vomFass Wiregrass Set To Close By May 26 

Less than two weeks after this issue arrives in your mailbox, the vomFass store in the Shops at Wiregrass mall will be closing. On May 3rd, local vomFASS store owner Paula Ayala (photo, left) publicly announced that her location (next to Victoria’s Secret) would be closing the weekend of May 25-26. 

She wrote that, “These past eight years have been a tremendous journey, and I am immensely grateful to each and every one of you who has been part of this adventure…We will miss all of you…” 

Paula’s franchise store beat the odds for many years. Hers was the only vomFASS store left open in Florida, and one of only a handful in the country. “Seven locations in South Florida closed within three years of opening,” she says. As to why those other locations closed so quickly, she says, “The [German] business model was not fully compatible with the U.S. market.” 

Paula currently plans to keep food service operating through Friday, May 17, and the store open through the following weekend, after which it will close permanently. All items inside the store are now on clearance. 

vomFASS is a franchise company that was founded in Regensburg, Germany, in 1994. The name of the store translates to “From the Barrel.” The company’s social media says that vomFass currently has 300 stores in 28 countries. These stores sell higher priced oils, vinegars, spirits and wines, with some unique offerings you can’t find anywhere else. 

Paula said the higher price point on so many of her products was due to higher quality and lower volume, where you could find true one-off, rare, aged single barrels, unique flavor combinations and small-batch offerings. She says, “These are the special occasion products you break out with good food and good company.” 

The best part of the store was that you could taste and sample anything you wanted for free (including the really expensive aged spirits that were up to 25 years old), to guarantee you liked them before buying them. You could also get the spirits in different sizes from the standard 750ml (also known as a “fifth”) to 200ml, which were great for gifts. 

Paula says the best-selling products in her store were the pre-mixed Bourbon Old Fashioned (my personal favorite) and Northern Plains Bourbon Whiskey, which went into the smoothest tasting old fashioned house cocktail I’ve ever had (seriously), made right there at their bar. Even though the pre-mixed Old Fashioned was a huge hit, Paula says she had a hard time keeping some on the shelves because, “it was often on back order from corporate.” 

While some of vomFASS’ big bottles of premium spirits cost less than $100, the most expensive one in the store was around $300. She notes, however, that even the more budget-centric ABC Liquors and Total Wine & More have many bottles way above that price, some into the thousands of dollars. 

Paula says that ABC Liquors, located less than a half-mile from the mall, was not a huge competitor for her, but when Total Wine & More opened a few miles to the west in the space previously occupied by Earth Fare in 2021, she noticed a big impact in sales, “But that was nothing compared to what COVID did.” 

When Paula and her family came to the U.S. from Venezuela in 2016, she was trying to escape poor conditions there. She was able to get a visa in 2015 because of the vomFASS opportunity, which she discovered during a franchise expo in Venezuela. 

“I traveled here three times to get things ready… arriving in 2016 and opening that summer. I honestly thought Wesley Chapel was part of Tampa,” she said. Paula explained that there were multiple stores in the space she occupies that didn’t last. “When I first came [to the store], there were still changing rooms in the back.” 

In order to do even minor food and alcohol consumption, Pasco required full licenses, and a facility with sinks and grease traps. She says this was a blessing in disguise, and gave her an advantage over other vomFASS stores. 

When COVID hit, being able to fulfill online orders helped the store survive, but that was later cut off by corporate. Like many stores, Paula lost workers, and she had to help out family members who became very ill. 

The Pivot 

When she was able, in 2020, Paula added food and bar service to keep vomFass afloat, since it was equipped with a kitchen. The husband-and-wife team of Alvaro Barbado (an expert mixologist) and Ainara Arozena (a gourmet chef), emigrated from Spain and were able to find work at the store. 

With bistro-style seating in the front, a bar in the corner, and a large party table in the back, the store transformed into something more relevant, where you could get unique cocktails made with the liquor sold in the store and gourmet dishes (like pillow soft octopus and tender herb crusted ribs) with perfect wine pairings. Paula says that for a couple of years, the addition of the food and on-site cocktails helped out, “but our costs kept increasing.” 

