Census shows a wealthier north Pinellas
By ED QUIOCO, Times Staff Writer
OLDSMAR -- The signs have been there for years: more Lexuses and SUVs on East Lake Road, starter houses becoming tough to find in Palm Harbor and new subdivisions popping up in Oldsmar and Tarpon Springs.
North Pinellas has been a magnet for pricier homes filled with wealthier, better-educated residents, and now the numbers are in to prove it.
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that East Lake is loaded with affluence, and Oldsmar experienced a statistical boom in categories indicating economic prosperity.
The latest snapshot provided by the census shows that a surge of college-educated families making good money has been a driving force in shaping the demographics of North Pinellas over the past decade.
"The point is that it's a lot more difficult to buy a home in East Lake unless you are reasonably well-established and affluent," said Don Flynn, vice chairman of the civic group East Lake 2020. "It's just an area populated by some successful people."
The unincorporated area tucked in the northeast corner of Pinellas has kept its rural feel while putting up what the U.S. Census says are some of the area's highest indicators of economic prosperity.
The median value of homes in East Lake is $197,700, more than double the median home value for Pinellas as a whole. In addition, the number of residents in the community with at least a bachelor's degree is at 42 percent, almost twice the percentage for the county and state.
"It doesn't come to any shock to me at all," Flynn said. "East Lake is a favorite spot for middle- and upper-management-type executives coming into the Tampa Bay area."
They are drawn to East Lake because of its rural atmosphere, exclusive neighborhoods and easy commute to Tampa and St. Petersburg, he said. Because East Lake was designed with few commercially zoned lots on its main street, East Lake Road, the area has a "lush, bucolic effect" that is different from the congestion of U.S. 19., Flynn said.
Another sign of East Lake's affluence is the area's median household income, which is $67,546. That number is higher than the state and county's figures, which are $38,819 and $37,111, respectively.
With families making more money living in the area, that corresponds with homes being more expensive. Typically, couples interested in a home in East Lake will need a $50,000 down payment "just to get in the game," said Flynn, a local real estate broker.
"You can't hardly buy homes in East Lake for less than $250,000," he said.
Oldsmar used to be the brunt of jokes about being in the middle of nowhere. Now city officials can boast about Oldsmar posting one of the state's biggest increases in households earning high salaries and residents with advanced college degrees.
In 1990, only 11 households in Oldsmar reported earning $150,000 or more and 136 residents claimed they had a graduate or professional degree. Those numbers skyrocketed in 2000 when 136 households reported earning that much income and 425 claimed they had a graduate or professional degree.
The 1,136 percent in increase in the number of high earners was the largest of any city in the Tampa Bay area. Statistically, the city outpaced the county and state in those increases by wide margins.
"Sounds fantastic," said Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland. "Incredible. It just goes to say what I've said all along. Oldsmar has been the diamond in the rough and now it's polished."
When John Anderson and his family were moving from New Orleans about three years ago, they looked for houses in Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor and Oldsmar. Something about Oldsmar just felt right.
"It just seemed like it had a lot going for it," said Anderson, a principal software engineer for Honeywell who has a doctorate in physics from Florida State University. "When we came and looked at the house, everybody in the neighborhood waved to say hello."
They moved into a three-bedroom, two-bath home at the Preserve at Cypress Lakes, a recently built subdivision filled with families.
In 1990, census figures show that there were eight homes that were valued at $300,000 or more in Oldsmar. Ten years later, that number was up to 47, a 488 percent increase.
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