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Unlike the county, face of city gets a bit younger

While most other North Pinellas communities aged, Clearwater got slightly younger in the past 10 years, the census shows.

By RICHARD DANIELSON, JULIE CHURCH and ROBERT FARLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 28, 2001


As the U.S. Census released its community-by-community population counts this spring, one bit of conventional wisdom seemed clear.

North Pinellas had seen robust growth, and much of it could seemingly be traced to the waves of families with children who are supplanting the empty-nest retirees who moved here first.

That, however, is only part of the picture. Last week, the Census Bureau released more figures showing that the median age of Pinellas County as a whole rose from 1990 to 2000.

Clearwater, Dunedin and Belleair somewhat bucked the trend by getting slightly younger. Safety Harbor's median age increased, however. The median age is the midpoint, where half the population is older and half is younger. North of Curlew Road, baby boomers, especially those between 45 and 54, accounted for the largest numbers of new residents in Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor and Oldsmar.

Because folks in their 30s, 40s and 50s are often raising families, the number of children who live in North Pinellas also rose. But that increase did not match the growth of the baby boomers either in sheer numbers or percentage terms. School kids are not the ones driving all those minivans and sport utility vehicles on U.S. 19.

The number of residents in their 20s and early 30s dropped in Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Largo, Safety Harbor and Dunedin. For example, in Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs combined, the number of residents 20 to 34 dropped by more than 2,400.

Twentysomethings who know the area say there are several reasons for the decline.

Katie Harting, 27, of New Port Richey grew up in Tarpon Springs, graduated from Tarpon Springs High School and returned to the school to teach trigonometry and geometry. She wanted to live in her hometown but couldn't afford a home.

"I looked everywhere from Clearwater north and found I just couldn't afford it in North Pinellas County," she said.

Harting also said that many of her friends who have left the area moved to Hillsborough County, where jobs are more plentiful for young professionals.

Colleen and Grant McIlroy are friends of Harting who moved to New Tampa in the past year. Employment was part of the reason they left Pinellas, said Mrs. McIlroy, 27.

She also said the move away from Pinellas had a lot to do with where they like to spend their free time.

"For things to do, it's too far away," she said. "It takes too long to get anywhere."

Here is how the mix of young, old and middle aged has changed in selected North Pinellas communities during the past decade:

Clearwater

Clearwater's median age dropped slightly, from 42.2 to 41.8 years, as the number of children in the city increased up to 26 percent. The largest increase in the city, however, was among adults age 45 to 54.

At the same time, the city lost more than 3,000 residents 60 to 84.

Dunedin

Dunedin's median age stayed virtually unchanged. The city was one of a handful of communities in North Pinellas to see the number of children younger than 5 go down, but the decrease was only 1.9 percent. The number of people age 15 to 19 also dipped slightly, but there was a bigger loss among 20- to 34-year-olds.

Safety Harbor

In Safety Harbor, the number of children younger than 5 dropped 11.3 percent, but the number of children in all other age groups grew. The city lost more than a quarter of its residents in their 20s and early 30s.

But strong growth in the number of 45- to 59-year-olds and among residents 85 and older pushed the median age up significantly, from 37.9 to 42.2 years old.

Seminole

Seminole got significantly younger as the number of children in the city grew up to 70 percent, the population of young adults slipped only slightly, the population of Baby Boomers increased by more than half, and the number of residents 60 to 84 dropped. There was also relatively modest growth, by comparison, in the number of the city's oldest residents.

Largo

Largo saw double-digit reductions in the number of residents in their 20s and early 30s, and slight dips in its population age 60 to 84.

But the city ended up getting older as the number of middled-aged residents increased by up to 45 percent, and the number of adults 85 and older grew by nearly 52 percent.

Tarpon Springs

Pinellas County's oldest incorporated city saw its median age rise from 41 to 45.4 since 1990.

The number of Tarpon Springs residents age 45 to 54 grew nearly 63 percent. The next fastest-growing age group was those 85 and older, which grew 59 percent. That group was considerably smaller, however, so an addition of a couple of hundred elderly residents created a big percentage gain.

The number of children in the city grew by up to 12 percent. At the same time, the number of young adults between age 20 and 34 dropped by nearly 470 people.

Palm Harbor

The median age of Palm Harbor's population rose from 39.9 to 43.2.

As in Tarpon Springs and Oldsmar, the largest number of new residents were born in the decade or two after World War II.

Connie Davis, executive director of the Greater Palm Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce, said the rise in middle-aged residents can be pegged to the parents who are settled in their jobs. Palm Harbor's upscale housing, good schools and sense of community make it an attractive option for those boomers, she said.

In addition, employment trends toward service-sector jobs play to Palm Harbor's strengths, Davis said. Many of the area's jobs are in sales, finance, retail and health occupations.

"It's become a very attractive place to live because of all those things," she said.

But Palm Harbor saw its biggest percentage increase among those 85 and older. That group more than doubled in size, to nearly 2,200 people.

At the same time, the number of retirement-age residents younger than 85 dropped. Palm Harbor's population 60 to 64 shrank by 11.7 percent, and the number of residents 65 to 74 dropped by 16.6 percent. Davis thinks many of those people are moving to cheaper areas, such as Spring Hill and Brooksville.

But there could be other reasons, too.

Irene Rausch and Phyllis Lodovico, who run the Palm Harbor Senior Activity Center, said they have noticed a bit of an exodus of older residents back north, especially after a spouse dies or if they fall ill.

Others came to Florida and found they weren't ready for Florida living, Lodovico said.

Rausch said some of the increase among those 85 and older is probably due to the fact that people are living longer. She notes that, during the last decade, several new assisted-living facilities and nursing homes have opened locally such as the Balmoral Retirement Community on Tampa Road and the Long Shadow Inn on Nebraska Avenue.

Oldsmar

Politically, the push to create a charter middle school for Oldsmar didn't pan out for its main supporters.

It was, however, based on a clear demographic trend.

In Oldsmar, the number of children age 10 to 14 grew by more than 79 percent in the past decade. Growth in the number of people 15 to 19 took a 66 percent jump.

This was driven, in part, by an influx of new residents old enough to see their children enter middle and high school. The number of adults age 45 to 54 in Oldsmar more than doubled, while the number of 35- to 44-year-olds grew by 70 percent.

Oldsmar's biggest increase in its elderly population came in the 75-to-84 age group, the numbers of which nearly doubled.


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