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The Villages
Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Apartments will be the death of Spanish Springs

Jiim Cipollone
Jiim Cipollone

As the Katie Belle’s and Spanish Springs apartment saga continues, almost like a novel that never ends, per the opinion of many Village residents, the questions are, “What, why and how is this happening?” 

For the longest time Katie Belle’s was similar to an anchor store in a shopping center.  The various activities at Katie Belle’s were an attraction from late morning to late evening for many people that brought life to Spanish Springs.  Now the Spanish Springs Town Square resembles a ghost town most of the day except for scheduled events and a couple of bar/restaurants that feature live music from midafternoon until no later than 5 p.m. prior to the music entertainment starting in the respective squares.

Currently the people working at businesses and their client/customers located on the second floor of the Spanish Springs Town Square buildings do patronize the local restaurants and stores.  When the second floor businesses move to another location, consequently there will be less activity and less people.  A limited amount of proposed apartment dwellers will further exacerbate the diminished people activity and cause negative business issues.

The onus, to date, is put on Lady Lake commissioners to change their determination going forward with apartments or business as usual in Spanish Springs. Lady Lake will not issue or change a zoning restriction to place businesses in a residential area of the town, but the commissioners are asked by The Villages to make a zoning change to place residential dwellings in zoned business areas. 

There are approximately 8,000 Village residents that live within the Town of Lady Lake city limits.  There are approximately, mean average depending on seasonal times, 100,000 plus Village residents that live within The Villages boundaries. By definition these 100,000 Village residents have “NO STANDING” in the Town of Lady Lake for any outcome forthcoming from the Lady Lake Commission that will determine the future of Spanish Springs Town Center and Katie Belle’s. Yet The Villages residents are affected the most by the outcome.  How does that work?  Kind of like the proverbial quote, “The tail wagging the dog.” Many Village residents chose to purchase homes in The Villages because of the lifestyle as influenced by the amenities and entertainment predicated on what Katie Belle’s and Spanish Springs Town Center offered. Although the appearance and programs for the newer squares varied and different neighborhoods developed, the camaraderie and lifestyle remained the same.  The Villages grew according to this matrix and the Developer profited because of Village home sales, again based on the Spanish Springs lifestyle as presented. Most Village residents truly believe that The Villages is by far the best retirement place, but are disappointed by the lifestyle change as petitioned. Are there any fiduciary responsibilities The Villages have to the residents for proposing major lifestyle changes based on what was initially offered and what is now presented without any residents’ input?

There are many proposals presented in the Town of Lady Lake, Fruitland Park, Leesburg, Wildwood, Summerfield and other areas for apartments and additional high density living complexes. These apartments propose offering renters a very competitive rate.  The concept for these apartments is to accommodate people that work in The Villages.

The Villages already is building apartment complexes and duplex housing in Wildwood not far from Brownwood Paddock Square that blend in with this area as developed and do not detract from Brownwood activities.  The a la carte Lofts at Brownwood have not reached full occupancy even though rental rates were reduced to attract apartment dwellers.  Up-charges for garages and additional storage places with no personal help for car parking, carrying groceries, etc. as provided in upscale apartments.

With the apartments under construction around and outside of the Spanish Springs area, a need for professional services, lawyers, doctors, dentists, accountants, etc. will become a necessity. The second floor offices of the Spanish Springs Town Center buildings will need a little compound and simonizing to facilitate professional services as such, but nowhere near the expense of apartment conversions. All that is needed is The Villages Marketing Department put their sales hats on and sell this concept to promote what is available with minor building changes and no dedicated parking places.

The Van Patten Building is a little more complex since over the years changes were made to Katie Belle’s that contributed to the dining dance hall’s demise. Restaurants project their cash flow based on the amount of tables available to patrons. Contrary to Katie Belle’s removing the tables and closing the dining room section. Many in the restaurant business consider this endeavor as occupational suicide.  Even with the elimination of the dining room, there was an attraction for people to participate in various activities going-on at Katie Belle’s. The square actually had people walking around in late morning till mid-afternoon and some people waiting for music to start in the square. The move upstairs wrote the epitaph for Katie Belle’s. 

Consideration for the Developers’ risk to build The Villages is most important. The residents are not privy to what the ups and downs are/were to make The Villages what it is today. The undertaking of an endeavor of building The Villages most likely had some good days and bad days. There is a consensus of opinion among residents that the Developer only wants to make more money without any thoughtful regard of the investment the Developer made to make The Villages what it is today. There also should be some consideration for the residents that purchased homes in The Villages that helped the Developer make The Villages the best place to live and retire.

So what happens to Katie Belle’s and Spanish Springs Town Center? Since there are a majority of residents that recognize Katie Belle’s and Spanish Springs as the draw as it was when in full operation, they should have a voice in what is happening to these places and what the future holds. There are even new residents that recently purchased homes in Fenney that heard about Katie Belle’s and ask questions why it is closed. If the fact is that Katie Belle’s lost money when in operation, none of this information was brought to the residents. By precluding The Village residents from any decision pertaining to the future of Katie Belle’s and Spanish Springs Town Center only breeds contempt throughout the resident population.  The residents were never given the opportunity to correct any issues that contributed to the close of Katie Belle’s.

The Van Patten Building because of its location in Spanish Springs Town Center has a much better potential than a rental property offers. Since financial issues over the last 25 years are the word out of The Villages office, particulars never divulged, Katie Belle’s was unilaterally altered through the years and ultimately shut down with no consideration from the residents. The Village residents could correct this situation if given the opportunity. 

There are many very talented business oriented individuals that live in The Villages that can make Katie Belle’s profitable. There are millions of dollars spent by the AAC and PWAC to construct new or refurbish recreational facilities with a lot of overhead but virtually have no cash flow.  The residents pay for these places either through amenity fees or taxes. Suggest putting Katie Belle’s back the way it was in the beginning of The Villages and let the residents manage the operations. If capital is required for daily operations until a profit is established, raise the amenity fee per household. With the number of houses now in The Villages every $1 equates to approximately one million dollars per year.  This funding can be used for required alterations and to put Katie Belle’s back in business.

Suggest building a brew pub/restaurant/dance hall operation or casino with entertainment and restaurant.  This will bring jobs and taxes to this area, and most important, life. Apartments will only be the demise of Spanish Springs and the Van Patten Building.

The Village Machine never stops. Village managers, vice presidents, lawyers and authoritarian personnel reach out to anybody in a position that will agree and authorize what The Villages propose.  In this particular proposal, why not ask The Villages residents?

Jim Cipollone is a resident of The Villages.

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