Downtown Wesley Chapel.
It may not currently, or officially, exist, but is interesting enough of a concept that three area developers — JD Porter, Beat Kahli and Mark Gold — have all suggested that their current projects will, in fact, be downtown Wesley Chapel.
So, who will it be?
Whose project will possess most of the qualities that typically define a small town’s downtown — pedestrian friendly, open public spaces with generous amounts of greenery, a cluster of retail and restaurants with attractive storefronts and most important (according to North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce (NTBC) CEO Hope Kennedy), people? It depends upon who you ask.
“I think, ultimately, downtown Wesley Chapel will be wherever the people say it is,” Kennedy says.
Currently, Kennedy thinks the closest thing to downtown Wesley Chapel is the area around the Shops at Wiregrass outdoor mall, which also boasts the AdventHealth Wesley Chapel hospital (and the many jobs that come with it), the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County, high-end car dealerships, hotels and a plethora of retail and restaurants.
But, Wiregrass Ranch is still developing. Its town center — the community’s downtown, when it is completed — hasn’t even broken ground. And, Avalon Park Wesley Chapel and The Grove also promise that big things are on the way, and a newer, bigger and different downtown Wesley Chapel could emerge.
Here’s how the three developments shape up as downtown cadidates:
JD Porter, whose family owns most of the land in Wiregrass Ranch, is not terribly concerned about which community will be home to Wesley Chapel’s official downtown.
“I don’t think you can force a downtown,” he says. “I think if it’s thought through and done with purpose, I think there will definitely be a downtown in Wesley Chapel. I just don’t think you can count on a downtown popping up in the next six months, the next year or anything like that.”
Porter says a community’s downtown must come about organically, and he thinks that is what’s happening in Wiregrass Ranch. While he has plans for a town center a little northeast of the Sports Campus on the yet-to-be-finished Wiregrass Ranch Blvd., construction is a ways off. Instead, he says, the area around his town center is filling in nicely, with Raymond James Financial (and the 700+ jobs it promises) beginning construction recently and joining the number of housing subdivisions, the Sports Campus, the mall, Pasco-Hernando State College and AHWC as walkable and bikable destinations.
There have even been talks of light rail or another form of public transportation within the Wiregrass Ranch community.
Porter thinks a 5-10 year timeframe is reasonable for his vision of downtown to emerge. That vision includes walkability, 150,000-200,000 square feet of retail, 200,000-300,000 square feet of office space and 800 to 2,000 residential units.
He has compared it to Georgia’s Buckhead development near Atlanta in the past.
“It will come naturally,” he says. “We’re getting the density, getting all the different uses coming together that will create the downtown area.”
Porter says it has been a thoughtful process putting together Wiregrass Ranch, and the town center will be its jewel.
“Almost everyone in Pasco has a ‘town center,’” he says, “basically comprised of a Publix and couple of dry cleaners and maybe a smoothie shop. That’s not a town center.”
Porter has bigger goals. Downtown Wesley Chapel may not be enough.
“I look at our town center as being Downtown Pasco County, Downtown Wesley Chapel, Downtown North Tampa,” Porter says. “But it’s got to mature naturally, it can’t be forced. We have some stuff going on. We’ve upped our timeline. We have some exciting things coming down the pike.”
AVALON PARK WEST
When developer Beat Kahli announced upcoming plans for a downtown core in Avalon Park Wesley Chapel (APWC) in February 2020, it was heralded by many in the media as Wesley Chapel’s future downtown.
And that’s exactly what Kahli thinks it will be.
Kahli is investing more than $700 million in the project — with a $33-million commitment from Pasco County -— which he says could break ground in the next few months.
The APWC (formerly Avalon Park West) downtown will be located on the north side of S.R. 54, less than a mile west of Eiland Blvd. (just west of Zephyrhills), but despite its distance from most of Wesley Chapel, will look the most like a small-town downtown, based on its renderings.
The downtown area will be a mixed-use development on 215 acres. The entire APWC project is being built on 1,800 acres, the same size as its successful Avalon Park Orlando. It will eventually have 4,800 residential units (it currently has 1,000) and 15,000 residents. Many resident won’t have to leave — they can live, work and play in APWC.
“We don’t build subdivisions,” Kahli says, “we build towns.”
And, while many people might assume that the downtown core is just for residents of APWC, it will be open to everyone.
Kahli says the area will have two of the most important qualities in a downtown —walkability and mixed-use buildings.
After a 10-year buildout, the APWC downtown development will have roughly 2,700 residential units, 165,000 square feet of Class “A” office space and 190,400 square feet of commercial development.
The “neo-tradional” project will include four-story buildings, with neighborhood commercial on the bottom floor and the other three floors reserved for residential.
There will be multiple parking decks and sidewalks, and four freestanding Class A office buildings, which are typically larger, and will feature top-of-the-line amenities and high-income tenants.
“Compared to other large projects in the (Wesley Chapel) area, which are generally single-use projects with several hundred or several thousand single family homes, and then somewhere else maybe some apartments, and then somewhere else maybe a mall or strip mall, somewhere else maybe a school,” Kahli says, “we are integrating it all. We’re building full towns. That’s our approach in Wesley Chapel, and wherever we go.”
The Porters have been in Wiregrass Ranch since forever, and developer Beat Kahli has patiently held onto the land that will be Avalon Park Wesley Chapel for almost 25 years. That makes The Grove’s developer Mark Gold the new kid on the block.
But, Gold is no rookie when it comes to buying up older projects and making them relevant again. Even when he purchased The Grove for $64 million in 2018, he was not shy about calling it Wesley Chapel’s future downtown.
Despite arriving late to the party, with The Grove project already well under way, he will get the first crack at cementing his 254-acre property as the area’s downtown.
He is pouring more than $100 million into that dream, taking Wesley Chapel’s major shopping center (it was built in 2007, a year before the Shops at Wiregrass) and transforming into something the area hasn’t seen before.
The old Cobb movie theater has been renovated and is open, the long-ignored area Gold calls “The Village” has been revitalized and KRATE, an innovative retail and restaurant park made up of converted hip, reimagined shipping containers, is rounding into form.
While others see The Grove as more of an entertainment and retail district, Gold takes offense. He says the project is much more, with more than 600 homes approved for construction just north of The Grove, as well as apartment complexes in the surrounding area. Other businesses will come in, bringing more jobs. He sees The Grove as a destination for residents as far away as Tampa and Orlando.
“It will be the No. 1 destination for families, and they will be able to shop, eat, walk, play mini-golf and many other things,” Gold says. “There will be no need to go anyplace else.”