The Villages Retirement Playground

VillagesThe Villages is a retirement community located in Florida which is perhaps the largest older adult playground in the US. Lying across parts of Lake, Marion and Sumter counties in the central part of the state, the over 55 residential complex includes over 50,000 residents in an area over 33 square miles. The residential development is still expanding as retirees continue to head for Florida to enjoy their twilight years in the Sunshine State. Although many have an image of retirement communities as slow moving, quiet and boring, The Villages is none of those. The retirement mecca attracts those looking for active and lively retirement living.

The proliferation of golf carts is a significant aspect of life in the sprawling community. Designed to be self-contained, residents are able to serve all their shopping, recreation and dining needs within the development. Many residents acquire golf carts to move around within the giant complex. Many amenities are too close for automobile use and a bit too far for walking in the hot sun. The shopping centers even contain an extensive number of parking spaces reserved for golf carts. Further, many of the carts sport custom designs to look like small cars and can cost thousands of dollars. Keeping up with the Joneses can be an expensive endeavor in The Villages retirement playground.

Retirees are active in more ways than playing golf. Although golf is a popular activity and residents enjoy playing on the numerous courses, which numbered 39 as of 2012, the community is also well known for its high rate of sexually transmitted diseases. Apparently, the large number of single residents and availability of Viagra have fueled more physical activity than the golf courses are able to accommodate. The combination of younger retirees still close to their prime with time on their hands and many night-time entertainment venues leads to much romantic activity.

The financing of the community has led to a standoff with the IRS. A significant portion of development financing for the roads, utilities and infrastructure has occurred through the use of tax-free community development district bond issues. Bond funds were raised by the districts and the CDD’s bought the properties from the developer. Because the developer, Gary Morse, retained control of the development districts, the IRS has challenged the tax benefits enjoyed by the districts in using the below market rate bonds. In other circumstances, the residents might challenge control of the CDD’s by the developer, but the retirees flock to The Villages to enjoy their remaining active years and appear to prefer Morse’s continued interest in the community development districts. The residents are still concerned because they pay fees to the CDD’s for bond servicing, plus maintenance and operation of the properties. If the districts must pay higher interest based on an IRS ruling, then the residents will be forced to pay higher fees to the districts to keep the development afloat.

The sprawling playground comprising The Villages retirement community continues to attract new residents. The sunshine and low taxes of Florida are a great combination, as well as the plethora of activities offered for active retirees. The residents hope that the IRS is a mere golf cart speed bump to their continued fun.

By William Costolo

Orlando Sentinel
Herald Tribune

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