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Florida Community Serves as Benchmark for Main Street Recovery


This unfinished development has, like so many others, fallen victim to "The Great Credit Crunch."

Editor's Note: This article was written by Richard Suttmeier, chief market strategist at, which is a fundamentally-based quant research firm in Princeton, New Jersey, that covers more than 5,000 stocks every day.

Three weeks before Christmas, the developer of one of the largest planned communities in the state of Florida (called Connerton in Land O' Lakes Florida) abandoned this huge project.

Connerton, if completed, would have been a 4,800 acre self-contained city with 8,500 homes, businesses, a hospital, schools, and recreation facilities. In total, more than 3 million square feet of commercial space for offices, retail, and industrial use were planned. Construction began in 2003 with homes to be priced from $130,000 to the millions.

Connerton was to include five villages and the first, called The Arbors, was nearly sold out. In the second village, called The Gardens, new homes were being sold right up to the closure of the Welcome Office on December 8.

Developers expected to sell 700 to 800 homes each year, but only 200 were sold in total, as "The Great Credit Crunch" began to hit Connerton hard two years ago.

The University Community Hospital opened last March and has 76 employees and is a growing concern as patients in surrounding communities welcomed the new health facility. Of the three planned schools, Pasco County will open an elementary school in August 2010. The county has no plans to build the other two planned schools in Connerton.

An $8 million activity center, called Club Connerton, was completed and is now under the control and cost of the local resident group.

Five shopping centers were planned and the first, called Arbor Square, opened in March 2007. This center is convenient to my completed community of 900 homes called Wilderness Lake Preserve. We enjoy the Publix supermarket, which includes a drug store. Other stores and restaurants we use are Subway, a nail salon, a liquor store, hair salon, dry cleaner, a Chinese takeout, a pizza restaurant, a family restaurant, and SunTrust bank (STI). There are several empty storefronts including an abandoned UPS store. Most of the remaining businesses will struggle to survive with only 200 out of 8,500 homes in Connerton, and only another 2,713 homes within a three-mile radius.

Across Highway 41 is a brand new Walgreen Drug Store (WAG), obviously planned to serve a much larger community. In addition, the widening of Highway 41 has been an ongoing project since my family moved into Land O' Lakes last July.

Businesses in the area are hopeful that a new developer will take over Connerton, but for that to happen the economies on Main Street USA must improve. I spoke to a local owner of a concrete pouring business and he's not optimistic that things will turn around anytime soon. He has five pouring facilities with four closed for more than a year, and recently had a new piece of equipment seized by his lender.

At the entry to Wilderness Lake Preserve, one mile south of Arbor, there's a smaller mall anchored by Beef O'Brady, which seems to be doing fine. There's a pediatrics office that seems to always be crowded, but it appears that half of the storefronts have never been used.

My clue to a return to economic prosperity is returning growth to a planned modern community such as Connerton. The city of Land O' Lakes is in a rural area of Florida, 25 miles north of Tampa, but convenient to Tampa International Airport, Raymond James Stadium, and to the center of Tampa. A new toll road, Veterans Expressway makes many facilities and attractions within 30 to 45 minutes away.

Connerton is thus a great benchmark to follow as Main Street USA struggles with "The Great Credit Crunch". I invite my readers to compare Connerton to communities near their homes.

Have a very Merry Christmas.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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