Building boom sounds again in Florida suburbs: See South Pasco County

Following a decade of solid growth, the State Road 54 corridor in southern Pasco County was hit hard by the bursting of the housing bubble late in 2006 and 2007. The nationwide foreclosure crisis hit the Tampa Bay area hard and the deleterious effects of the latest recession brought development to a screeching halt.

In 2009, The New Yorker even declared the subdivisions along S.R. 54 in southern Pasco County as a collective “ghost town.” 

How times change. 

In 2015, development in Southern Pasco County is now a veritable phoenix rising from the ashes. Drive along S.R. 54 today from Starkey Ranch to Wesley Chapel, and you’ll see signs of an economic rebirth that few could have imagined during bleaker times a few years ago. 

Orange, diamond-shaped boards warning drivers to be on the lookout for “Trucks Entering Highway” near dusty driveways and future roadways along S.R. 54 are literally signs of progress. 

Dirt is moving. Foundations are being laid. Walls and roofs are going up. New sod and landscaping are going down. Southern Pasco County is enjoying a construction boom not seen in close to a decade. 

What’s behind this fortunate turn of events for southern Pasco County? 

“Market demand and natural growth,” says Melanie A. Kendrick, senior planner for economic development in Pasco County. “There are many more affordable options here [in Pasco County] than there are further south toward Tampa. There’s a demand for new homes, which is a trend that’s happening nationally these days, and it’s trickling down to Tampa Bay.” 

Citing Census Bureau estimates, Kendrick says Pasco County has added more than 10,000 residents since 2010, and companies, especially builders, are hiring. 

“The hardest-hit industry during the recession was construction,” she says. “Now we have a shortage of construction workers, so we’re having to repopulate those jobs.” 

But unlike the 1990s and early 2000s, the growth happening in southern Pasco extends beyond medium-sized tract home communities and single-anchor strip malls. The projects rising along State Roads 54 and 56 have the potential to vastly transform the lifestyles and economy of the region for years to come. 

Here’s a look at what’s moving and shaking in southern Pasco these days.

Starkey Ranch grows into a master-planned community

Developers Reed Berlinsky and Matt Call are preparing to open the first phase of the Starkey Ranch master-planned community on some 2,400 acres along S.R. 54 near its intersection with Gunn Highway. Berlinsky and Call, the latter Starkey Ranch’s project director, are team leaders with this Wheelock Communities development, which runs on the tagline “where life takes root.”  
“We came (to Starkey Ranch) in 2011, coming off tough economic times,” says Berlinsky. He and his team met with Pasco County leaders and members of the community to help guide the direction of the Starkey Ranch project. 

“We want to create a true community with an active lifestyle,” Berlinsky explains. “It will be walkable, have bike paths, parks, tennis courts and soccer fields.” The community will also feature connections to trailheads in the adjacent Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Preserve.
Homes will cater to diverse households ranging from first-time homebuyers to empty nesters and will be built in a variety of sizes and styles. “This community will reflect our different lifestyles but bring us together through things we all want, such as beautiful parks, convenient shopping and other amenities,” Call says.
The heart of the community will feature a 90-acre district park, a K-8 school, a library and a theater, with areas toward the S.R. 54 gateways offering entertainment venues, shopping and restaurants. Berlinsky and Call also are exploring bringing in a major grocery store. “We can’t give enough credit to the community and Pasco County for helping to make this project successful,” Berlinsky says.
Amid the major changes unfolding at Starkey Ranch, the development team is ensuring sustainability plays a key role during the construction process, which is expected to last more than a decade. Many trees that stand in the way of construction are being moved to other areas of the site. New wetlands and nature areas are also being created to mitigate any impacts from the development on the surrounding environment.
“We’re looking to transform this corridor,” says ChappellRoberts Senior Account Executive Jill Pearson, who is working with the Starkey Ranch team. The Starkey Ranch welcome center opens to the public in April and doors will open on the first model homes by Ryland Homes and M/I Homes in May.

