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THE EAST COUNTY OBSERVER THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2010

www.yourobserver.com

Lakewood Ranch Anniversary 9A

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THE EAST COUNTY OBSERVER THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2010

www.yourobserver.com

Buying into a Vision REAL ESTATE

by Pam Eubanks | News Editor

area even more desirable over the years, as well. Although Realtors such as Barnett caught the vision for Lakewood Ranch â&#x20AC;&#x201D; which started with homes priced at $88,000 â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Home sales in Lakewood Ranch â&#x20AC;&#x201D; outside of the recent economic downturn â&#x20AC;&#x201D; they never quite saw what was in for home sales in the comhave remained strong since the community opened its first model homes in 1995. store munity. Sales picked up quickly Greg Spring was working for and within sixth months, the Bruce Williams Homes in Tampa Lakewood Ranch phenomenon when the company first told him had begun. about a new community sproutâ&#x20AC;&#x153;It just started snowballing, ing in east Manatee County. and it stayed busy until 2003,â&#x20AC;? Armed with only literature Spring said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Then in 2003, it and miniature model homes, he was nuts. (By 2004/2005) it got and other builder representato the point where people were tives stationed themselves a few just waiting in line to buy anyevenings a week at a kiosk at thing available, regardless of DeSoto Square Mall, hoping to price. It was unbelievable.â&#x20AC;? share with prospective homebuyBut the frenzy â&#x20AC;&#x201D; as throughers about a master-planned comout the Sarasota/Bradenton area munity called Lakewood Ranch. â&#x20AC;&#x201D; came to a screeching halt in Although most who stopped by late 2005. Prices remained high asked who would want to live in the following year, but plummetsuch a remote area, not everyone ed by about 50% through 2008. passed it by so quickly. Spring, Although Lakewood Ranch now a Summerfield resident, sold was hit more severely than other Pam Eubanks the very first home in Lakewood Greg Spring was one of the first Realtors to sell Lakewood Ranch. Today, sections of the real estate market, Ranch in December 1994 to a he serves as an ambassador for the community. it also has picked up more quickcouple who had just relocated ly, Realtors said. Sales improved from New Jersey â&#x20AC;&#x201D; before a real models, we had people stand- tive homebuyers came in eager in the spring 2009, especially for model home had even opened. ing in line from the front of the to look at properties in Sarasota, homes priced under $400,000. â&#x20AC;&#x153;They had first pick of all the model to the curb on opening Barnett pointed them to Lake- By January of this year, homes in lots out here,â&#x20AC;? said Spring, who weekend.â&#x20AC;? wood Ranch as well. all price ranges began selling. now gives tours of community The biggest challenge was conBarnett said even when she â&#x20AC;&#x153;Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re back to a normal marthrough his work as a Lakewood vincing people there was life east had to drive 20 minutes to get ket,â&#x20AC;? Spring said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We did get hit Ranch Ambassador. â&#x20AC;&#x153;It was a big of Interstate 75. a cup of coffee or a sandwich, hard because this is where all the deal. They were excited.â&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x153;People didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t even know it was homes in Lakewood Ranch were activity was, but we were also the Ten model homes opened in out here,â&#x20AC;? Realtor Beth Barnett, not difficult to sell. first to come back. People want to Summerfield in February 1995, an agent with Coldwell Banker, â&#x20AC;&#x153;There were models here,â&#x20AC;? buy in a master-planned commuturning a pen-and-paper sketch said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I just saw the vision of what Barnett said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I was able to show nity. They want that hometown of the future into something tan- it was going to be. At that point, them. I always took them to the feel.â&#x20AC;? gible for prospective buyers. nobody knew. It was all kind of information center. They painted Fifteen years after the first sale, â&#x20AC;&#x153;There were such big plans dream.â&#x20AC;? a beautiful picture (of the future).â&#x20AC;? the Ranch offers new construc(for Lakewood Ranch),â&#x20AC;? Spring Barnett decided to focus her efThe communityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s amenities â&#x20AC;&#x201D; tion homes starting from about said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Summerfield Park opened forts on home sales in Lakewood hundreds of miles of trails, parks, $130,000 to $5 million. This year before the models. The response Ranch and the surrounding East athletic facilities, shopping pla- alone in The Lake Club, 13 new was great. When we opened the County area. Even as prospec- zas and more â&#x20AC;&#x201D; have made the homes have been sold with an av-

