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Developers see Wiregrass becoming a downtown

Wesley Chapel has no downtown, but Wiregrass Ranch, an expanse of cypress, pasture and palmetto east of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, has announced its ambition to fill that role.

Developers want to put a town center in the heart of the 5,000-acre ranch sometime in the next decade. Apartments, stores, offices, narrow streets, on-street parking, restaurants and government buildings are part of the proposed mix.

The corporations behind Wiregrass _ Pulte Home Corp. is building the homes, the Goodman Co. the retail _ said their goal is to create "the central business center for the Wesley Chapel area."

In December, Pasco County received a fat volume from Wiregrass stuffed with facts, figures and maps. It's the project's formal development plan, one that will probably require two years of government review.

The project is one of the largest in the history of the Tampa Bay area. By 2020, developers propose building 16,000 homes, 4.4-million-square-feet of retail and 3.9-million-square-feet of offices.

Two sections of Wiregrass, calling for 400,000-square-foot of stores and 1,999 homes, were approved separately and will break ground this year.

Among the first houses to rise could be those in a traditional neighborhood with porches and sidewalks. Home prices would start in the low $200,000s.

The first stores will be a Wal-Mart Supercenter at State Road 54 and Bruce B. Downs and a JCPenney farther south near State Road 56.

Developers insist population trends support their grand vision.

In the greater Wesley Chapel area, population is expected to grow from 192,200 in 2002 to 297,500 in 2008. Average household income would rise from $61,200 in 2002 to $72,800 in 2008.

The figures come from a marketing study by the Washington, D.C., firm of Gould & Associates. For purposes of the study, Wesley Chapel includes Land O'Lakes east of U.S. 41, New Tampa south to Tampa Palms and all of east Pasco.

The combination of population and income gains should boost purchasing power in the area from $561-million to more than $1-billion by 2008, Gould & Associates said.

"The retail component of Wiregrass Ranch . . . will become the epicenter of retailing activity in the trading area," reads Wiregrass's application.

Competitors might disagree. First among them is Cypress Creek Town Center, a massive retail project proposed for the southwest corner of Interstate 75 and SR 56.

Cypress Creek's crown jewel is a 1.3-million-square-foot mall whose plans were approved in November. It's scheduled to open in October 2007 with many of the same stores Wiregrass hopes to court.

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