Wesley Chapel has always kind of felt like New Tampa’s little brother, who just happened to have a growth spurt and spent a lot of time in the weight room. Wesley Chapel may be stronger and tower over New Tampa these days, but big brother still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
We think this analogy kind of makes sense, but let’s lay it for you.
In 2022, New Tampa celebrated a number of significant milestones, like the 25th anniversary of opening of the New Tampa Regional Library, the 20th anniversary of schools like Liberty Middle School and Freedom High and the 25th anniversary of the opening of both Benito Middle School and Wharton High.
New Tampa truly is all grown up, in many ways. There may not be room to build new malls and hundreds of new homes — unless the vacated Pebble Creek Golf Club golf course is paved over in the next few years to make way for new homes — but the area continues to move forward with some developments that should make locals happy.
Two notable ribbon cuttings were held — one for the long-awaited New Tampa Performing Arts Center (which will begin hosting performances in 2023) and another for a first-of-its-kind All Abilities Park for the City of Tampa in Tampa Palms.
Both were significant. The Performing Arts Center, championed by Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan for more than a decade, will be the cultural center of New Tampa, opening the way for musicians, dancers, actors and more to hone their skills and have a place to perform. And, for the community, the new center is expected to offer a host of performances and shows that will provide various types of entertainment otherwise unavailable in the area.
As for Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera’s pet project — the New Tampa All Abilities Park — those who suffer from a variety of disabilities now have a place to call their own, and a chance to be included in a number of fun and even educational playground activities that, until now, have been off limits for them.
That’s not all — Hagan also led the groundbreaking of a major renovation of Branchton Park at the corner of Morris Bridge Rd. and Cross Creek Blvd., and also announced that the county hopes to build New Tampa’s first indoor recreation center at Cross Creek Park near Pride Elementary.
And, the long-awaited replacement for the vacated Sweetbay Supermarket, the Asian superstore Lotte Plaza Market, began renovating the old building and expects to open sometime in 2023.
When it comes to other notable moments, New Tampa had its fair share.
Bruhat Soma, now a sixth grader at Turner Bartels K-8, School, qualified for the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., although he couldn’t attend due to Covid-19. He was only the second New Tampa student to ever qualify for the event, joining Benito’s Nupur Lala, who actually won the title in 1999.
Tommy Tonelli, pretty much the only basketball coach Wharton High has ever known, stepped down after leading the Wildcats to the State semifinals. Tonelli finished as Hillsborough County’s all-time- winningest boys basketball coach with a 528-137 record over 23 seasons.
Long-time Pebble Creek resident Marion Brodarick celebrated her 100th birthday, and is still going strong.
And, remember when gas prices were more than $4 a gallon? That prompted more than 100 cars to line up on Bruce B. Downs Blvd. for a promotional event, as the Marathon station neat I-75 was offering gas for just $2.38 per gallon.
As for New Tampa’s aforementioned little brother, it was another big year for new and cool things. In addition to the announcement of a new hospital (Wesley Chapel’s second), a few groundbreakings for town centers and an upscale Cooper’s Hawk restaurant on S.R. 56, Wesley Chapel’s 2022 highlights also included:
• The debut of the KRATE at the Grove Container Park in June, probably Wesley Chapel’s No. 1 success story of the year. The grand opening event of what is, at the very least, our area’s most unique and one-of-a-kind hangout, drew roughly 8,000 people, and its never-ending stream of special events — like ‘70s Night, ‘80s Night, movie nights and more — routinely draw more than a thousand patrons at a time to The Grove.
Comprised of converted shipping containers with an Instagrammable flair, KRATE has a little something for almost everyone. It boasts 29 restaurants with a variety of ethnic offerings, as well as 17 retail stores. The KRATE’s stage features some kind of live entertainment almost every week. Even during the recent winter chill, it’s been (and still is) the hot place to be these days.
• Saddlebrook Resort — which deserves maybe more credit than anything else for putting Wesley Chapel on the map as far back as the 1980s — was sold in 2022 for $15 million. And, long-time owner Tom Dempsey told us that it was just the first step in an expansion and renovation of the storied golf resort and residential development. Those plans include expanding Saddlebrook’s master-planned unit development (MPUD) by more than 400 acres and converting one of its two Arnold Palmer-designed golf courses and the resort’s driving range into a site that would potentially include commercial/retail, restaurants, apartments, homes and other uses — serving as something of a Saddlebrook town center.
• If you regularly drive to Wesley Chapel for all the cool stuff, a lot of 2022 traffic improvements should make traveling in the area much more pleasant in 2023.
The diverging diamond interchange (DDI) is now fully open at the S.R. 56 and I-75 interchange and, except for some clean up and road markings. And, the Overpass Rd. interchange at I-75 — between the S.R. 54 and S.R. 52 exits — will be open soon, and the widening of S.R. 54 from east of Curley Rd. to Morris Bridge Rd. should be completed late in 2023.
When you add in the new paving planned for Tampa Palms Blvd., it feels like this year was a win for area commuters.
• Looking Ahead…In 2023, New Tampa can expect the completion of the Branchton Park improvements and a schedule of events for the New Tampa Performing Arts Center. And, with the ongoing fight over what to do with Pebble Creek’s golf course picking up steam, potential replacements for the Best Buy and Oronzo Honest Italian restaurant in Highwoods Preserve, when Kobe Japanese Steakhouse will open in its new location (see pg. 36) and a surprise or two, New Tampa definitely can expect an eventful 2023.
Meanwhile, Wesley Chapel can look forward to stepped-up growth in Wiregrass Ranch, including the long-awaited town center, and another in downtown Avalon Park Wesley Chapel and much more.