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Dade City rejects 'bedroom' status

Published February 15, 2004

DADE CITY - Let the Wesley Chapels, the Lutzes, the North Tampas of the world ride the housing boom.

In northeast Pasco, industry might be the key to the region's successful future.

While the growth of suburban Tampa creeps across south Pasco, reaching even to Zephyrhills in the past year with a jolt of new, big-name retail outlets, Dade City and Lacoochee are on the fringes.

Dade City Manager Harold Sample predicts the economic engine in his area may not be in housing, but in providing jobs locally as the commute to Tampa becomes more and more congested.

"We're struggling, trying to find the balance as to how to maintain the unique character, the flavor that everyone is wanting to come here and pay for," Sample said. "We're underemployed in the region, and those who move here for the commute are finding that more difficult every day."

County Commissioner Ted Schrader said he agrees with Sample that jobs are the most needed ingredient. He said he is against providing new industrial space close to Interstate 75, just because it is along the highway. Instead, he said, there are plenty of areas around Dade City and Lacoochee that are already zoned for industry and would bring jobs closer to home for the area's workers.

The area around the Columbia Grain site, where the old cypress mill used to be, is still an attractive area for development, Schrader said. There is a rail spur, access to U.S. 301, State Road 50 and I-75.

In Dade City, industrial land is available along U.S. 301 at the property shared by Pasco Beverage. And to the south, between Dade City and Zephyrhills, lies more industrial property with more access to U.S. 301, Schrader said.

The future of land closer to I-75 may lie with office parks, retail and residential, he said.

Sample said he and city officials hope to meet with Pasco County economic development leaders to understand how to better sell the city's opportunities to industry.

"There's a lot of work to be done," he said.

A key concern Sample and Schrader mentioned is the fate of Pasco Beverage. Once a major employer, the company announced in December it was eliminating up to 250 jobs by March. The company also sold storage areas on the plant site to a Minneapolis company as part of an ongoing move out of the chilled juice market, to focus on frozen juice.

But the company also has shown signs of development, attempting to get into the low-carb craze with a new orange juice cocktail that has 45 percent fewer calories and carbohydrates than regular juice.

As for the dream of luring more service-oriented and retail outlets, Sample said it's an ongoing chicken and egg situation.

Big retailers come to where the people are. People come to where the services and retailers are.

"There's no question, growth is coming to Dade City, it has overrun Zephyrhills," Sample said. "We have to prepare. That's up to us."

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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