Community leaders have high hopes for expansion

In September 2019, residents gather to listen and dance to music on Brownwood Paddock Square. The Morse family recently announced plans for development south of State Road 44 that will provide unique opportunities for Villages residents.

Community leaders are lauding Friday’s announcement from the Morse family of plans to create a lifestyle center, wellness village and a family community complete with a second campus of The Villages Charter School — all in the region south of State Road 44.  “This is an incredibly exciting time in the life of our community,” said Mark Morse, president and CEO of The Villages. “Whether it’s world-class health care or unique recreation opportunities or a new spin on shopping and dining, Villagers always dream big, and we are working every day to make those big dreams come true. We never stop listening to our residents and imagining new ways to make their retirement dreams come true.” The development concept filed Friday with 
the city of Wildwood envisions:

    •     A 400-acre health care hub anchored by a new University of Florida        Hospital — part of the network that includes the existing UF Health The Villages Hospital, UF Health The Villages Freestanding Emergency Room and the UF Health Leesburg Hospital.

    •     A super-regional recreational concept designed around a river-like water feature to provide residents with one-of-a-kind outdoor experiences.

    •     18-hole and 27-hole championship golf courses.

    •     A second K-8 campus for children of Villages workers who attend The Villages Charter School, with a new expanded high school and a campus that also includes a large indoor tournament venue.

Each piece of the announcement complements the recent unveiling of the Ezell Recreation Center and the adjoining Sawgrass Grove retail-entertainment center on the east side of the Florida Turnpike, which eventually will link to the development area via a turnpike bridge.

The unveiling reaffirms UF Health’s commitment to The Villages, said David R. Nelson, M.D., University of Florida senior vice president for health affairs and president of UF Health.

“UF Health is excited to continue discussions with The Villages to collaborate to create a comprehensive state-of-the-art medical campus, which includes plans to construct a new general acute-care hospital,” he said. “Extending UF Health’s premier clinical, educational and research resources to the country’s largest older adult community is an exceptional opportunity.”

Planner say it’s the next big step in The Villages’ vision to become “America’s Healthiest Hometown.”

“Through this alliance, The Villages residents will benefit from additional health care resources in the region, including enhanced access to the latest medical advances and clinical trials,” Nelson said. “UF Health will also benefit from its involvement in the community, along The Villages’ willingness to invest in helping advance science and medicine.”

The unveiling couldn’t have come at a better time, said state Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who represents The Villages.

“This is a huge step for the optimism of the entire region,” he said. “To see new health care, education and recreation facilities is a huge step for raising the economic expectation of the region. It’s just what we need right now.”

He called the announcement “a statement that we’re moving onward and upward and building for the future of our children and grandchildren, as well as all of the residents who are finding North Central Florida a great place to live and work.”

Steve Printz, chairman of the Sumter County Commission, agreed.

“It’s a significant undertaking that continues to keep the dream alive,” he said. “I don’t know how anybody can’t be excited about this, especially folks who live south of State Road 44.”

The plans also bolster The Villages’ reputation as a regional economic engine that provides opportunities far beyond the community, said state Rep. Brett Hage, R-Oxford, whose legislative district includes The Villages.

“The continued growth of The Villages is vital to the economy of our region and our state,” he said. “This community’s now 40-something years of growth has had a tremendous and positive ripple effect across our region and throughout the state.”

He said that civic leaders all over Florida count on The Villages as a “rock solid foundation” of the state’s economy.

“We are blessed with thousands of jobs; thousands of families, who have opportunities now to make a living, buy homes and educate their kids; and thousands of Villagers who enjoy a tremendous lifestyle, and also give back so much to our community and our state,” he said.

Matt Gerig, president of the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce praises the private-public coordination.

“Strong support from the city of Wildwood and the Sumter County Commission helped make this day possible,” he said. “Their willingness as elected leaders to think long term and make some politically tough decisions was key to bringing a new UF Hospital to our area.”

Gerig also credited Baxley and Hage for their support in encouraging UF Health to expand here.

“Sumter County is fortunate to have representatives focused on bringing better health care to our area,” he said.

Wildwood Mayor Ed Wolf praised the family housing area planned near the new school as a boon for attracting quality workers to support the age-restricted community.

“It addresses a countywide need to find workers for the anticipated growth,” he said. “They’re now coming from as far away as both coasts to work in The Villages. This is exactly what is needed.”

Bringing more business to the makes it easier to maintain the area’s low property taxes, said Wildwood Commissioner Marco Flores.

“It’s more great news for the city of Wildwood,” Flores said. “This kind of growth provides new services and amenities to our citizens, while enabling us keep our taxes low and our neighborhoods safe.”

One aspect of the announcement caught the attention of Phil Walker, president of The Villages Homeowners Advocates, the community’s homeowner advocacy and charitable services group.

“It’s the totality of what’s being planned,” he said. “It benefits all residents in The Villages, workers and the children who one day may be working in the community. It meets the needs of everyone involved.”

Senior writer David R. Corder can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.