In hindsight, Paula says there are a few things she would have done differently, but she was grateful that the business’ run was better than she expected. 

For more information, visit vomFass Wiregrass (28249 Paseo Dr., #110) in person or call (813) 907-2167.

Congratulations To Wesley Chapel’s Top Of The Class Of 2024! 

It’s that time of year when parents and students count the days remaining until graduations, from pre-kindergarten to college. At our local public high schools, hundreds of graduates are moving on to a new phase of their lives, whether it’s starting a career, joining the military, going to a distant university, attending a local college, or taking some time to find themselves. The students below are the top-10 graduating seniors of the Class of 2024 at each of Wesley Chapel’s three public high schools by grade point average (GPA). Congratulations to everyone listed on these pages for their extraordinary achievements — and to all of their peers and classmates moving on to the next phase, too. Note — One school did not disclose student GPAs or other info to protect the students’ privacy and another didn’t include pictures other than for the Valedictorian & Salutatorian. We apologize but we can only show here what we’ve been provided. Celeste McLaughlin 

Cypress Creek High

1. Brandon Adams (Valedictorian) 

GPA: 4.7391 

Clubs/Activities: Published research in Journal of Student Research, co-founded standardized testing support program, President of National Honor Society (NHS), Author of “On Questions of Transformations,” cross country, volunteer at PetSmart, Spanish NHS, VP of English NHS. 

College planning to attend: Undecided 

Planned Major or Future Career: Pre-Med 

Best thing about high school: Extra-curricular activities 

2. Jordan Fulop, Salutatorian 

GPA: 4.6154 

Clubs/Activities: NHS parliamentarian, Spirit Club Secretary, FBLA Historian, First Priority co-founder and leader, Best Buddies, Soccer, Tennis, Cross Country 

College planning to attend: Florida State University 

Planned Major or Future Career: Business Management 

Best thing about High School: Football games 

3. Jerry Phan

GPA: 4.6053 

Clubs/Activities: NHS, Science NHS, Robotics club, volunteer at PetSmart 

College planning to attend: University of Florida 

Planned major or future career: Pre-Med 

Best thing about high school: Peers that I met along the way 

4. Jayna Katanani 

GPA: 4.6 

Clubs/Activities: NHS, Science NHS, Fiction Addiction book club 

College planning to attend: University of South Florida 

Planned major or future career: Pre-Med 

Best thing about high school: It’s a trial for real life. 

5. Jack Niemann 

GPA: 4.5778 

Clubs/Activities: Football captain/quarterback, track, volunteer at Tampa General Hospital 

College planning to attend: University of Florida 

Planned Major: Health Sciences 

Best thing about high school: Football games 

6. Abby Outtrim

GPA: 4.566 

Clubs/Activities: President of HOSA (Future Health Professionals), VP of NHS, public relations officer of English NHS, member of American Sign Language HS, member of Interact Club, intern at USF College of Nursing. I did most of my volunteering at my local church, PetSmart, Feeding Tampa Bay & Metropolitan Ministries 

College planning to attend: University of Florida 

Planned major or future career: Nursing 

Best thing about high school: You meet so many new friends, teachers and mentors. You will make lifelong connections and can form a network! I’ve learned about so many opportunities available to me through my teachers (especially Ms. Adley!) 

7. Roman Sercu 

GPA: 4.5625 

Clubs/Activities: NHS, founding president of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), Student Government (SGA) Senator, Creekin Crazies spirit club, Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Interact Club, S4TL (Seminar for Tomorrow’s Leaders), Chik-Fil-A Leadership Academy, Best Buddies, Special Olympics basketball buddy 

College planning to attend: University of Florida 

Planned major or future career: Business Management & Finance 

Best thing about high school: Times spent with friends and watching people who I have known since Elementary School change over the years and achieve their goals. 

8. Miguel Rosario 

GPA: 4.5538 

Clubs/Activities: NHS, SGA Treasurer, Creekin Crazies Ambassador 

College planning to attend: University of Florida 

Planned major or future career: Computer Eng. 

