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2010 in review | Business and development

Pasco County's health care gains shine in an unsteady year

Home values continued to plunge. Stores closed, but others opened in their places. Hospitals expanded and changed CEOs. A proposed major mall got handed a major setback. Officials looked for ways to get government aid to jump-start economic development.

If 2009 was more down than up, 2010 had a few more bright spots, although double-digit unemployment continued to plague the county the entire year.

Health care continued to be recession-proof, with Morton Plant opening a $49 million expansion that nearly doubled the size of the original hospital in New Port Richey.

The expansion featured a three-story, 56,000-square-foot Starkey Medical Tower, named because of the $1 million donation from the pioneer ranching family (Marsha Starkey also serves on the hospital board). The new wing added private rooms, critical care, cardiac care and medical surgical units, new respiratory care services and conference rooms.

Nearby, construction continued on the future Medical Center of Trinity, which plans to change its name from Community Hospital and move from downtown New Port Richey to State Road 54 in fall 2011. Its sister hospital, Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, announced it was seeking state permission to become a Level 2 trauma center.

And across the county, construction began on Wesley Chapel Medical Center. The 80-bed, three-story hospital will cover 200,000 square feet off of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard just north of the Shops at Wiregrass. The hospital is expected to create at least 400 jobs and define the area as a hub of economic growth. Construction is expected to take nearly two years. A second phase will include the construction of a 90,000-square-foot medical office building. The hospital will be built close to the same time Wesley Chapel gets its own branch of Pasco-Hernando Community College, with which hospital officials hope to partner.

The buzz of activity wasn't limited to buildings. Four of the county's hospitals, Pasco Regional Medical Center in Dade City, Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, Morton Plant and Community Hospital all got new leaders as predecessors got promoted.

As for retail, Target and Sam Seltzer's closed, leaving more empty storefronts on U.S. 19, which once was west Pasco's main street.

But to bargain hunters' delight, discount grocer Aldi opened a location in Port Richey in the former Lone Star Steakhouse on Cinema Drive, while Seltzer's original owner reopened the restaurant under his own name, Harold.

Soon to occupy the old Outback Steakhouse site is Sweet Tomatoes, a soup and salad chain.

And in central Pasco, Mini, the tiny car that has a cultlike following, plans to open a dealership on State Road 56 in Wesley Chapel.

Not all was rosy on the retail front, however. Cypress Creek Town Center, which has been dogged for several years by delays over environmental issues, was ordered to stop any further development except for road improvements after a federal judge sided mainly with the Sierra Club in its lawsuit against regulators who gave the mall its permit. Meanwhile, developers are fighting back with an appeal.

Environmental problems were not always a liability. County officials hope to turn old ones — or the perception of them — into a plus by pursuing a brownfield designation for the Dade City Business Center, former home of the Lykes Pasco citrus processing plant. Under federal law, such sites, which may have had old unregulated industries or gas stations, can qualify for grants and economic incentives to lure business there.

The housing bust continued to take its toll on Pasco in 2010, with values falling in nearly every ZIP code. The biggest drop came in Holiday, where small retirement homes became starter homes for working families who were among the first to lose jobs. A few pockets, mostly in extreme rural areas that didn't experience the run-up in prices during the boom, were largely flat.

The sprawling new town Connerton, which suffered financial troubles last year amid the housing bust, got a reprieve when the Dallas-based CoastOak Group bought the development. The executive staff from former owner Terrabrook was allowed to remain.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Pasco County's health care gains shine in an unsteady year 12/30/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 30, 2010 9:48pm]
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