LAKEWOOD RANCH, FLA. (March 28, 2019) – The fastest-growing multi-generational master-planned community in the nation, Lakewood Ranch (LWR) has grown into an unincorporated town of more than 1,500 businesses and 35,000 residents in just 25 years. The 31,000-acre development is the metropolitan area’s largest job center and as the population center shifts to it, so have county offices, institutions of higher learning and a long-standing area arts organization.
Residents live in more than 20 distinct villages and counting. LWR’s newest village, Waterside in Sarasota County, will include more than 5,000 homes in 12 neighborhoods and a dynamic town center — Waterside Place — that’s anticipated to be a premier waterfront destination for the region.
Over the past two years, LWR has laid the groundwork for a scientific research center in its Collaboration Opportunities for Research (CORE) project. The project already has life science-related tenants and recently secured a relationship with some of the nation’s leading medical researchers to be part of a brain health study. It stands to attract more companies in the burgeoning field of neuro technology, as well as to put The Ranch on the global map.
A Spotlight on the Horizon
Set to open in 2020, Waterside Place promises to be an entertainment hub that fills a significant gap in the Sarasota/Bradenton region, enabling area residents to enjoy an array of dining, nightlife and entertainment options right in their backyard. The design has an urban feel yet is surrounded by the expansive Kingfisher Lake on three sides and includes miles of nature trails. Overlooking the waterfront, the town center will have street-level shops with second-story offices, restaurant kiosks, an 8-acre park, and 800 apartments and townhomes. All totaled, the project will include 120,000 square feet of unique in-line and freestanding commercial, retail and office space. Residents of single-family homes in Waterside will be able to ride water taxis to the town center.
“We have spent nearly two years planning and designing this town center to ensure it will be a vibrant and dynamic contribution to our community’s lifestyle,” says Kirk Boylston, president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial. The new Players Centre for the Performing Arts will highlight the 36-acre mixed use town center. The performing arts group has been a mainstay of the Sarasota arts scene for 80 years, but recently began its move to LWR, staging outdoor performances at the Sarasota Polo Club and community parks until its new 70,000-square-foot performing arts center is complete. Once open, it will offer more than 300 shows annually.
Though construction is just beginning, Waterside Place has already secured retail tenants Foundation Coffee Co., The Yoga Shack, SoFresh and Kilwins.
A Place to Do Business and Research
Business throughout Lakewood Ranch continues to expand. LWR is now the economic driver for the Northport-Bradenton-Sarasota metropolitan area. The development has added more than 16,000 jobs, according to a study by Hank Fishkind, an economic analyst with Fishkind & Associates of Orlando. Rex Jensen, president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch (SMR), the developer of LWR, says the community’s commercial success began with having “the area’s best location for business.” LWR is centrally located, straddling Manatee and Sarasota counties and hugging four I-75 exits. It’s easily accessible via car and by air — including four international airports, one of which is less than 10 miles away.
By design, LWR has also evolved into a business center that serves not just Lakewood Ranch residents but customers in the Tampa Bay region, throughout Florida and beyond. National property and casualty insurers FCCI and Centauri Insurance base their headquarters at Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park, the largest business park in the Bradenton-Sarasota area. Nearly six million square feet of office and commercial space has been developed; eight million more are entitled. “We created a protected and mixed-use environment in which businesses could confidently invest in their facilities, knowing their neighbors would do the same,” Jensen says.
With its 308-acre CORE park, LWR’s economic impact is only expected to grow. LWR is targeting research and high-tech companies, and the site benefits from being within walking distance of LECOM’s medical, pharmacology and dental schools on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.
Mercedes Scientific, a medical supply company that has twice made the Inc. 5000 list of America’s Fastest-Growing Companies, moved its headquarters to CORE in late 2018. “We felt that CORE, a life science business park, fit our business profile best,” says Alex Miller, CEO of Mercedes Scientific, which has been in Manatee County for 20 years. “We are excited to see it develop and be part of such an exciting project that I am sure will be an economic engine for our region.” Miller says the decision to relocate was also influenced by shorter employee commute times and the continued support of the Manatee County Economic Development Corp.
