Vibrancy resonated throughout Spanish Springs this winter season.

Just look at the cafe seating of late at many of the town center’s restaurants, or the popularity of the evening entertainment, for a visualization of just how vibrant.

That trend was apparent last week with hundreds of people participating Thursday at the Spanish Springs Town Square Merchants Association’s Girls Night Out breast cancer fundraiser and thousands shopping during the weekend’s annual spring sidewalk sale.

Attribute much of this vibrancy to a growing commercial occupancy rate — rapidly en route to full occupancy — at this 500,000-square-foot town center that features an eclectic mix of retailers, restaurants, entertainment and service providers.

“It’s the highest occupancy that it’s been in a number of years,” said Scott Renick, The Villages director of commercial development.

Success begets success, Renick added, with considerable business interest in the few remaining vacant spots.

“We’ve definitely seen a bump in interest,” he said. “And we have a couple of things pending. We’re very happy with the trend we’re seeing in Spanish Springs.”

Also: One key economic indicator — home values — explains in part the continuation of the commercial growth throughout all of the town centers, regional shopping centers and neighborhood retail plazas in The Villages. Single-family home values in The Villages experienced another healthy jump in January, according to a March 6 home price index released by CoreLogic, one of the nation’s leading real estate analytics and data service providers. Year-over-year home prices in The Villages metropolitan statistical area, which includes all of Sumter County but not The Villages in Lake or Marion counties, increased by 4 percent in January, the Irvine, California-based firm concluded in its latest monthly survey. CoreLogic researchers also classify The Villages as the only normal MSA in Florida, where even the cheapest homes are neither overvalued or undervalued.

Also: Members of the Wildwood City Commission heard good news last week during a workshop on modifications to the five-year capital improvement schedule of the state mandated-comprehensive improvement element of the city’s master plan. “We now have the ability to improve our infrastructure based on available funding that comes from a variety of sources, including impact fees on development, which much of that is in The Villages, and new potable water and wastewater revenue,” City Manager Jason McHugh told the Daily Sun.

Also: The Wildwood commission heard at a separate workshop more positive news during an in-depth presentation on the future of the city’s transportation system. Commissioners learned that the Florida Department of Transportation anticipated a winter 2019 completion date of the $68.5 million interstate improvements at State Road 44, Interstate 75 and Florida’s Turnpike — the gateway not only to the city but also The Villages. The workshop included updates on extending Meggison Road from Brownwood across SR 44 to the site of a proposed emergency department, as well as improvements to county roads 468 and 501 and U.S. Highway 301. Many of the city’s transportation routes benefit from the strong joint-venture partnership The Villages maintains with Sumter County through transportation impact fee credits, McHugh said. “The Villages does such a great job planning for transportation improvement with the county and its agency partners,” he said. “We’re going to have transportation pretty well managed around here.”

Also: The Sumter County Commission’s ongoing effort to diversify the tax base, and lessen the burden on homeowners, got a boost last week. Gov. Rick Scott announced the award of $838,860 from the state’s Job Growth Grant Fund to support water infrastructure upgrades along County Road 470 from U.S. Highway 301 to Interstate 75. The investment would create incentives for manufacturers and distributors to consider that corridor for expansion opportunities, said Al Butler, chairman of the Sumter County Commission. “The Florida Job Growth Infrastructure Grant Fund award is an exciting opportunity for Sumter County Economic Development to partner with the city of Bushnell to make water system upgrades in the County Road 470 corridor of the county,” he said. “These infrastructure improvements will benefit the existing businesses and residents as well as promote future economic growth in this area.”

Also: A newly released audit detailed substantial asset growth for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 in the Village Center Community Development District. The district’s year-over-year net position increased by slightly more than $14 million to a total of about $122.8 million, the district’s board of supervisors learned at Wednesday’s regularly scheduled meeting. Of the total, government revenue activities — fees and assessments — accounted for almost $2.5 million of the growth. The district’s business-type revenue, such as water and wastewater services, accounted for almost $12 million in growth. 

David R. Corder is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.