Best thing about high school: Football games 

9. Addison Hellwig 

GPA: 4.5463 

Clubs/Activities: Varsity lacrosse Captain, NHS 

College planning to attend: Mars Hill University 

Planned major or future career: Biomed. Sci. 

Best thing about high school: Leading the team to Pasco County’s first women’s Lacrosse team regional appearance and completing full time dual enrollment and receiving my AA 

10. Ramiro Salazar 

GPA: 4.5426 

Clubs/Activities: NHS, volunteer at Pasco County Animal Shelte 

College planning to attend: University of South Florida 

Planned major or future career: Computer Science 

Best thing about high school: Students, friends. 

Wesley Chapel High 

 

1.Taylor Himmelberger, 

Valedictorian

College planning to attend: University of South Florida 

2. Nayana (Ninny) Chennupati, Co-Salutatorian 

College planning to attend: University of Florida 

2. Syed Yasir, Co-Salutatorian 

College planning to attend: University of Florida 

In alphabetical order, here are the rest of the top-10 graduates by GPA at WCH: 

Jendayah Cajuste 

College planning to attend: University of South Florida 

Dylan Dorr 

College planning to attend: University of Florida 

Sophia Herrera 

College planning to attend: University of Florida 

Courtney Marks 

College planning to attend: Western Carolina University 

Sayuri Ranatunga 

College planning to attend: Florida State University 

Joshua Vasquez 

College planning to attend: University of Florida

Erick Zayas Ramos 

College planning to attend: University of Florida 

Wiregrass Ranch High

1. Aniah Florise Mathurin, Valedictorian 

Clubs/Activities: National Merit Commended Scholar, FSU Young Scholars Program, Pasco County All-Star, All-American, Varsity Cheerleader, Class of 2024 Student Government Senator, Student Council, VP of NHS, VP of Haraya, Director of Fundraising of Junior Statesmen of America, Outreach Officer of MEDLIFE, FBLA, HOSA, Relay for Life, NEHS, Mu Alpha Theta Math Honor Society, Rho Kappa History Honor Society, Science NHS, FCA, Key Club, SADD 

College planning to attend: Duke University 

Planned major or future career: Biology (Pre-Med) 

Best thing about high school: Memories I’ve made with my friends during Friday Night Lights 

2. Meghna Manjith, Salutatorian 

3. Sydnie Maher Alagal 

Clubs/Activities: Varsity cross country, varsity track, SADD club & leadership, NHS, NEHS, Key Club, NSHSS 

College planning to attend: Florida State University 

Planned Major/Future Career: Psychology/ Criminology 

Best thing about high school: The people I met 

4. Kylie Ryan Bennington 

Clubs/Activities: Varsity soccer, club soccer, NHA, Mu Alpha Theta, Key Club 

College planning to attend: North Carolina State Univerrsity 

Major/career: Environmental Engineering 

Best thing about High School: The people you meet. 

5. Haley Brooke Strawser 

Clubs/Activities: Varsity volleyball, club volleyball, Phi Theta Kappa, Sigma Kappa Delta, Psi Beta 

College planning to attend: University of Alabama (Huntsville) 

Planned major or future career: Mechanical Engineering or Math 

Best thing about high school: I loved my teachers and loved being a student at Wiregrass, (which) gave me the opportunity to challenge myself both academically and personally. 

6. Abdullah (No last name provided) 

Clubs/Activities: FBLA, Science NHS 

College planning to attend: University of Florida 

Planned major or future career: Electrical & Computer Engineering 

Best thing about High School: Some really good and caring teachers and made a really good friend. 

7. Meghan E. Childers 

Clubs/Activities: Odyssey of the Mind, Tri-M, NHS, PTA, Swim & dive team 

College planning to attend: University of Florida 

Planned major or future career: Animal Science, Veterinary Doctorate 

Best thing about high school: Getting to hang out with friends while participating in different clubs. 

8. Taylor Monique Blythe 

Clubs/Activities: NHS, English NHS, Black History Committee 

College planning to attend: University of Florida 

Major: Political Science & History; Pre-law track 

Best thing about high school: Spending time with my close friends at school spirit events and growing into my interests in the past four years. 

9. Isabell Barrios 

Clubs/Activities: Varsity softball, National Honor Society, Key Club, Student Council 

College planning to attend: Florida Southern College 

Planned major or future career: Physician Assistant 

Best thing about high school: Discovering my true passion for the medical field 

10. Omari Redmond (No info provided)

Giovanni’s Flooring, Kitchen & Bath — Where Quality Meets Craftsmanship! 

Owner Giovanni Gocaj offers flooring and kitchen and bath remodeling at his location in the Super Target-anchored Northwoods plaza on BBD. (Photo by Charmaine George)

If you’ve driven in the SuperTarget shopping center on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. recently, you may have noticed a change at the flooring store next to Marshall’s. In fact, new owner Giovanni Gocaj has not only changed the name of the showroom, he’s also greatly expanded the services that his Giovanni’s Flooring, Kitchen & Bath now provides. 

Giovanni, who is originally from Albania, moved to the Trinity area of New Port Richey in 2002 and now has worked for more than 20 years in the flooring and kitchen and bath remodeling business. 

Giovanni’s can replace your staircase carpeting with real hardwood or luxury vinyl plank. (Photo provided by GiovanniFlooringLLC.com) 

By 2011, Giovanni had decided to open his own flooring store in Trinity. A decade or so later, he decided to get his own general contractor’s license in order to be able to expand his store’s services. 

“As a family-owned business, we understand the importance of creating spaces that reflect the unique style and needs of each family,” Giovanni’s website, GiovanniFlooringLLC.com says. “From luxurious hardwood floors to durable tile installations, we offer a wide range of flooring options to suit every taste and budget. We also specialize in full bathroom and kitchen remodeling projects, turning outdated spaces into modern, functional and beautiful areas that enhance the overall value and enjoyment of your home.” 

He decided to bring all of that experience to the fast-growing Wesley Chapel area and starting talking last year to Andy Dunning, who had was the owner of the American Flooring store where Giovanni’s is now located. 

“I’ve known Andy for almost 15 years,” Giovanni says. “I used to do installations for his New Port Richey location.” 

He adds that, “With the way Wesley Chapel is growing, I thought the time was right for me to give it a try — opening my second location in this area.” 

Available Services 
If you’re looking for a wide variety, colors, styles and flooring types, definitely visit Giovanni’s! (Photo by Charmaine George) 

Giovanni says that selling and installing all kinds of flooring is still a big part of his business, but he is happy to also bring his full kitchen and bath remodeling services to the Wesley Chapel area. 

“I use a lot of different vendors and have a lot of different places we get the kitchen and bath fixtures and other products from,” he says. “My team and I can basically design and install almost anything you want.” 

As for the flooring itself, Giovanni says that the most popular requests he gets are for luxury vinyl planks (LVPs) and hardwood flooring. “And I have — or can get — almost every brand that’s out there.” 

One new product line he’s now carrying is Mohawk flooring, as well as the equally popular Mannington LVPs, which are scratch-resistant, kid and pet friendly and fully waterproof. 

A True Family Affair 

And, while American Flooring had installers on staff, Giovanni’s takes that one step further: 

“I have all of my family members — my brother Peter, my father Luik, my cousins Julian, Elvis and Emilio and more working with me, and handling our installations.” 

And, while many people still believe that the home improvement warehouses always have lower prices, Giovanni says that simply isn’t true. 

“Why should people check us out before those places?,” he asks. “Because we offer way better quality flooring, even better prices and we stand behind our work.” 

As for his business philosophy, Giovanni says that, “Quality is #1 for us. We have so many five-star reviews because people really like the work we do.” 

He notes, however, because he’s only been open a month or so in Wesley Chapel, he doesn’t have any local reviews yet. 

“But every Google review of our Trinity location is 5 stars out of 5,” he says. “We’ve never had a complaint.” 

Giovanni’s is currently offering a special on luxury vinyl plank installations, but he says he invites anyone in Wesley Chapel or New Tampa who wants any kind of flooring or remodeling job to come in an see the revamped Wesley Chapel showroom. 

“We also have a website, which has pictures of the products we offer,” he says, “and a lot of examples of our work.” 

For more information about Giovanni’s Flooring, Kitchen & Bath’s Wesley Chapel showroom, which is located at 1285 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., visit GiovanniFlooringLLC.com, call (813) 461-8686. The Wesley Chapel showroom is open Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. and it is closed on Sunday. For the Trinity location (2932 Little Rd.), call (727) 264-7279. 

Rodizio Grill® Breaks Ground Behind Costco!

When the new Rodizio Grill® — America’s First Brazilian Steakhouse® — broke ground on May 14, I’m pretty sure I was the only member of the local media — and perhaps the only one of the nearly 100 people who waited on line for a coupon for a free meal at the new location when it is expected to open in about nine months, or sometime in early 2025 — who had already dined at the Rodizio Grill location on Fruitville Rd. in Sarasota. More on my experience at that Rodizio Grill appears below.

Rodizio Grill Founder and President, Ivan Utrera, and local owner, Charlie Haney, invited the community to join the groundbreaking celebration (next to the At Home store) on May 14. 

Established in 1995, Rodizio Grill was the first Brazilian “churrasco” steakhouse in the United States. Since then, Rodizio Grill has grown into an esteemed national franchise, with nearly 25 locations across the country. 

Local Owner Charlie Haney

The Wesley Chapel location will mark the brand’s sixth in Florida. At the groundbreaking, Haney echoed the sentiments of Utrera, who said in a news release, “I am beyond thrilled to break ground on our newest Florida location. Wesley Chapel is experiencing tremendous growth and is a coveted destination for residents and tourists alike. We are thrilled to become part of this thriving community.” 

Haney added, “I was drawn to the Wesley Chapel area for a multitude of reasons. The area is the perfect fusion of suburban serenity and urban accessibility. However, what captivated me was the community: the people are warm and welcoming, neighborly, and joyful. As Ambassadors of Brazil, we aim to welcome the community into Rodizio Grill — our home — and celebrate the ‘alegria,’ or joy, that is the Rodizio Grill experience. I believe our concept and the community will be a natural fit for one another.” 

Locally and nationally, Rodizio Grill is known for its playful Brazilian spirit, authentic menu offerings and family-friendly atmosphere. The unique concept features rotisserie-grilled meats, expertly seasoned and carved tableside by traditionally dressed Gauchos. While the meats are the main attraction, they are complemented with an award-winning gourmet salad bar, authentic hot side dishes, fresh-pressed juices, homemade Brazilian Limeades, signature (full-liquor) cocktails and a selection of exclusive, homemade Brazilian desserts. The whole experience comes at a competitive, affordable price so the whole family can celebrate together. 

Brazil-native Thiago Navarro will be the General Manager of Rodizio Grill’s newest location, bringing with him close to a decade of experience with the brand. 

“Having grown up in Brazil, many of my cherished childhood memories took place at our local churrascaria – whether it was celebrating a special occasion or simply spending quality time with my loved ones,” said Navarro. “Rodizio Grill is truly the embodiment of these memories – the traditional fare, the experience with the Gauchos and the fun atmosphere. I am thrilled to represent Brazil here in Wesley Chapel and am excited to share my passion for our culture and our signature Rodizio Grill experience with the community.” 

Our Rodizio Grill will be located at 2082 Grand Cypress Drive in Lutz. The 9,250-square foot restaurant — with room for about 300 diners — will feature several private and semi-private event spaces. The restaurant will create upwards of sixty jobs. To learn more, visit Rodizio.com

About My First-Visit Experience

Knowing that the groundbreaking was coming up, I decided to bring my mom to the Rodizio Grill location in Sarasota on Mother’s Day. There was a $10-per-person upcharge for the event, but there also were additional food items included for that higher price: a beef tenderloin carving station, plus two items I couldn’t sample because of my accursed shellfish allergy — large shrimp in garlic sauce (which my mom enjoyed) and lobster bisque. 

We also sampled a number of items from the clearly fresh, 30-item salad bar, as well as a few of the hot side dishes, including the seasoned white rice and feijoada (black bean stew), plus pasta Alfredo, a savory shredded roast pork dish that I somehow didn’t take pictures of and the creamy Estrogonofe de Franco (or chicken stroganoff), which was probably my favorite of the hot sides. Trying to save room for the “main event,” we didn’t sample the couve (sautéed collared greens and bacon), the creamy whipped potatoes or the Pao de Queijo (homemade Brazilian cheese bread), but they all looked good — and different from anything you’ll find anywhere in our area.

Speaking of the main event, my mom and I agreed that the Maminha (tri-tip steak) was our favorite of the steak options sliced at our table, although we also enjoyed the Picanha (top sirloin) and Bife con Also (steak basted with traditional house garlic rub). My personal favorite of all of the tableside options was the Presunto (ham grilled and basted in a raw sugar glaze), although I did also enjoy the Pernil (roast pork) served with fresh lime wedges). 

We definitely didn’t pace ourselves well enough, so we only sampled two chicken dishes — the Coraçao de Franco (chicken hearts) Temperado and the Frangro Agri-Doce (white meat chicken with a sweet and spicy sauce, like a slightly spicier version of Chinese orange chicken. 

We filled up pretty quickly on all of these options — I hope, the next time I visit, I will do a better job of pacing myself — so we did not try the two different kinds of sausages available, nor did we see any lamb or fresh fish options before we were ready for dessert.

Rodizio Grill offers a nice selection of five desserts, of which we sampled the Romeo e Julieta-style cheesecake and the Torta Brigadeiro (a rich chocolate mousse torte served with sliced bananas and fresh whipped cream). Please note, because we didn’t, that the desserts cost extra — they are not included with your fixed-price meal.

Overall, my mom and I enjoyed our first experience at Rodizio Grill and I am definitely looking forward to the opening of the Wesley Chapel/Lutz location. 

$69.4M Widening Of Wesley Chapel Blvd. To Begin Soon! 

David Nelson Construction Co. To Widen WC Blvd. To Six Lanes Between S.R. 54/56 & Old Pasco Rd. 

Research by Joel Provenzano 

The map (above) shows the full length of the $69.4-million contract to widen Wesley Chapel Blvd. from (mostly) two to six lanes between Old Pasco Rd. & where S.R. 54 & S.R. 56 meet. All of the existing and planned traffic signals are shown, with the planned “additional” signals outlined in yellow. Please note that the signal that is “planned” at the intersection of Stagecoach Village Dr. and WC Blvd. is already there, but that is considered to be a “temporary” signal that will be replaced. (Map: Provided by Pasco County, modified by Charmaine George & GN) 

Even though nearly the entire length of Wesley Chapel (WC) Blvd. actually divides Land O’Lakes (on the west side of the street) from Lutz (on the east side) and only actually enters Wesley Chapel’s 33543 zip code at Lexington Oaks, it is big news that Pasco County has finally awarded (on Apr. 23) the $69.4-million construction contract to David Nelson Construction Co. to widen WC Blvd. between S.R. 56 and Old Pasco Rd. from two (for most of this stretch of it) to six lanes. 

Although we are not the first to report this information, we are the only local news medium trying to find out whether or not vehicles will still be able to make left turns onto (or off of) WC Blvd. from the many entrances to communities along the full length of the project. There is a median for the widening project’s entire length, but how many curb cuts will there be along the 4.1-mile length of the project? Are there going to be U-turn lanes at any of the community entrances? With only two traffic signals being included (one of which, the “temporary” signal at the entrance to the Stagecoach community, at Stagecoach Village Dr., already exists), will people living in any of the nine residential communities along the project’s length still be able to make left turns across WC Blvd. to enter or exit their communities? Thanks to our Joel Provenzano, we believe we have those answers. 

