LAND O’ LAKES — Anyone who’s driven on State Road 54 past the Suncoast Parkway lately can’t help noticing all the construction going on in the northeast quadrant of the interchange.
There hasn’t been a formal groundbreaking or big announcement, but what you’re seeing on those newly cleared 37 acres is the new entrance to another of Pasco County’s mega-development projects: Bexley Ranch.
California-based Newland Communities is building the first leg of Bexley Boulevard and has submitted new plans to resurrect the 6,872-acre project, which was slated for more than 12,000 homes but has sat dormant since the 2008 housing bust. Vice President Tom Panaseny said the new master plan is scheduled to go to the Pasco commissioners in December and he expects to open the model center and start selling the first homes by late 2015.
Panaseny said Newland will host an open house Sept. 16 at the Marriott Residence Inn at Northpointe. “We want to talk to our neighbors, we know there’s a lot of interest from Ballentrae and Concord Station,” he said. “We want to show everyone where we are today.”
Newland, which developed FishHawk Ranch, has owned 1,733 acres of the original ranch property for a decade. It was already approved for 1,200 homes. “On the residential side, we’re in the planning process,” Panaseny said. “We spend a lot of time planning, so we understand our buyers. For this community, it’s mature families.”
In the last two years, Newland was able to buy the two parcels to the south that connect it directly to S.R. 54. The retail site was once slated for a Sweetbay grocery store and other big-box retail, but the property went into foreclosure. Newland bought it from Wells Fargo. “We’re in the middle of a retail market study right now to determine if that’s still the best use of the site,” Panaseny said.
The real coup for Newland was snagging the 260-acre parcel formerly known as Ashley Glen, which connects the ranch property to the Wells Fargo site. Ashley Glen was once approved for 900 residential units and 2.25 million square feet of office space, though Newland has dramatically scaled down the density to 562,950 square feet of office and 520 multifamily units.
“The big news is this section — the office segment,” Panaseny said. “We’re talking to several groups now — office developers. Two are in Hillsborough and one in Pinellas. There is a lot of interest in building offices here. Also, there’s interest from some medical manufacturing companies in Pinellas that are looking for places to grow. It’s clean industry.”
Richard Gehring, Pasco County’s Planning and Development administrator, said Newland’s acquisition of those southern parcels is a game changer for Bexley.
“You had this really large project that was practically landlocked,” Gehring said. “They had to rely on Ballentrae and Sunlake Boulevard for access points because they didn’t control those parcels to the south. So now that they own Ashley Glen, it’s like they created a whole new doorway into the community.”
The site is ideal for an office park because it’s right off the Suncoast Parkway — just 25 minutes from Tampa International Airport and the West Shore Business District, he said. “I think what you’ll see go in at Bexley will be comparable to Hidden River Corporate Park, at Interstate 75 and Fletcher, or Tampa Telecom Park in Temple Terrace,” he said. “It could also support a hotel. The Marriott across the street at Northpointe is always booked. They never lower their rates.”
Real estate analyst Tony Polito agrees. “It’s a big advantage for them in terms of their marketability,” he said. “Being able to rename the road Bexley Boulevard helps with the branding.”
Polito said Bexley Ranch should fare well even though it will be in direct competition with Starkey Ranch, Asturia, Longlake Ranch and Trinity because Newland Communities has built such a sterling reputation in the market. “They have a legacy of high quality communities throughout the Tampa Bay area,” he said. “There’s FishHawk, but even before that they were a part of Westchase.”
Panaseny said Newland Communities isn’t too concerned about the competition on the S.R. 54 corridor. “The 54 corridor is really picking up momentum,” he said. “I absolutely think the market is there. You still have to deliver the right product at a price your customers can afford. There will be multiple price points, we’ve got to be competitive within the market.”
Newland has also filed a master plan for the remaining 5,442 acres of the ranch that are still owned by the Bexley family. They’re calling it “Bexley North” and are seeking 11,025 single family homes, 600 multifamily/apartments plus about 832,000 square feet of office and retail uses.