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Will $1.5 million turn U.S. 41 into a prosperous gateway to central Pasco?

Pasco County is seeking $1.5 million to study redevelopment of Land O' Lakes Boulevard (U.S. 41) through central Pasco.
Pasco County is seeking $1.5 million to study redevelopment of Land O' Lakes Boulevard (U.S. 41) through central Pasco.
Published Oct. 31, 2018

LAND O' LAKES -- Pasco County wants to give Land O' Lakes Boulevard a facelift.

That could mean building sidewalks, encouraging transit-friendly development, bulldozing and rebuilding atop prime real estate, and perhaps even a push for a privately built town center gathering place for the community along the road also known as U.S. 41.

Contrast that to the current situation that can be best described as a mixed bag. Land O' Lakes Boulevard is a multi-lane highway stretching from Hillsborough County north toward State Road 52 through the spine of Pasco. It is a gateway dotted with aging buildings sporting for-sale signs, empty lots, a shortage of sidewalks and daily traffic delays at its major intersections.

It is hip enough to have two microbreweries and a winery, but blue-collar enough to support four used-car lots and two bail bond outlets. It is home to multiple mobile-home parks and also high-end residential neighborhoods like Wilderness Lake Preserve, Connerton and LakeShore Ranch.

To further bolster the area, the county plans to ask the Legislature for $1.5 million in next year's state budge to begin planning the corridor's redevelopment.

"What are the possibilities? What is possible, what is probable and what is visionary,'' said Melanie Romagnoli of the county's office of economic growth.

This effort, she said, is intended to mirror the county's planning work that resulted in the Harbors redevelopment plan, a blueprint for a projected 50-year reinvention of the U.S. 19 corridor.

A likely stimulus could come from the Pasco Sheriff's Office and the county, which are building a forensics center just east of the road on Central Boulevard. Officials hope that could trigger economic development and new industries at the Connerton Commerce Park, just to the south.

But even further south, development potential is hemmed in by CSX rail lines on the highway's west side and the sparkling lakes on the east that give the community its name.

"It's a precarious situation. But I hope they can do something particularly between Hale and Bell Lake roads,'' said Sandy Graves, who chairs the community affairs committee for the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce.

Time could be running out on that, however.

Convenience store/gasoline stations are planned for three high-profile corners on the east side of U.S. 41 at Ehren Cutoff, Hale and Bell Lake roads. Other commerce includes an auto parts store under construction on the east side and a medical office building planned for the west side of the highway near Connerton. More notably, Arbor Capital Partners filed preliminary plans with Pasco County indicating it planned to develop an Aldi grocery store and two quick-serve restaurants — Zaxby's and Burger King — on nearly six acres at the northeast corner of U.S. 41 and Wilderness Lake Boulevard.

The road currently narrows to two lanes at Connerton, but the state Department of Transportation plans to widen the highway to four lanes north to SR 52 beginning in 2020.

"I often said we've got such a challenge on 41,'' said Graves, "when they widened it (to six lanes in the early 2000s) it just cut businesses in half.''

Literally.

Two of the most popular restaurant mainstays in Land O' Lakes, Hungry Harry's Bar-B-Cue, and Ukulele Brand's, both lost portions of their buildings during the U.S. 41 highway widening. Both eventually re-opened.

Some of the vicinity's ugliness has disappeared with the demolition of dilapidated buildings, as Pasco County advanced a commercial blight ordinance. The rebuilding, however, has not yet begun, which means there are spots primed for redevelopment.

The county's requested appropriation found a fan in state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

"I'm all for bringing resources to Pasco County to help clean up some of these blighted areas.,'' said Simpson. "I live in this county, I want the quality of life in my county to be the best it can be. This would raise the tax base, make it safer for residents and be better for businesses to develop.''

And, while nobody said it, trying to master plan a Land O' Lakes Boulevard makeover could soothe some of the ill will that remains from a controversial and still pending proposal to build a highway flyover at State Road 54, and from a 2015 chamber of commerce dispute over the community's boundaries with neighboring Wesley Chapel.

So, if the appropriation become a reality, the county would study demographics, building permits and real estate availability and seek community input to try to encourage additional private investment.

"If you don't ask for it, it will never happen,'' said Romagnoli. "Part of the reason for getting these plans in place is if you don't have something in writing for what the community wants to see happen, it won't happen.''

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.