Larry Guilford uses a block party as one of the ways he pays for his charitable endeavors.
There’s a street party on the second Friday of the month, next to The Block, a venue at 14307 Seventh St., that features a brewery, a restaurant, a CrossFit gym and 5,000 square feet of event space.
The Block takes up a whole city block, right in historic downtown Dade City.
Guilford, a longtime commercial real estate agent in Pasco County, is the founder and owner of The Block, housed in a historic building that was an auto dealership in the 1920s, originally operated by Highlands Motor Company.
Guilford also is founder and president of Make a Difference Inc., his 501c nonprofit organization.
The charitable organization that Guilford founded in 2007 is dedicated to helping Pasco County with social, economic and educational resources to improve the quality of life for individuals in need.
“You see the need, but we don’t judge,” Guilford said. “We want to help as many people as we can, especially in East Pasco. You never know that one day you might be in the line waiting for food.”
Make a Difference provides a Mobile Pantry, distributing food in prepacked boxes or through a farmer’s market-style distribution; Shoes 4 School, which is dedicated to providing new shoes to children in the Pasco County school system; and Pasco Difference Makers, which moderates monthly networking meetings to assist local charities in East Pasco.
“What I wanted to do was come back (to Pasco County), to get back into real estate, so I came to Dade City,” Guilford said. “I wanted to do that and make some money to put back into charity work down the road.
“But I always liked this brick building. I always joke with people that its Armature Works, without the $20 million.”
Indeed, Guilford buying and renovating the old building into The Block has essentially revitalized the “North Side” of Dade City just above Meridian Avenue. It has inspired more businesses to consider downtown Dade City and brought a monthly “block party” held every second Friday. Crowds have been out in droves to enjoy food, drinks, entertainment and music.
After the third block party on April 8, Guilford said: “They’re getting bigger and better each month! That was part of my vision: to be able to walk Dade City.”
Before, when people reached the corner of Seventh Street and Meridian Avenue, “there was nothing to see,” he said.
Guilford’s impact on the county dates back decades, especially since he helped develop some of the original and early businesses back before Wesley Chapel’s burgeoning growth.
When he arrived, from Michigan, during the late 1970s, he saw the growth that could happen in Wesley Chapel and helped set up the commercial side of State Road 54, including the Comfort Inn and McDonald’s, which still stand today.
“There really wasn’t much out there in Wesley Chapel,” Guilford recalls. “But back then, I was known as the Honorary Mayor of Wesley Chapel.”
After developing that fledgling town in the early 2000s, Guilford decided to focus solely on charitable work and opted to help less-fortunate countries. The work took him back and forth overseas to the Philippines, Columbia and Ukraine, to name a few. Guilford has been doing work tirelessly in the Ukraine since 2003. He helped rebuild orphanages, including restoring buildings and putting in 1,500 beds.
“It’s really tough to see what’s going on there now,” he said.
Eventually, it was time to come back to the states on a more permanent basis, as he did when he decided to take a look at Dade City — a historic town that was begging for revitalization.
“He truly has been a blessing for Dade City,” said Camille Hernandez, the city’s longtime mayor before she stepped away from political life on April 26.
“He always has his thinking cap on — how can I help Dade City? And he hasn’t stopped. He’s that trailblazer, that spark, that leap of faith that’s given confidence to others to invest in this community, too.”
Guilford isn’t stopping.
Soon, just across the street from The Block, will be ZoneWorx Coworking Space, which will allow businesses to rent office space and amenities. It is, of course, also in a historic building that used to be a car dealership.
“He’s just such a visionary,” said James Shive, who recently became Dade City’s mayor. “To be able to envision (The Block) and be that successful with it and his whole career — it’s just made a huge difference in the downtown north corridor. People are now discovering Dade City, and its bringing in a more youthful group and more young families are coming and moving out here.
“He’s such an amazing person and has given so much to be thankful for. I honestly can’t say enough about him, and what he’s done and going to do for our community.”
Without a doubt, downtown Dade City has seen a boom in businesses from Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread, Dade City BBQ and Ice Cream Company, Uptown Creamery, Prelude Academy of the Arts, the Brew House, and even more to come.
“There has been an influx of about 30 businesses,” Shive said. “I’ve lived here my whole life, I’ve raised a family here, and I think back to all the eclectic shops that used to be in Dade City and you’re seeing that come back.”
Shive noted that the city’s redevelopment agency has plugged more than $4 million into improvements of downtown buildings, while there are 19 more projects on the books. Shive expects that in five to 10 years, Dade City’s population will triple.
“We’re going to develop the city, but go about it the way to preserve the integrity of the small town and its history,” Shive said. “The way (Larry’s) done it.”
Guilford said he visualized downtown Dade City’s possibilities years ago.
“What we had going for us was the historic aspect of downtown,” he said. “Plus the growth corridor (that is Wesley Chapel). It’s coming and maybe even already here, and it’s spreading into Dade City. We’re going to benefit from Wesley Chapel.”
Guilford can already picture his next project, and others are eagerly waiting to find out what it will be.
“He’s just been truly an asset and a blessing to Dade City and to me!” Hernandez said. “He’s so solution-oriented on how we can get it done and make it happen.
“I just can’t wait for his next project — and it’s a secret!”
For more information on Dade City, log onto DiscoverDadeCity.com.
Where: 14313 Seventh St., in Dade City
Details: Dade City Brew House, KÄN SEPT, CrossFit HCP, Venue at the Block.
Info: Call 352-437-3059, or visit TheBlockDadeCity.com.
The Venue at The Block is holding a grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony on June 15 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. The event will cater food and cake tasting, a cocktail bar, wedding vendor booths, music and more. It is free and open to the public.
Published May 18, 2022