An Evening With the Developer of The Villages

Since the passing of H. Gary Morse in 2014, The Villages has become more open to the idea of connecting and communicating with its residents.

Perhaps the best evidence of this change in leadership can be seen in the Evening with the Developer events held each year.

Now don’t get me wrong. These events have taken place for many years, and used to be called the “State of The Villages Address” or “Night With the Developer”.

But when Gary Morse was the developer, he usually stayed in the background, while his son Mark and other various employees of The Villages ran the evening’s presentation.

For the past several years however, Mark Morse is now the developer, and he has continued emceeing the events, and bringing along other members of his family, which residents really seem to enjoy.

These events are ticketed events, usually held at The Sharon, and only open to members of The Villages Homeowners Advocates (VHA).

Below you can read highlights of past Evening with the Developer events, and in some cases see video of parts of each event.

2019

For the most part this year’s event was pretty standard “this community wouldn’t be what it is without you, the residents” type fare, but there were a few nice surprises among the updates.

One nice announcement was that Rialto Theatre in Spanish Springs would be undergoing some major upgrades including a new lobby, an improved sound system, and reclining seats.

The developer gave an update on The Villages Grown project saying that work would begin soon on their first retail store in Brownwood, and that produce will be delivered throughout the community via a restored Airstream this summer.

And a few weeks ago we mentioned the demise of the Hacienda Hills Country Club restaurant, but at the Evening With the Developer event The Villages director of operations provided some vague hope for those who wish to see Hacienda Hills live another day, saying that The Villages was exploring their options of putting another restaurant in that space.

The Villages Daily Sun posted this highlight reel on their Facebook page:

2018

One way The Villages used to garner feedback were the annual Resident Surveys, but those were only done once a year.

As a replacement, at this year’s event they announced a new feedback form that’s available on their website where both residents and non-residents can submit opinions and complaints year-round.

Another nice announcement was that they are planning to build a second woodworking shop.

The original 8,000 sq. ft. shop off of Rolling Acres Rd. has been around since 2002 and has grown so much that the need for a 2nd location is apparent.

The Villages will be working with The Villages Woodworkers Club to bring this project to fruition and they are planning to put it near Eisenhower Recreation Center.

The Evening with the Developer event is usually when we finally get to hear about stats on resales, and we learned that The Villages sold 2,215 resales last year. This figure does not include homes sold by outside/MLS agents or homes sold by owner.

You can catch video of this year’s event in two parts on The Villages Media Group’s Vimeo page. Here’s PART 1 and here’s PART 2.

2017

The VHA’s Annual Night with the Developer event that was held the evening of Wednesday May 10th at The Sharon.

The Villages announced a land purchase that will connect Brownwood and the southern expansion. The plan includes a bridge to be built over State Road 44.

The Brownwood Hotel & Spa, a 150-room hotel, will be built next to Grand Traverse Plaza that will include an upscale full-service spa, a resort-style pool and 10,000 square feet of conference space. It will also feature a restaurant from celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.

According to Jennifer Parr, the VP of Sales and Marketing for The Villages, approximately 15,000 people toured the Village of Fenney earlier this year, and already 60 new homeowners have decided to call it home.

More than 4,000 homes were sold last year, including 2,159 pre-owned homes. (Note: this figure does not include homes sold by outside real estate agents.)

So far approximately 200 new homes have been built to replace older homes on the Historic Side of The Villages.

On the commercial side of things, it was stated that 42 new business leases were signed in the past year, and another 45 current businesses decided to renew their leases.

Numerous updates have been made to The Villages Polo Club including the addition of terrace seating, reserve tent seating, awnings, and more.

2016

The VHA’s annual “Night with the Developer” event, was recently held on Wednesday May 11 at “The Sharon”.

Here are some of the highlights:

A new Walmart Neighborhood Market will anchor a new shopping plaza directly across County Road 466A from Colony Plaza. Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets are considerably smaller than the Walmart Supercenter’s you might be used to seeing and focus more on groceries.