Florida Cancer Specialists, which outgrew its existing LWR location, is expected to move into a new 10,820-square-foot center at CORE this summer. The $16-million cancer center will be within the Optimal Outcomes’ 50,000-square-foot medical building.
LWR developers anticipate that CORE, as well as residential sales, will grow as a result of a new long-term brain health study to be conducted at LWR by the Academy for Brain Health and Performance and the Massachusetts General Hospital (MCH), a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital. The study, which is expected to last decades, will analyze the risk and protective factors that contribute to enhancing brain health and performance. Lakewood Ranch will be a “living laboratory” for brain research much like Framingham, Mass. was in the groundbreaking longitudinal study on the human heart.
Researchers chose LWR for the “Building a Brain Healthy Community Initiative” due to its multi-generational makeup, multi-faceted framework, vibrant business community, and strong medical, wellness and educational foundation. “We feel Lakewood Ranch will serve as the perfect environment for our group to uncover essential elements of brain health and enhancement,” says Stephanie Peabody, executive director of the study, “as well as cognitive maintenance across a person’s life.”
The Green, located within CORE, is LWR’s second town center. Designed to cater to the northern villages and employees who work in the research park, the $100-million, 37-acre multi-use project is being developed by Tavistock Development Company, headquartered in Orlando. The Green’s commercial phase, with anchor tenants Earth Fare Specialty Grocery and LA Fitness, is largely completed, says Skipper Peek, senior vice president of commercial development for Tavistock Development. The adjoining 300-unit luxury apartment complex is expected to welcome its first tenant by October 2019.
“Those guys are really good master planned community developers,” Peek says of LWR. “We look very selectively. We like the area. Manatee County was great to work with.”
Feels Like Home
Ask just about anyone what they most like about Lakewood Ranch and the response is typically: “the sense of community.” Residents credit the non-profit Lakewood Ranch Community Activities for helping create this through regular events such as Music on Main, a seasonal farmers’ market, and concerts in the parks. In addition, at Easter, LWR throws an Eggstravaganza egg hunt for children, and at Halloween, a BooFest. The year wraps up with Holidays Around the Ranch.
More than 60 clubs of all interests and numerous charitable initiatives bring neighbors together. Some villages even have their own lifestyle director who organizes events. The National Association of Homebuilders awarded LWR first-place in lifestyle programming in 2018.
Another testament to LWR’s community-building success is that children who grew up on The Ranch want to return to raise their families. Lakewood Ranch High graduate Lauren Houston wouldn’t have it any other way. She was studying cosmetology at Meridian Career Institute and her husband, Alex, was enrolled at Lake Erie School of Dental Medicine (both located in LWR) when they met at Starbucks on Lakewood Ranch’s Main Street.
The couple temporarily lives in West Palm Beach while Alex completes his dental residency program, but Lauren returns to LWR on weekends to house shop. “My husband and I can’t wait to move back this summer for so many reasons — our family being one of them,” Houston says. “We’re wanting to start a family of our own and think Lakewood Ranch would be the perfect place to raise our future children. The community has a ton to offer — A-rated schools, Main Street events and more.”
As for homes, Lakewood Ranch has something for everyone, says Laura Cole, senior vice president of LWR Communities, LLC. “We can serve all life stages from first apartment to first home to family home to assisted living,” Cole says.
Home prices range from $180,000 to well over $1 million. Villages vary in style and amenities. For instance, all homes in Polo Run are solar powered. Currently only one village, Del Webb Lakewood Ranch, is age restricted.
“People are choosing to live here to be by their parents, to be by their kids or grandkids, to start or raise families, to live near their places of employment, to grow their business,” Cole says. “It’s clear that our decision to foster a multi-generational community from day one has made this a more interesting and multi-faceted place to live, work and play.”
Waterside and CORE may be the hottest new developments in Lakewood Ranch, but don’t expect them to be the last. The master-planned community is only half built out to plan. For reference, the overall project is twice the size of Manhattan. Once fully developed, the population is expected to be 80,000, topping that of the seats in both counties where it resides.
Rex Jensen, president and CEO of developer SMR, feels confident about The Ranch’s future and says the community will be its guide. “Lakewood Ranch is already protected by the foundation that we’ve laid,” Jensen says. “It will continue to evolve in new and exciting ways and take its direction from the needs and desires of our residents.”
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