The weather was warm, the sun shining, and the crowd deep for the grand debut of the Crystal Lagoon at Epperson.
The April 28 kickoff for the nation’s first lagoon was further buoyed with a special appearance from retired Olympic swimmer and gold medalist Michael Phelps.
Phelps, the most decorated athlete in Olympics history with 28 medals — 23 gold, three silver, two bronze — serves as global ambassador for Crystal Lagoons Inc.
Following a short promotional video and introductions, Phelps’ entrance at the Wesley Chapel-based lagoon drew bursts of cheers and applause from the crowd, who nestled near a main stage to get an up-close look at the legendary swimmer.
Phelps engaged the crowd by highlighting the enjoyment his own family had at a similar lagoon in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
“You guys are going to enjoy it. It’s so much fun,” Phelps said in his opening remarks. “The water’s crystal clear, and there’s so many activities — and that’s something that’s so much fun for me now being a dad with two kids, so I’m excited you guys get to experience this.”
Phelps noted it was his first visit to Wesley Chapel and the Tampa Bay area, arriving on a flight from New York City.
“I wish I lived down here, so I could experience this with my family more often,” he said. “Maybe we’ll have to bring the family down sometime soon.”
Following brief remarks, Phelps met with scores of fans and spent the afternoon signing autographs.
He later held a formal question-and-answer session with media.
Phelps’ first impression of the 7.5-acre lagoon? Gorgeous.
Said Phelps, “This is such a great place to be, and the atmosphere is incredible, so it’s going to be cool to watch this place grow, and watch families come and enjoy this.”
Phelps also said he “would love one in Arizona,” half-jokingly egging lagoon developers within earshot to plan a similar lagoon near his Phoenix-area residence.
Besides the Epperson lagoon itself, Phelps said he’s impressed by the modern technology which maintains the waters’ vibrant blue hue — the brainchild of biochemist and real estate developer Fernando Fischmann.
Phelps said, “To be able to turn brackish water into the prettiest, crystal blue water you can possibly find — it’s pretty mind-blowing. It’s incredible to be able to see the technology that we’ve been able to use…and it’s so cool how you can literally clean 1 percent (of the water) if 1 percent needs cleaned.”
Meanwhile, Phelps used his platform to discuss the importance of water safety, particularly regarding young children.
He stressed the importance of lifeguard and parent supervision, as well as teaching children to swim properly and to avoid drains.
Drowning is the second-highest cause of death for children under the age of 14, Phelps said, noting that teaching children about water safety is one of his passions.
Other dignitaries at the event included Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Wells Jr.; Pasco County commissioners Mike Moore and Kathryn Starkey; state Reps. Danny Burgess and Amber Mariano; Kevin Morgan, executive vice president of Crystal Lagoons US Corp; Greg Singleton, president of Metro Development Group; and Christopher Souza, regional manager for Crystal Lagoon.
In addition to Phelps’ appearance, the daylong tropical-themed celebration included water ski shows, flyboarding performances, and live music and dancing.
The perimeter of the lagoon was lined with food trucks, bounce houses and several other family-friendly activities.
Various real estate agents and homebuilder companies also had booths there.
While attendees weren’t allowed to swim in the lagoon, many walked along the perimeter, with some dipping their toes in the sand and shallow water.
The lagoon won’t be open for swimming until sometime this summer.
The lagoon spans over three-quarters of a mile, with its deepest point around 10 feet. It’s filled with approximately 16 million gallons of water.
It is the featured centerpiece of the Epperson community, which is eventually expected to have 2,000 homes.
Epperson residents will be able to enjoy aquatic activities, including swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding and sailing small boats, as well as Caribbean-style beaches and cabanas, a waterslide, an entertainment plaza, a yoga lawn and an area for special events.
The lagoon will have some limited guest opportunities, but will more or less function as a private club.
Though Epperson is the first, it’s one of 22 Crystal Lagoons planned throughout the U.S., by Metro Development Group. A majority of those are in Florida, with a handful in Texas, along with another on the Las Vegas Strip.
That includes a Crystal Lagoon planned for Mirada, a master-planned community next to Epperson. Another is planned in south Hillsborough County for the Southshore Bay community.
Both Epperson and Mirada are part of the Connected City corridor, which encompasses about 7,800 acres in northeast Pasco County.
At build-out, the entire Connected City will have about 37,000 homes and more than 12 million square feet of commercial space.
Published May 2, 2018