The Villages sold more than 4,400 total homes last year. We know
that 2,294 new homes were sold in 2015, so it’s about a 50-50 split
between new homes and resales. It was also mentioned that Properties of
The Villages handled approximately 70% of all resale sales.

Last month we told you that plans for a 9 or 18-hole golf course in the newly announced Village of Fenney were still being discussed. At the night with the developer event we learned that two 9-hole executive courses are planned and there will also be an 18-hole putting course.

It was also announced that a 99-seat theater called The Studio at Tierra del Sol will open later this year in an intimate setting at the former Tierra Del Sol Country Club.

Shopping fans were happy to hear that Talbots, a much-requested popular women’s retailer is finally coming to The Villages. Also on the shopping front, Van Heusen, Izod and Warner’s will open locations in Brownwood Paddock.

It was also mentioned that the community now has a whopping 7.5
million square feet in commercial real estate

Here’s a video with some highlights of the event:

2015

The annual “Evening with the Developer” was held on Wednesday, May 13, at the new Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center.

The presentation began with a 40-minute video covering the Morse family’s time back in Michigan, the beginnings of The Villages, which was then known as Orange Blossom Gardens, and how they put together the team that helped dream up and build The Villages.

As usual Mark Morse shared details about the past year’s growth and talked about some things coming to fruition in the near future.

He talked about the revitalization of some of the older neighborhoods, saying that so far The Villages has purchased 80 homes on the historic side of The Villages that they will either renovate or replace with site-built homes.

He mentioned that about 70 new businesses had opened in The Villages over the past year and that 70 percent of them were in newly constructed spaces.

He also spoke about upgrades to some of the recreation centers currently underway, and even spoke about the changes going on at Katie Belle’s saying that she was “getting tired and due for a face lift”.

Morse also spoke about The Villages Charter School, mentioning that there was a nearly 100% graduation rate, and that around 90% of graduates go on to college.

One thing that was noticeably absent is unlike in previous years he didn’t give any indication or speak much about when development of new homes might be complete.

Also different this year was that Morse himself did most of the talking. In past years other representatives joined him on stage to deliver news regarding their area of expertise.

2014

This year, perhaps the biggest news was that The Villages expects new home sales to be 100% complete in just 2 years.

Editor’s Note: We know THAT didn’t happen 😉

The developer also announced that new home prices are up to an average of $292,000 from an average of $260,000 just last year. Average prices of resales have jumped from $199,000 last year to $253,000 so far this year.

Expect those price trends to continue and possibly even accelerate as the buying frenzy heats up.

Mr. Morse announced that the Church on the Square in Spanish Springs Town Square, which is currently under renovation, will be renamed The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center, after his mother.

When construction is complete, the building will appear quite similar from the outside, but will be much larger on the inside. The new venue will have seating for a total of 1,1018 people.

It was also announced that a future recreation center will be named after Recreation Director John Rohan, who was on stage and completely surprised by the announcement.

Other topics that were covered included the success of the Charter School, the expansion of the hospital under the new Villages Health System, the development of The Villages of Fruitland Park, and a new family homes development in Oxford Oaks for employees of The Villages.

2013

The big news to come out of this year’s “State of The Villages” address was that the developer announced that starting in August work would begin to expand Church on the Square from its current size of 770 seats to around 1,000, presumably to meet this need for a more dedicated performing arts center to serve residents.

This is still a far cry from the 2,000 seat center the group behind the push for a performing arts center had hoped to build in order to attract bigger acts to the area.

What was not known or shared during his address was how the needs for additional parking (it can be a challenge even at its current size) the expansion would bring will be addressed.

Regarding home sales and expected build-out, the developer reported that April of this year was the highest sales month in the history of the development, even higher than the height of the boom years.

At this rate, buildout is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2016.

