Warning: The following item is intended for mature readers. The Villages has a new theatrical venue for “adult content” productions, which may contain violence, foul language, and—whoops—even nudity. The Studio Theatre Tierra Del Sol is housed in the former dining hall of the country club at 806 San Marino Drive. The 99-seat “black box” theatre wrapped its first production, “Next to Normal,” in December, and the inaugural season continues in January with “Private Lives,” followed by “Proof” and “The Last 5 Years.” “Each play focuses on seemingly perfect homes and the flaws that form in families,” artistic director Whitney Morse says. The Studio Theatre’s mission of inspiring residents to examine issues through innovative and intimate storytelling is summed up in its motto: “Think outside the box, inside the box.” Tickets are available at 352.750.5411, thevillagesentertainment.com or Villages box offices.
The Villages has a simple policy for the types of clubs that residents may form: Anything they can think of. Going into 2017, Villagers were leading more than 2,600 clubs and activities. “Residents are continuing to be creative,” District Recreation Director John Rohan says. Several more clubs are getting started: Joy of Pastel Art — It’s all about joy, not perfection, for organizer Iris Kaplan. “The whole idea is this is not only for people who have been experienced, but also for beginners who think they can’t draw,” Iris says. “I’m trying to make this something that’s not intimidating.” Parkinson’s Prancers — People with Parkinson’s disease must keep moving, and this club holds dances to help them do just that, co-founder Jim Cannella says, and 30 people attended the first dance. “It was amazing,” Jim says. “Everybody was on the dance floor, and each husband and wife were holding each other. It was very heartwarming.” Humanists — The club follows the “humanist” philosophy and secular beliefs as opposed to the concepts of theology and predestination, leader Jim Bucko says. Members will put on their thinking caps for discussions and presentations on topics such as evolution and the separation of church and state. Healthy Knees and Active Lifestyle — If you’re a Villager, chances are you have some type of knee problem, organizer Larry Dyke says. This fitness and educational club demonstrates the best techniques and exercises, from low-impact to high-impact, for Villagers dealing with knee ailments.
While new businesses constantly pop up on the periphery of The Villages, the three town squares still are filling spaces as well. Van Heusen clothing store has added a Brownwood Paddock location, recently holding its grand opening at 2746 Brownwood Blvd. “It was an amazing, warm welcome from the community,” store manager Tammy Gibson says. “I think it’s a fabulous location. So many of our customers live this way, and they’re happy to have us here.”
Charleston Shoe Co., the “Cobblestones to Cocktails Shoe” store opened in November at 1085 Canal Street at Lake Sumter Landing. “That’s an ideal location,” assistant manager Helen Castro says. “This square is bigger, it has more boutiques, more shops, more restaurants, and more traffic from customers,” she says.The Villages has welcomed Amerikans Grille with open mouths. Owner David Suleiman renovated the former Athens NY restaurant, 998 Del Mar Dr. at Spanish Springs, with a new awning, bar, and TVs. Another Villages location for the Greek restaurant is planned for mid-2017, general manager Terry Morgan says. “Business has been going very well, in fact, better than we expected,” Terry adds.
New church expansions
Somebody say, “Amen!” Several churches in and around The Villages are expanding in 2017 to accommodate growing flocks: New Covenant United Methodist Church will break ground on a new $5.5 million church near Lake Deaton off County Road 44A. The multipurpose facility for worship, classrooms, and choir will seat 650 people, with the opening targeted for Easter 2018, Pastor Harold Hendren says. Open Bible Lutheran Church in Oxford begins construction in January on a $700,000 expansion of its fellowship hall, with space for 300 people and three classrooms, Pastor Mark Schulz says. Completed of the project is expected in August. Planning is also underway at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Wildwood for a new rectory and parking, the beginning of a long-range multimillion-dollar project to include a Family Life Center, 540-seat Open Bible Lutheran Church church expansion and new outreach, food pantry and resale shop facilities; and at the booming First Baptist Church at The Villages, which already needs more space at its 3-year-old worship center on County Road 42.
New recreational facilities
More homes in The Villages means more recreational facilities will debut in 2017. The new Phillips and Soulliere villas on County Road 42 in Marion County each will have a neighborhood recreation center with a pool and bocce and shuffleboard courts. The Phillips center is completed and expected to be unveiled this year, District Recreation Director John Rohan says. The Village of Fenney development in Wildwood will include at least one village-size recreation center with a full array of courts, and several smaller neighborhood centers, City Manager Bill Ed Cannon says. Construction of one center on County Road 468 began in November. Older facilities also will get a facelift. Extensive interior renovations are planned for Saddlebrook Recreation Center, 3010 Saddlebrook Lane, and should be completed this summer. The price tag for the project, which also will include a new billiards room, is about $1.6 million. The Amenity Authority Committee, which oversees recreational sites north of County Road 466, also is considering purchases of land next to the Rio Grande Recreation Center, 1228 Rio Grande Ave., and near the District 4 boundary on County Road 42 for development of new recreational facilities, AAC member Carl Bell says.
The powers that be in The Villages may not be familiar with the word “buildout.” The place just keeps growing, from the north end to the south end, and more homes are on the way. Lots in the new Village of Fenney go on sale in this month, according to The Villages sales office. Fenney eventually will total 3,000 homes off County Road 468 and southeast of U.S. Highway 301 in Wildwood. City leaders approved site plans for various neighborhoods, and the area was bustling in late 2016 as workers put in foundations, entry roads, and recreational structures, with building permits for houses pending. “It’s been embraced by all of us,” City Manager Bill Ed Cannon says. “There’s going to be more people population-wise and a larger tax base because all this new stuff The Villages is doing will be within the city limits of Wildwood. It’s a real nice opportunity.” In the north, 300 villa homes are being built on two separate sites in an expansion of Community Development District 4. New residents moved into Phillips Villas in November as finishing touches were made to about 167 homes south of County Road 42 and east of Mulberry Grove shopping plaza. “They look very nice. I’m very pleased with them,” says Don Deakin, a District 4 supervisor. “They’re different than the standard courtyard villas in The Villages, but similar as well. They have an improved design for courtyard villas.” Down the road to the west, construction of infrastructure began at the 133-unit Soulliere Villas. That site also will include seven “ranchettes” of 5 to 7 acres each to accommodate horse stables, and an east-west trail for golf carts, walkers and bicyclists.