LAND O’ LAKES — Late on a recent Saturday afternoon, as the sun’s slanting rays cast their golden autumnal glow, Tommy Brown and his young sons mounted their bikes and set off in search of adventure.
Luckily, they didn’t have far to go, and their destination was known. In fact, from their side yard near the northeast corner of Ballantrae, they’d had their eyes on it for weeks: the BMX (bicycle motocross) park in the neighboring, emerging community of Bexley.
All they needed was for the construction zone barriers to come down. That Saturday morning, in conjunction with Bexley’s grand opening weekend, they did.
Now as the lads on their tyke-bikes jounced over the moguls, careened through the twists and catapulted across the banked turns, they hooted with laughter.
“This is fun!” whooped Alec Brown, 5, fairly hopping astride his bike while, nearby, Oscar, 9, clattered triumphantly over the wooden plank extension that rises like a dinosaur’s frill above the signature banked curve.
Their dad, meanwhile, was discovering the limitations of a mountain bike on a layout designed for tiny wheels. Never mind all that. Bathed in the patina of a fading fall afternoon, the 42-year-old computer programmer and his boys were making memories that would last into all their golden years.
Now, Pam Parisi, regional marketing director for developer Newland Communities, will tell you Bexley is selling a lot of things — houses (ranging from $215,000 townhouses to single-family houses in the mid-$500,000s), desirable amenities, nature-friendly design, abundant get-outside activities and a killer location (no one is closer to the Suncoast Parkway) — but, if you suggested, ultimately, the whole place is about filling your life with moments you’ll cherish, she wouldn’t disagree.
“Bexley is all about being families again,” she says. “It’s all about getting outdoors again. It’s not about having kids sitting on the couch ‘playing together’ with other friends on other couches.”
About that. Bexley comes front-loaded with “boot camp” fitness trails, miles of bicycle paths — one of which ultimately will link to the 42-mile Suncoast Trail — and a variety of parks. Some for kids. Some for dogs. Some for every recreational taste.
The playgrounds, in particular, hold your attention with slides laid into manmade hills and high-rise wooden play structures that, engaging the imagination while challenging young muscles, could be anything from a frontier fort in the Wild West to a magical abbey in Nepal.
No doubt some readers will consider this attention to a single master-planned community overwrought. In fact, the region embracing the Hillsborough-Pasco border from Trinity almost to U.S. 301 teems with similar villages, and many are splendid in their own right.
It bears noting, however, Newland has a history of reshaping how people regard things. Twenty-odd years ago, when it began carving out a mini-town at the end of a two-lane road near a sleepy incorporated settlement in southeast Hillsborough County, skeptics wondered whether the hotshot developers had lost their minds.
Now, as Parisi correctly notes, the area formerly known as “Lithia” is a reference reserved for mapmakers. For everyone else, it’s Fishhawk Ranch.
This is not to suggest the keepers of the Land O’ Lakes flame should prepare to take to the barricades. For openers, at 1,200 acres, Bexley is somewhat less than half Fishhawk’s sprawling 3,000 acres.
Instead, it’s merely to acknowledge the buzz about Bexley is warranted. Parisi describes the new community as Fishhawk Ranch improved by 20 years of experience and evolutionary thinking.
She points out the amenities are front-loaded, and not dependent on hitting a certain number of committed homeowners before artist’s renderings begin to transform into facts on the ground.
From Day One, residents will have access to the niceties mentioned above, plus a cafe (The Twisted Sprocket) and clubhouse worthy of a country club, plus a full-service bicycle shop, the first offshoot of the venerable, nearby Suncoast Trailside Bicycles, run by the energetic Geoff Lanier.
Next door, a cafe — open to the public — serves Bexley burgers (cheeseburgers topped with an onion ring) and beers crafted by Odessa-and-Clearwater based Big Storm Brewing Co.
Figuring out what’s going to erupt from the commercial frontage along State Road 54 is another matter. The first hint broke a couple of weeks ago with the announcement of a 110-room SpringHill Suites by Marriott, the first of its kind in Pasco County. Stay tuned.
And, as we have seen, even before the first families take up housekeeping, Bexley is fulfilling its mission: Getting people out and about. Getting them moving. With fresh memories to savor, the Browns of neighboring Ballantrae are happy it’s here.
Published November 30, 2016