An assortment of new restaurants, discount stores and service shops are expected to open in 2004 as Hernando County's population growth continues to drive new retail businesses.
It should come as no surprise, but local developers, real estate agents and business people say the area near State Road 50 and Mariner Boulevard will remain the hottest commercial zone in the county.
In the not-so-distant future, land prices there could reach $1-million an acre, said Buddy Selph, a broker for Tommie Dawson Realty.
"Those are premium," Selph said. "Those are main street sites where you've got water, sewer and all that exposure."
Still, other areas are expected to see new retail shops and restaurants this year, too.
U.S. 41 south of Brooksville is being propelled by the Hernando Oaks and Southern Hills Plantation housing developments.
Elgin Boulevard, particularly around Barclay Avenue near Silverthorn, is on the verge of a commercial explosion. The spark is twofold - the Sterling Hill housing development going up on both sides of Elgin and a spate of multifamily housing units going up south of Powell Middle School on Barclay.
Dependable growth is expected to continue on U.S. 19, known euphemistically as Commercial Way.
Mariner Boulevard continues to blossom in the vicinity of Northcliffe Boulevard.
"With more rooftops comes more retail and commercial development," said Robert Buckner, a local Realtor.
Some of the larger stores on the horizon include a Big Lots in Spring Hill and a Lowe's in Brooksville.
Big Lots, which has a store in Brooksville, is planning a second store in Spring Hill that should open this summer. The store will be at the Village at Timber Pines in a location recently occupied by Kash n' Karry. Big Lots offers a broad range of discount merchandise bought from manufacturers seeking to reduce inventories.
Lowe's, which has a store in Spring Hill, has a contract to buy land near the Wal-Mart Supercenter on the south side of Brooksville. Construction of the home improvement store at the southwest corner of Wiscon Road and U.S. 41 should begin once the city of Brooksville takes care of housekeeping with its land-use regulations, said Bill Geiger, the city's community development director.
The local menu of restaurants will expand on several fronts, according to county development officials and representatives of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce.
CiCi's Pizza is building a store on SR 50 near High Point. A little farther west, closer to the highway's intersection with Deltona Boulevard, a Thai restaurant is slated to open. A tea room is expected to debut in a small new strip shopping plaza that will include a hair salon on Mariner Boulevard, across the street from Merita Bread.
Sonic Drive-In, where you can order and eat lunch from your car's bucket seats, will open a drive-in restaurant near the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Brooksville. Already, there's one on U.S. 19.
And some familiar restaurant locations will change tenants.
After a considerable makeover, the Ryan's Family Steakhouse on SR 50 will become a Whistle Junction. It will still include a family-style buffet, but in a setting with a train station theme - including a clock tower, whistle tower and water tower, a company press release said.
The Country Kitchen restaurant in Brooksville will move across the street to what once was Shoney's, Geiger said. Meanwhile, the restaurant vacated by Country Kitchen will be demolished and the property converted into a Walgreens.
All in all, observers of the local business climate say a large segment of Hernando County is booming, thanks in part to people migrating here from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
"The lid's just about come off the box," said Selph.