WESLEY CHAPEL — It's been a tough few years for brick-and mortar retailers. Malls across the nation, including in the Tampa Bay area, have been hit by dwindling foot traffic, major economic shakedowns at big-box retailers from Macy's to K-mart, and more convenient ways to shop and save online, like Amazon and Shipt.
And then there's Wesley Chapel.
A host of new hotels, restaurants, luxury car dealerships, and an ice skating rink are among the businesses carving out prime locations in the northern Tampa Bay community.
"The growth is unbelievable," said TJ Thielbar, the owner of the Italian eatery Noble Crust, which opened its second location at the Shops at Wiregrass Ranch at the end of July.
He said he picked Wesley Chapel because of more affordable real estate compared to downtown St. Pete or Hyde Park and the absence of local restaurants as competitors.
Like many, Thielbar also predicts the area will continue to grow.
"There is no shortage of developments coming," Hope Allen, president and CEO of the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce, said. "There is enough business for everyone."
Wesley Chapel is one of the fastest growing areas in the country. The community is thriving because of the mixture of available land, favorable demographics and positive shopping patterns, said Allen.
And the community seems to be immune to the financial disasters of retail.
"We have not seen (a decline) here; because, we have seen growth in many other areas," Bill Cronin, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council. "If we didn't see growth, then we probably would have noticed."
The bedroom community has been attracting more entertainment, restaurants and grocery options, evolving into a more city-like atmosphere for residents of the unincorporated area of Pasco County, who previously had been trekking miles of countryside. The retail burst follows a residential push, which has seen developers adding thousands of new homes over the last five years.
"Retail follows rooftops," Hope said. "You have to have consumers to have a good retail environment."
The opening of the Tampa Premium Outlets in 2015 created a "shopping triangle," Hope says, which includes The Grove and the Shops at Wiregrass. Tampa-based Sierra Properties also plans to develop the Cypress Creek Town Center, another shopping plaza, across from the outlets.
"There are more businesses coming to U.S. 56," said Billy Diamond, executive vice president of operation at Ford's Garage restaurant that opened in April. "It's good competition. We compliment each other."
Chick-fil-A and Cheddars are among the many fast food and casual dining restaurants prevalent around the outlet mall and other nearby shopping centers hoping to lure in international visitors, Orlando tourists looking for a sale and suburban families looking for dinner.
"This is great to see," Dewey Mitchell, a local real estate expert, said. "It is healthy and vibrant. It's not only good for the Wesley Chapel community but Pasco and the Tampa Bay as a whole. It is nice for everyone to have more choices, and this has provided that."
Development in Wesley Chapel has not always been so steady and thriving. When the recession hit a decade ago, some developers and retailers halted expansion plans. Some of those same companies have since resurrected their plans and other newcomers have joined them, said Allen.
Local planners hope to build on the retail growth with a diverse mix of companies and developments in the area.
Cronin, who is heavily responsible for bringing businesses into Pasco County, said he wants to add more office space, large industries and affordable housing options.
"We have the opportunity to do some game-changing projects," he said.
He also hopes to bring in companies that can employ residents closer to home —projects such as Raymond James Financial, a 65-acre campus with six four-story office buildings in the Wiregrass Ranch development, which ould bring about 750 new jobs to the county.
"We need to see more jobs here," Cronin said, adding that 40 percent of the Pasco residents travel to Hillsborough or Pinellas county for work. "Once we see some larger buildings that can hold campus-bound environments or hundreds of employees that is going to help us."
Contact Tierra Smith at [email protected] tampabay.com or (414) 702-5006. Follow @bytierrasmith.