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10A Lakewood Ranch Anniversary

â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;When we opened the (Summerfield Park) models, we had people standing in line from the front of the model to the curb on opening weekend.â&#x20AC;&#x2122; â&#x20AC;&#x201D; Greg Spring

erage price of $2 million. And of the Ranchâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s roughly 7,000 existing homes, only about 200 are on the Multiple Listing Service â&#x20AC;&#x201D; a number Realtors consider indicative of a healthy home market. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a lot bigger variety of housing now,â&#x20AC;? Barnett said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;I never dreamed we would have The Lake Club and the multimillion dollar homes we have.â&#x20AC;? And from a commercial standpoint, real estate in Lakewood Ranch has remained solid as well, said Brian Kennelly, president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial Realty. Since 1997, Lakewood Ranch has gone from having no buildings to 2.5 million square feet of office space, plus 800,000 square feet of retail Ranch-wide. And like the Ranchâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s residential component, commercial properties are faring better in Lakewood Ranch than in Sarasota and Manatee counties, overall. Recent statistics show the areaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lease and sublease space is 22% vacant compared to the 13.7% vacancy rate in Lakewood Ranch. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s (because of) the community of Lakewood Ranch,â&#x20AC;? Kennelly said. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the product we have to offer. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s newer, fresher, cleaner and well maintained.â&#x20AC;? Contact Pam Eubanks at peubanks@yourobserver.com.

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THE EAST COUNTY OBSERVER THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2010

POLO

www.yourobserver.com

Lakewood Ranch Anniversary 11A

by Jen Blanco | Associate Editor

Sport of Kings

SARASOTA — Jaymie Klauber can’t remember a time when she wasn’t enamored with horses. The Polo Grill and Bar co-owner’s father had her mounting horses well before she learned to walk. But in 2001, after spending nearly a decade away from riding on a regular basis, Klauber returned to riding, taking her passion for the sport to the next level — this time on the polo field. Klauber’s husband, Tommy, bought her a series of 10 polo lessons with a polo professional living at the Sarasota Polo Club, assuming his wife would only make it through about half of the lessons before losing interest. Only the lessons had the opposite effect on Jaymie Klauber. She quickly signed up for another set of polo lessons; and after a year, Jaymie Klauber had purchased three polo ponies and was a full-playing member of the Sarasota Polo Club. “I guess you could say my first experience with polo, from watching the first game to hitting the first ball to scoring that first goal, led to a whole world built around horses, polo and the polo lifestyle,” Jaymie Klauber said. “The polo community and the polo lifestyle are just something that I really like and enjoy.” Six years after her first lesson, the Klaubers had purchased a seven-acre property in the Sarasota Polo Club with a house and

The Sarasota Polo Club will celebrate its 20th anniversary when the polo season kicks off with The Polo Grill and Bar Cup Dec. 19.

Courtesy of SMR

14-stall barn and started The Polo Bar and Grill in Lakewood Ranch. Today, they are one of 35 families who call the Sarasota Polo Club community home. “I just love the club itself — it’s a gorgeous place to live,” Jaymie Klauber said. “It’s very hard to find an equestrian community that’s close to town and that’s not in the sticks.” Sarasota Polo Club Manager Maggie Mitchell agreed. “A lot of them don’t live here year-round, but they all embrace the community and all love horses,” Mitchell said of the homeowners.

The 130-acre Sarasota Polo Club was built in 1991 after Schroeder-Manatee Ranch executives decided to incorporate polo into the entity’s master-planned community. They saw polo as a way to help attract potential homebuyers and offer a unique experience to the expanding area. Prior to the development of the club, local cowboys used the land to play ranch or backyard-style polo. Today, the Sarasota Polo Club, with its nine world-class fields and regulation-size arena, boasts the second largest membership in the country next to Palm Beach.

