If someone were to mention The Villages to you, what comes to mind? Surely you’ve heard a story or two about the largest active adult community in the world. When you pack over 125,000 people into a community that spans three counties, three zip codes and over 20,000 acres, there are bound to be some interesting developments.
But are those stories you’ve heard actually true? Or is truth stranger than fiction? We decided to root up the rumors, gather up the gossip, and muck around in the myths to find out if this Central Florida 55+ haven is really as wild as some people have made it out to be.
Is The Villages Really the STD Capital of the World?
The number one rumor that gets mentioned when people start talking about The Villages is that sexually transmitted diseases run rampant here in a sordid bacchanal of unrepressed inhibitions. This seems to have been born out of a culmination of interviews and articles, including a New York Post article titled “Retire to the Bedroom” that hyped up concerns of rising STD rates in the community.
Given The Villages’ reputation as “a college town for seniors,” residents do need to be mindful of issues like this. However, by all accounts, it appears that the “STD Capital of the World” claim is overblown just a bit. A quick glance at STD statistics in Florida shows that the three counties where The Villages is found make up a small percentage of the total number of cases recorded in the state. That’s not to say the issue isn’t one of concern, it’s just likely that those concerns are more anecdotal than they are factual.
As for some of the other sordid stories you might have heard, well, as the saying goes, if there’s a drink named after it, then it probably happened.
Are There Really Sinkholes Everywhere?
When it comes to sinkholes in The Villages, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is that, yes, sinkholes do appear in The Villages from time to time. The good news, we suppose, is that this isn’t a problem specific to this community. So wherever you go in Florida, you’re probably going to have to deal with sinkholes at some point (okay so this isn’t actually good news).
As for why sinkholes are so prevalent in the region, it has to do with the fact that underneath much of the state is limestone and natural caverns. The extreme mixture of rain and heat that Florida gets does a number on that limestone, eating away at it until it dissolves, creating a hole in the ground that can do some damage.
You can always consider sinkhole insurance and there are pros and cons to that. But otherwise, sinkholes are an unfortunate fact of life in Central Florida, no matter where you live.
Do Businesses Keep Failing Because Rents Are Too High?
In August 2017, Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen and Bar opened at a prime spot in Lake Sumter Landing. One year later, it shuttered for good. That might be surprising given the name recognition that Fieri brought with him. However, that same spot has also developed a reputation for short-lived businesses as both TGI Fridays and Honest John’s Whiskey and Provisions closed down there previously. It all seems to point to the notion that business rents in The Villages are too high and forcing national brands to consider going elsewhere.
Not so, says Villages Commercial Sales and Leasing Director Scott Renick. He told The Villages Daily Sun that it’s simply a case of business-as-usual. “The [restaurant] industry as a whole is known for high failure rates,” said Renick. “However, the last time we did a study of our market the restaurant turnover here was a fraction of the national averages.”
As for unreasonable rents, Renick says that there are plenty of nearby towns with higher rents and even some properties in the community owned by others that charge higher rents than The Villages.
Ultimately, it’s likely that the “disappointing” experience and “average” food at Guy Fieri’s had a lot more to do with its closing than any rent concerns.
No One Ever Sees the Developer
The history of The Villages is a fascinating one. It starts in the 1970s when Harold Schwartz started the Orange Blossom Gardens mobile home park. A decade later, he convinced son H. Gary Morse to join him and the two built a golf course that residents could use for free. From there, they expanded the number of homes, the number of golf courses, and the number of everything else until you get to the monolith that is The Villages today.
While Schwartz was said to be personable and friendly before he passed away, Morse garnered a reputation akin to The Wizard of Oz. All-powerful and all-knowing but never seen. Morse died in 2014 and his son Mark Morse became CEO. To his credit, Mark does make himself a bit more available to residents.
If you want to see a Morse live and in person, your best bet is the annual “An Evening with the Developer” event. Morse hosts the event and sometimes even invites the rest of the family on stage for Q&A sessions. At this year’s event, he unveiled a feedback page on the website that allows residents and guests to provide their own insight, even when they aren’t able to get a live audience with the developer.
