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Frank Stringer, tireless visionary for Pasco County, dies at 77

WESLEY CHAPEL — Nearly a quarter-century before the Shops at Wiregrass tempted residents with nearly 100 stores, before area leaders planned groundbreaking ceremonies for a new hospital and a community college, before the area was considered a suitable site for light rail, Frank Stringer had a vision.

The time had come, he declared in 1986, when "a convenient food mart and a gas station" were no longer enough.

With that, he announced plans for a $596 million, 2,500-acre development to include a 450-acre office park, 4,700 luxury homes, stores, a marina and conference center. All told, it would employ 12,950 people and generate $10 million annually in property taxes.

The development, to be called Saddlebrook Village, would lie west of the famed golf and tennis resort Mr. Stringer had helped design and develop as president.

The company that Mr. Stringer was working for later sold the property to Crown Communities. Much of it is now devoted to homes in the Seven Oaks community, though some also houses a medical clinic.

Though Mr. Stringer's dream never materialized in the way he envisioned, those who knew him still called him a man ahead of his time. On Dec. 4, 2010, 10 days before construction was set to begin on Wesley Chapel's first hospital, Mr. Stringer died of a rare degenerative muscle disease that he had battled for about three years. He was 77.

"He came with a bevy of ideas, and he implemented a lot of them," said County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who knew Mr. Stringer when he moved here from Cleveland to head Saddlebrook Resort. "He was a force — in a good way."

A talented tenor with a sharp Irish wit, Mr. Stringer came to Pasco at the request of Saddlebrook owner Tom Dempsey to help with the development and design. He never left and immersed himself in the community. He served on the county's tourist development council when it was just beginning. He also worked on an advisory committee of business leaders who helped develop the county's incentive program to attract new business. And he was on the Committee of 100, the precursor to today's Economic Development Council, and served on the council after it began.

"He always kept pushing for economic development," said County Administrator John Gallagher. "He always tried to make sure (the Wesley Chapel) area of the county was well planned."

Newspaper articles during the years Mr. Stringer was actively involved show a man who tireless advocated for Pasco.

During the mid 1990s, he pushed the county as a site for the state agricultural museum. When he heard about the museum through his real estate consulting business, he thought the area around Interstate 75 and State Road 52 would be ideal. (In the end, state officials put the museum in Flagler County.)

He also advocated since the late 1980s for the widening of then-two lane State Road 54. When the narrow road was widened a bit in 1994, Mr. Stringer described it as "a significant short-term improvement."

"I think ultimately it will have to be four through-lanes," he said.

Despite his big-picture mentality, Mr. Stringer occasionally missed. Like a lot of people, he failed to see how something called the Internet would play a major role in society.

"I would drown if I surfed the Internet," he said in 1995 when tourism staffers wanted to shift more advertising dollars online and away from print magazines. "Who are the users? Who really picks this up?"

Still, the developer of several projects around the state was known for his keen intellect as well as his gentlemanly demeanor.

He held a degree from John Carroll University and received a law degree from John Marshall Law School, according to his family. He also studied Greek and read classics in original languages.

He loved music and sang during his younger days in productions in Cleveland. He crafted most of the woodwork in the couple's Saddlebrook home. He golfed and deeply regretted it when his health made it impossible for him to play, said Peg Stringer, his wife of 27 years. A real estate agent, she met him at Saddlebrook Resort during a business meeting.

"We started talking and never stopped," she said.

The pair blended their seven children — his five and her two — and created a close-knit family.

Each year, Mr. Stringer would host his family for a week "so all the kids and grandkids would get to know their relatives," his wife said.

A few years ago, he took everyone on an Alaskan cruise.

He and Peg had also planned trips to Asia, Australia and New Zealand, the only areas to which they had never traveled.

"He just enjoyed everything," she said.

Though he made a lot of it during his life, Mrs. Stringer said, he really wasn't interested in money.

"He was never motivated by money but by the desire to create something beautiful and environmentally friendly," she said. "He took great pride in the end result."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

.Biography

Frank Stringer

Born: June 22, 1933.

Died: Dec. 4, 2010.

Survivors: Wife, Peg; sons Stephen Stringer and his wife, Stacy, and Patrick Stringer and his wife, Kristi; daughters Jeanine Means and her husband, John; Lisa Gallagher and her husband, Dan; and Suzanne Rakoczy and her husband, Gregg; stepdaughter Susan Rosenthal and her husband, Seth; stepson Bill Willard; brothers Tony, Dan and Mike Stringer; sister Rosemary Gallagher; 13 grandchildren.

Service: Mr. Stringer's family held a private funeral. Anyone who wants to honor him may make a donation to a charity of their choice. Notes of sympathy may be sent to the family through Hodges Family Funeral Home at randy@hodgesfuneralhome.com.

Frank Stringer, tireless visionary for Pasco County, dies at 77 12/14/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 8:40pm]
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