He also talked about the $50 million expansion to The Villages Regional Hospital which will add more beds and double the size of the emergency room.

The developer also stressed that he and his family are here to stay. There is always speculation that they will skip town once the last home is built, and I’ve tried in the past to explain that the new healthcare initiatives will keep them around. Now you’ve heard it from the horse’s Morse’s mouth!

2012

This year the developer’s annual “State of The Villages Address” took place on May 9th at Savannah Center.

Among the highlights, Mark Morse said that last year Villagers played over 2.5 million rounds of golf. He also discussed The Villages Recreation Department which according to Morse now oversees 1,946 clubs and organizations.

Morse usually brings up home sales in his address, and this year he said that in the first four months of this year, The Villages is ahead of its national leading pace from 2011.

In addition, Morse noted that the rest of The Villages economy is bucking the national trend. 98% of commercial properties are either occupied, or leased and soon to be occupied, and he said that 80% of businesses are experiencing increased sales vs. last year.

Tracy Mathews (Morse’s sister) talked about the next rec center to be located south of CR466A. It will be named “Eisenhower” and will be dedicated to the Armed Forces.

One thing that stood out towards the end of the address was when Mark Morse brought several members of his family onstage and introduced them.

Many of the family members are involved in day to day activities working in The Villages but the family has been criticized both publicly and privately in the past by some who feel they are “too private”.

Anyhow, I thought this was a nice gesture of openness.

As development wraps up in the next few years, I know that many current and future residents I hear from are a little leery of what would happen if the Morse family picked up and left The Villages.

I think though that if what we’ve heard numerous times before is true, the Morse family plan to be around for many years to come.

2011

The Villages developer Mark Morse delivered his annual “State of The Villages” address on Wednesday May 11.

Morse was joined on stage by his sister, Tracy Mathews, as well as professionals from USF Health brought in to talk about the upcoming partnership between The Villages and USF.

The growth of The Villages was a main topic of Morse’s address. Morse noted the 90 miles of paths that connect 67 Villages, as well as the recreation department that boasts 57 centers and swimming pools, with 213 softball teams, more than 100 tennis and pickleball courts, and 1,800 clubs and organizations.

Regarding the pace of home sales, Morse said that 543 new homes were sold in the first quarter of this year. Pre-owned home sales were also up 10% over the same period as a year ago.

Perhaps most staggering though is the number of future residents reserving home sites which has seen a 45 percent increase over the first quarter of 2010.

With the economy regaining its footing to a certain extent, demand should be strong the rest of the year. With only about 1,300 new homes left north of 466A, sales south of 466A should get off to a good start this year. Morse noted that 55 homes sold south of 466A in the first eight days of availability.

In his address Morse also touted the strength of the local economy which has far outpaced the national economy due to resident’s willingness to spend on restaurants, products, and services that support their lifestyle.

Morse mentioned the role The Villages Charter Schools plays in recruiting and keeping the best employees in The Villages. Only employees of The Villages may enroll their children in the school.

Preference is given to direct employees of The Villages, then employees of direct sub-contractors of The Villages, and finally to employees of businesses located in The Villages.

According to Morse, in the last 2 years, 93 percent of The Villages Charter School students went on to college, a statistic that few other schools, if any, can match.

Mathews gave an update on Sterling Heights, which will be the last recreation center north of 466A, and Captiva which will be the first recreation center to open south of 466A.

Everyone is excited and interested in the plans for Brownwood, The Villages third and final town square. According to Mathews ground will be broken on the first buildings soon, and early plans call for a sales and information center, a Citizen’s First Bank, and the third movie theater in The Villages.

Officials from the University of South Florida College of Medicine and USF Health were in attendance to discuss the newly formed partnership between their organization and The Villages.

The partnership announced in March aims to improve the lives and health of Villages residents. USF officials said that the partnership would begin with a series of lectures from various medical professionals sharing the latest medical and health care tips with residents.

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