Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital announced last month it purchased 114 acres in Pasco County and plans to build a new facility on the site focused solely on pediatric care.
The property is off Interstate 75 at Overpass Road in Wesley Chapel. The site is near a recently completed interchange and in one of the fastest growing sections of the county.
Hopkins officials didn’t provide a lot of details about what is coming, saying “plans are in the works” and that they are talking with the public and local pediatricians to see what services fit best for the site. Hopkins officials also declined to disclose the price paid for the property, but according to county property records it paid $24 million for the 146.33-acre site Jan. 9.
(When asked about the discrepancy between the size of the site in the announcement and what appears in property records, a Johns Hopkins spokesperson says in an email that "the county may be combining our land with the property owner to the North since they were jointly filed, but we only bought 114 acres." She then added that " we have our property attorneys digging in.")
With the purchase, it becomes the latest health care organization to commit to what was once a rural exurb north of Tampa and is now a community seeing its population boom. As such, the services to feed, clothe employ and service that population are booming as well.
Health care is chief among those services.
Justin Olsen, the COO at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, based in St. Petersburg, says the nationally-known organization made the decision to build the new facility in Pasco because it saw that as the population grew there was a greater need for pediatric services.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county’s population in 2020 stood at 561,891 — up 20.9% from 464,697 in 2010. (A marketing document form the county’s Economic Development Council puts the county’s population today as 592,669.)
Of the county’s population, 13.7% is under 18.
While the hospital has an existing outpatient care center in the county, the goal was to create easier access for patients and families “close to home.”
“More than 90% of families in the four-county area that will be served by the new facility are traveling outside of the service area for pediatric specialty care, and the population is expected to grow significantly over the next 10 years,” Olsen says.
Along with Hopkins plans, the growth of medical facilities in the county includes the 320,000-square-foot BayCare Hospital Wesley Chapel that opened last year and Florida Cancer Specialists’ clinic that opened in Zephyrhills in 2022.
In all, according to a medical office report issued in August by commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, Pasco has 1.2 million square feet of medical space. The growth in facilities has also led the county to post the biggest increase in the vacancy rate for medical space in the region, rising 4.2% year-over-year,
One reason hospitals are able to focus on a market like Pasco is the elimination of the certificate of need requirements for new hospitals, says Bill Cronin, president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council.
Before the requirement went away in 2021, hospitals and health care providers had to get permission from the state before entering a new market or changing their capacities, according to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in suburban Washington D.C. The change away from certificate of needs was meant to improve the quality and accessibility of health care for Floridians.
“The industry is now more market-focused,” says Cronin, and “Pasco’s amazing growth is the main incentive for new health care facilities seeking to expand and our amenities are a magnet for attracting world class talent.”
As part of the EDC’s work, it is actively courting life science and medical technology companies that often work closely with medical facilities. (Johns Hopkins’ Olsen says it received no financial incentives for its expansion.)
You cannot talk about the growth of the medical field in Pasco, though, without talking about Moffitt Cancer Center’s new campus under construction in the county.
The 775-acre campus off of Ridge Road in Land O’Lakes will, when complete, have 140 buildings and have 14,000 employees. The first phase, which began construction last year, will have several buildings totaling 650,000 square feet. Of that, there is a 250,000-square-foot dedicated research facility, a proton therapy center and a 75,000-square-foot outpatient ambulatory center scheduled to open by early 2026.
It is called Speros FL. (That is from the Latin word for Sperare, which means hope or to look forward to.)
David de la Parte, Speros’ president, says in an email to the Business Observer that Moffitt had an existing relationship with the county and that in 2021 it opened an outpatient ambulatory center in Wesley Chapel.
Like others, he says given the county’s population growth, “When looking to establish a global life sciences epicenter like Speros FL, Pasco County was an opportune choice.”
“Pasco County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, is projected to grow to more than a million residents over the next 25 years,” de la Parte says. “While residential development is slowing down around the country, Pasco continues to grow at a pre-pandemic pace.”
And for Pasco, he says Speros is going to help the county by attracting a broad range of industries and bringing jobs.
The cost of that investment is not immediately clear, but de la Parte says a partnership between Moffitt, the state of Florida and Pasco is investing “a combined $600 million” in the first phase of the project.
Louis Llovio is the commercial real estate editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.