North of Tampa, in a former cow pasture, the first super-fast internet community is being built from the ground up.
Christened “The Connected City,” the specially designed development will be the first U.S. community built on top of a fiber network that allows every house and business to communicate at gigabit internet speeds. With a velocity 100 times faster than the average internet hookup, the gigabit infrastructure is being heralded as a game-changer in bringing economic development to southeast Pasco County.
But more than that, supporters say a community built with gigabit internet will transform the mix of rural land and bedroom communities to the forefront of digital medicine and other cutting-edge technologies.
“We look at technology as the great equalizer, especially gigabit speed when we start thinking about technology to enhance people’s lives,” says Kartik Goyani, VP of operations at Tampa-based Metro Development Group
, the developer of The Connected City.
Goyani, an immigrant from India who came to the U.S. with just $500 in his pocket, lamented that his adopted country is 40th in the world in terms of internet connectivity. That is about to change, he says, at least in Pasco County.
“It hampers us from being able to compete on an international scale,” Goyani says of the country’s low rating for connectivity. “By creating this foundation we’ll gain so much traction in attracting a lot of companies who would not even consider Pasco County for their offices.”
But insanely fast internet won’t be the only “first” at this planned development that ultimately will cover 7,800 acres between Wesley Chapel and San Antonio. The Connected City’s first phase, now being developed on the former Epperson Ranch, also will include an amenity for residents unlike any other in this area: The first Crystal Lagoon in the country.
This 7.5-acre water body will employ Crystal Lagoon’s patented water purifying and clarifying technology to provide a safe swimming and kayaking recreation area more than six football fields long. Crystal Lagoons use a pulse disinfection system that puts small amounts of chemicals where they are needed at the appropriate time, and an ultrasonic filtration system that sends out sound waves to make particles in the water flocculate (form into small clumps or masses).
The result is crystal-clear water free of pathogens. Metro Development and Crystal Lagoons are also teaming up on three other communities: Mirada, the second phase of The Connected City, just north of Epperson in East Pasco County; SouthShore Bay in Wimauma in south Hillsborough County; and Brightwater in Fort Myers in Lee County.
Greg Singleton, president of Metro Communities, predicts that combining gigabit internet infrastructure with an amenity like Metro Crystal Lagoon, will be “very disruptive to master planned communities.”
“We’re pretty innovative,” Singleton boasts. “That’s in our DNA.”
The lagoon, which will feature a beach and entertainment plaza, will host a variety of events, from triathlons to weddings.
“The way we’ve designed it, we could have events where you could come watch Super Bowls,” Singleton says. “From toddlers to millennials to grandparents, they all can enjoy it.”
Lawmakers create city plan
The Connected City
’s origins date to an April 2015 act of the Florida Legislature establishing Pasco County as a pilot community for “connected city comprehensive planning.” The idea was to build a community that, in addition to housing families, would foster high-tech industry and innovation through partnerships in research, marketing, workforce development and entrepreneurship.
“This land was designated by the state Legislature to be a test for other cities,” says Hope Allen, President and CEO of the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce. “We are very well-positioned on the I-75 corridor. The land was available so it was the perfect storm.”
The Connected City will ultimately cover 7,800 acres between Wesley Chapel and San Antonio. The 50-year development plan calls for 37,000 homes and 12 million square feet of commercial space to be built, along with a wellness district and an education center in partnership with Saint Leo University, a private college in Pasco.
The first phase of the Connected City, being built on Epperson Ranch, will consist of 2,000 homes, with the first 250 to be completed this fall. Pricing for the homes will start in the $200,000s.
“That’s a very affordable price point for this region,” Singleton says.
With gigabit internet as the foundation, the Connected City will attract scholars, entrepreneurs, researchers and educators, Goyani says. He envisions “multiple research centers” including the Education Center. Saint Leo University
will recruit other universities to offer a broader spectrum of classes via internet. Professors from all over the world will be able to teach classes remotely, through a high-resolution, uninterrupted video connection.
Goyani said the Education Center will also be a laboratory for learning itself. Metro has been working with several charter schools and the Pasco County School District
to incorporate “next-generation learning” into the Education Center. Younger and older children will benefit from the advanced learning curriculum and technology at the center.
“And they can go to college right next door and continue their education without having to go to New York or California to get that specialized education,” Goyani says.
Collaborating on Wellness District
Metro Development Group is partnering with Florida Hospital
and Tampa General Hospital
on the Wellness District, an alliance that could push Connected City to the forefront of modern medicine, Goyani says. The gigabit technology will enable doctors to interact with patients through instantaneous video, and researchers to collaborate with experts seamlessly around the globe.
“Whatever research is being done in the Connected City, we see that benefitting people nationwide, not just the people in the Connected City,” Goyani says.
With the internet technology attracting brainpower in multiple disciplines, the Connected Center can’t help but become a job-producing dynamo, says Allen, the Chamber of Commerce President.
“It's very appealing to have fast connectivity. It’s very appealing to businesses,” she says.” And having a community where employees work, play and learn in the same area is very appealing. It’s shining a spotlight on us in Pasco and Wesley Chapel.”