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Developers see State Road 54 corridor as ripe for new homes, businesses

WESLEY CHAPEL — New River Township, one of countless developments that took off quickly only to languish during the housing bust, is getting a reboot, thanks to restructured financing.

Avalon Park Group, the developer behind New River and a master planned community east of Orlando also called Avalon Park, recently completed an exchange of the community development district bonds on the 1,800-acre development on State Road 54. Executives hope the deal, which took more than two years to consummate, will breathe new life into the stalled project and lead to the completion of the 4,500 homes and a town center with 700,000 square feet of retail.

"State Road 54 is the next big growth corridor for Pasco County," said Eric Marks, chief operating officer and senior vice president for the Avalon Group. He added that the widening of SR 54, along with the addition of north-south Meadow Pointe Boulevard and the State Road 56 extension made the development much more attractive than when it started a decade ago.

That also was before the construction of the Shops at Wiregrass, which offers mall-quality stores, and the announcement of the planned Wesley Chapel Medical Center and Pasco-Hernando Community College campus.

All of this will be within 5 miles from New River.

Ryland Homes will be among the builders of the community, which originally was served by Windward Homes and KB Homes. Neither builder is involved in the revived effort.

Marks said the company is in talks with several other builders, but declined to name them as no deals had been struck.

Lot sales are expected to begin in the first quarter of 2011, with models open by March 1. Prices will range from the mid-$100,000s to the low $200,000s and be 1,400 to 2,800 square feet. The developers hope to design the rest of the development much like its Avalon Park community, with spacious front porches and nearby downtown-style storefronts.

Marks said the housing market remains sluggish, but by making these moves the company will be in a good position when things eventually rebound.

"It's easy to stick your head in the sand," he said.

Analysts say the announcement doesn't signify the end of the housing crisis, but it shows flickers of optimism.

"There's still a lot of headwind to fight with foreclosures and short sales," said Marvin Rose, author of Rose Residential Reports, which are residential market studies. "It's very hard for builders to compete."

But he said new homes do have their advantages.

"You don't have Chinese drywall and people stealing light fixtures," he said. "You also have warranties on the home and appliances."

Rose said he has heard of other models being built. In Hillsborough last year, about 25 to 30 model centers opened.

"The (new home) market is very slow, but it's not completely dead," he said.

John Heagney, whose Holiday-based public relations firm primarily serves real estate clients, said he's noticed a slight uptick. He also is getting more inquiries about his spinoff business, mousethruthehouse.com, which offers free video tours of model homes.

"There was almost a moratorium on model homes for a good 18 months to two years," he said. "At the beginning of 2010 nobody was optimistic. They said 'I'm just glad to have my doors open.' I think 2011 is going to be okay. Nobody's jumping up and down and doing the happy dance, but they are collectively sticking their toes in the water."

One of those is Willy Nunn, president of WestBay Homes.

His company opened four models this year. The Hillsborough-based company specializes in higher-end homes ranging from $250,000 to $450,000. Though upscale, they aren't necessarily huge. Some are as small as 1,750 square feet to cater to empty nesters or couples who don't plan to have children.

WestBay, which builds in Mirabay, FishHawk Ranch and Seven Oaks, sold 30 homes in 2010 and is looking to expand.

Nunn thinks the overall market will remain slow in 2011, but high-quality homes in desirable neighborhoods with easy access to amenities will be able to compete.

"An A location dramatically outperform B and C locations," he said.

Developers see State Road 54 corridor as ripe for new homes, businesses 12/31/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 31, 2010 5:39pm]
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