LITHIA — In 1989, when Hillsborough County commissioners gave the green light to start FishHawk Ranch, developer Glen Cross called it an important first step in a 20-year process.
As with many other projects in which the president of the Shimberg Cross Co. was involved, his forecast proved accurate. Today with 4,200 homes and more than 25 miles of walking trails, the subdivision could pass for a small town.
FishHawk also led the way for the rapid growth of southern and eastern Hillsborough County, offering a family-friendly environment within commuting distance to Tampa. Mr. Cross was also a key player in the formation of Town 'N Country near Tampa International Airport, and MiraBay.
After decades on the go, he was settling into a more relaxed lifestyle in his summer home of Banner Elk, N.C., when tragedy intervened. Mr. Cross died Tuesday morning in a traffic accident in North Carolina. He was 72.
"I think he changed the face of south (Hillsborough)," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who got a job with the Tampa Bay Builders Association in 1984 after Mr. Cross recommended him. "He was ahead of the curve in its transition from agricultural to a more suburban development."
As an early developer, Mr. Cross is credited with assembling the pieces of land that became FishHawk Ranch of Newland Communities, in which he maintained a minority partnership.
"Glen was a visionary, a trailblazer and a mentor for many of us," said Pam Parisi, FishHawk's marketing director in Tampa. "FishHawk is what it is because of his vision early on."
A quiet man who drew attention when he spoke, Mr. Cross always took the long view.
"He had a gift of looking at land and knowing what he wanted to do with it," said Sandy Cross, his wife. "He loved to walk over it, fly over it."
Mr. Cross saw opportunity in Tampa's congested streets, coupled with less expensive property accessible through Interstate 75 and the Crosstown Expressway.
"There's no doubt that in the '60s, '70s and early '80s, three-fourths of the county's development occurred in the northwest and only 25 percent occurred in the east," he said in 1987. "In the next five years, you'll find those figures will reverse themselves."
Glen Edward Cross was born in New Castle, Ind., to a farming family. He joined the Air Force after high school, hoping to become a pilot. Doctors offered him a medical discharge due to his diabetes, but Mr. Cross waited until his symptoms lessened and he had served four years because he wanted an honorable discharge, his wife said.
He worked for a developer in Indianapolis, but decided to move to Tampa after a vacation there.
He worked for the developer Lamonte-Shimberg, then joined Mandell "Hinks" Shimberg to form Shimberg Cross in 1975. In 1986 he married Sandy, his second wife.
Over the years he nurtured a love of speed. Mr. Cross drove his red, white and blue Camaro at road racing courses such as Sebring International Raceway, Road Atlanta and Watkins Glen International.
"I didn't think there was a situation he couldn't get out of on the road because of his expertise in driving," Sandy Cross said.
Despite his success, Mr. Cross' life had been marked by sadness. In 1988, his 17-year-old stepdaughter, Karen Keene, fatally shot herself with Mr. Cross' handgun.
"He just said that that made us stand back, reprioritize and appreciate every day with our loved ones," said Sandy Cross, 62.
He was doing just that Monday night, when he and family members ate dinner out in Banner Elk. They took a group photo afterward.
Back home that evening, Mr. Cross took each of his 15-year-old granddaughters for a ride on his Harley.
On Tuesday morning, he was driving on the Beech Mountain Parkway when a truck hauling two cars lost control of its payload.
One of the cars collided with Mr. Cross' vehicle, killing him.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.