Life on the Ranch
Lakewood Ranch, the second best-selling planned community in the nation, turns 25 this year. How did they get here and where are they headed?
Travis Allen Hall, born and raised at Lakewood Ranch (LWR) in Sarasota, FL, experiences most palm-tree-lined, 78-degree days as though he’s looking through a colorful kaleidoscope of moments pulled from those sprinkled across a 25-year timeline. Hall’s family was one of the first 25 families to move into Lakewood Ranch.
“There were literally cows just beyond our backyard,” Hall says. “There were only three other houses when we first got here.”
Hall says that during his daily drives along Lakewood Ranch’s bustling Main Street, that years of memories are readily accessible—playing basketball with friends on courts that projected laughter and sound for miles, of riding bikes and playing outside until dark with no sign of people or even houses, and of his first days on the tennis courts shortly after they were laid.
“We’re all still here for a reason,” Hall says. “My parents have retired here, and my brother and I certainly aren’t going anywhere. It’s where we’ve made our best memories.”
25 years later, Hall’s mother and father live in the same Summerfield house he grew up in, in what would become Lakewood Ranch’s first neighborhood. Hall’s brother, Colby, lives with his family in Greenbrook, also a neighborhood in Lakewood Ranch.
But, memories aren’t the only reason they’re all still here.
“My parents believed in the founders’ vision,” Hall says. “To be honest, my mom was not too happy when we first got here. She literally looked at my dad, and was like, ‘Where in the world have you brought us?’ It truly felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. All you could see was land and cows. But, deep down she believed what they (the founders) were telling them. She and my Dad knew that we were becoming part of something big. And, they were right. Lakewood Ranch is what they all promised it would be, and then some.”
Grand visions of a four-house neighborhood becoming a veritable resort town and the impetus for growth and development of an entire region somehow didn’t seem unlikely to the Halls. But, the speed with which it came did surprise them.
“People have always flocked to Sarasota,” Hall says. And, while the development of surrounding rural areas was the inevitable next step in this region in the mid-90s, no other community that cropped up during that time took off as quickly nor grew to the extent that Lakewood Ranch has.
By the time Hall was ready for high school, just a few years after they moved in, Lakewood Ranch High School had just opened to 9th graders only. Subsequent grades were added the following year. Hall was enrolled in the first freshman class and graduated from the first graduating class at Lakewood Ranch High School. In the summers, he and friends fished for blue gill and bass in nearby ponds and lakes, spent mornings and evenings on one of a dozen tennis courts and basketball courts, and days in one of many pools.
By the time he graduated high school, groceries, and shops had popped up along Main Street. Clydesdale-led parades barreled along the intimate streets lined with Floridian architecture that now wind through Lakewood Ranch Town Center. And, by his 20s, entertainment, shopping, schools, and a bustling business district characterized Lakewood Ranch as a veritable town.
“My parents had us volunteering for everything in the beginning—every event, every community project,” he says. “We’ve always been invested in this place.”
And, the return on that investment has been far greater than they dreamed. Lakewood Ranch now has a tennis center complete with 20 har-tru clay courts, six world-class golf courses (plus one under construction), homes ranging from $180k to $10 million, schools for pre-school to college, and 1,500+ businesses, including bio-tech companies, health care facilities, and the area’s top-ranked hospital.
Both Travis and his brother still spend portions of their days “investing” in Lakewood Ranch. Colby Hall is the Sports Director for the Lakewood Ranch YMCA, and Travis has been a Lakewood Ranch YMCA tennis coach since he graduated from high school.
His parents are settled into retirement, living their best life in the most popular planned community in Florida.
“Yeah, they wouldn’t be anywhere else,” Hall says.
When asked if he would ever consider leaving, Hall easily responds, “No, we’re not going anywhere. This is our home.”
So, what of this vision? How do you create a vibrant, business-friendly community that attracts retirees as quickly and seamlessly as it attracts young people and families? Yes, it was rooted in palm tree-lined streets, expansive parks, and tight-knit neighborhoods. But, it takes a slightly more expansive vision and innovative thought process to drive this kind of growth—to create whole towns from scratch with such distinct and varied neighborhoods in 25 years. How did Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, LWR’s parent company, seamlessly surpass their goal of creating a self-sustaining, independent community/city now recognized as the second largest and fastest-growing planned community in the country? Multi-generational living is definitely one of the secrets.
There are age-targeted neighborhoods within Lakewood Ranch, including Del Webb and soon-to-open Cresswind. And, the allure for residents of each, says Leslie Rothschild, realtor and Live Sarasota co-owner, is that while they have easy access to a larger, multi-generational community, they also have the luxury of being surrounded by neighbors who desire similar lifestyles. Rothschild and her husband chose Del Webb for what she calls its “cult-like” following.
“Once you know what it’s like to live in a Del Webb community, you can’t live anywhere else. Seriously, it’s heaven,” she says.
At Lakewood Ranch, Rothschild says, there is a place, a home, an activity, and an overall feeling of well-being for every age and stage, and that’s what makes it so special.
People thrive here from every walk of life. Families grow together in a multi-generational environment which creates a vibrancy and security that has become foundational here. Twenty-somethings can buy their first condo or home here, empty nesters settle into the home and lifestyle they want, and seniors can stay close to those they love and receive support from.
Rex Jensen, president and CEO of Schroeder Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch, says that this drives a more innovative approach to development.
“This is a community with multiple dimensions and a good share of that springs from these multiple generations and their contribution to our lifestyle,” Jensen says.
