From near and far

First of two parts: Transplants come from within the state and far beyond -- including a growing New York block -- to top off local neighborhoods.

Published June 10, 2007

Kathleen and John Hennessy -- she of Long Island, he of the Bronx -- became Floridians less by choice than by necessity.

John Hennessy got notice that his company, Depository Trust & Clearing Corp., was moving from Manhattan to New Tampa. Kathleen joined her husband on a 2005 house hunting trip, took one look at the Florida landscape and experienced the shock of a true-blue New Yorker.

"I hated the grass. It was so thick. It was awful," Kathleen Hennessy said. "Christmas didn't feel like Christmas."

Two years later and her three daughters are rummaging through the nature center at the clubhouse of Wilderness Lake Preserve, the Pasco County neighborhood where the Hennessys bought a five-bedroom, three-bath house for peanuts compared with prices up north.

"As you can see, I got over the grass," Hennessy said.

The migratory wave that carried the Hennessys to west-central Florida was painstakingly chronicled every time a taxpayer indicated a change of address in filing a return to the IRS.

A St. Petersburg Times analysis of IRS data from 1999-2000 and 2004-05 shows that by 2005, when the housing boom here was reaching supersonic levels, west-central Florida had become a magnet for transplants from not just the vast majority of metro areas across the country but from every other major metro in Florida. Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, Hernando and Citrus counties netted 46, 226 new residents in that tax year alone.

They came from at least 483 counties across the United States. Far-flung Anchorage, Honolulu, Seattle and Los Angeles helped feed the migration. Their incomes, as reported on tax forms, added a net gain of $1.15-billion to the local economy.

The IRS data held a surprise: The old migratory patterns are breaking down. The bulk of new Floridians are no longer Midwesterners following the caravan down Interstate 75.

New York City and its suburbs, long known for its human pipeline to Miami, now provide a greater share of west-central Florida's out-of-state migrants.

In 2000, Cook County, which includes Chicago, dwarfed Long Island's Suffolk County in the number of people it supplied west-central Florida. But by 2005, Suffolk was beating Cook by nearly 2 to 1.

And Suffolk, among the 100 richest counties in the United States, is pumping bigger bucks into the five-county area. The net gain in income from Long Island migrants totaled $25.6-million in 2000 but had nearly doubled to $49.2-million by 2005.

"When I first came down here all I saw were people from Ohio and Michigan and Indiana," said ex-New Yorker Lisa Schumm, who lives in Trinity with her husband, Chad, and two kids. "Today you walk through the Target store and you feel like you're in New York."

Little of this is news to the people who have built and sold tens of thousands of homes during the housing construction fever that lasted roughly from 2000 to 2005.

Don Whyte oversaw such developments as Hillsborough County's FishHawk Ranch. Many of his customers were chain migrants, New Yorkers who followed the flow of banking and finance jobs to Tampa and swept their retirement age parents along with them.

"Our coast was discovered in the last 15 years by people in the Northeast," Whyte said. "Even the retirees are different. Many moving into our communities say they came to live near their trophy children."

IRS data is a useful, if imperfect, measure of population shifts. It captures neither illegal immigration nor the mostly poor and elderly who don't file tax returns. Similarly uncounted are snowbirds who sojourn in Florida but maintain permanent residences out of state.

But the numbers still impress. Tax returns filed in 2005 show that 130,665 people had moved to the five-county region since their previous tax filing. That's an average of 358 new people a day.

By subtracting the 84,439 people who left, often to North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, the population gain registered 46,226.

The new people were slightly richer than the people they replaced. Arrivals reported per capita income of $23,369, compared with $22,525 for those who moved away.

In the Oakstead clubhouse near the Pasco-Hillsborough line, Nancy Intini, Sal Paradiso, Mario Grasso and Lynn Tempera form a microcosm of the new migration.

Hailing from places like East Islip and Hicksville, N.Y., and the Chicago suburbs, they came mostly for the balmy weather and the more-bang-for-your-buck houses.

"This is the melting pot of the South," the middle-aged Grasso announces and reaches for his cell phone that rings to the theme from The Godfather.

Paradiso, who's 25 and wears the New York Jets cap of his birthplace, recalls Pasco and Hernando County builders hawking their wares at the Nassau Coliseum near his hometown. His family took the bait and sold their small Long Island Levittown-style house for $400,000 and installed themselves in relative luxury in Florida for $200,000.

"My mom came for a new start after my father died. She hates the New York winter. If she didn't like it here, she would pack up and leave," Paradiso said.

When it comes to population growth, the IRS dates suggests the region attracts more than the snow-averse. Sun Belt cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Antonio contributed far more residents in 2005 than in 2000 to west-central Florida than they took away.

And tax forms show that the leading points of origin for Tampa Bay area residents aren't New York and Chicago, but other Florida counties, particularly neighboring counties.

It's not even close. Take Pasco, Between 2000 and 2005, a net of 2,018 people came from Suffolk County, N.Y. During the same period, 79,151 new residents came from Hillsborough, Pinellas, Citrus and Hernando counties.

In Pinellas, almost 10 times more people relocated from Hillsborough as arrived from Cook, the leading out-of-state county for Pinellas newcomers.

Brandon couple Jennifer and Stephen Heidt illustrate the sometimes tangled trail the migrants blaze.

She's from New Jersey. He's from Orlando, whose county, Orange, is the fifth-biggest source of migrants to west-central Florida in 2005. They began married life in St. Petersburg and moved to Hillsborough, where Jennifer Heidt arrives with her two children for a swim at FishHawk Ranch, the 3, 500-home suburb southeast of Tampa.

The lawn outside the clubhouse displays this reminder: "Designated for bocce ball and croquet only."

Rare for her generation, Heidt, a University of Delaware graduate, didn't move to Florida for work.

"I actually met my husband on spring break," Heidt said. "But it's a great place to live. Excellent schools. Very friendly atmosphere."

Stanley Smith, a University of Florida professor and one of the state's top demographers, expects Florida to remain a people magnet, even with real estate cooling off. But he warns against drawing too many demographic conclusions from short-term migration.

"It's a mistake to base plans on a few abnormal years, and 2003, 2004 and 2005 were abnormal years," Smith said.

But Kathleen Hennessy's experience suggests how a migratory trickle can become a river. The formerly reluctant Floridian recently lured her parents down to Pasco. They sold out in Patchogue, Long Island, and bought a house about half a mile from their daughter.

Illustrating the peculiar brand of American restlessness, the Hennessys now joke about moving farther afield.

"My husband never thought he would leave the Bronx, and now he watches the Travel Channel and talks about moving to Jackson Hole, Wyoming," Kathleen Hennessy said.

"Maybe he'll be a Bronx cowboy or something."

About this series
Florida has been transformed over the last decade by a huge migration from other states. But there's mounting evidence the tide has turned.
Today: A look inside the migration boom. Among the shifting patterns: By 2005, the Northeast had replaced the Midwest as the top out-of-state source of migrants to west-central Florida.
Monday: Is Florida losing its allure? Data on school enrollment, drivers' licenses and moving companies all indicate a slowdown of Florida's growth -- and reversal in some cases.