Mount Dora 2016 – Looking to the Future with Area Partners

Hundreds gather at Lake Receptions to participate in Chamber of Commerce sponsored evening of "Mount Dora Christian Academy Presents Mount Dora 2016"

City and county leaders, business people, civic organizations and interested citizens attended last Thursday evening’s third annual Mount Dora Partnership Gathering to look ahead to Mount Dora’s and Northeast Lake County’s future.

The event, held again this year at Lake Receptions, was filled to capacity with over 400 attendees.  The message?  Mount Dora 2016: Celebrating the partnerships of The City of Mount Dora, Lake County Economic Development and Tourism, Visit Mount Dora and the Mount Dora Area Chamber of Commerce.  Mount Dora Christian Academy was the signature sponsor.

Dr. James Moore, the lively keynote speaker, is only the 5th President in the Mount Dora Christian Academy’s 70-year history.  He spoke of his dedication to Mount Dora saying, “I wish I could pour my heart out to you as a citizen and one involved in the community to let you know how much I love Mount Dora.”  Moore spoke of the rebranding of his organization, noting the recent change from the past “cumbersome” name of Mount Dora Christian Home and Bible School to Mount Dora Christian Academy.

Dr. James Moore addresses the crowd
Dr. James Moore addresses the crowd

Before expounding on his love for the organization, its principles and teachings, he shared some Mount Dora Christian Academy history and trivia with the crowd, noting that Mount Dora Christian Academy is the City’s largest private property owner.  The school has 560 students – with 95% of graduates attending college. As one of the largest employers in Mount Dora, Moore says administrators estimate the school pumps $40 million a year into the local economy.

Moore offered the audience an invitation to see the campus, to witness for themselves the improvements and additions that have been made for athletic programs, academic programs, and housing.  He went on to say, “Our campus is beautiful and we take pride in it – but, our school is not just about landscape and brick and mortar, the center, the crux, the core are the teachers and the administration.  Our teachers are caring and loving and engrossed in their profession.  They are highly trained and highly educated.”

Rob English, President of the Mount Dora Area Chamber of Commerce introduced representative speakers from each partnership entity including the Mount Dora City Manager, Vince Pastue, Robert Chandler, Director of the Lake County Economic Development and Tourism Bureau, and  Don Stuart, President of the Visit Mount Dora Organization.

City Manager Vince Pastue talks about Mount Dora's potential
City Manager Vince Pastue talks about Mount Dora’s potential

Each contributing partner communicated the vision of strong community development at the brink of future economic prosperity for this year – while expressing their hopes for plans that might serve the community for the next twenty years. Pastue discussed the wonderful impression that Mount Dora makes, saying, “Take every stereotype you have of Florida and kick to the curb, Mount Dora is such a beautiful town of rolling hills and lakes and a vibrant downtown with wonderful neighborhoods – but also – it’s the people.  The people themselves are wonderful.  In going forward, I have to acknowledge the political fires burn pretty fiercely here, and regrettably I think I may have added to the fire, in spite of that, there is great optimism about where Mount Dora is going.”  Pastue discussed his SWOT memo to council, enhancing the city’s social media, and partnering with organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and Visit Mount Dora.  Discussions of the future included the Wekiva Trail, the Wolf Branch Innovation District, assisting existing businesses to add jobs, engaging a professional marketing firm to advertise Lake County, and Lake County’s overall economic design and intent. (For detailed information, visit this Lake County website.

The overarching theme, ironically, for the current Mount Dora climate, was the importance of working together – of partnerships and relationships and of the good planning already in place to achieve some of those goals. (On Tuesday, February 2, Mount Dora City Council will decide whether to accept the resignation of City Manager Vince Pastue.)

Andrew Kurtz, of First National Bank Mount Dora, was acknowledged for his service as the immediate past Chairman of the Mount Dora Area Chamber of Commerce.  Incoming Chairman Tim Green presented the Organization of the Year Award to the Mount Dora Community Trust, which was established in 1972 and was created to provide the local area with funding for public, educational, charitable and benevolent projects to build community.

Tim Green, Chairman of the Mount Dora Area Chamber of Commerce with Eric Benzing, of Main Street Leasing
Tim Green, Chairman of the Mount Dora Area Chamber of Commerce with Eric Benzing, of Main Street Leasing

The night concluded with Tim Green presenting the Citizen of the Year award to Cathy Hoechst, recognizing her passion for Mount Dora and her many years of community service – with a jaw-dropping list of accomplishments and contributions including: volunteering as a board member of the Sonnentag Theatre at the Icehouse, board member of the Rotary Club of Mount Dora, chair of the board of Lake Cares Food Pantry, president of the Kiwanis Club of Mount Dora, board member of the Friends of the Mount Dora Library, and member of Leadership Florida, POP Warner Football participation and former mayor of Mount Dora.

Cathy Hoechst, with husband Jack
Cathy Hoechst, with husband Jack

As Rob English ended the evening, with a message of unity, encouraging all to continue to build on their relationships, working together to ensure Mount Dora remains “Someplace Special.”

Melissa DeMarco, Editor (editor@mountdoracitizen.com)