Officials from both companies discussed their growth strategies Friday during an Urban Land Institute workshop at Polk State College.
Jeff Chamberlain, vice president of real estate for Publix, said the grocer was opening nearly 80 stores annually just a few years ago, until the effects of the recession took hold. in 2011, Lakeland-based Publix opened just 29 new locations.
“We had to sit back and think, how do we grow our company in these economic times,” Chamberlain said Friday.
He said Publix is improving its existing locations — remodeling more than 100 stores last year. Publix also has been replacing some of its older locations with new buildings, such as the Bartow store that was rebuilt last year, and the Lake Gibson store in Lakeland that is currently being replaced.
Publix also sees opportunity in liquor stores. the chain currently operates more than 130 liquor stores and has roughly two dozen more in the pipeline, Chamberlain said.
“Liquor and a bad economy seem to go together,” he joked.
In addition, the grocer purchased 10 Publix-anchored shopping centers last year and views them as smart investments, Chamberlain said.
Other areas of growth for Publix include the Apron’s cooking schools and event planning service (which are coming to the Lake Miriam store in Lakeland). the company also is focusing on infrastructure — doubling the size of a 550,000-square-foot warehouse off County Line Road in Lakeland while working on plans for a distribution center near Orlando’s airport.
Meanwhile at Legoland, the theme park’s early success in Winter Haven is speeding along plans for more growth and attractions, General Manager Adrian Jones said Friday.
Jones said he is confident Legoland will meet its May 26 target date to open a water park expansion. the addition of the water park positions Legoland as a “multi-day destination. That’s significant,” Jones said.
Jones said Legoland officials are particularly interested in capturing more business from Orlando, which in 2010 became the first U.S. destination to draw more than 50 million visitors in a year.
“If we can pick off a little bit of that and keep them here longer, that’s good for Polk County,” Jones said.
Legoland also has plans to beef up its water ski show and add more rides and attractions for toddlers and children up to age 2, he said.
Jones said Legoland Florida has seen strong sales of annual passes, with a customer base exceeding that of Legoland California. some 40 percent of annual pass holders live within 30 minutes of Legoland Florida, and about 20 percent live farther than three hours.
“That’s really encouraging news,” that shows Legoland’s drawing power, Jones said.
Finally, he said the park still has plans for a Legoland-themed hotel that will aid its mission of becoming “the ultimate family-friendly resort.”
Also on Friday, University of South Florida Polytechnic board chairman Gene Engle gave an update on the new Lakeland campus.
Engle said the campus’ first major facility, a 160,000-square-foot science and technology building, is currently scheduled for completion in March 2014, and will host its first classes in August of that year.