Projects across Lake and Sumter counties cover all aspects of growth: housing, retail, health care, public safety, recreation and infrastructure.
Stories: James Combs, Theresa Campbell, Victoria Schlabig, Chris Gerbasi
On the move
Lake County is flourishing with new projects while also improving existing services. County Manager Jeff Cole highlighted some of the 2020 capital projects:
Completion of the construction of a new animal shelter that will reflect the best practices in animal sheltering and support Lake County’s “no kill” philosophy and approach.
Accelerating the resurfacing of roads by utilizing a $10 million loan that will be repaid with sales tax revenue. This will allow the county to repave 63 miles of roads rated in the poorest condition, as well as about 31 miles of roads that, while in slightly better condition, are also in need of repaving.
Continued development of the East Lake Sports and Community Complex, which will not only offer park amenities, but also will be the site of a new library and fire station in future years to better serve residents.
Continued site preparation for the development of the South Lake Regional Park in the Groveland area.
Jeff says Lake County’s 2020 adopted budget for capital projects is $38.2 million, which is being funded from sales tax revenue.
“That funding will be used for the capital projects and for renovations to the courthouse in Tavares, purchasing the tax collector’s South Lake County building, sidewalk replacements and construction, fire station renovations and park enhancements,” he says.
The county also is focused on ensuring that county services are being provided in an efficient, fiscally responsible way, he says.
“Through those efforts, we identified $2.9 million in savings throughout the organization,” Jeff says, adding Hurricane Irma was costly for Lake County in 2017.
“The $10 million cost of recovery—predominantly from debris removal—significantly depleted the county’s reserves,” he says, adding that Lake County has been working to strengthen its reserves for future events.
Safety is paramount
Public safety employees in Groveland finally will have a home to accommodate the city’s booming population.
A two-story, 33,000-square-foot public safety complex at the corner of State Road 50 and Beverly Drive is expected to be completed by October and will house the town’s police and fire departments. It represents a significant upgrade for the police department, which is currently located in a facility that was built in the 1940s and originally used as a detention center.
More importantly, both departments will be able to provide better services to residents of Groveland, Lake County’s fastest-growing city.
“Since 2017, Groveland has been putting up between 600 and 700 rooftops a year, and we have to protect the quality of life for those new residents and existing ones,” says Shawn Ramsey, director of public safety. “Having this facility will be a morale boost for the men and women in both departments.”
Eventually, the $10 million facility will be used as a regional training site for police and fire departments throughout Central Florida.
“This facility is one of the largest undertakings Groveland has ever approached,” Shawn says. “It will be a benchmark for future projects to follow.”
Seniors are welcome
Years ago, many people may have thought of a senior center as a place where elderly people gathered around a table to play bingo. A new senior center in Tavares, however, will be a vibrant, action-packed venue where people can exercise, attend classes and dance to their hearts’ content.
City officials expect the center, which will be connected to the Tavares Public Library, 314 N. New Hampshire Ave., to be completed in two years.
“We have a large senior population, and there’s definitely demand for more senior programming,” says Tamera Rogers, community services director. “We expect it to be a busy center that will be enriching and appealing to all seniors.”
Tavares Parks and Recreation will offer various programs for the senior center. Those will include instructor-led workshops, lectures by guest speakers, exercise classes and dancing. Outside the center, pickleball and bocce ball courts will be built next to the existing shuffleboard courts.
The city has hired a firm to develop a conceptual plan. The next phase will be applying for a $600,000 community development block grant from the federal government. Then the city will bid on professional design and construction services.
“Because the senior center is being built next to the expanded library, our object is to create an intergenerational hub of activity,” Tamera says.
A vote on venues
In a referendum scheduled for March 17, Eustis residents will decide whether to approve debt of no more than $11.4 million to help the city fund a new community/conference/sailing center and an expansion of the Carver Park Recreation Facility.
