When people think of what to do in Central Florida, the big, modern theme parks like Walt Disney World and Universal usually come to mind first. After that might be the smaller parks like Sea World and Gatorland. And after that? Well, some people might consider the outlets. Or maybe a dinner show. Or the touristy goodness of International Drive or Route 192.
But there’s also an attraction that’s one of the the granddaddies of them all. It’s been in Central Florida for close to 65 years and thanks to new ownership, it’s about to become better than ever!
The Florida Citrus Tower is a 226-foot-tall structure in Clermont, Florida, about 30 minutes northwest of Walt Disney World. Built in 1956 to allow visitors to observe the miles of surrounding orange groves, it was once among the most famous landmarks of the Orlando area. With the antenna reaching over 500 feet above sea level, it remains the highest observation point in Florida.
Times have changed in the past 60+ years. Larger theme parks started popping up down the road. The acres of citrus groves have given way to cookie cutter homes and strip malls. And unfortunately, the Florida Citrus Tower hasn’t really kept up with the times to keep it relevant. So what had been a large gift shop is now space rented by a church. A local community theater has also been known to use the Citrus Tower’s lobby as a rehearsal space.
“I used to go a lot as a child with my grandmother and I remember it being like it is now,” said Summer Aiello, a professional actress/singer at the local theme parks. “Restaurant for lunch, take the ride to the top, look at orange groves, go back down for ice cream and home.” Aiello grew up in Winter Haven, a town southwest of Orlando and home to Legoland (previously Cypress Gardens).
“Back then, in the mid 80s, there was nothing but orange groves and Route 27 (Citrus Tower is located on Rt. 27, a north-south U.S. highway that runs between Miami and Tallahassee. Until the 1970s, it was the major highway for those traveling to Miami from the north) was a two lane highway,” continues Aiello. “I love the Citrus Tower. It holds a lot of good memories for me. I think an update needs to definitely happen to ensure that people who haven’t grown up here get a chance to make it a landmark that means something to them.”
And that seems to be what’s going to happen.
Citrus Tower has been owned by Greg Homan since 1995. He’s in his mid-60s now and is really to settle down and retire, but didn’t want to sell Citrus Tower to just anyone. The tower doesn’t have registered Historic Landmark designation and there was nothing from stopping a new owner from giving up on the constant maintenance it requires, letting it go downhill or, as the old song goes, “Pave paradise, put up a parking lot.” So he did the smartest thing ever.
He sold it to his son.
As of January 1, 2019, Scott Homan and his wife, Heather, have become the owners of the Florida Citrus Tower and their plans include improving what’s there so it’s an attraction for the 21st century.
“We have big plans. Our objective is to make it a community place to gather, where people can enjoy food, drinks and entertainment with some of the best views in Central Florida or all of Florida,” Scott told Daily Commercial. “We also want to stay true to the historic placement of the tower and make sure that tourism still has a place here and that it’s still respected.”
Other plans include adding air conditioning to the top of the tower, which would open more options for the space, including wine dinners and watch parties for Disney fireworks, rocket launches, etc.
As a lover of history and of great views, I wish them the best of luck!
For more information about Florida Citrus Tower:
*** Huge thank-you to Summer Aiello for her assistance in this article
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary