By Matt Wiley

Imagine the Shops at Wiregrass becoming the bustling urban, “downtown center” of Pasco County. This is not a figment of someone’s imagination. It’s the plan of the Pasco County Planning & Growth Management department (PGM).

During a Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce (WCCC) Economic Development Committee meeting at American Consulting Engineers (ACE, located off of S.R. 56 near I-75), Richard Gehring, director of the PGM, gave a presentation about the recent growth and plans for future growth in the Wesley Chapel area.

Seated around the table in the ACE conference room, Gehring explained that there are currently 18 Developments of Regional Impact (DRIs) in Pasco, including both Wiregrass Ranch and the not-yet-developed Cypress Creek Town Center (see page 1), and that the County is currently working to bring both more residential and non-residential growth to the area.

Gehring explains that the plan for these DRIs is to develop them as 50-percent urbanized, with both commercial and residential areas, and then leave the remaining 50 percent of the land as conservation or preservation areas.

“Forces will want to urbanize the whole county,” Gehring said. “This way, we get the best of both worlds.”

He compares the plans for Pasco to the original layout of Hillsborough County, with the southern portion the most urbanized, gradually becoming more rural in the northern areas. However, in recent years, there has been significant growth in northern Hillsborough, especially around New Tampa.

Wiregrass Ranch is expected to become the downtown, urbanized portion of Pasco as the Wesley Chapel area continues to grow, said Gehring.

“The S.R. 56 corridor is the most dynamic,” he explained. “New Tampa is built up and now it is pouring into Wesley Chapel.”

Gehring says the current regional center of the entire Tampa Bay region is the Westshore district of Tampa, which has the highest concentration of businesses. However, he says that the University of South Florida (USF) area, including New Tampa, is expected to emerge as the new regional center of Tampa Bay over the next 20 years.

The proof is in the numbers. While the County population only grew by 120,000, a 42-percent overall growth, between 2000 and 2010, the population in southern Pasco has exploded in past decade, second only to Lee County in southwest Florida. In 2000, the population of southern Pasco was about 48,500; the 2010 census put the population at nearly 120,000, a growth of more than 145 percent. Based on this growth, estimated population figures for 2025 put the area at 300,000 residents , although Gehring called that number “aggressive.”

Growth can already be seen in the Wiregrass Ranch area, as that DRI continues to be developed, albeit still without a residential component. The new Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel is one of the most obvious signs. The Porter campus of Pasco-Hernando Community College (PHCC) is slated to open in 2014, the same year as the recently announced Cypress Creek Town Center outlet Mall, which will be known as Tampa Premium Outlets (again, see page 1).

“The I-75 corridor is where the most growth is expected,” said Gehring. “We are going to turn cow pastures into an urban center.”

Gehring also discussed the possibilities for mass transit, one of which included bending Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. through the Wiregrass Ranch DRI. He also mentioned the possibility of the still uncertain high-speed rail system and a bus rapid transit system, even discussing the possibility of constructing a station attached to the Shops at Wiregrass.

“That area is where there will be the most intense urban concentration, and mass transit will push it,” he said. “We want to grow in a way that increases quality, as well as quantity.”

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