Pasco County gets its first outlet mall

Twelve miles to the east of Odessa’s Starkey Ranch, Wesley Chapel is also enjoying the fruits of a rebounding economy. 

Near Interstate-75, where State Road 56 intersects with State Road 54, the Cypress Creek Town Center is rising among the stands of cypress, pine and palmetto on a tract of land that sits just three miles to the west of the Shops at Wiregrass open-air mall.

Three developers are presently working on Cypress Creek Town Center, which was originally approved more than a decade ago. Tampa Premium Outlets, under development by Simon Properties, is the site’s focal point. Construction on the outlet mall began late in 2014 and crews are racing against the clock to finish the multimillion dollar project in time for this year’s holiday shopping season. 

Tampa Premium Outlets will boast a Key West village theme and feature more than 110 retailers flanking a central food pavilion and a fountain. Saks Incorporated’s “Off 5th” is among the retailers expected to anchor the outlet center. 

Richard E. Jacobs, another developer working on the Cypress Creek Town Center property, has filed plans to build a Costco membership warehouse. 

The site’s third major player, Sierra Properties, was the site’s original developer and is working on the construction of two hotels on a 40-acre area of the property closest to I-75.

“Hopefully Cypress Creek Town Center will grow into a major regional commercial area,” says Bob Sierra, chairman and CEO of Sierra Properties. Sierra’s team also owns more than 200 acres north of S.R. 56, which is slated for future development. “The Simon Outlet Mall is a wonderful beginning,” Sierra proclaims. 

Other major projects unfold in Southern Pasco

Countless “For Sale” signs stand among the remaining patches of open land stretching between existing strip malls, office parks and housing developments. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is acknowledging the inevitable future development of those vacant tracts and others throughout southern Pasco County with a road-widening project that’s currently underway along a portion of S.R. 54 between U.S. 41 and the Suncoast Parkway. 

The FDOT’s $16 million roadway improvement project will widen 6.7 miles of S.R. 54 from four to six lanes, bringing that stretch of the corridor up to the six-lane width elsewhere along the highway.

Meanwhile, the new Bexley Boulevard is shaping up near the Suncoast Parkway. 

The road improvements are coming just in time for the anticipated traffic from Bexley Ranch, a 5,000-acre master-planned community, soon emerging just northeast of the S.R. 54 and Suncoast Parkway interchange. The project’s developer, Newland Communities, is a familiar name in the Tampa Bay area; the firm also built the master-planned communities of Westchase and FishHawk Ranch. The first phase of development at Bexley Ranch will include 563,000 square feet of offices and 93,000 square feet of retail. 

Back east, homes are springing up in a new Wesley Chapel community called Union Park, located a little east of where S.R. 56 terminates at Meadow Pointe Boulevard. 

“Pasco County has been a great area for David Weekley Homes and we have a good track record here,” says Nate Beauregard, the Tampa division president for David Weekley Homes. Union Park is a development with six floor plans ranging in size from 2,500 to 3,200 square feet. 

Like Starkey Ranch, Union Park will tread lightly on the environment. “All of our homes in Union Park feature the latest in energy-efficient building techniques,” says Beauregard. The homes will also offer efficient technologies such as heating and cooling systems that conform to Environments for Living Gold Level standards. 

“These homes are 38 percent more energy efficient than a home built in 2006 and are built to use less energy, making them friendlier to the environment and to our customers’ wallets,” Beauregard says. 

While Union Ranch is heating up with development, things are cooling down near the intersection of S.R. 56 and I-75, where the Southeast’s largest ice sports facility is taking shape. Developer Z Mitch, LLC broke ground on the 150,000-square-foot Cypress Creek Ice and Sports Complex on February 24. Once completed, the ice sports facility on Cypress Ridge Boulevard will offer an Olympic-sized ice rink and three smaller rinks, an indoor sprint track, rooms for event rentals, lockers, and a restaurant. 

Remarking on the incredible growth along S.R. 54 and S.R. 56 further east, Starkey Ranch’s Berlinsky enthusiastically declares, “this corridor is really shaping up.” 

Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

 Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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