Inching along behind a concrete truck on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in New Tampa a few days ago, I was remembering the old joke that the construction crane is Florida's state bird, when suddenly a crane stepped in front of me.
It was a sandhill crane, one of those long-legged gray birds with the red faces that you often see teetering around construction sites. Usually that means their habitat has been disturbed and they're trying to make peace with their new neighbors.
This high-stepping strutter will have plenty of new neighbors to cozy up to. Two projects are bringing more lookers, buyers and residents to this heavily developed part of our world.
I remember a few years ago when West Meadows was barely out of the ground; Arbor Greene, now nearly sold out, was holding its grand opening; and there was no place to eat along Bruce B. Downs. Now every national chain eatery and big-box retailer, as well as plenty of tanning parlors, ceiling fan stores and nail salons, have set up shop there to serve the 30,000 residents of New Tampa. It's hard to realize that the rustic county parks, with their off-road trails and kayaking put-in spots, are just a few miles away on Morris Bridge Road.
One of my destinations that day was Cory Lake Isles, which is not a new community but has been slow to build out. Avatar Properties, a big developer out of Central Florida, bought more than 600 home sites there last year, unveiled lots of new designs and has been aggressively publicizing the development.
It seems to be working, said sales consultant Ann M. Tonelli. She had been seeing between 17 and 22 people a week at the sales center. Now that's up to about 55, she said. About half the buyers are families; the others are divided among single and married professionals and empty-nesters.
Avatar offers 18 plans ranging in price from $180,000 to $460,000, she said. No models yet; they'll be open in time for the Tampa Bay Builders Association Parade of Homes, March 20 through April 4. The community had 31 sales totaling $7.6-million in its first 60 days on the market.
Avatar is competing with Seven Oaks, just up Bruce B. Downs in Wesley Chapel, and some of the golf course communities, Tonelli said. It has a 165-acre, skiable lake; a boat ramp; tennis, basketball and volleyball courts; a sand beach; and an inline skating and hockey arena, but no pool or golf course.
Besides the local buyers who see the ads or hear about Cory Lake Isles by word of mouth, Tonelli said, its Web site, www.mycorylakeisles.com, attracts buyers. Last weekend, some people from Georgia visited the Web site, got in the car and drove down to check the place out.
Another buyer flew down from Michigan in his private plane, bought a house, met with the designer and picked all his colors and options, and flew home the same weekend.
Longtime residents, Tonelli said, are happy to see the increased traffic and the site work that will soon translate into new homes. "They're happy that finally, Cory Lake Isles is going to finish," she said.
An easy model tour
A few miles up the road, Transeastern has opened Live Oak Preserve, where it plans to build 1,600 homes. (Don't do what I did and drive in at the construction entrance. It's washboard roads, and one false tap of the gas pedal and you'll be in a drainage pond. Be smart and use the main gated entry. I am sometimes directionally impaired.)
This is the first foray into the general residential market in Tampa Bay for Coral Gables-based Transeastern (it has an active-adult community in Pasco County). It has targeted apartment dwellers in its effort to sell value-priced housing.
Three weeks ago it opened 11 models at a "model park," where visitors can tour all the homes in one place, walking from house to house, rather than driving from village to village to view different styles in varying price ranges. The price tags here: $136,990 to $269,990. Three models will be in the Parade of Homes.
The day I was there seemed to be young moms' and dads' day. Lots of them were pushing strollers or leading little ones by the hand. That's clearly a major market for this project. Signs point to the proposed adjacent middle and elementary schools. They warn drivers to watch out for kids playing. In the middle of the model park, there's a playground where the kids can burn off some energy while Mom and Dad are looking at the models. The five-bedroom Mahogany model has a second-floor playroom with a sliding board and a castle.
"We're also getting second move-ups and downsizers, people whose kids are going off to college and they don't want a big, huge home, yet they want to be in a family-oriented type of community," said sales and marketing director Lauren Arcaro.
If you think somebody's talking to you as you visit the models, you're right. Each home has motion-activated audio effects. In one home, you'll hear a dog bark and a neighbor inviting you in for coffee. In another, decorated in a nautical motif, you'll hear the sounds of the sea. Outside the homes, speakers embedded in rocks in the landscaping chat about the features of the homes and the community.
If it's lots of space you're looking for, a project just getting under way promises exactly that: home sites ranging from 1.5 acres to nearly 14 acres, with room to build family compounds and stables for the horses.
Stonelake Ranch, to be built on Lake Thonotosassa in eastern Hillsborough, is a project of Charles Funk and Jeff Meehan, developers of Arbor Greene. The 650-acre community will have 147 home sites. Those on the water will be a minimum of 3,500 square feet; those off the water, a minimum of 3,000 square feet. Guest cottages, gazebos and stables are welcome, the developers say. The community offers 40-foot-wide riding trails.
Builders will be announced soon, but expect to see some of the familiar Tampa Bay area names in the custom and semicustom market. Home prices will start in the $600s and exceed $2-million, including home site.
The land is some of the highest in Hillsborough County, in some places 80 feet above sea level. The developers plan to maintain stands of oaks, magnolias and hickory trees and to landscape only with native, drought-resistant species.
Directions: Take Interstate 4 east to the McIntosh Road exit; turn left (north) and drive 2 miles to Thonotosassa Road. Turn left and drive a mile to the temporary entrance on the right. Information: (813) 986-0062.
Contact Judy Stark at starksptimes.com.