The proposed $16.35 million center would be a 39,500-square-foot facility replacing the existing community center on Northshore Drive, according to Tom Carrino, the city’s economic development director. The new facility would host not only local events such as weddings, banquets and meetings, but also would accommodate conferences, eSports events, bass fishing tournaments, regattas and other events. If the referendum passes, construction would begin in the fall and completion would be targeted for February 2022.
The Carver Park Recreation project, estimated at $1.4 million, proposes a 4,000-square-foot expansion that would allow for an increase in camp programming, after-school activities, indoor basketball, volleyball, pickleball, soccer, physical education, instructional classes and more, he says.
With art galleries, antique shops and cozy restaurants, Mount Dora is a popular destination for tourists.
Now, city officials are paving a path to make it an equally popular destination for bicyclists. Within the next few years, a 5.5-mile recreational trail for cyclists and pedestrians will be built as part of a system connecting both Florida coasts.
The trail leads from downtown Mount Dora to Sorrento, allowing cyclists to access the trailhead of the Seminole Wekiva Trail at the County Road 46A interchange. Bikers can continue on that trail into Seminole County and eventually connect to the West Orange Trail and ride into Orange County. Both the Seminole Wekiva Trail and the West Orange Trail are part of the Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail.
The new trail also will connect to the 5.48-mile Tav-Dora Trail that leads to Tavares.
“Our trail will be part of a regional trail system,” City Manager Robin Hayes says. “The trail will be a centerpiece to connect people from other communities to us and vice versa.”
Bike trails are popping up as more people try to live healthy lifestyles and spend time outdoors.
“We’re excited about being part of that trend,” says Tim Wilson, economic development manager. “It’s great how these trails connect towns and cities together, providing an opportunity for an exciting cycling trip.”
Welcome to the lakefront
Leesburg’s new 20,700-square-foot Venetian Center, south of Dixie Avenue on the shores of Lake Harris, is expected to be a popular venue for people to enjoy community events.
“It’s a great asset for the city, and I believe it will be a regional attraction bringing in more people to experience the Leesburg lakefront,” says City Manager Al Minner, who is proud the center was built debt-free.
Al says Leesburg has budgeted $7.2 million for this year’s capital projects, including design and bids for a new aquatic facility and a teen center, new slips for the marina, new hangars at the city’s airport and playground and irrigation improvements at Sleepy Hollow Sports Complex, as well as completion of the downtown master plan.
“There are a few other items that will be completed, like the boardwalk on the basin in Venetian Gardens and the opening of the new restaurant (on the lake),” Al adds. “Also, we will continue to be working with The Villages on their expansion plans for development.”
The biggest budget challenge is making it all work.
“We manage our funds pretty well, but at the end of the day, there is never enough funding to go around,” Al says. “So, we have become great at shifting financial blocks, targeting projects and moving step by step. I think our work over the last several years is now just beginning to become evident.”
A new medical plaza is taking shape at 106 W. North Blvd., where the long-shuttered Rattan Wicker store has been renovated and repainted. Tenants have started to move in: Complete Care, a comprehensive group practice, has multiple suites offering services including rehabilitation, diagnostic imaging, physiotherapy, interventional pain management, and orthopedic and spine surgery.
Room for retail
Just when you thought the town of Lady Lake had all the stores imaginable, think again. The stretch of U.S. Highway 441/27 from Fennell Boulevard to The Villages’ Main Street already is packed with retail and restaurants, but town officials made room for more.
A new shopping center is under construction at the corner of 441 and Fennell. Originally named Lady Lake Commons, the center was renamed Earth Fare Commons for one of its anchor tenants, Town Manager Kris Kollgaard says. Earth Fare, a health and wellness supermarket specializing in natural and organic foods, will occupy 24,010 square feet, according to a news release.
Another anchor will be a Goodwill retail thrift store, and other tenants include Mission BBQ and Heartland Dental. One business opened after Thanksgiving: Miller’s Ale House, a 7,200-square-foot restaurant and sports bar. Miller’s, which has about 55 locations in Florida, will spark sports fan competition with the Texas Roadhouse about 500 feet away on 441 and Gator’s Dockside, a mile or two up the road in Spanish Springs Town Square in The Villages.