Another key component of LWR’s success is that Jensen and his team have always incorporated preserving LWR’s roots into their mission. Once a ranch, always a ranch, and while developed, preservation has been integral to the LWR’s design. In fact, 40 percent of the land is set aside for nature and recreation.
Rothschild says that there is as much if not more undeveloped land on LWR’s 50 square miles as developed land. Aside from miles of bike paths, natural trails, and endless parks, the Ranch is still just that.
“This is still very much a working ranch,” she notes. “And, we actually have cows out there!”
“This is what’s so attractive about this place,” Rothschild says. “It’s a part of the land. Its history is still right here. Preservation is inherent in a place like that, because residents are reminded every day.”
And, then, there’s business. With thriving businesses comes growth and an overall sense of security. And, the fact that LWR is home to 1500+ successful companies is a clear sign that LWR has it all figured out. But how? One of LWR’s favorite business models is to “create it and they will come,” trusting that the right person or company will appear. The Premier Sports Campus and the Sarasota Polo Club are both great examples of this. LWR engineered, designed, and built both, then subsequently sold each. This method has been key to LWR job growth and economy building.
And, as Rothschild says, “There’s really no reason to have to leave Lakewood Ranch. Everything you love to do, all of the people you want to be with, whatever you need, it’s all right here,” she says. “And, that’s a good feeling.”
RETIRED AT THE RANCH
Patricia (Pat) Collins, born and raised in the Canadian Rockies near Alberta, Canada, and her husband Mark, born in Britain, have been watching Lakewood Ranch since its Grand Opening in 1995. They moved to Atlanta, GA, in the early 90s for work. And, while Pat says she’s tickled to be where she is now, that she left her home in Canada kicking and screaming. “I truly loved where we lived,” she says.
While she learned to love or at least like wherever she was, luckily for her, either good fate or a happy accident brought her to the blissful state she lives in now.
“My husband was in Sarasota on business. He runs marathons … well, he did back then,” she says. “And, after running across the Ringling Bridge in Sarasota, he said he just knew that this was where we’d end up someday. He started looking around a bit and discovered Lakewood Ranch.”
They continued to visit the Ranch through the years and were fortunate enough to watch it grow into the vision that the founders laid out in the early days.
And, 20 years later, give or take, when it was time to retire, Lakewood Ranch decidedly became their destination.
After five years in, she says, she’s still pinching herself.
“I can’t say enough about how much fun it is here,” she says. Most Fridays and nearly every Sunday, the majority of their Leopard Creek neighborhood in Country Club East, also known as “Party Creek,” head into Friday concerts on Main Street and up to the polo fields for Sunday polo matches and a little tailgating. Pat says they have found their people. “This is what we worked so hard for, to sit back and enjoy all the stuff we dreamed of doing while we were at work.”
They’re involved with groups that go kayaking, biking, running, and of course, partying. “We’re kind of known for finding any excuse to throw a party around here,” she says with a laugh.
And, what’s not to celebrate?
“We always say we’ll never miss the shoveling, scraping, or shivering.
In Florida, even when it’s cold, it’s not cold.”
Overall, she said, you have to work pretty hard to have a bad day at Lakewood Ranch.
Much to Love
Charlene and Bob Schmitt have seen it all at Lakewood Ranch. Not only were they one of the first 50 families, but their daughter, Kirsten Schmitt, was the first to be born in Lakewood Ranch.
“And, not too long ago, our son-in-law bought her engagement ring right here at Vanessa’s Fine Jewelry on Lakewood Ranch Main Street,” Charlene points out, with a noted fondness in her voice.
“We have everything we could possibly need or want here,” she says. Aside from all the amenities that made raising children so much more carefree and enjoyable- fitness centers, pools, the YMCS, the Lakewood Ranch Hospital, the movie theatre, and town center—now, in retirement, the Schmitt’s are as active and involved as ever.
Among Charlene’s favorite activities are polo matches.
“We love tailgating with friends next to the polo fields. I’ll never get tired of the sound of clomping hooves and the ground thundering,” Charlene says. “We also happen to have good friends who are referees, which is always fun.”
Don and Faye Downing, also among the first 50 families at Lakewood Ranch, say that they, too, are in it for the long haul.
“You really can’t find another place like this,” says Don.
Retirement has been good to them, and he says golf has been the key for him. He works with the First Tee program in the Sarasota area, and plays at least twice a week.
“Golf days are definitely my favorite days,” he says.
“We are pretty lucky to have such beautiful courses right here in our backyard.”
LWR’s newest village, Waterside in Sarasota County, will feature over 5,000 homes in 12 walkable neighborhoods connected via water taxis and trails to a vibrant, lakefront town center—Waterside Place. Waterside is being built around seven lakes, with more than 20 miles of shoreline, acres of nature preserves, and an 8-acre waterfront park, which will be home to concerts, festivals, and farmers markets. Waterside Place, the village center, with an estimated completion date of 2020, will include apartments, restaurants, retail shops, professional offices, and the Players Centre for Performing Arts, all within walking distance of every residence.
“Yeah, there’s always something new coming up at Lakewood Ranch. It’s pretty amazing to watch how quickly it grows and adapts, even after all these years,” Hall says.
“Everybody’s pretty excited about Waterside,” he adds. “My sister-in-law is actually planning to move there next year.”
And, so it goes. Families and retirees flock to Lakewood Ranch for a more ideal way of life. And, generations and family trees later, they’re still there.
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