T S E W LO

We offer the

Polo leagues and tournaments, ranging from four to 14 goal, are played throughout the polo season, which runs from December to April. This year, the Sarasota Polo Club will celebrate its 20th anniversary when the polo season kicks off with The Polo Grill and Bar Cup Dec. 19. But the fields aren’t only reserved for the game. The club has become a gathering place for the Lakewood Ranch community and has hosted dozens of the Ranch’s largest events, including the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, Jazz at the Ranch and the Man-

atee Economic Development Couincil’s annual Hob Nob BarB-Que. “There’s a sense of community throughout the year,” Mitchell said. “The polo season runs from December to April, but starting in the fall there’s something going on almost every weekend here.” And every Sunday throughout the polo season, thousands of local residents and their families flock to the club with their picnic baskets in tow for an afternoon of tailgating, socializing and, of course, polo. “It’s a really nice atmosphere to bring the family out,” Mitchell said. “They bring their picnic lunches, and it’s a really nice afternoon for everyone.” During the polo season, one side of the field is reserved for tailgating, while the other is open to the public. Tailgating has become so popular in recent years that there is now a waiting list for space. “We just love tailgating every Sunday,” Jaymie Klauber said. “For us, it’s a very social thing, and I just love to be involved with horses.” For more information on the Sarasota Polo Club, including the upcoming polo season schedule, visit its Web site at www.sarasotapolo.com. Contact Jen Blanco at jblanco@yourobserver.com.

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12A Lakewood Ranch Anniversary

Instant Impact BOON FOR BUSINESS

By nearly any measure, the economic impact of Lakewood Ranch on Manatee and Sarasota counties can be summed up in one word: Massive. The amount of commercial real estate is stunning. For instance, 49% of the total square feet of office space leased in 2010 in Sarasota and Manatee counties, a metric called the absorption rate, occurred in Lakewood Ranch. In raw numbers, that translates to 29,991 square feet of space out of a total 60,824 square feet. Moreover, in 15 years Lakewood Ranch has built more than 2 million total square feet of office space — about the same in downtown Sarasota. Add in the more than 23,000 jobs the companies in Lakewood Ranch have produced and the economic multiplier impact is indeed dizzying. Here’s another feat: Lakewood Ranch hit nearly all of the ambitious predictions set by prominent statewide economist Hank Fishkind in 2000, when he did an economic impact study for developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch. Back then, Fishkind projected by 2012 Lakewood Ranch would have a total population of 14,780; more than 40,000 employees; more than 1,200 students; and, most importantly from a two-county economic impact perspective, an annual county surplus of $7.436 million and an annual school surplus of $12.711 million. “The project will more than pay its own way,” Fishkind wrote in 2000. “In fact, Lakewood Ranch will generate significant fiscal surpluses to both county governments and to the school boards in Manatee and Sarasota counties.”

THE EAST COUNTY OBSERVER THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2010

www.yourobserver.com

by Mark Gordon | Gulf Coast Business Review

Fishkind, based in Orlando, has followed Lakewood Ranch closely over the last decade and has done some work for the development, including a feasibility study over the issue of city incorporation. No agency or economist has done a major economic impact study on Lakewood Ranch since Fishkind & Associates in 2000. But several developers and builders, plus Fishkind and SMR President and CEO Rex Jensen, are hard-pressed to come up with another master-planned community in Florida with as much impact on two counties as Lakewood Ranch has had on Sarasota and Manatee. Some developments in the discussion include Baldwin Park and Celebration, outside Orlando; Weston, in Broward County; and the Villages, an active-adult retirement community an hour north of Orlando. But those communities can’t match the mix of homes and businesses, snowbirds and families or daycares and medical schools of the Ranch. Added Jensen: “I don’t know of anyone that’s had as much of a business and employment impact as we have.” That impact can certainly be felt in a cross-section of businesses. It stretches from independently owned restaurants to a multi-million dollar coin grading operation. It also stretches from a cultured diamond manufacturer with worldwide clients to the headquarters of several heavyweight construction firms that do business in all of Florida and the Southeast. Two companies in particular, however, standout in making a significant, and long-standing, economic impact on Lakewood Ranch: FCCI Insurance Group and Publix.

