Many Pittsburghers Retiring To Sunny Florida Community Called “The Villages”

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It’s become a popular place to move to for some Pittsburghers. “The Villages” is in the middle of sunny Florida, and it’s one of the fastest growing adults-only communities in the nation.

So what makes it so alluring? Why are so many people from our area choosing to spend their retirement there?

The Villages: After Dark

About an hour north of Orlando, “The Villages” stretches over three counties, town squares have stores, restaurants and movie theaters. Signs read “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.”

“I love it. It’s just like they said, it’s like Disneyland for adults,” said Jim Harbison, who recently moved there from Sarver.

Homes are behind security gates, crime is low and no one under 19 is allowed to live there. In winter, the population swells to 100,000 which is almost a third of the people in the city of Pittsburgh.

“It’s a fantastic lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle and you’ve got to get used to it,” said Ellen Deslam, formerly from Downtown Pittsburgh.

There are so many former Pittsburghers, there’s a club for them.

“I really believe on a per capita basis there are more people in “The Villages” from Pittsburgh than any other city,” said Bob Bauer, formerly from Bethel Park.

Joan and Larry Lasky started the club.

“We had 128 people show up on the first night,” said Joan.

When they reached 700, they closed it, and a second Pittsburgh club started, which also has hundreds of members.

There are more than 40 golf courses at “The Villages,” one with Arnold Palmer’s name.

And even if you don’t play, the preferred mode of transportation there is golf cart. Some are pretty fancy, and they even have something called “The Villages Precision Golf Cart Drill Team.”

Just like a marching band, team members perform synchronized routines before audiences while driving the carts.

Irene Howe is the “drill sergeant” and knows what wows the audiences: “They love it when we drive really close, and it looks like we’re going to crash or lock wheels or you know whatever. That’s what they like. They like the danger of it.”

“The Villages” actually started in the 1970s with mobile homes. They now call that area the historic side. New homes are quite a bit bigger. They range in price from $140,000 to more than a million.

There’s an amenity fee. And as for taxes, Bob Bauer says his taxes are now one third what they were in Bethel Park.

A spokesperson for “The Villages” says they don’t do interviews, but billionaire developer H. Gary Morse is behind the place. He’s reportedly a big Republican political supporter, and among the residents, Republicans there outnumber Democrats two to one.

“Republican candidates come here. Democratic candidates don’t even bother to come here,” said Bauer.

There’s a daily paper, radio station and a cable channel all owned by “The Villages.” They present a sanitized version of local news, downplaying anything negative.

Two embarrassing incidents made headlines outside “The Villages.” First, a couple was arrested over the summer for allegedly having sex outdoors in one of the town squares. Then, last month, another couple was accused of having sex on a utility box.

Residents, though, want you to know just because that made the news; it doesn’t represent the rest of them.

“It’s not looked upon favorably, obviously,” said one resident.

“The Villages” is not very racially diverse. In fact, census figures show the population is 98 percent white. However, they do have African American, Asian American and Latino clubs.

Some say they’re here for good and have given themselves a name.

“We’re called frogs, and we’re here ’til we croak!” said Beverly Harriett, formerly from Zelienople.

Rose Haverlack, formerly from Polish Hill, said: “We live in a bubble. This is a microcosm of the world, but I would never want to leave here.”

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