Villages Developer Mark Morse showered the friendly, capacity crowd at The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center with plenty of information on Wednesday night – some of which came as a surprise and some that shed new light on various projects.
Speaking during the 26th annual “Evening with the Developer,” Morse quickly paid tribute to Fred Briggs, the longtime president of The Villages Homeowners Advocates.
“President of the Villages VHA serving the fifth year of his one-year term,” Morse said.
Playing the part of host, Morse then brought out his daughter, Kelsea Morse Manly, and Ryan McCabe, who is married to his niece, Paige Boone McCabe, to update the audience on the nearly 30 new commercial properties in The Villages. Those range from new restaurants and a coffee shop to improvements at the Rialto Theatre in Spanish Springs, where new reclining seats and improvements to the lobby area will begin this summer and be completed early next year.
In a surprise announcement, Morse said work will begin soon on the Hacienda Hills Country Club – the subject of much controversy among Villagers – starting with the opening of a pool bar in the next few weeks and more updates to come that will be spurred by feedback from Villagers.
The country club, at 1200 N. Morse Blvd., was shut down in November after repeated health code violations. Last month after it closed its doors, the Developer even offered to sell it to the Amenity Authority Committee. And earlier in the day on Wednesday, a standing-room-only crowd of Villagers packed the Savannah Center to speak about the future of the facility – the majority of whom want a restaurant at the sagging country club that has been dogged by a reputation for lousy food and poor service.
Manly also said there are a number of new deals in the works and news about those would be released as they were signed.
One of the more ambitious initiatives that was discussed is The Villages Grown project, which features organic vegetables grown in greenhouses using hydroponic methods, which allow a higher yield per acre than traditional farming methods.
The Villages Grown, which receives natural gas from Leesburg, won final approval last June from the Wildwood City Commission and involves a single-story, 30,000-square-foot plant on 6.26 acres to process vegetables grown on an adjacent 85 acres. The project is expected to employ about 20 people.
On Wednesday, the audience at the Sharon was told to expect fresh produce to be on sale in the near future through a retail outlet in Brownwood and a specially outfitted Airstream trailer that will travel throughout Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.
“Grown produce will be in local restaurants by mid-summer,” said McCabe, the son of George “Mackie” McCabe, the longtime director of hospitality in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown and the chairman of Fruitland Park’s Charter Review Committee that met five years ago before The Villages started building homes in that community.
Morse’s niece, Lauren Knowlton, director of development at AHC+Hospitality, and Braulio Vicente Jr., director of specialty care for The Villages Health, talked about the new health care center and hotel complex that’s being built in Brownwood. The 285,000-square-foot Advanced Center for Healthcare at Brownwood and the 215,000-square-foot Brownwood Hotel & Spa are slated to open in April 2020.
The Villages partnered with AHC+Hospitality (formerly Amway Hotels), of Grand Rapids, Mich., on the design and construction of the hotel, which will include a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, a 10,000-square-foot conference center and banquet room, 151 guest rooms, seven suites and a ballroom.
Vicente, who joined The Villages Health in July 2018 and formerly served in a variety of leadership roles with Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, explained that outfitting the medical facility with equipment and stocking materials will take several months after the building is turned over to the developer. Plans call for the multi-story center to house physicians from The Villages Health, Lake Medical Imaging, Florida Cancer Specialists, St. Luke’s Laser Institute and Lake Centre for Rehab, among others.
The hotel and the massive healthcare center, which will be connected by a covered walkway, will share a common information system. That will allow patients to check into the hotel before and after procedures without having to complete duplicate paperwork.
Morse’s sister, Tracy Morse and her daughter, Devon Wiechens, reported on four new retail buildings under construction in Brownwood. They also talked about golf cart/pedestrian bridges that are under construction and eventually will be put in place so Villagers can cross State Road 44 and the Florida Turnpike to connect with the quickly growing southern portion of the mega-retirement community.
A video presentation by The Villages Sales & Marketing Division noted that Villages properties had appreciated by an average of six percent over the past year. It also detailed updates to several golf courses, tennis and other sports, dining and arts venues over the past year.
Another announcement centered around The Villages Entertainment Department, which is revamping its booking system. In addition to extending the hours at the six box offices, a new phone booking system is coming online. Villagers will be able to see where their seats will be located in each venue. And the 24-hour online system will continue as before.
At the end of the presentation, Morse encouraged the crowd to use The Villages website, www.thevillages.com, that directs feedback to his office. And he then brought his extended family onstage to a standing ovation.