Bigger and better: The community sees more growth, more services, and more attractions.
In little more than two years, the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center has elevated its lineup to national headliner quality. The Sharon, a 1,000-seat, state-of-the-art venue, has become home to singers, bands, and theater productions that appreciate premium acoustics.
In the coming months at The Sharon:
Debby Boone will “light up your life” Sept. 8. The Grammy-winning singer’s show is expected to blend ’60s Las Vegas favorites, selections from the Great American Songbook, and stories about father Pat Boone and mother-in-law Rosemary Clooney.
Country star Clint Black performs Sept. 15, with tickets on sale Aug. 2. Clint has been one of country music’s most prolific songwriters since his 1989 debut. He has released more than 100 songs, and sold more than 20 million albums worldwide.
Stage, film, and TV veteran Ben Vereen arrives Oct. 7 with his one-man show, “Steppin’ Out.” Ben may be best-known for his Tony-winning performance in “Pippin,” and older fans will recall his heavy-duty TV role as Chicken George in “Roots.” (Anyone remember him in “Tenspeed and Brown Shoe” with Jeff Goldblum?)
Bernadette Peters will bring her siren’s song to the stage Oct. 14, with tickets on sale Aug. 23. Many a male Villager likely crushed on Bernadette while growing up in the ’70s, and here she is seemingly ageless in 2017. She’ll boom out Broadway hits by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, Rodgers & Hammerstein, and many others.
Members of the band Kansas apparently are not yet “Dust in the Wind,” but instead are wayward sons carrying on. The classic rock band, which began in the 1970s, performs Dec. 9. The band from Topeka has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide, and in 2016, released “The Prelude Implicit,” a wide-ranging progressive rock album.
For more erudite patrons, the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, all the way from Sweden, takes the stage Jan 24. Popular for concert tours and recording projects, they will perform an overture, a violin concerto, and a symphony by the master himself, Ludwig van Beethoven.
Before this sentence ends, the Morse family may have scooped up another big parcel of land. A flurry of purchases this year gives the developer of The Villages control of property up and down the turnpike corridor in Sumter County and extending into Leesburg in Lake County.
Once developed, the properties will connect the southern end of The Villages on State Road 44 to the ongoing development of the Village of Fenney on County Road 468, and spread the 55-plus community farther in all directions. The Villages has marked its new territory along County Road 468 with miniature covered wagons with the community’s logo on the sides.
The number of homes on the new properties could reach the tens of thousands, adding countless residents and inevitable commercial development, which will bring more revenue, more roads, more traffic—more Morse.
During his annual address to Villagers this year, developer Mark Morse says at least 14,000 houses are planned in and around Fenney and the new Village of Southern Oaks, one of this year’s land acquisitions.
Purchases were made on all sides of Fenney, which is east of U.S. Highway 301 and south of Florida’s Turnpike in Wildwood, and on both sides of the turnpike. Southern Oaks, east of Fenney and extending to the Lake County line, totals about 4,500 acres. Wildwood policies potentially would allow for as many as 20,300 homes in Southern Oaks, according to city documents.
The Villages developer also bought about 2,000 acres southward down the turnpike and on each side of County Road 470, connecting Southern Oaks to Leesburg, Mark says.
Another purchase of 650 acres on the south side of State Road 44 will enable golf cart traffic from the Brownwood area to connect with the Villages expansion to the south, Mark says. For connectivity, he mentioned two possible bridges over State Road 44 at Buena Vista Boulevard and near Lake Deaton Plaza, and two tunnels are planned to go under County Road 468 to reach Fenney.
“It looks promising that we’re going to connect everything,” Mark says in his presentation.
For good measure, the developer is adding a new small community in the north end of The Villages. Chatham Acres is laid out between First Baptist Church at The Villages and the yet-to-be-built Soulliere Villas on County Road 42 in Marion County. Chatham Acres will include seven ranchettes of about five acres each, possibly attracting horse owners, and will have golf cart accessibility to The Villages, Jennifer Parr, vice president of Villages sales and marketing, says in the Morse presentation.
Meanwhile, the developer has been “fast-tracking Fenney,” Mark says, as continued approvals this year from the city of Wildwood will result in hundreds more homes being built on that site. Additional new construction soon will continue to the south, the developer says, starting with roads and infrastructure and ending…never?
More Villagers may be “locked and loaded” with the addition of a 50,000-square foot Shooters World. The indoor gun range and retail center will be constructed at the corner of Powell Road and County Road 44A near Brownwood Paddock Square.
“It will be a really neat place for you to be able to go and learn how to shoot a handgun, get your concealed weapons permit, or get whatever your shooting needs might be,” Kelsea Manly says in this year’s Morse family presentation to Villagers.
In the north end, a new Cody’s Roadhouse is coming to the Mulberry Grove shopping center on CR 42. This will be the third Cody’s in The Villages.