QUICK LOOK: CORPORATE PARK

At 1,273 acres, Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park is home to more than 250 businesses. Some notable companies include: FCCI Insurance Company Gemesis Gold Coast Eagle Distributing Holiday Inn John Cannon Homes Keiser University & Everglades University Lee Wetherington Homes Pruett Builders Gold Coast Eagle DisRoper Industries tributing State College of Florida

The economies in Sarasota and Manatee counties experienced an unprecedented boom in the last 15 years. It’s no coincidence the boom times directly corresponded with the growth of Lakewood Ranch.

Courtesy photo

Crown jewel

Still, it was a calculated risk when FCCI broke ground on its massive corporate headquarters on University Parkway in 1999. The company, which writes insurance plans for a variety of industries across 14 states, had outgrown its offices on Cattlemen Road in Sarasota. It sought a bigger space it could grow into. But moving to the Ranch meant a commitment no other large corporate entity had made. “We were fortunate because our board, and in particular, Russ Currin, could see the opportunities that Lakewood Ranch offered,” FCCI Executive Vice President Debbie Douglas said. “His enthusiasm and vision carried us forward.” That vision now can be seen in one of the jewels of the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park: FCCI’s three-story, 260,000-square-foot corporate headquarters, which spans 42 acres and can withstand 120-mph winds. The building’s features includes a 65-foot atrium bordered by two sets of escalators and a 40,000-square-foot storage attic. The FCCI headquarters also has the gratitude of SMR executives. “It gave people the vision of how this could work,” said Lakewood Ranch Commercial Realty President Brian Kennelly.

Loyal customers

More than 85 FCCI employees live in Lakewood Ranch, close to 25% of the company’s local workforce, which provides an

extra economic boost in terms of restaurant patrons and other economic impact factors. Nonetheless, the gold standard for Lakewood Ranch companies with employees who live in the area — an essential economic impact factor — is Publix. Like FCCI, Publix took a gamble when it opened a store in the Lakewood Ranch Town Center on University Parkway in 1999. The company has since opened two more in Lakewood Ranch, one on State Road 64 and another on State Road 70. “We’ve grown with the community,” Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten said. “We are very proud of that.” The trio of stores employs nearly 500 people, from high school students to retirees. Patten declined to discuss the performance of individual stores, only to say the three Lakewood Ranch Publix stores “have very loyal” customers and the company hasn’t ruled out expansion in the community. In leaving open the possibility of expansion, Publix hits on an economic impact element echoed by several other Lakewood Ranch businesses: There is land available to grow. That ability, said Fishkind, is part of what separates Lakewood Ranch from other master-planned communities in Florida and other areas in Sarasota and Manatee counties. “Lakewood Ranch is one of a small number of projects in the state that has a made a significant impact on the area,” Fishkind said. “Its quality of development is superior.”

RISKY BUSINESS Changing hospitals isn’t like trying a new restaurant or going to a new coffee shop. It sometimes takes years for a hospital to become ingrained in a community, even longer if two respected hospitals are less than 20 miles away. And building a hospital is one of the most expensive projects around, costing hundreds of thousands per bed. That’s what Universal Health Services executives faced in 2001 when they formulated a plan to build a hospital in Lakewood Ranch. “Certainly, there was a risk, but Universal executives and SMR shared a vision,” said Lakewood Ranch Medical Center CEO Jim Wilson. The plan came to fruition on September 2004, when the medical center opened. Six years later, the facility can boast a significant and demonstrable impact to the local economy. It has 400 employees and it has also drawn a cluster of medical practices and professionals to the community. Wilson said the hospital’s economic impact on the community is a work in progress. “We don’t anticipate being a 120-bed hospital forever,” Wilson said. “We certainly plan on expanding services as the community develops.” — Mark Gordon

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