ORLANDO, Fla. – Chris Jaskiewicz, the president and CEO of the $250 million, 20-acre ICON Park, which is home to dozens of businesses, and who is at the forefront of helping the tourism industry survive the financial downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been named Tourism Business Leader of the Year by i4 Business Magazine.
i4 Business Magazine is a top source for news on the Central Florida business community and focuses on sharing insights from incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders who are shaping the region. Each year, the publication hosts the Business Leaders of the Year awards to recognize the most celebrated and respected individuals across the spectrum of business. Only one leader is named for each industry.
After assuming his current role two years ago, Jaskiewicz knew he would be leading a new entertainment complex in a market with established industry titans as neighbors. “Disney opened in 1971, Sea World in 1973 and Universal in 1990,” he said, “We opened in 2015 and are the new kid on the block.” To gain attention and get customers, he was bold with a new name – ICON Park, and strategic with a new selling point – a short stay, easy access, fun and affordable quality destination. A year into his leadership, USA Today named ICON Park the No. 1 attraction for kids in Orlando, and Forbes Magazine called it one of the seven best attractions in Orlando.
Then the pandemic hit. Undaunted, Jaskiewicz turned his attention to leading the charge to reopen businesses and worked directly with the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force. “We have a lot of employees to protect and tenants to generate business for, and I wanted to fight hard for them. We told the task force, ‘This is how we are going to operate safely.’ And to their credit they listened, the county and state listened, and struck a perfect balance between safety and business concerns.”
In addition to CDC recommendations, Jaskiewicz highlighted ICON Park’s unique features: “Open-air, gate-free park,” he said, “With high-caliber restaurants, attractions and shops that already had strong safety procedures, so it’s not hard to overlay COVID-19 best practices.”
ICON Park reopened June 3, before Walt Disney World, SeaWorld Orlando and Universal Orlando. But that was just the beginning for Jaskiewicz, who came up with idea to promote ICON Park’s tenants and other businesses on I-Drive. Traditionally, the area has been most popular with tourists, but with travel restricted, he brought businesses together and formed the Orlando Entertainment District.
“I grew up in Orlando,” he said, “And I remember Church Street Station as a major entertainment hub, and then Pleasure Island at Disney, and they are gone. I looked around at the spots at ICON Park – including Blake Shelton’s Ole Red and Tin Roof, both with live music nightly – and 15 attractions in our I-Drive area, and I saw that we had inherited the mantle of Orlando’s entertainment district.
“The way I see it, not even tourists want to go to a tourist corridor, let alone locals, so let’s call ourselves the Orlando Entertainment District because that’s what we are.”
Jaskiewicz’s strategy is paying off. “Our weekends are busier than prior year weekends and about 90 percent of our guests are local and Florida residents,” he said. “Locals like that we are fun, affordable and offer free parking and easy access. Instead of worrying about COVID keeping people from flying into Orlando, we are focused on who is already here. Locals don’t have to fly anywhere to have fun. They can drive 15 minutes to the Orlando Entertainment District.”
His earlier career as a sports and entertainment lawyer in New York City at the powerhouse Proskauer Rose firm helped prepare him for his current role, as did his time as COO of a leading Manhattan real estate development company, the position he held until he took the helm at ICON Park two years ago.
He’s excited about what 2021 will bring to ICON Park – several new restaurants and attractions will be opening – and he is equally optimistic about Central Florida’s future.
“When the pandemic ends, tourism in Orlando will rebound quickly because we are the vacation capital of the world with our climate; our world-class attractions and hotels; our excellent airport; and our talented people dedicated to hospitality. Florida is the future, and Central Florida is just that – right in the center of the future.”
To learn more about ICON Park, visit: https://iconparkorlando.com.
Source: News release – Will Wellons Communications