Wesley Chapel to figure prominently
By B.C. Manion
It may not be easy for some to imagine, but the man who oversees planning and growth management for Pasco County predicts that the Wesley Chapel area will become the county’s new downtown.
Pasco County historically has grown along the west coast as growth pushed up from Pinellas County, but changing dynamics ultimately will transform Wesley Chapel – and the Wiregrass Ranch Development of Regional Impact (DRI) – into a major center for companies and jobs, said Richard Gehring, growth management administrator for Pasco County.
The area already has experienced significant change during the past decade, Gehring said, including The Shops at Wiregrass, a regional shopping mall at SR 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
Next to the mall, Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel, an 80-bed hospital with room to expand to 300 beds, is set to open this fall at 2600 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. A three-story, 100,000-square-foot wellness center just broke grown on the property last week.
Meanwhile, the Pasco-Hernando Community College is building its first multi-story satellite – Porter Campus at Wiregrass — on SR 56, on a site donated by the Porter family.
The community college will be just across the road from a site where Raymond James is under contract with the Porters for a major satellite office park.
Gehring predicted that once construction on the Raymond James project begins, the Porters likely will be talking to national and global companies about additional projects in the area.
To add to the mix, the Pasco County Commission last week approved spending up to $14 million for The Fields at Wiregrass, a sports complex that the Porters have estimated would generate 100,000 hotel bed nights a year by attracting national and regional baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse tournaments.
There’s also talk of a new shopping development at the Cypress Creek Town Center site that would be an upscale version of the outlet mall in Ellenton. When it opens, it would complement The Shops at Wiregrass and The Grove, Gehring said.
All in all, Wesley Chapel is poised to play a central role in a county that has much to offer as the economy begins to rebound, Gehring told those gathered at the monthly economic development meeting of the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce.
“What ends up being key here is that we have a majority of what is called ‘greenfield’ positions – lands that are ready for development, serviced with utilities and are poised to go — compared to the counties to the south, which have been the historic growth areas.”
It’s no accident that Pasco is attractive to large employers, Gehring said. It’s three to five times cheaper to develop on a new site, than to redevelop on an old one. For instance, when Raymond James was looking for sites, of the four selected, three were in Pasco, he said.
Pinellas County is mostly built-out and there aren’t many large sites in Hillsborough County north of SR 60, Gehring said. “It is hard to find 30-, 50-, 100-acre sites,” he said. “There are some, but not many.”
It’s not just a matter of having available land, however.
“Entitlements are key. Not only do you have to have the dirt. You have to have some things ready. In the county there are a lot of large-scale (development) approvals,” he said.
Pasco is using a tiered system of mobility fees to encourage employers to locate in the county. It also is planning for future transportation needs, by adopting a new phasing and timing policy to avoid gridlock, and planning for future light rail or rapid bus transit routes, Gehring said.
“We are regionally positioned. We have diverse market potential. We have plans and funding in motion.
“We want both quality and quantity at the same time, as we grow.”
Gehring praised the Pasco County Commission and County Administrator John Gallagher for reinventing county government and gearing up to be ready to accommodate the next wave of growth.
Pasco County has been very aggressive in setting itself up to be a regional player, he said.
“We’re prepared to create competitive advantage in this area.”