TOP STORIES OF 2017: Hurricane Irma, The Curtis Reeves Trial & ‘American Idol’ Made Headlines!
From development to new businesses to the Curtis Reeves trial garnering national interest, there was no shortage of news in Wesley Chapel in 2017.
However, Category 5 Hurricane Irma stole the show.
News of her impending arrival set off a frenzy unlike any other Wesley Chapel has experienced in recent memory. A week before she even touched ground in Florida, water and plywood (to board up windows) became the area’s hottest commodities, flying off the shelves of local stores.
Many, quite literally, fled, clogging roads with evacuees heading for higher ground or, as the storm got closer, local shelters. Gasoline was sparse from Miami to Atlanta, GA.
In Pasco County, 24,000 residents spent the night in one of 26 shelters.
“We were scared. Everyone was scared,’’ Meadow Pointe III’s Inelia Semonick told us afterwards. When the storm cut a path up the middle of Florida and bore down on Wesley Chapel, she, and many others, took to their closets.
Fortunately for Wesley Chapel and the rest of Tampa Bay, Irma didn’t deliver a knockout punch, just a gentle slap upside the head. Or, in the case of those who lost power in Pasco County — 217,382 out of 261,000 total addresses, or 83 percent — more like two slaps upside the head.
At Cat 5 strength, Irma devastated parts of south Florida, but hit the Tampa Bay area as a Category 2 hurricane, still enough to uproot smaller trees and scatter large branches. There was flooding in parts of Wesley Chapel, and many pool cages and fences did not survive unscathed. Clean-up, however, took weeks.
Among the other news making national headlines happened in Pasco County court, where, nearly four years after Curtis Reeves Jr. shot Chad Oulson, 43, to death in the Cobb Grove 16 movie theater, Pasco judge Susan Barthle ruled that Reeves could not use the “stand your ground” defense.
Reeves had hoped to use the argument that he was defending himself when he shot Oulson in January 2014. He is appealing Barthle’s ruling.
In happier news in 2017, the area attracted two significant sports stories, which you can read about on page 32 in our current issue — the women’s tennis Federation Cup at Saddlebrook and the U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team, which prepared for the 2018 Winter Games in Wesley Chapel.
Speaking of that gold-medal favorite women’s hockey team, their home ice since September has been Florida Hospital Center Ice (FHCI), which opened its doors in January (see page 11).
FHCI also has opened the way for a number of notable events to be held, including the Taste of New Tampa & Wesley Chapel.
The long-running Taste — which will be held for the 22nd time this year on Sunday, March 25, noon-4 p.m. — attracted nearly 2,000 people who got to sample the wares of nearly 50 local food and beverage vendors, and raised $11,000 for the charities supported by the event’s organizer, the Rotary Club of New Tampa and its partner, the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce.
“American Idol,” which is making a comeback and will air on ABC-TV this year, held tryouts at FHCI in August, attracting 400 hopefuls. While no one has been officially reported as making it past the following stage, which was held in Orlando, some locals did make it at least that far.
And, on pages 11 and 38, check out 2017’s explosion of local businesses in Wesley Chapel, as restaurants like Noble Crust, Irish 31 and Ford’s Garage opened, to name a few, as well as at least a dozen other new businesses, including two more luxury auto dealerships (Audi and Lexus), as the area continued to be one of the hottest in all of Florida for growth and expansion.