Lake Mary is one of Central Florida’s hottest growth areas, thanks in large part to the dogged persistence of Jeno Paulucci, a blustery self-made millionaire who made his first fortune selling frozen Chinese food and a second one selling frozen pizza.The city today sits at the epicenter of Florida’s High-Tech Corridor, which follows I-4 from Tampa through Seminole County and northeast to Daytona Beach and Melbourne. Along the route, government and industry have joined forces to attract leading-edge companies in such fields as telecommunications, medical technology, and microelectronics. In Lake Mary, population 14,000, dozens of such companies have set up shop in several sprawling business centers that have combined to create a Central Florida version of Silicon Valley. The resulting tracts of easily accessible land caught the eye of Paulucci, founder of Chun King. In the late 1970’s, he announced plans to build a luxurious residential development and business hub called Heathrow. Few thought the audacious Paulucci would be successful, and the project floundered at first. But then the plainspoken old salesman quieted naysayers by persuading the American Automobile Association to relocate from suburban Washington, D.C., to his Heathrow Business Center.
The AAA coup, at that time Central Florida’s most important corporate relocation in decades, jump-started Heathrow and opened the door for all the business and residential development that followed. Of course, all those high-paid techies who now call Lake Mary home require upscale housing, which is easily found through an array of gated golf course communities loaded with swimming and tennis clubs, private lakes and jogging trails through nature preserves. Lake Mary officials are using a $100,000 federal grant to advance plans to redevelop the old downtown area to better reflect the city’s prosperous image and another Lake Mary town center has just been completed at Colonial Town Park, a 175-acre mixed-use development at a new I-4 interchange. The development features shops, restaurants, and apartments in a village setting.