The Villages Is a Gated Community, Right?
No one would be blamed for thinking The Villages is a gated community that outsiders can't access. There are plenty of security checkpoints and gates (90 to be specific) you need to pass through in order to get to specific areas and subdivisions.
However, all of the roadways in The Villages were built by the county and are therefore public. Access to any part of the community cannot be restricted, regardless of who lives where.
That said, there is a purpose to the gate facilities. They exist to slow down the traffic and flows in and out of The Villages. With so many pedestrians, cyclists, golf carts, and motor vehicles sharing the roads, it’s an extra deterrent to speedsters flying through the neighborhood. It’s also a way for visitors to get directions or help in finding their way in the sprawling community.
Is Crime a Problem in The Villages?
In 2017, The Villages made unfortunate headlines when a police raid uncovered a drug ring and golf cart chop shop inside a resident's home. A lot of people started wondering what other deviant activities might be happening inside the community and whether or not The Villages has a crime problem.
The thing to remember is that The Villages is home to over 125,000 people. That puts it on par with small cities across the country, all of which have to deal with the same kind of issues. It’s impossible to put that many people in one place and think there won’t be some problems. However, when you look at the data, The Villages has a crime rate well below the national and state averages.
“It’s one of the safest places you could live as a senior,” says 55places.com partner agent Don Maycott. “It’s no different than any other small city.”
“There Are 10 Women to Every Man”
You may have heard this number thrown around when it comes to the atmosphere at The Villages. It likely gained traction because of the salacious details in a Daily Mail article published a few years back.
But is it true? Overall, not even close. A quick look at population data shows that, overall, women make up 53.7 percent of the population in this community.
However, that includes married couples. Take out the married couples and just count single people and that’s how you get something closer to the aforementioned statistic. We’ve heard that among singles it’s more like seven or eight women to one man, but that remains anecdotal.
Is The Villages in Trouble With the IRS?
Back in 2008, the Internal Revenue Service notified The Villages of their intent to audit several municipal bonds issued in 2003 to determine if they complied with tax laws. While municipal bonds are exempt from federal tax, the IRS felt there were some inconsistencies involved in them. That’s a big deal since these bonds had been used to pay for much of the development that occurred in years since.
The two sides battled back and forth over the years, with the IRS claiming The Villages was taking advantage of the bonds’ tax-exempt status and The Villages claiming they’d acted accordingly. In 2016, a year after all of the bonds had been officially redeemed, the IRS announced it was closing the investigation without penalty. The matter is now considered closed.
What’s With All the Dynamite Blasts?
One of the newest regions of The Villages is the Village of Fenney. Consisting of 3,000 homes upon completion, this burgeoning community also includes two amenity centers and two nine-hole executive golf courses. It also seems to include a lot of noise according to those who live nearby.
That’s because of the nearby Sumterville quarry, which uses dynamite to dislodge limestone and sand “four or five times a month.” The blasts are so intense that some residents complain that their entire house shakes, causing concern over wall hangings and delicate furnishings. Residents in the community are currently trying to figure out their next steps, which could include petitioning the governor for changes.
Is There Really a Viagra Black Market?
One of the most salacious rumors floating around about The Villages is the supposed black market that exists to sell cheap Viagra. Like many of these rumors, it was initially mentioned at hearsay in one of those over-the-top articles meant to shock readers about the goings-on here. But that hasn’t stopped people from spreading it as proof of the out-of-control lifestyle habits of residents.
What’s the truth? Well, for starters, forms of Viagra and rival brand Sildenafil are expected to be available over the counter in the U.S. soon, which will likely eliminate the need for any kind of black market. And sure, while there probably was a bit of pill-swapping going on behind the scenes, it’s hard to make a strong case that it was causing the rise of some kind of criminal enterprise behind the scenes.
Like so many rumors and myths about The Villages, it sounds like someone took a bit of truth, mixed it with a whole lot of innuendo, and let people believe what they wanted to believe.