As someone who has lived at the south end of this project the past five years, I (and Jannah) have witnessed two serious accidents caused by people trying to make left turns in or out of these communities who were hit by drivers going north or south on WC Blvd. We also narrowly avoided a left-turning driver whose vehicle did a full 360º spin in front of us following a collision. 

The intersection of Compark Dr., at the more northern of the two entrances to the Compark 75 office and warehouse park, will receive a new traffic signal under the WC Blvd. widening agreement. 

Here’s what we know about the “new” traffic signals included in the WC Blvd. widening contract: 

1) The only completely new signal included in the contract will be placed at the more northern of the two entrances to the Compark 75 warehouse park at WC Blvd. & Compark Dr. 

2) The existing traffic signal at Stagecoach Village Blvd. is a “temporary” signal that will be replaced with a permanent signal under the contract 

The issue to me, as someone who has lived off of WC Blvd. the last five years, is that there are so many other equally dangerous intersections along WC Blvd. (see list below) that aren’t getting signals. 

But, thanks to our research specialist Joel Provenzano, who was an engineer with the Florida department of Transportation (FDOT) for years and is much more “fluent” in reading such documents than I am, we believe we have the answers to my question about the planned median in the center of WC Blvd. that will prevent drivers most of the entrances to these subdivision/apartment communities from going across WC Blvd. to make left turns either into or out of (or both) of their respective communities. 

Here is that list of intersections that we believe are being addressed under the widening agreement: 

— Pondside Dr. at Old C.R. 54 – Median remains fully open. 

— Entrance to Harley- Davidson – Directional median opening (left turns in only) remains the same. 

— WC Blvd. at Grand Cypress Dr. (entrance to the Maeva Apartments/Cypress Bend Prof. Park – Directional median opening with left turns in only. 

— WC Blvd. at Hyde Park Blvd. (entrance to The Enclave subdivision) – The median will remain fully open in both directions at this location. 

— WC Blvd. at Wilshire Dr. (entrance to The Woodlands at Stagecoach subdivision) – No left turns out. 

— WC Blvd. at Bramblewood Blvd (entrance to the Cypress Estates) subdivision – Directional median opening with a U-turn lane. 

— WC Blvd. at Oaks Blvd. (entrance to The Oaks subdivision) – Full median opening. Note – Oaks Dr. and Bramblewood are connected at Tradewinds Dr., off WC Blvd. 

— WC Blvd. at Winding River Way (entrance to the Edgewater at Grand Oaks townhome community) – Full median opening. 

— WC Blvd. at Cloud Hopper Way (entrance to the Volanti townhomes) & Cobalt Dr. (entrance to the new Cobalt apartments) – No median openings at all at either location. Note – There will be an opening about 600 ft. south of Volanti for U-turns. 

— WC Blvd. at Pet Ln. (alternate entrance to Grand Oaks Plaza and Compark 75) – Directional median opening with left turn in only. 

— WC Blvd. at Magnolia Blvd. (at Marathon gas station & just north of Midgard Self-Storage & Ewing Irrigation & Landscape Supply) – Full median opening remains. 

— WC Blvd. at Players Dr. – Opening will be restricted to right-out turns only. 

— WC Blvd. at Tampa Downs Blvd. (by North Tampa Aero Park) – Left-in directional median opening only. 

The Presentation To The BOC 

Prior to the vote awarding the contract at the Apr. 23 meeting of Pasco’s Board of County Commissioners (BOC), Panos Kontses, the county’s assistant director of transportation engineering, made a presentation to the commissioners regarding the awarding of the contract to widen WC Blvd. 

The existing traffic signal at the intersection of Stagecoach Village Dr. and WC Blvd. is considered to be a “temporary” signal that will be replaced with a “permanent” one. 

“Typically, construction contracts are presented through the consent agenda,” Kontses said. “However, the size of the contract, the significance of the project for the county and also because of the history of the project, our county administrator suggested that we give you a brief presentation.” 

Kontses also noted that WC Blvd. provides access to many communities, as well as commercial businesses, “and also provides an alternate relief route to I-75.” 