More tenants are being secured, says Kris, adding that she’s not concerned about overdevelopment in that stretch of 441.
“We are very excited, and I think the tenants will be a good fit for Lady Lake and be successful,” she says.
Building for the future
Trailwinds Village, a large mixed-use project, made a big splash in summer 2017 when construction began along County Road 466A between U.S. Highway 301 and Buena Vista Boulevard.
More than two years later, the developer continues to add tenants. New businesses under construction include Publix supermarket, a freestanding emergency room, Taco Bell and The Shoppes II, a strip plaza. Plans also call for The Wilds at Trailwinds, a 384-unit apartment complex, and possibly an assisted living facility, according to Melanie Peavy, the city’s director of development services.
The city is a close partner with The Villages, which is expanding within the city limits.
“The Villages development continues to spur growth in other areas of the city,” Melanie says.
Wildwood is building considerable housing through three planned developments. Oxford Crossings will consist of up to 1,000 residential units, in addition to 15,000 square feet of commercial use, on sites on U.S. Highway 301, County Road 472 and CR 114. Triumph South will include 207 single-family affordable units on CR 462, and Densan Park will offer 239 single-family units on CR 101, she says.
Other housing projects starting or opening in 2020 include the Beaumont property project, 400 single-family units west of Trailwinds Village, and Simple Life Lakeshore, an innovative project consisting of 203 affordable “tiny homes” near CR 466 and Highway 301, as Wildwood keeps pace with The Villages as one of the fastest-growing communities in the area.
Changing the skyline
While it often is hard to keep track of the many projects in The Villages, one may be singled out as the most unique and highly anticipated. A major medical center/hotel project that broke ground in 2018 on State Road 44, west of Brownwood Paddock Square, is nearing its target date for completion this spring.
The Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood is a state-of-the-art, multi-story, 200,000-square-foot multi-specialty care clinic serving all needs except emergency services. The adjoining Brownwood Hotel & Spa is a seven-story boutique hotel with 150 guest rooms, 10,000 square feet of convention space, a spa, a resort-style pool and the Wolfgang Puck Kitchen & Bar.
In the northern end, Villagers can expect to see construction of a new recreation center begin in 2020. The Villages administration is repurposing the former First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall property south off County Road 42 and west of Buena Vista Boulevard. The theme of the recreation center honors past and current first responders.
Details for amenities at the First Responders Recreation Center were being ironed out in late 2019, and the site plan was expected to be presented early this year for a vote. The estimated start date is fall 2020 with a target completion date of summer 2021, according to administration documents.
Culture and community
As much as Clermont, Lake County’s largest city, continues to grow, city leaders are still paying attention to detail downtown.
The Art Walk, celebrating local artists, will break ground this year with estimated completion by the end of 2020. The brick walkway will connect Montrose Street to Minneola Avenue and will feature a covered portion and a grassy, open-air space for vendor tents, according to the city newsletter.
The Clermont Wi-Fi Trail is live in limited locations along the South Lake Trail. This year, the coverage area will expand to include the waterfront trail and the downtown core. The addition will enhance safety and navigation for trail users and will be able to support events with data and live broadcasting in these areas, the city website states.
Downtown Streetscape construction began in October on improvements to West Avenue and Osceola Street, with an estimated summertime completion.
The 243-acre Olympus project, which was announced in 2019 with much fanfare, will be completed in phases over the next several years. The one-of-a-kind master-planned community will include sports training and health-care facilities, townhomes and multiple-family apartments, a trail system and an outdoor amphitheater.
The Olympus project is located in Lake County’s Wellness Way Area, east of U.S. Highway 27, close to the entrance to Lake Louisa Park.
“As we look ahead, the future is bright for Clermont,” City Manager Darren Gray says. “We are set up for success as we continue to prioritize responsible growth, a reenergized downtown and a thoughtfully planned Wellness Way. We will continue to enhance our stronghold as a community where families, businesses, health and wellness opportunities, educational institutions and athletics thrive.”