Definition of visionary: a person having or showing clear ideas about what should happen or be done in the future.
Some of Leesburg’s city leaders and business entrepreneurs tout Tom Frost as an enterprising, imaginative, innovative visionary with great ideas for downtown Leesburg.
Tom is not just talking the talk. He purchased and renovated the building at 214 W. Main St., site of the stylish Renew Day Spa, and he bought other properties with the goal of bringing more businesses and luxury-finished apartments downtown.
“Leesburg has more upside potential,” says the developer who has been behind several successful ventures, including Sarasota-based Datum Technologies, an IT services company that manages both restaurant and corporate-level technology throughout the United States.
Tom relocated from Sarasota to build a Lake County home for his growing family. He sees Leesburg’s close proximity to The Villages and other sites as a prime feature.
“Leesburg is the epicenter,” he says. “When you draw the lines, you realize where else could I be that you’re this close?”
From a geographic perspective, he notes Leesburg is near Florida’s Turnpike and close to Interstate 75, which makes it ideal to travel to Orlando and the major theme parks in a short time, along with being just an hour away from Daytona and other beaches, and a reasonable drive to Tampa and Jacksonville.
He’s eager to be part of revitalizing more of Leesburg’s downtown, and he says the work will be done 50,000 square feet at a time in the downtown corridor of Main Street from U.S. Highway 27 to Beacon College, and also Magnolia Street. Future work for pedestrians and cyclists would be done in the corridor east to Venetian Gardens.
“We have acquired 201 West Main and 205 West Main, and in those two buildings we are going to be building a coffeehouse and a full-service restaurant,” Tom says. “Our goal is to bring an edge into everything but at the same time be historically significant.”
One idea coming to fruition is the Evander Lee restaurant, named for the founder of Leesburg.
“And what we want to do with the menu is identify the menu items from yesteryear,” he says, mentioning meatloaf and fried chicken as possibilities. “We are going to try to do our research to find old recipes and try to resurrect those items.”
He also believes it’s vital to have businesses in place with a health perspective, including a yoga or fitness studio.
Part of the overall plan with the Renew Day Spa building is to renovate the second-story space, which he believes is one of several “under-utilized” sites that could be potential housing opportunities for people who want to live downtown.
“There is a great revitalization everywhere throughout the country to add luxury-finished apartments above these retail locations,” Tom says. “By bringing people downtown to live, then we can really enhance the retailers’ ability to make money, stay in business, and stay open more hours. Traffic begets traffic and that is a good thing for retail.”
He believes affordable luxury apartments with hardwood flooring, nice finishes, fixtures, and amenities are needed.
“We are underway with those projects,” he says.
More apartments are in demand among downtown workers and Beacon College staff members, he says, adding he’s also had regular coffee conversations with city officials Al Minner, Mike Rankin, and Mayor Bob Bone about Leesburg’s downtown.
“A lot of times, people are anti-growth or anti-revitalization for some reason or another, and it seems that everyone is the same mindset,” Tom says of local leaders. “We have had a really warm reception from the city government. They like our vision, and we are willing to adapt our vision to fit what people in the city feel is best.”
Mike, Leesburg’s economic director, welcomes the excitement Tom brings to the city along with Property Manager Bruce Kirkland.
“It’s refreshing to see an entrepreneur come in and see some real value in a community, and his organization has stepped up and invested in some buildings,” Mike says. “It is real encouraging when you see somebody new to the area coming in and investing in the area and they are incorporating the bones in the community into what they want to accomplish, so it builds a level of excitement throughout some of the commercial brokers and the property owners that they see new monies coming in for commercial development. It’s a good, contagious thing.”
Mike believes downtown Leesburg will be vibrant again.
“The romance of living downtown, shopping downtown, entertaining downtown is going to become a reality again in Leesburg,” Mike says. “There’s a really good synergy in all aspects to see monies, investments, equity in ideas being put back into the downtown area. It’s really exciting.”