A boom in development on Big Bend Road between U.S. 301 and U.S. 41 will bring both jobs and traffic to the SouthShore area. But relief for that traffic is contingent upon the arrival of a possible mall, the status of which county engineers says is in limbo.
Not even a decade ago, the U.S. 301-Big Bend Road intersection in the middle of the county was pretty much barren save for the Hess gasoline station on the northwest corner.
But the recent commercial transformation along Big Bend Road, along with an incoming hospital and YMCA, and the presence of new subdivisions and an existing high school and middle school, has the county and developers poised to expand both Big Bend and Simmons Loop to accommodate the inevitable increase in traffic.
Some of these steps have already been completed, said county engineer Mike Williams. Simmons Loop was widened from two to four lanes and a signal was added to accommodate the upcoming St. Joseph's Hospital-South, he said.
In 2015, ramp improvements will be made at the Interstate 75-Big Bend interchange to improve traffic flow and ease complaints of commuters during rush hour.
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Other plans, however, are dependent on the status of the proposed mall at Interstate 75 adjacent to the Covington Park community on Big Bend. If it goes through, Williams said the mall developers are required to widen different portions of Big Ben Road from Covington Garden to just east of the interstate and also from Simmons Loop to U.S. 301. Both sections would go from four to six lanes. The county would be responsible for the section between the interstate ramp and Simmons Loop.
"When the mall is ready to move forward, they'll start working on the constructions plans," Williams said. "We don't know when the mall is going to come back."
However, he doesn't see much movement on the proposed shopping mall near the Covington Park community. The mall has been talked about for years but the land is still a pasture, the project stalled by the recession.
"(The mall site) is a prime piece of property and it is hard not to see something being built there some day," he said.
When will the mall break ground is the big question and no one really knows the answer even with the improving economy.
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While that expansion is stalled, another developer at the corner of U.S. 41 and Big Bend will be responsible for widening the road from U.S. 41 to Waterset Boulevard, Williams said. The construction will proceed regardless of the mall.
All of these plans are inherently linked with the increased development happening around the area.
County planner Brian Grady said St. Joseph's Hospital South will be an attractor for growth. He indicated that the parcel directly across Simmons Loop from it is poised for development. That land has been approved for mixed use such as a hotel, offices and retail, and he expects to see more homes platted farther south on Simmons Loop.
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Tanya Doran, the executive director of the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce, has lived in Riverview more than four decades. Doran moved to the area with her family when she was 2 and graduated from East Bay High School, which sits next to Eisenhower Middle School on Big Bend.
In recent years, she has seen the commercial transformation all along Big Bend And even more subdivisions, stores and other businesses are going up along the 6-mile stretch from U.S. 41 east to Balm-Riverview Road.
Doran, 43, who has been with the chamber more than five years, sees the coming hospital along with the massive Amazon warehouse off I-75 and the recently announced USAA facility just north of Riverview as huge job generators. The warehouse will be some 5 miles south of Big Bend and USAA, a financial giant serving military families, will be on the edge of Brandon.
That puts the Big Bend development right between the two.
Doran sees St. Joseph's as a catalyst for additional medical services, increased home sales and expansion/growth of businesses in the area. Next to Big Bend and in front of the hospital site, the St. Joseph's Physician Office Building is already opened.
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Across from St. Joseph's Hospital, set to open in 2015, is the 36-acre site of a Family YMCA branch. That land is currently being prepared for the facility to be built in three phases next to Vance Vogel Park on Bullfrog Creek Road. The first phase is scheduled to be completed next year.
And a couple of miles to the east, more restaurants and other businesses are setting up. PDQ has become the newest fast-casual restaurant at the U.S. 301-Big Bend intersection. The crowded area already includes several banks, grocery stores, tire stores, fast-food joints, sit-down restaurants, department stores, hardware store, gas stations, a drugstore, and medical office complexes.
Williams said he envisions more vacant areas along Big Bend between I-75 and U.S. 41 filling in with commercial development and home sites, including the Duke Realty property at U.S. 41 and Big Bend zoned for commercial/industrial use such as a distribution center or office/warehouse.
However, how the county will accommodate all the traffic that will come with the development remains, at best, a work in progress.
Henry Howard is a Times correspondent. Caitlin Johnston is a Times staff writer. Contact her at (813) 661-2443.