MANATEE COUNTY — Barry and Maureen Berman admit their community is unique. Situated just south of the Manatee River, Tidewater Preserve is the East County’s only community that straddles Interstate 75.
However, although some may find it odd to have a major thoroughfare splitting their community, for the Bermans, it’s home.
“When we go over the river and the bridge (for I-75), we say to our kids, ‘There’s our house,’” Maureen Berman said with a chuckle.
Their home may be easy to spot considering Tidewater is only partially built out. But just because a highway passes through it doesn’t make the community an easy destination. In fact, it’s another three miles before they can reach the gatehouse.
Residents Ann and Charles “Corky” Cavanaugh also love the closeness of their neighborhood and how the families there have taken turns having each other over and organizing events. The community — albeit unfinished and once in financial turmoil — possesses a closeness, despite its rather unique mix of retirees and working families and full-time and part-time residents.
“Sometimes, my neighbors and I will be saying, ‘It’s too bad they haven’t finished the development or it wasn’t going faster,’” Maureen Berman said. “But then, every one of us say this is a fabulous place to live. We have it all to ourselves.
“It’s peaceful,” she said. “We walk in the morning, and we say we’re going to be in trouble some day because we walk in the middle of the street and there’s going to be cars there someday.”
Original plans for Tidewater Preserve included 950 homes, including about 300 single family homes, as well as high-rise and mid-rise condominiums. Of those, less than 20 single-family homes and only a handful of condo structures have been finished.
The property sits along a mile of riverfront and has an internal lake system that allows any resident with waterfront property to gain access to the river. A tennis center, with an adjacent marina, offers residents a place for festivities.
Sales at Tidewater Preserve have been at a standstill for the last two years. The community’s developer, WCI Communities, put a part of the property up for sale several months ago but took it off the market recently.
Although WCI has faced some financial difficulty recently, its commitment to building out the Tidewater community has not faltered, said President and CEO David Fry.
“As the company has worked through new plans over the last couple of years, we’ve obviously made the decision not to continue with certain communities, but Tidewater is one we are committed to,” he said, noting the property’s unique waterfront situation. “There’s nothing like this.”
Even still, Fry acknowledges the real estate market as a whole, and particularly where Tidewater sits, remains challenged.
Of WCI’s 19 communities statewide, only two are open and selling. Three more will go online within the next few months. WCI will monitor sales in those communities in the coming months while also stepping back to see if any changes are needed to react to the market.
In Manatee County, 94% of 5,900 residential transactions for the first half of the year were under $500,000, Fry said. The average price for a condominium resale in the same time period was $140,000.
“The challenge with selling condominiums at (that price) is you can’t afford to build the building,” he said.
“We’re stepping back and looking at the community to see, is there an alternative plan for the community, particularly for the high-rise and mid-rise parcels,” Fry said. “That’s the exercise we’re in the middle of.”
Fry said he expects to make a decision about how to move forward with development of the property in the next six months or so and to start executing that plan over the next 12 to 18 months.
“I think it’s highly likely we will be doing some things in Tidewater in 2011, whether it’s adding to our amenities in preparation for sales (or something else),” Fry said.
“I think everybody has had to reset their expectations today,” he said. “Our residents are no different. We’re maintaining our communities; we still staff our communities. It’s just in a holding pattern. That’s not unusual for today. That’s how companies can survive during a time like this.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].