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Massive Pasco County community Connerton sold

THE TAMPA TRIBUNE
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 02:48 AM

Connerton, the tarnished star of real estate development in central Pasco County, has been sold to a new developer.

Dallas-based CoastOak Group, a national real estate development company, announced this morning it had bought Connerton from Terrabrook, the previous developer. CoastOak acquired Connerton in partnership with Hayman Woods, LLC, a private equity firm in Dallas.

CoastOak chief Greg McGowan said the purchase price was $5.6 million. The transaction, which began in February, began with CoastOak taking over the mortgage on the property, which was in default.

McGowan said the step-by-step takeover isn't finished yet.

"When a project as large as Connerton faces the difficulties it has, you have to approach the assemblage of the project piecemeal," McGowan said.

As part of the deal, CoastOak has made good on Connerton's $664,000 in unpaid property taxes and is working toward satisfying the unpaid bondholders who financed Connerton's community development district, which is also in default.

"It's on ongoing dialogue," McGowan said. "I can't go into details."

McGowan said his company will to continue to develop Connerton largely as its original owner, Dallas-based Terrabrook, intended.

"Connerton is a cornerstone of Pasco County's future growth plans, and we expect the community to be a leader in the Tampa Bay region for many years to come," McGowan said in a written statement.

Connerton covers 4,800 acres of the former Conner Ranch in the heart of Pasco County. Terrabrook's original plan envisioned a mixed-use community where residents could live, work and play without leaving the development. Plans called for 8,500 homes and more than 3 million square feet of commercial, retail and industrial space.

The project appealed so much to county officials that they granted it its own designation, "New Town," in their 25-year development plan. The hope was the future developers would follow Connerton's model.

The real estate collapse short-circuited Terrabrook's plans, leaving Connerton in developmental limbo. Last month, the county Tax Collector's Office reported the former developers of Connerton owned taxes on 305 lots.

During the real estate boom of the mid-2000s, Connerton grew to encompass several hundred homes, a shopping center on U.S. 41 and, most recently, a long-term acute-care hospital. Residential construction has slowed to a trickle; a new elementary school will open in the fall.

"We have activity, but it doesn't represent the full potential with the property in full development again," said Stew Gibbons, who led development for Terrabrook and now works for CoastOak.

Gibbons is one of three Connerton executives CoastOak kept on. Former Connerton developers Chip Jones and Pete Boudreau also made the switch to CoastOak.

With the acquisition completed and the community's financing stabilized, CoastOak plans to hold a grand re-opening of Connerton next spring, McGowan said.

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