BELLEVIEW, FL – Back when I was young, living in Chicago in the late 1950s, writing for the Tribune, I remember television commercials offering land for sale in Florida. As I recall, the person making the pitch was offering building lots for $10 down and $10 a month.
Today far more sophisticated commercials are running, trying to convince those who are retiring to move into The Villages, the largest gated retirement community in America.
It was Bruce Phillips, a civil engineer and land surveyor from Lady Lake who was hired in the mid-80s to design the 22,000 acre, 32 square mile retirement community, The Villages. He reports he created 65,000 lots in his master plan. The Villages sprawl across three Central Florida counties.
Harold Gary Morris, who developed the Villages, died at the age of 77 last October. Phillips says Morris’ net worth was $2.5 billion. Morris was an advertising executive in Chicago until 1983, when he moved to Florida to take over his father’s business of selling mobile home lots. He found he could gain permission to issue bonds as cities do, and used those borrowed bond funds to develop The Villages.
The Villages claims it is one of the most popular destinations for retired New Yorkers. It has been estimated the population would top 110,000 this year. In 2011 The Villages sold nearly one percent of all the homes marketed in the United States.
I met Phillips, a pleasant, easy going individual with an interesting and impressive background when I stopped off briefly in Belleview – one of the 1,000 small towns I am visiting. Phillips is currently Belleview’s Public Works Director. Over the years Phillips also has handled a variety of other assignments for Central Florida communities, including serving as the assistant city manager. He explained he enjoys working for government entities.
Born in Leesburg, Phillips’ has strong ties to the area. His grandmother, Lucille Reeves, was elected mayor of Lady Lake nine times. Phillips says his grandfather, a conductor on a railroad, was murdered and dumped off the train.
His great grandfather was one of the first people to move his family to Lady Lake. Phillips still lives there and commutes the 12 miles north to work in Belleview. He has two daughters and seven grandchildren – six girls and one boy.
It has been reported that the Native Americans who once lived in that area named the city of LadyLake when a white woman drowned there. The group of men who created Belleview in the late 1800s and those who moved to Lady Lake lacked the funds and ability to create something as impressive as The Villages. That seems to makes those who live in those two small towns happy.