Since the part time residents of The Villages blessed us with their return this year, they have the same question as do many other residents, “What is happening to Spanish Springs?”
As a longtime resident and Village lifestyle advocate, a definitive answer other than, “I don’t know, time will tell” is more than appropriate. There are a few recurring functions as Cruise-Ins and Merchant Night activities including annual St. Patrick’s Day, nationality celebrations, etc. that take place in and around the Spanish Springs Town Square along with daily activities even with lack of hospitality facilities.
From the inception of The Villages, the Village founders built into the premise that The Villages is and the residents will have an attractive environment favorable to all that frequent and refer to The Villages as their home, in this instance Spanish Springs Town Square. The hospitality and lifestyle should be suitable for all residents and participants in any activities that occur and live in The Villages.
Recently the St. Patrick’s Day celebration was a classic example how The Village residents and surrounding towns’ people appreciate and participate in events and functions as scheduled for Spanish Springs Town Square. Lady Lake Town officials and law enforcement made a showing and participated with Village folks to make festivities enjoyable to all that attended. Although hospitality accommodations are lacking in Spanish Springs at this time, most attendants were appreciative of the activities.
Monthly Cruise-Ins are another example of people’s appreciation for Spanish Springs by just the attendance of spectators. Long waiting lines for diners is not a deterrent for many but improvements are needed. There are often long waiting lines at the two existing drink huts in Spanish Springs subject to entertainment recognition. But this is not a turn-off for people desiring to attend and be part of these Spanish Springs activities.
Spanish Springs Town Square is basically “The Heartbeat of The Villages” as referred to by many residents that retired here and well known entertainers that started in The Villages. Noman Lee boasts on The Villages Radio Stations about his beginning at Katie Belle’s and how he gained notoriety by having a place to show his talents. Other groups also talk about Katie Belle’s and the recognition and following received by their outstanding performances in the dance hall. The other squares do provide events and entertainment but do not have the identity and recognition associated with Spanish Springs as the beginning of The Villages and the ambiance of just being there.
A lot of effort to schedule activities and events at other squares does, to some degree, change the focus from Spanish Springs Town Square functionality but in no way detracts from what Spanish Springs Town Square represents. Out of character for The Villages management and Developer to destroy the woodwork and decorations of the original Katie Belle’s including the associated history, the Rialto Theater remains boarded up and nothing is happening with the Van Patten Building for more than two years. Yet $500,000 was spent on the air gun/croquette facility, $11 million spent on the new First Responders Recreation Facility up on County Road 42 and $12 to $18 million is proposed to remediate Paradise Recreation Center in the Orange Blossom Section, all generate or offer no revenue stream to support any of these facilities. Funding is available and found with authoritative approval and ultimately from the residents’ in some way.
The Villages management has demonstrated their ability to move enormous amounts of earth to facilitate residential development and entertainment, relocate and build lakes and ponds, drain swamps, construct buildings and facilities second to none, etc. but show little consideration for residents’ viewpoints or suggestions as to what happens with Spanish Springs Town Square.
The Van Patten Building is the best real estate location in Spanish Springs. The Villages management team has the talent and knowhow to relocate the retail stores on the first floor of this building to suitable places around Spanish Springs. A handful of apartments and the retail stores will never reach the revenue potential of this location. Noise and parking are another issue.
Recently the surrounding towns near The Villages have partnered with counties, state and even The Villages to improve roads, build apartment and add school facilities, youth training centers, hospitals, industrial centers and roads that are essential to support growth in the area. Why can’t The Villages management partner with the residents to make Katie Belle’s a profitable facility? This would solve a lot of issues; lack of hospitality, potential noise and parking. Thus everybody will have some skin in the game. If the residents are involved, we all will make sure of successful operation.
Please, Village management, put a skip in the residents’ step and put a smile on everybody’s face, keep the entertainment in Spanish Springs and re-establish hospitality as initially designed.
Villager Jim Cipollone is a Community Development District 2 supervisor.