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Growth slows; bay area No. 21

The population statistics, however, are extrapolated from 1990 census data. New figures based on the 2000 census are expected in December.

By ALICIA CALDWELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


The Tampa Bay area continued to grow steadily, but other faster-growing parts of the country nudged it out of the 20 largest metro areas, according to population estimates generated by the U.S. Commerce Department.

The figures, released Thursday, show Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties increased in population by 2 percent between 1998 and 1999. Pinellas County remained virtually unchanged, growing by a fraction of a percent.

"We knew our population was not growing by leaps and bounds as it had been," said David Walker, Pinellas' principal planner.

The estimates were extrapolated from 1990 census data and are not based on the numbers being crunched for the 2000 Census. New statewide population figures will be released in December, with more detailed numbers expected early next year.

The Tampa Bay metropolitan statistical area grew by a modest 1 percent, while the Denver area, which bumped Tampa Bay out of the top 20 largest areas, grew by 2 percent.

"That's surprising," said Jim Hosler, research director for the Hillsborough County Planning Commission. "I thought our rapid growth would keep us in the top 20."

Hosler said dropping out of the top 20 might affect how marketers look at the area. People who buy advertisements might decline to buy in the Tampa Bay area since it is not in the top tier of markets.

That may be true on occasion, said John Rash, a media buyer for Campbell Mithun, an advertising agency in Minneapolis. But most of those who buy ads use a variety of measures before deciding which markets to spend money on.

"Most marketers will choose appropriate geographical targets based on existing or potential sales volume," Rash said. "However, some marketers will make an arbitrary cutoff of the top 20 markets."

That, he said, is probably the exception. "A slip of 20 to 21 should not have any long-lasting economic impact on the marketplace," he said.

Hosler said that most of the growth in Hillsborough County, which had the largest population increase in sheer numbers with an increase of more than 15,000 people, occurred in the northwest part of the county. He pointed to areas such as Westchase, New Tampa, Brandon and northwest Carrollwood.

Traditionally, he said, construction of single-family homes had fueled growth in the area. But Hosler said that in recent years, multifamily housing, including apartments and townhomes, are being built at an increasing rate.

In Pasco County, more people with families seem to be moving to the south-central and southwest parts of the county, said Deborah Bolduc, a Pasco County planner.

"Pasco still draws a few retirees," she said. "But look at the way we're building schools. We're building schools like crazy."

Hernando County's population jumped by 2,384 people, about par for the course during the 1990s but lower than its average annual growth during the 1980s.

"It's an activity that has gone on for maybe 30 years now," said planning Director Larry Jennings.

He attributed the increase to three factors: continued migration of retirees, relocations from urban to rural Florida, and new jobs at the Airport Industrial Park.

"The growth is created by migration," Jennings said. "The big component of it is not birth."

Citrus County is experiencing growth as well, said Gary Maidhof, director of the county's development services department. But since it is not part of any metropolitan statistical area, there were no population estimates released for it on Thursday.

"We're just kind of space between Tampa-St. Pete and the Ocala area," Maidhof said, estimating the county's population at somewhere between 112,000 and 115,000. "But we're seeing a lot of activity -- a lot of chain restaurants are looking at us."

In Pinellas County, the leveling off of population growth is indicative of the decreasing amount of open space, said Walker, the Pinellas planner. The next phase of the county's growth, he said, will come when it is economically feasible to knock down older buildings and rebuild at higher densities.

"That would be the next step," Walker said. "And we're starting to see that in St. Pete and to a lesser extent in places like Dunedin, where downtown townhouses are being built. It's not a whole lot, but it's still a step forward."

- Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.

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