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FishHawk developer keeps steady hand on new communities

About 1,800 housing units consisting of single-family homes, townhomes and apartments are planned for Circa FishHawk.

Courtesy of Newland Communities

About 1,800 housing units consisting of single-family homes, townhomes and apartments are planned for Circa FishHawk.

RIVERVIEW — While the housing market reeks of foreclosures and abandoned developments, the self-professed creators of "incredible places to live" say they are smelling roses when it comes to their investments in eastern Hillsborough County.

Officials from Newland Communities, builders of FishHawk Ranch, MiraBay, Covington Park and other master-planned communities across the country, continue to see a strong future in two ongoing projects, one in Lithia and another in Apollo Beach.

But they're moving more cautiously, saying they've found that adapting to market changes while keeping an eye on the uncertain future is the best approach for now. Neither of Newland's projects will be launched until 2010, if then.

"For us, it's all about taking the long view," said Rick Harcrow, senior vice president of operations for the Tampa division. "We build master-planned communities, and our projects go for 10 to 15 years. We have to be patient. We're not making silly decisions in a down market that will come back to hurt us."

That's why he said Newland continues to move forward with design and development in Hillsborough, but with more focus on multifamily housing than its traditional upscale single-family developments.

At newly named Circa FishHawk, part of the 1,100-acre Lithia site formerly known as Lake Hutto, Newland will build on 710 acres.

An estimated 1,800 housing units consisting of single-family homes, townhomes and rental apartments are scheduled to be built.

Two new schools, one elementary and one middle, will be the only buildings at Circa when children arrive for classes in the fall of 2009. A new 100,000-square-foot regional office for 400 employees of the Mosaic Co. is expected to open shortly after the schools.

While FishHawk is for families, the vibe at Circa will be for everyone else, said Pam Parisi, Newland spokeswoman.

"Circa is for singles, professionals, prefamily couples or those with no kids, all the way to retirees and empty-nesters," she said.

A market study last year showed that a lot of grandparents were picking up their grandchildren at school, Parisi said. Newland saw an opportunity to provide housing for all generations.

The community at Waterset, the Apollo Beach development just off Interstate 75, will include housing similar to Circa but will have a "hip, edgy vibe."

The development, sandwiched between the yet-to-be-built South Shore Commons to the north and a recently approved 2.5-million-square-foot corporate park to the south, will include 6,400 homes on 2,300 acres. Plans for this project have continually changed with the market and the South Shore area, said Scott Jones, regional vice president of operations for Waterset.

"The South Shore is where the path of growth is going," Jones said. "We want Waterset to identify with the South Shore as FishHawk has in Lithia."

For now, the development will include a 12-foot-wide esplanade that will run from Big Bend Road to 19th Avenue. There also will be a 35-acre manmade lake, along with a new type of "informational center" that the developer is keeping under wraps.

As with Circa, Newland plans to spend most of 2009 working on more planning, designing, permitting and the infrastructure at Waterset. The company also is focused on building out the remaining 40 acres in FishHawk and starting on Starling, a 407-acre community on the north of FishHawk, also part of 1,100 acres that made up the company's Lake Hutto purchase.

At Starling, multifamily housing also will be mixed in with single-family homes.

Even with the new projects, Newland still looks to FishHawk as not only an anchor, but a bright spot in the Tampa marketplace, Harcrow said. About 30 percent of sales come from residents moving within the community. Another 30 percent come from people within five ZIP codes around FishHawk.

So far this year, company numbers show that more than 150 homes have sold in FishHawk, about 50 percent more than last year.

"We have a strong brand in the marketplace," Harcrow said. "We build master-planned communities and pay attention to the details. … We create incredible places to live. But we're doing what everyone else in our business is doing. We're looking and waiting … we want to ride the wave up."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com, or 661-2454.

FishHawk developer keeps steady hand on new communities 11/27/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 27, 2008 1:00pm]

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