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Saturday, Nov 18, 2017
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Growling machines sound like prosperity returning

Even now, in the age of digital ubiquity and near-global dominion by a company born just 15 years ago, the most reassuring sign of an economy on the mend is heavy equipment, hired by private investors, rearranging mounds of dirt.

Yes, tech is hot again, delivering ephemeral images, information and entertainment to smaller, lighter, faster devices using methods few of us understand and almost none can explain, all the while casting what was recently cutting edge to the ash heap of memory.

Bye-bye, Wichita lineman. “Mommy, what’s he mean, ‘I hear you singin’ in the wire’?”

But even in this age of virtuality, teeming with the wonders of online shopping, telecommuting, lessons learned, degrees earned and medical conditions discerned at a distance, humans retain their prehistoric need for places to go. To that end, there’s welcome news for restless souls: The partnership behind the development formerly known as Cypress Creek Town Center recently declared the most formidable obstacle to inviting in the bulldozers — a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers that wouldn’t be challenged by environmental groups — at last had been resolved.

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What remains — finalizing designs with Pasco County — should be easier than diagonal parking, considering the county’s long-standing affection for the project, likely energized by commissioners’ appetite for fresh streams of tax revenue. Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, owner-operator of, among other sites, Gulf View Square in Port Richey, means to turn the prairie along the south side of State Road 56 west of Interstate 75 into a designer outdoor outlet mall, much like the company’s thriving Ellenton location, near Bradenton.

If all goes well, says a spokeswoman, construction could begin next summer, with a grand opening in summer 2015. Compare Simon’s hurry-up offense to the Ferragamos-dragging by investment houses T. Rowe Price and Raymond James, whose plans for breaking ground in Land O’ Lakes and Wesley Chapel are flowing slower than frozen ketchup.

OK, this would not be the first time we’ve written about the apparent imminence of something coming out of the ground at the mall site. But it is the first time we’ve written about it when all the pieces finally seem to fit. Not only has the Army Corps given its blessing, so has the Sierra Club. Provisionally, anyway; local members vow to remain watchful.

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Meanwhile, whether by litigation or as a result of the Great Recession, the group got what it wanted: a substantially smaller footprint. And the original developer, Cleveland-based Richard E. Jacobs Group, wasn’t attempting to recruit retailers to compete with The Shops at Wiregrass in the grip of the financial meltdown.

Everybody wins.

Plainly, something is happening here. Last month, just up the road from the Cypress Creek site, earth movers set to work converting a stand of pine and cypress into acreage suitable for expanding ComPark 75, the warehouse/industrial complex that flanks the Tampa North Aero Park air strip off County Road 54. Thursday, work had progressed to the point that cement trucks paraded in and out all day.

Although the expansion is billed as the first speculative office construction in West Central Florida since the 2008 crash, owner Larry Morgan is figuring on a sure thing. Already, he has lessees — among them an outfitter of mobile kitchens for the fast-growing food truck industry — clamoring for space.

Again: There is no more certain sign of economic green shoots than chug and growl of giant ground-grooming machines doing their work on behalf of private clients. Cross your fingers this is one predictor that hasn’t been eclipsed in our new digital reality.

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