’t use any general fund reserves or borrow any money to balance… and we look forward to next year.”
Nelson seemed at ease with the format throughout the address, telling jokes, interacting with the audience, and even pointing out people in the crowd who had gone the extra mile for the community.
Commissioner Doug Bankson was also pleased with his effort.
Nelson closed the address with remarks about the future of Apopka.
“We are really set to grow the city. We have a great team. I couldn’t be more proud of our staff. We are looking forward to the future.”