Bowen: Gowers Corner on its way to becoming a corner of commerce

Published Jan. 21, 2016

William A. Gower once had a decades-long monopoly on commerce at the central Pasco intersection bearing his name.

But Gowers Corner, where U.S. 41 and State Road 52 intersect in the northern Land O'Lakes area, is poised to lose its identity as the middle of the county's traffic-choked, but still half-empty crossroads.

The Florida Department of Transportation plans to build new highway lanes, and a private property owner is anticipating developers will follow.

So, think of it this way: Most everyone in central Pasco could be looking in the wrong direction.

The recent focus of near universal attention from business groups, property owners, motorists and government agencies has been the U.S. 41/State Road 54 intersection. That's what happens when the DOT moves forward with long-discussed plans to possibly build a flyover to relieve traffic congestion.

As many as 23 businesses may have to relocate, and many people advocate the alternative of doing nothing.

One thing to consider, however, is that the state has budgeted no money over the next five years to actually start buying land or to rebuild the intersection. There has been no final decision on how to proceed. So any changes are still a long way off.

Gaze northward, however, and that's not the case.

Traffic congestion is even more problematic 10 miles north at SR 52 and U.S. 41. At that point, both roads have a single lane in each direction, with turn lanes. The result? The backup of cars and trucks waiting to pass through the red light can be interminable. The end-of-the-day commute has northbound travelers in gridlock all the way to Connerton Boulevard, where U.S. 41 shrinks to a two-lane road.

The state already is buying land and actual construction on SR 52, widening it to six lanes, is scheduled to begin in 2018. Adding two lanes to U.S. 41 starts the following year.

It's a short-term inconvenience that will bring long-term relief.

"Life in that corner will be miserable for a while,'' said County Administrator Michele Baker, "and then it will be wonderful.''

Gower died in 1978. He had been a superintendent at the former sawmill in Fivay and had acquired 80 acres of land that took in all four corners of the intersection. There is some disagreement among the research published by local historians Jeff Cannon and Susan MacManus and her late mother, Elizabeth, but Gower and his wife ended up operating a filling station and grocery in the 1930s, '40s and '50s at the southeast corner, on the spot now occupied by a Speedway convenience store.

The gas station at the northwest corner didn't appear until 1970. It is expected to be demolished as part of the road construction. The other two corners are still vacant. Don't expect that to last.

While businesses might be moving out at the SR 54/U.S. 41 intersection, they'll be moving in at SR 52/U.S. 41.

The very first could be on land owned by the lumberyard barons, the Tibbets family. Its corporate entities own the 43 acres at the southwest corner, and they are seeking county permission so a future developer can build 215,000 square feet of stores, some of which will sit beneath 40 second-story residential units.

It means significant commerce is coming to an area that's been little more than a place to get gas, coffee or a headache from sitting in traffic.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

One of the advocates for the proposed development is former Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who lives not so far to the west. She notes that the only grocery stores are south at Connerton and west at Hays Road. There is nothing to the north until near Brooksville, 20 miles away.

"My basic concern is that there is no public transportation,'' Mulieri said in an email. "Consequently, it is difficult for many to get to shopping area. Convenience stores are the alternative. Not a wise choice.''

Her zeal is understandable. This isn't another gas station popping up. A retail center with second-story apartments is the kind of pedestrian-friendly growth with eye-pleasing amenities and a mass transit stop that Pasco County is encouraging.

"It's a logical corner to put what you're proposing,'' Baker told landowner Arlen Tillis last week at a meeting of the county's Development Review Committee. "So, thank you for that.''

Actual development isn't expected for five years or so, and it won't include all of the property. Somebody else has designs on part of the site, too.

The DOT wants about 5 acres for the new intersection.