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East County Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009 8 years ago

Jensen: Ranch could lead way out of housing crisis

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

LAKEWOOD RANCH — The year’s housing sales in Lakewood Ranch may be an indicator the community will lead the way out of the current housing downturn, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch President and CEO Rex Jensen said last week.

During a bus tour of the Ranch Nov. 4, Jensen told a group of Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance members the current Multiple Listing Service shows about 50 condominiums and just more than 200 single-family homes are on the market in Lakewood Ranch. At the economy’s worst, MLS showed as many as 200 condominiums and 650 homes in the community.

Even office building vacancy is down — 16% compared to the 23% the Manatee/Sarasota area is facing, he said.

“I think Lakewood Ranch is probably getting ready to lead the area out of the economic trench,” Jensen said. “I’ll really have the proof when they turn into (home) closings.”

Jensen also said a key business strategy will be to refocus on attracting families to the Ranch.

“That’s what made us strong in the first place,” he said. “We’ve left that market kind of in the dust, and I also think there’s a market we’ve never been in because we’ve never had the density until recently to do a multi-family in character type of community. That’s what I’d like to do in Lakewood Ranch and the 2050 (Villages project in Sarasota).”

When SMR first began envisioning Lakewood Ranch, the company wanted its creation to become a center for economic growth, Jensen said. And now with more than 4 million square feet of non-residential uses and more than 12,000 people working in the community, Jensen said bringing workforce housing to the Ranch is on his “hit list” for 2010 and early 2011.

Jensen said he will be working “feverishly” to bring that type of housing to the 700-acre Lakewood Center project, which will be located south of Malachite Drive and east of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.

The higher-density housing, he said, could be town homes or something similar.

“It won’t be yards with picket fences,” Jensen said. “Beyond that, I don’t know (what it’ll be).”

Workforce housing also is in the plans for The Villages of Lakewood Ranch South, a project to be located just south of the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park in Sarasota County.

However, Jensen said he expects SMR will focus on development in Manatee County first because SMR already has gotten the necessary approvals there.

Jensen also said SMR also will be looking for “unfair advantages” in the real estate market, such as the lakes left by its shell mining operations in Sarasota County and the subsequent waterfront properties they will provide. SMR also will consider building an age-targeted community, he said.

SMR is looking to loosen up its architectural standards so there is more architectural variety in the Ranch, as well as relaxing some of its signage requirements to better accommodate businesses’ needs without losing the community’s visual appeal, he said.

“We are reworking our signage plan,” Jensen said. “It will be a work in process — not an event.”

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

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