First, Kontses gave the commissioners an overview of the existing status of WC Blvd. The north end of the project, between Progress Pkwy. and Old Pasco Rd., is 4 lanes, with a 45-mile-per-hour speed limit. It has 5-6-ft.-wide sidewalks and a 4-ft.-wide bicycle lane. 

The middle portion, between Old. C.R. 54 and Progress Pkwy. has a 55-mph speed limit and is almost completely two lanes with no sidewalks or pathways and just 4-5-ft. shoulders. The southern portion, from Old C.R. 54/Pondside Dr. to S.R. 54/56 is six-laned, with a 45-mph speed limit, and with a 5-ft.-sidewalk, an 8-ft.-wide pathway and 5-ft.-wide bicycle lane. 

Kontses also noted that the project has, “a long history…longer than we wanted…and also went through several project managers. I just happen to be the last one. And, we are very excited to bring this project to its last stage — its construction.” 

He then noted that the original route study was conducted in 2003, when WC Blvd. was intended to be a 4-lane rural road. But, even though the design phase for that original plan started in 2008, nothing else happened after the Tampa Bay Regional Planning model became available between 2008- 14, which showed that the original 4-lane plan would not be able to accommodate the expected traffic. 

“That area is going through explosive growth,” Kontses told the commissioners, “and the expected traffic volumes were almost double, so the recommendation was to make the road a 6-lane section, but keep it within a 150-ft. right-of-way. “That meant we had to condense the section to an urban road with bike lanes, 5-6-ft. sidewalks and an 8-ft. pathway.” 

The route study resumed in 2015- 16, with new design starting in 2016. 

“But, in 2017,” Kontses noted, “we got the updated flood plains from Swiftmud and we didn’t want any adjacent properties to end up being flooded, so our design team did a drainage analysis and found that no properties were likely to be flooded, so we were happy about that.” 

The WC Blvd. Construction Project Schedule & Cost shows that the $69.4-million project is expected to be completed by May 2027. (Source: Pasco County)

Permitting then began in 2017 and right-of-way acquisition between 2019-23. District 3 Commissioner Kathryn Starkey noted that it took “a long time — five years” for the county to purchase all of the needed right-of way, but Kontses noted, “We had to purchase 43 parcels from 25 different property owners, so that was an extensive effort for our resources.” 

He added that the plan also had to go through several revisions because of new developments that began building and additional reviews by the Florida Dept. of Transportation (FDOT), “because they contributed some of the funding for the project.” 

Bids were finally solicited in Dec. of 2023 and the bids opened in Jan. of this year. 

Comm. Starkey also expressed concerns about animal crossings at a wetland near Oaks Blvd., the entrance to The Oaks subdivision. 

After that, Kontses pointed out that the improvements also will include lighting along the length of the project, which will help improve safety a lot, because WC Blvd. is notoriously dark. 

District 5 Comm. Jack Mariano expressed concerns about not getting landscaping design included in the project, but Comm. Starkey noted that the landscaping for Little Rd. is only about 30% designed, “so they’re way behind on these projects.” 

If the BOC approved the agreement on Apr. 23, Kontses says the Notice to Proceed (NTP) could be given within two weeks, or before this issue reached your mailbox, and that the expected completion date for the 36-month contract is May of 2027. 

Kontses also mentioned that in addition to the main contract, there is an additional contract for independent Construction Engineering & Inspection (CEI) services for $4.5 million. 

“Four million to see if they built it right? That seems like a lot of money,” Comm. Starkey asked. “How about the contract just stipulates that they have to build it right?” 

But, Kontses said that the normal cost of CEI is, “about 10-15% of a project’s construction cost, so at $4.5 million, we’re getting a bargain.” 

Dist. 2 Comm. Seth Weightman, whose district includes the full length of the project, then moved for approval of the contract, which was seconded by Comm. Starkey and the motion passed 4-0. Dist. 4 Comm. Gary Bradford, who passed away the day before the meeting, was obviously not available for the vote.