Sun City Center rejects $3 million renovation for recreational amenities

SUN CITY CENTER — The $3 million renovation of the community's central campus was supposed to provide room for more social events, a cafe and sports lounge and needed parking.

Some residents said the work was long overdue and argued it would give home buyers a reason to choose Sun City Center over newer 55-and-over communities, like nearby Valencia Lakes or Southshore Falls in Apollo Beach.

Local real estate agents agreed, saying the project would appeal to retiring baby boomers. For months, community board members touted the project.

But for now, at least, a majority of Sun City Center residents disagree.

In a vote Monday and Tuesday to decide whether to renovate the central campus, which some liken to a 1960s-era strip mall, 56 percent of the votes cast by residents (2,480 to 1,917) went against the plan.

The upgrade, which would have been completed in about 18 months, won't be happening after all.

"I was surprised it was that big of a negative turn out. But the membership decided and that's what they want to do," said Ed Barnes, president of the community association. "They did not want the long-range plan all at one time."

Barnes said he's not sure whether the board will push for renovations again.

One option, he said, involves stockpiling several years worth of property transfer fees and then tackling the project piecemeal when enough money is saved. But there's no guarantee the community will back that plan, either.

Barnes came away from the vote with only one certainty: The residents don't want a multimillion dollar loan to pay for the work. The board proposed financing the project through a $2.4 million loan, but worries about the interest payments generated opposition. Others expressed concerns about the plan's lack of financial detail.

Brokers and real estate agents were hoping for a different result.

Sun City Center is more than 50 years old and it's showing its age, they said.

Newer recreational facilities at the central campus would have appealed to retiring baby boomers.

"They are a much more active group and they're looking for certain things," said Rich Cohen, a broker with Prudential Realty.

Although Sun City Center remains a vibrant community with scores of amenities, the renovations would have polished its image with boomers, he said.

Gary Kaukonen, a Realtor and Keller Williams broker, agreed.

"We get 10 to 20 new buyers a week from up North and at least half tell us they've been to the Villages (in Lake County), Valencia Lakes and Southshore Falls," he said. "They're comparing us to other 55-plus communities and the others are newer and welcome centers are newer and they have newer amenities."

Kaukonen and other Realtors say Sun City Center still offers retirees plenty of options, from swimming to tennis, lawn bowling and arts and crafts, but the campus' aging recreational facilities can be a drawback for some.

"Some folks, especially baby boomers, will want to come into a community that has updated facilities," he said. "We're just hoping it won't impact on the community too much."

Board members said part of their aim with the renovations involved attracting younger home buyers — Sun City Center's average age is 74 — but the bigger goal was to improve conditions for current residents. Despite the vote, the community will still appeal to buyers.

"We were hoping to make it appealing to folks here and to appeal to a younger buyer," said board member Chuck Collett. "To modernize the facilities is good. But I think Sun City Center is already unique. You cannot find another place that has 160 clubs and the amount of social interaction that we have here, and that's also one of the major selling points."

Rich Shopes can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Sun City Center rejects $3 million renovation for recreational amenities 02/18/12 [Last modified: Saturday, February 18, 2012 3:30am]

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