Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
My head was spinning from the possibilities.
It happened Dec. 5 when the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance held an economic development showcase at Casto's 76,000-square-foot medical building, currently under construction in the Center Point at Lakewood Ranch development.
The site is just east of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard's intersection with University Parkway.
It might not be getting the attention of the Waterside Place, the entertainment hub which will be the centerpiece of a 5,000-home-plus community just to the south of the Casto site, but it is impressive nonetheless. Pretty too. Debrah Graves of FleischmanGarcia Architecture has had a free hand to put some pizzazz into the building, and even though it's not finished, you can tell it will be special.
The medical building is just one piece of Casto's 46-acre, mixed-use project. It will also include a 30,000 square foot specialty grocery store and a four-story, extended stay hotel. Four to five "sit-down" restaurants will call the site home. Eight retail out-parcels will be developed in 250,000 square feet of shopping space.
The hotel chain and grocer already have committed but Casto isn't naming names yet.
I can't help but be awestruck by how quickly construction moves here. It seems like yesterday The Green was a field and now Earth Fare, LA Fitness and Sirius Day Spa and a whole lot of restaurants, are packed every day.
As the economic development types talked about the glory of the new kid on the block in Lakewood Ranch, in this case Center Point, here was the showcase's gem I found most interesting.
Casto Principal Brett Hutchens was talking about why his company was attracted to the site, and he mentioned about 13,000 people drive past on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard each day. He said projections point toward 22,000 people a day figure to pass when Lakewood Ranch Boulevard opens its extension to Fruitville Boulevard (expected in late January).
It's what makes my head spin.
First comes the thought of twice as many people on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. If that thought scares you, please raise your hand.
From a business sense, though, and after all, this was the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance hosting the event, those additional motorists translate into carloads and truckloads of money.
Money, of course, means the value of our homes will rise. It also means more places to spend it will follow.
I started to make my own mental wish list for restaurants. Hutchens was talking about square footage and 4 1/2 acres of wetlands on the site, and permits, and while his lips were moving, I was thinking seafood, ribs and Italian food. I can't help myself.
One thing I have learned since moving here five years ago is the phrase "too many restaurants" doesn't exist in Lakewood Ranch or Bradenton or Sarasota. I keep expecting to see empty parking lots over here, as they fill up over there. But it's like one of those endless bowls of salad. You keep eating, and eating, and you look down and it appears you've got as much salad as when you started.
You have to figure that somewhere from Lakewood Ranch in a 20-mile radius, all these new restaurants have had to put a few cooks out of business, but I have yet to see any evidence.
Perhaps that is why we are building roads to make it easier to get here. Hutchens said the completion of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard will mean people from south side of Sarasota can easily head to Center Point.
That's a good thing, I guess. From what I understand from longtime residents, going to Lakewood Ranch for a meal once was like taking the family to the swamp for frogs legs. It was a rarity. Now we have more restaurant hubs in the area than Publix has grocery stores. You can start on State Road 64 and eat your way, one restaurant a day, to University Parkway and the days of the year will run out before the restaurants do.
That's a glorious thought to me, considering my favorite thing in life is eating. Unfortunately, my least favorite thing in life is sitting in traffic.
The traffic part is our own doing. I'm sure you've heard that business follows homes. Lakewood Ranch has more housing starts than any master planned community in the country, so you know what that means.
It means we have to stay on our commissioners and state officials to make sure our roadways can keep up.
Construction on the Center Point project should be finished by mid 2022. That will align with Waterside Place opening for business, with all those lakeside restaurants.
I will be at both places for dinner ... if I can get there.