Wide open spaces with access to the interstate.
It's a winning combination in the world of real estate development.
And Big Bend Road has it.
As more companies take notice, remnants of the farmland that once blanketed the region are giving way to growth. It began with banks, gas stations and a Sam's Club a few years ago. It continues as a hospital, a recreation center and a shopping mall clamor to build along the bustling stretch of highway between U.S. 41 and U.S. 301. A stop off Interstate 75, Big Bend Road connects Gibsonton and Riverview in a 3-mile patch that runs past Corr Elementary, Eisenhower Middle and East Bay High Schools.
The area's development during a time of economic uncertainty may come as a surprise to some. To others, it's a sign to move in.
St. Joseph's Hospital set its sights on Big Bend Road years ago. In 1986, the hospital purchased a 72-acre parcel on the south side of the road east of I-75.
"There was nothing there," said Isaac Mallah, chief executive officer of St. Joseph's Hospital. "It was farmland."
But the hospital envisioned a future.
"It was pretty good planning back then," Mallah said, "to look at potential growth areas in the county and decide where some good areas would be to buy."
After a years-long state approval process, the time has come to build.
St. Joseph's Hospital-South plans to break ground in October, beginning with 40,000 square feet of office space. Shortly afterward, construction on the hospital will commence. It is scheduled to be completed by 2015.
The new hospital, which will serve residents of southeast Hillsborough County, will include 352,000 square feet of inpatient and outpatient services ranging from an emergency department to diagnostic imaging.
Construction will include the installation of a traffic signal at the intersection of Big Bend and Simmons Loop roads and additional turn lanes.
After 26 years, the timing is right, Mallah said. The hospital will be similar to St. Joseph's-North which opened in Lutz in 2010. St. Joseph's-North chief operating officer Paula McGuiness is also involved with the St. Joseph's-South plans.
"That area, despite the economic downturn, continues to grow in terms of total population," McGuiness said.
That trend will continue with Newland Communities reviving what may be one of the nation's largest subdivisions currently under construction. Newland stalled plans on Waterset in 2007, but construction started again this year on the 2,350-acre site south of Big Bend Road. The first eight phases will include about 3,800 homes.
Newland is still planning how to develop the land remaining after that, but there's enough room for 6,700 homes.
The developers of Southshore Commons hope to help meet the needs of the incoming residents. The 1.5-million-square-foot retail, office and mixed use project, covering 137 acres southwest of I-75, has been in the works since 2007. Although the developer has yet to break ground, a spokeswoman for the project said residents can expect that to change soon.
"We have a lot of interest," said spokeswoman Tina Guegold. "We have been talking to a number of retailers but have no retail commitments at this time.
"We don't have specific timing set for the start of construction yet," she added. "But we anticipate it will begin in 2013 and hope to have the first phase complete by 2014."
The outdoor big box store and Main Street-style center has been delayed before. In 2009, developers hoped construction would begin by 2011.
This time, neighboring development could be the incentive retailers need to open new locations on Big Bend Road.
"There is tremendous excitement and energy right now in that area and that is what will make this development work," Guegold said.
That excitement has also drawn the attention of Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA, which plans to build a SouthShore recreation center on Big Bend Road in the next five years.
In a survey of the community "that area ended up as the No. 1 preferred location for a new YMCA," said CEO Tom Looby. "People are saying we want services in our own area, we don't want to drive to Brandon anymore."
The proposed build site is on county-owned land near Vance Vogel Park and could attract 6,000 families. Planners estimate the project will cost between $6 million to $8 million to complete.
Two or three swimming pools are expected to be part of the plan, along with soccer, lacrosse and T-ball fields and a 35,000- to 40,000-square-foot main building.
As more large-scale projects come to the area, smaller ones will fill in.
HCA, the organization that operates South Bay Hospital in Sun City Center, owns property across from the future site of St. Joseph's-South. Turned down by the state for a chance to build its own hospital there, construction of medical offices could still be on the horizon, said HCA spokeswoman Debra McKell.
There are no concrete plans in place now, McKell said, "but we are currently evaluating a variety of services that could be a benefit to the community for that property."
Phil Mook Enterprises, a Brandon-based KFC franchisee, owns two parcels of land to the east of the planned hospital. They plan to build a restaurant on one lot and sell or develop the other.
Construction is expected to begin in 2013.
Despite all the activity along Big Bend Road, there is still room for plenty more growth.
At least, for now.
"With the hospital going in next door," said Phil Mook Enterprises president Chris Mook, "there will be a lot of development around it."
Mallah said St. Joseph's-North created a ripple effect when it opened in Lutz.
"Hopefully it's going to be a real incentive for others to locate to (Riverview)," Mallah said. "We generally bring about 500 new jobs to an area and a lot of those people will live in the area, shop in the area and seek entertainment there."
The development also is likely to set off a broadening of Big Bend Road. Plans call for the eventual widening of the road and improvements to the I-75 exit ramps and on-ramps — parts of multimillion dollar projects scheduled for discussion this week in front of the Hillsborough County Commission.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2442.