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East County Thursday, Mar. 10, 2022 4 months ago

Main Street at Lakewood Ranch still a powerful hub

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Wagner Realty is the latest to feel the draw of Main Street at Lakewood Ranch.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

I was strolling through Waterside Place on Saturday night, admiring the lakefront view as Starla and I approached Good Liquid Brewing Co., without a reservation.

The hostess delivered the bad news — for me — which was good news for the restaurant.

A two-hour wait.

Fortunately, we slipped into two seats at the bar and were able to have dinner anyway.

Later this month, Korê Steakhouse will open, and I would imagine it will have a two-hour wait as well, at least early in its existence. Bella Vita will add Italian cuisine to the Waterside Place offerings later this year and Agave Bandido hopes to be in business by the start of 2023. 

Jay Heater: Side of Ranch

Business will be booming.

Add Owens Fish Camp, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and Olivia to the CASTO project just east of the intersection of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and University Parkway, and when those open within the next 12 months, you will have thousands of residents being directed to that area. Oh, and Cooper's Hawk is a short drive toward the intersection of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Fruitville Road. That's been a tougher ticket than a Lightning playoff game.

So what about poor Main Street at Lakewood Ranch?

It's been 20 years since Main Street was the new and shiny addition to the entire region.

Just ask Diane Lee, who formerly was vice president of commercial development for Lakewood Ranch Commercial Realty back in the early days of Main Street, which was being built by CASTO and Schroeder-Manatee Ranch. 

Lee was working with John Swart, who was president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial Realty at the time. 

"It was mixed use, and people loved that," Lee said. "It was not something that was offered (in the region). The other thing was that everything was new. It was unfolding and people were interested in being pioneers."

They wanted to be pioneers as long as the wagon train didn't have to stray far from Interstate 75. The proximity to a major artery was another factor for those businesses who came to Main Street when it was being built.

"I think this downtown area is a special place," Lee said. "Special."

Is it still special? Evidently it is.

Diane Lee of Wagner Realty stands next to a conference room at its office on Lakewood Main Street.

Lee is now the branch manager for Wagner Realty, which moved into its new Lakewood Main Street location in December. Wagner Realty previously was based off State Road 70 next to the tax collection office (I still call it the Department of Motor Vehicles). Lee was excited when she heard the branch was relocating to Lakewood Main Street.

"Chico's (women's apparel) was here in this space," Lee said of the early days of Main Street at Lakewood Ranch. "To end up back here is amazing. We've been working on this project for a year."

Lee said the power of Main Street at Lakewood Ranch hasn't diminished one bit.

"We wanted to be part of this," Lee said of Main Street. "We know we can continue to grow here. Since we have opened, we love it, seeing all the people strolling along. People just walk in."

Lee has worked since 2009 at Wagner Realty, which has seven branches in the region. She said moving to Main Street has been a yearlong process. While she was interested in a few other spaces that opened, Wagner Realty owner David Eckel told her to remain patient and the perfect spot would come along. They feel it did.

"We wanted to feel like we were more a part of the community because our company is big on that," Lee said. "With the closeness of the other merchants here, we are.

"We also love everything SMR represents. There are so many events, … like the Clydesdales."

Actually, having the Budweiser Clydesdales march down Lakewood Main Street on Feb. 16 was not a planned event. John Saputo of Gold Coast Eagle Distributing had brought the Clydesdales to the area to take part in an Atlanta Braves fan celebration Feb. 19 at CoolToday Park in North Port. But he sent the team over to Main Street at Lakewood Ranch because he knew it was draw a huge crowd.

With almost no advanced billing, the street was packed from end to end.

Main Street at Lakewood Ranch continues to pack the streets for Music on Main once a month, and it seems some other kind of activity is scheduled every other day. If people were worried it would suffer from Waterside Place's opening, they can stop worrying.

I go to most of the restaurants in Main Street at Lakewood Ranch, and they all appear to be doing quite nicely.

Lee said the Wagner Realty employees have loved getting lunches up and down the street.

She also said it has been the perfect place to bring in potential clients who are considering a home in Lakewood Ranch.

"The sense of community is unique," she said. "People can feel that the first time they are here. They find there are so many choices right here at our doorstep. They can see it, … feel it."

Despite the many other dining and shopping choices springing up in Lakewood Ranch, Lee said foot traffic continues to increase at Main Street.

"People keep strolling past, trying to decide if they want to be here."

Wagner Realty, which has 2,900 square feet, has moved to take advance of the foot traffic. The office has been open on Saturdays and Sundays and during special events, such as Music on Main.

"That's a beautiful thing," Lee said.

She said the new office, which still is awaiting backordered furniture and decorations, has Wagner's contracted Realtors so excited they have been coming to the office more often. She said that creates a camaraderie that she enjoys.

"We learn so much from each other," she said.

We have learned as well. The new restaurants can keep on coming.

Main Street is doing well.

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