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Boffo year for tourism in the buff, shoppers

(ran East edition)

More stores for shopping, bigger parks for playing and nudist resorts for frolicking: the story of Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel in 2004.

This was the year when Pasco County came through on promises for large family-friendly parks in central Pasco's two fastest growing communities.

The parks haven't been built yet. That starts in 2005. But plans were drawn up and approved to double the size of the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex and build an all-new park in Wesley Chapel.

In Land O'Lakes, residents got their first peek at plans for the new 39-acre park expansion. It almost doubles the size of the 40-acre park on Collier Parkway. And Wesley Chapel residents liked the plans they saw for a 143-acre park off Boyette Road.

In August, the first-ever triathlon descended on Land O'Lakes. More than 380 athletes showed up for the "Babes & Bums Spring Triathlon." Race organizer Val Thomopalos got schools and businesses involved and plans to bring the race back every year.

It was also the season for shopping splendor. November brought the approval, after three years of government scrutiny, of Cypress Creek Town Center. It's the open air mall developers want to plunk on the southwest corner of Interstate 75 and State Road 56. Best guess opening date: October 2007.

Land O'Lakes will get its first mall-style department store in a Belk that is rising, concrete block by concrete block, at Collier Commons shopping center. Wesley Chapel follows suit in 2005 with a JCPenney. Wal-Mart has plans for two new supercenters, one in Wesley Chapel behind Applebee's on State Road 54, the other in Land O'Lakes near the Dale Mabry Highway and U.S. 41 apex.

Speaking of commercialization, the nudist resorts that dominate Land O'Lakes' tourist trade relished the glow of national exposure in 2004.

Paris Hilton, the hotel heir best known for stripping in an X-rated video, descended on Caliente Nudist Resort on U.S. 41 to film an episode of the reality TV series The Simple Life 2.

Acting as if she had never seen bare buns before, Hilton, on a publicity junket for the show, told talk show host David Letterman that Caliente's middle-aged nudists were "gross."

But when the show aired in June, it turned out to be benign (pixelization of private parts helped). Caliente was grateful for the free publicity.

So it was an upbeat year, provided you don't mind thousands of new houses, acres of new shopping centers and couples playing tennis in the buff.

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