On CR 466, Habanero’s Mexican Grill is coming to Southern Trace Plaza, and Metro Diner, “Where the Locals Eat,” is coming to Buffalo Ridge Plaza, taking over the former Perkins Restaurant location in front of Walmart.
In the south end, a new Flippers Pizzeria is slated for the Grand Traverse shopping center on SR 44. Flippers also has a location at Spanish Springs Town Square.
Villagers have been hungry for details about one other possible new restaurant since Honest John’s Whiskey and Provisions closed in mid-April. A new restaurant, named for TV chef Guy Fieri, was announced as taking over the location at Lake Sumter Landing.
Commercial property management representatives did not return calls to confirm the move, but the department’s website proclaims: “Coming Soon! Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar.”
Hot Broadway South
The Sharon has lined up several touring productions in 2018 to bring a little glitz from the Great White Way to The Villages:
“Dirty Dancing,” Jan. 12-13 – Fans of the 1987 coming-of-age film will have “the time of their lives” when they see the stage musical, billed as an “unprecedented live experience, exploding with heart-pounding music, passionate romance, and sensational dancing.”
“Cabaret,” Feb. 12-13 – The classic musical, set in pre-World War II Berlin, features some of the most memorable songs in theatre history, including “Cabaret,” “Willkommen,” and “Maybe This Time.” This version is based on Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s Tony-winning production.
“Romeo and Juliet” and “Carmen,” Feb. 20-23 – These timeless classics will be performed by the Moscow Festival Ballet, founded in 1989 by Bolshoi Ballet principal dancer Sergei Radchenko. Under his direction, dancers from across Russia forged an exciting company.
“Jersey Boys,” April 13-14 – The award-winning musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is worth the price of admission for the group’s hits alone, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Sherry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Oh, What A Night,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
“A Chorus Line,” April 18-19 – This musical is more than “One Singular Sensation”—it’s considered a masterpiece for its celebration and true-to-life depiction of performers and their struggle to achieve greatness on the Broadway stage.
Hot recreation centers
The new Fenney and Blue Heron recreation centers opened this summer in the Village of Fenney, The Villages’ expansion south of County Road 468.
Fenney Recreation Center, 3200 Fenney Way, is set on a beautiful, natural “true Florida” site, and the center was designed in an old Southern rural style, Villages design director Tracy Mathews says in a presentation this year to Villagers. “It’s really different than anything we’ve had to offer before,” she says.
The touch that sets it apart is the décor of about 125 to 150 pieces of artwork donated by Villages artists. Fenney also has a resort-style pool, fitness center, bar and grill, nature trails, and a fire pit.
The unique aspect of Blue Heron, 2905 Fenney Way, is a small park and walking trail on the property, with plenty of greenspace for picnics and outdoor exercise. The neighborhood-size recreation center includes an adult pool and the requisite shuffleboard, cornhole toss, and petanque/bocce courts.
With at least 50,000 golf carts in the community, Villagers know it’s important to take care of their rides. Finding service has become much more convenient since 2015, when The Villages Golf Cars started opening stations with drive-up fuel pumps and drive-thru maintenance. The company has locations at each of the town squares: Gordon’s Garage at Lake Sumter Landing, Goedken’s Garage at Brownwood, and Gantenbein’s Garage at La Plaza Grande near Spanish Springs.
The service stations provide all types of maintenance, from annual service to full rebuilds, for both gas and electric carts. Customers also may take advantage of drop-off service, complimentary loaners, and non-ethanol gas at the pumps.
The positive response from Villagers has been “overwhelming,” owner and CEO Lori Resmondo says, adding she’s not aware of any other location in the country, let alone in The Villages, that has drive-up stations for golf carts. And with more growth coming south of Brownwood, another filling station may one day be on the drawing board, she says.
Construction of a new Walmart Neighborhood Market, liquor store, and fuel station on County Road 466A is progressing this summer. The new plaza is between the Colony Professional Plaza and the Sarasota Executive Golf Course. The market, about one-fifth the size of a Wal-Mart Supercenter, “should be serving turkeys by Thanksgiving Day,” Kelsea Manly, director of operations for The Villages, says in a Morse family presentation to Villagers this spring.
Hot town center
The rustic environment around Brownwood Paddock Square is going upscale. The area will be home to a new hotel and spa, including a restaurant overseen by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, and the Brownwood Center for Advanced Medicine, a state-of-the-art, 250,000-square-foot specialty care clinic.
The Brownwood Hotel & Spa will be “unbelievably beautiful,” Villages design director Tracy Mathews says in a presentation this year to Villagers. The hotel will include 150 guest rooms, a multipurpose courtyard for meetings and functions, and 10,000 square feet of conference rooms.
The two sites will be connected, so visitors of patients at the clinic can stay at the hotel if necessary. The clinic will be managed in a partnership with Anchor Health Properties, based in Virginia.
“They’re renowned throughout the country for bringing advanced medical care to communities, and we’re extremely excited about it,” Tracy says.