This crowd was bullish on East Pasco’s prospects

Speakers at the recent “Discover Dade City” symposium cast a spotlight on East Pasco’s development opportunities.

The event, held in the conference center at the East Pasco campus of Pasco-Hernando State College, focused on ongoing projects, as well as those on the drawing board and future prospects.

Dewey Mitchell, the keynote speaker at ‘Discover Dade City’ said that as Dade City grows, its biggest challenge will be to preserve its authentic charm. (B.C. Manion)

The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the Greater Tampa Realtors and Central Pasco Association of Realtors (which merged with the Pinellas Realtor organization), hosted the inaugural event on Nov. 29.

Larry Guilford, who moderated the two panels of speakers, said “so many things are already happening in Dade City, and so much more is going to happen.”

Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez said since becoming mayor in 2012, she has tried “to make sure that Dade City has a seat at the table.”

The city continues to look at ways to enhance its quality of life, through such amenities as recreational trails, a bike hub and a splash park, Hernandez said.

It also wants to find ways to repurpose its old buildings, and to explore a Farm-to-Table initiative, she said.

As the city grows, it wants to be sure it plans appropriately, Hernandez added, so it can preserve the “quaint authentic nature of Dade City that you won’t find anywhere else.”

New roads to progress
State Rep. Danny Burgess talked about the extension of State Road 56, which now ends at Meadow Pointe Boulevard in Wesley Chapel, but is being extended to U.S. 301 in Zephyrhills.

The road will create a new east-west artery that will help ease congestion and promote economic growth. Burgess said, “That will open up so many opportunities.”

David Gwynn, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation District 7, said it looks like the State Road 56 extension could be completed as early as next spring, or at least by summer.

The transportation leader talked about a number of other projects that will have a significant impact in East Pasco.

The biggest investment involves projects on State Road 52, starting at the Suncoast Parkway, with stretches being widened all of the way over to U.S. 301, he said.

“This summer, in June, we’re going to let over $150 million in state projects just on State Road 52,” he said. “Widening to six lanes the portion between the Suncoast (Parkway) and (U.S.) 41; some other projects between (U.S.) 41 and the interstate (I-75); and, the realignment (of State Road) 52 all of the way out.”

The state also is studying whether State Road 56 could be further extended from U.S. 301 over to State Road 39 to create another corridor leading to Interstate 4.

Another big project, referred to as the Diverging Diamond, is expected to begin construction in early 2019.

Aimed at reducing congestion at State Road 56 and I-75, the project is expected to make traffic in that area more challenging during construction.

The planned construction of an I-75 interchange at Overpass Road also is expected to provide a significant improvement to transportation in East Pasco.

Preparing future workforce
On the education front, Kurt Browning, superintendent of Pasco County Schools, said a new technical high school expected to open in 2022 on Old Handcart Road will expand opportunities for students, while helping to boost Pasco’s economy.

The school will serve students from the Dade City, Zephyrhills and greater Wesley Chapel areas.

The goal is to build a school that helps students to develop skills that are needed by employers, which will benefit the school’s graduates and companies seeking to fulfill workforce needs.

The district is doing its homework now, to ensure that the school is equipped to offer relevant programs, Browning said.

“We don’t want to build a building and then figure out what programs we’re going to teach,” the superintendent said.

Pasco County Commission Chairman Ron Oakley addressed the need for local government to pick up the pace with regards to permit approvals.

“That’s the worst part of government —  how slow it moves,” Oakley said.

He pledged: “Pasco County is not going to hold up the builders and others who want to do things the right way. We’re going to make it so it’s more streamlined for them to get those permits.

“There’s nothing wrong with controlled growth,” Oakley said.

Opportunities for all
Another panel talked about investments being made in East Pasco.

Jason Newmyer, administrator for Florida Hospital Dade City, said next year will be a transformative year at the hospital, as a $22 million makeover begins.

Michael Lawson, director of operations for Metro Development Group, talked about Connected City, which is intended to be a place where there will be opportunities for everyone, ranging from large companies to small entrepreneurs.

“We’re going to create this environment that will promote this growth,” Lawson said, noting the 50-year plan for Connected City calls for the development of 10 million square feet of nonresidential and 40,000 residential units.

Connected City is in a corridor covering about 7,800 acres in northeast Pasco County. It borders Interstate 75, State Road 52, and Curley and Overpass roads.

Some things are already happening.

Epperson, a community in Connected City, became the first community in North America to open a manmade turquoise lagoon, known under the trademarked name, Crystal Lagoon.

“Crystal Lagoon has been a game-changer for the industry. We were proud to be the first in the U.S. We’ll see these deployed all over the country, but that’s just one element (of Connected City). There are going to be so many more.

“I look at Connected City as basically being an iPhone with unlimited ability to put Apps on it,” Lawson said.

Dewey Mitchell, co-owner of Capstone Tropical Holdings Inc., was the symposium’s keynote speaker.

Agreeing with other speakers on the agenda, Mitchell said there’s no doubt East Pasco is poised for growth. He also touched on an issue raised by Dade City Mayor Hernandez.

“I think the biggest issue for Dade City going forward — as all things happen, and they are going to happen — is keeping the charm the city has currently. I think that’s going to be the biggest issue.

“I kind of like to look at the city of Dunedin. They’ve done a really good job of merging the old city with newer development.

“It’s a pleasant place to be. There’s restaurants and shops. It’s lively. They have a bike path through.

“It sounds easy, but it’s not,” he said.

“At the risk of being offensive to someone, take St. Pete Beach. They messed it up,” he said, and now, “they’re struggling to get back what they once had.

“They just didn’t do it right. Dunedin did,” Mitchell said.

The symposium’s aim was to raise awareness of development opportunities in the East Pasco area, and provide networking opportunities for developers, brokers and property owners, according to John Moors, executive director of The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce.

Saint Leo University was the presenting sponsor, assisted by Pasco-Hernando State College, First National Bank of Pasco, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Properties Group, Florida Hospital Dade City/Zephyrhills, San Antonio Citizens Federal Credit Union, the City of Dade City and The Laker/Lutz News.

Published December 12, 2018

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