A 50-acre, $50 million project is primed to turn what was only office and industrial space into a retail and restaurant destination.
Having overseen development of more than 7 million square feet of commercial space in seven states during his career, Brett Hutchens knows a lot of people in national development circles.
When he steers the conversation to Lakewood Ranch, his home base at Casto Southeast Realty Services for at least the past decade, many of his contacts are surprised — pleasantly. Developers see the demographics, the income levels and the past three years of new-home growth in Lakewood Ranch, and “they are really impressed,” Hutchens says.
“When you show them the metro studies, and then they get here, and you take them around, they often say they had no idea how big it is,” Hutchens adds. “It’s a market onto itself.”
Hutchens will use those good vibes to his advantage and build upon them with the latest large-scale project for Lakewood Ranch, Center Point, a $50 million project spread on some 50 acres east of the Lakewood Ranch Boulevard/University Parkway intersection.
Plans include a 30,000-square-foot specialty grocer, a four-story hotel, four to five restaurants and 250,000 square feet of retail space. In addition, there’s a 73,000-square-foot medical office building already under construction. Construction is ongoing, and parcels will likely begin opening later this year and into 2021.
Center Point — which is near Waterside Place, another project under development that includes apartments, townhomes, shops, restaurants, office space and a theater — is a significant milestone for Lakewood Ranch. Notably, Center Point, south of University Parkway, is one of the first projects in the Sarasota County side of Lakewood Ranch that takes advantage of zoning overlay changes approved last August. The area, the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park, had been zoned for office and industrial uses.
Another key to Center Point is that it will utilize new roads, specifically the Fruitville Road extension and connection to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, which opened earlier this year. That extension is projected to boost the traffic that passes nearby Center Point by 69%, from 13,000 cars to 22,000 cars a day. The road extension, Hutchens says, also “allows you to draw easily from the Founders Club and Laurel Oak,” a pair of luxury communities south of Center Point.
Casto acquired the property from Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch. Hutchens says an idea of something like Center Point goes back several years, when he and SMR officials began a series of conversations about what would be the best fit there. “We both feel that this is the centerpiece of Waterside,” Hutchens says. “This deserves to be a special project.”
Several tenants have already publicly committed to the space, including the second Owen’s Fish Camp, joining a sister location that opened in 2010 in Burns Court, just outside downtown Sarasota. On the medical side, 60% of the building was leased or under a letter of intent through early May. Signed tenants include Sarasota Interventional Radiology, which has committed to 20,000 square feet.
Through early May, Hutchens had letters of intent from several other tenants, and although the coronavirus pandemic gave some pause, it wasn’t a deal-breaker. “We’ve been talking to national and regional tenants,” he says, “and they tend to look past [things] like this.”
Owners of Owen’s Fish Camp, the Caragiulo family, announced the Center Point location in early February and remain excited — and undaunted by the dramatic business slowdown caused by the pandemic. “We had looked at several places over the years, but nothing really panned out,” co-owner Paul Caragiulo says.
Other restaurants that got started in and around downtown Sarasota have opened Lakewood Ranch outposts or places nearby in recent years. That list includes Libby’s and Nancy’s Bar-B-Q, both in Lakewood Ranch shopping plazas, and Selva Grill, a downtown Sarasota restaurant that announced plans in December for a location in The West District at University Town Center.
"We are obviously very confident in Lakewood Ranch as a destination, as a place where people want to be." — Paul Caragiulo, co-owner, Owen’s Fish Camp
Although Caragiulo says he and his brothers, who operate Owen’s, wanted to be in Lakewood Ranch, they didn’t a want cookie-cutter spot. Hutchens, a customer of the Burns Court Owen’s and a Caragiulo family friend, brought the Center Point concept to them last year. Caragiulo says he and his partners discovered that Center Point “isn’t a standard in-line shopping plaza” and offers the unique experience-based place they sought for Owen’s.
“It took us a while, but it finally worked out,” Caragiulo says. “We are obviously very confident in Lakewood Ranch as a destination, as a place where people want to be.”
Casto and Hutchens have experience developing destination-like places in Lakewood Ranch: More than a decade ago, it developed the 158,000-square-foot Main Street at Lakewood Ranch. That history is another reason Hutchens, going back to positive reactions he gets when potential tenants discover Lakewood Ranch, says he and his team have a lot of pride in the development.
“We live here, and we have an office here,” Hutchens says. “We love it here.”