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Nudism leaves impression on economy

Themed resorts and housing are just part of it. Restaurants and retail businesses benefit, too.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003

LAND O'LAKES -- So goes nudism, so goes business in Land O'Lakes.

Traditionally, Pasco County's most centrally placed community sank or swam with the bare buns crowd. In 2002, Land O'Lakes was swimming pretty.

It wasn't just the opening on U.S. 41 of Caliente, the Mediterranean-themed nudist resort destined to have 350 homes, bars and restaurants and a galleria of shops.

Paradise Lakes, the nation's most popular nudist resort with 80,000 visitors a year, sold out 70 new condominiums on Brinson Road southwest of U.S. 41 and State Road 54.

And two local real estate agents who dabble in nudism developed an upscale nudist-only neighborhood called the Oasis on Carson Drive.

The nudist impact isn't limited to the resorts either -- witness the prevalence of a no-tan-lines clientele at local restaurants, department stores and supermarkets.

For such retail businesses, signs are pointing up. Wal-Mart announced in January it was opening a new supercenter at the apex of N Dale Mabry Highway and U.S. 41.

Meanwhile, Collier Commons shopping center was rising from the sand at a former horse farm northwest of SR 54 and Collier Parkway.

Soon it will house a Publix, a Walgreens drugstore and a Blockbuster video store. The Publix across the street in Willow Bend Towne Centre will close. Its replacement is reportedly a Bed Bath & Beyond.

Two years ago, Publix was interested in building a store along West Lake Ellis at Bell Lake Road and U.S. 41. Developers scuttled the idea, but not before a group of conservationists, alarmed by the threat of development along their beloved lakefront, formed a group called Heart of Land O'Lakes.

In several community meetings over more than a year, the group sketched out a plan for a homey "town center" somewhere near West Lake Ellis.

Many Land O'Lakes land owners bashed Heart of Land O'Lakes. They feared architectural standards included in the plan -- tin-roofed Florida Cracker would have predominated -- violated their property rights.

A rewrite of the plan released before Christmas stressed the desirability of a town center without mandating an architectural style.

Development in Land O'Lakes has pretty much followed the highways. In 2002, the county commissioners rezoned 205 acres north of SR 54 between Foggy Ridge Parkway and 20-Mile Level Road.

The project calls for about 300 houses, 200 apartments and shopping centers. Making all that possible was last year's opening of State Road 56 and the completed widening of SR 54 east of Collier Parkway.

What could be the biggest commercial project of them all, a million-square-foot mall called Cypress Creek Town Center at SR 56 and Interstate 75, made sputtering progress in 2002.

Once heralded as a new jewel in developer Edward DeBartolo Jr.'s crown, the mall fell afoul of environmental regulations. DeBartolo ended the year by backing out of the project. The mall site owners are courting other, undisclosed developers.

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