The entertainment hub should be open to the public in 18 months.
Standing on the bank of Kingfisher Lake during a groundbreaking ceremony Oct. 4 for Waterside Place, Homes by Towne President Kohn Bennett gave those in attendance something to picture in their minds.
Homes by Towne is one of two builders selling homes in Waterside, Schroeder Manatee Ranch's first residential foray into Sarasota County.
"Our residents are looking forward to that first water taxi ride from three quarters of a mile down the lake," Bennett said.
While that thought remains a vision, the groundbreaking served notice it is about to become reality.
"Breaking ground is a big step," said Kirk Boylston, the president of Lakewood Ranch commercial. "People will be able to see exactly what it will look like. It is an amazing piece of property.
"It also sets the timeline."
Boylston said SMR expects to have Waterside Place open for business in approximately 18 months. It will include restaurants, retail shops, professional offices, the Players Centre for Performing Arts, a marina and seven park areas.
While neighborhood business usually arrives after a residential community becomes mostly populated, SMR has gone full-speed ahead with its downtown hub even though Waterside had its 100th home sale in September.
SMR President and CEO Rex Jensen said a line of credit with Northern Trust has allowed Waterside Place to be completed and therefore to be a major draw to potential homebuyers.
"They have faith in our relationship," Jensen said of Northern Trust.
That's also great news for Bennett.
"Downtowns have been the heart and soul of communities," he said. "People who move here want to enjoy the town center. The key words are excitement and anticipation. Our expectations (of the town center) have been surpassed."
Boylston said six leases already have been signed by businesses reserving their space at Waterside Place. He said three of the five free-standing restaurants are close to agreements. It could have been more.
"We are being really selective," said Boylston, who said many of the restaurants under consideration already have another site operating in the Sarasota and Manatee counties area.
Boylston said those selections are important as Waterside Place will be like Main Street at Lakewood Ranch. "We do our programming through Main Street," Boylston said. "We get together through Main Street. This will be our second (such) venue."
He said Willis Smith Construction is "building the whole thing, all at once."
Lakewood Ranch Commercial's Tom Johnson said the groundbreaking for Waterside Place, which is being built on a 36-acre peninsula, will bring interest to a new level.
"This is huge," Johnson said. "It solidifies us as making the appropriate steps. Our (potential) tenants are excited to see progress made."
The progress includes the hiring of Ted Kempton, the managing principal of landscaper Hardeman, Kempton & Associates.
Kempton is designing the seven park areas in Waterside Place.
"We were brought on to create an experience," Kempton said. "Each of the parks will have its own distinct feel and they will be designed with flexibility, such as if we bring in live music."
An island park will include an interactive splash zone. Most of the parks will present the opportunity to sit under shade, whether that comes from umbrellas or trees. The parks will include pedestrian and nature trails. Kempton said there will be plenty of waterside seating.
A merchants park will offer artwork and a place where strollers can stop and enjoy a game of cornhole.
All the parks will feature custom lighting at night.
Visitors will find plenty of bike parking and a marina area will feature a boardwalk and access to water taxis.
"This will be a lively, younger vibe," Boylston said.
Included in Waterside Place will be three apartment complexes built by Davis Development.
Fred Hazel, the CFO of Davis Development, said at build out those complexes will offer 870 apartments with approximately 1,700 residents "living within steps of Waterside Place."
Hazel said the first complex will break ground in the first quarter of 2019. All three should be completed in four to five years.
The entire Waterside community is planned to include 12 neighborhoods connected to Waterside Place by trails and waterways. Waterside is planned to have 5,144 homes, including apartments, condos, townhomes and single family homes. It is built around seven lakes with 20 miles of shoreline.
Although SMR held the groundbreaking, Jensen said a few permits still are needed before he "fires up the bulldozers."
However, Jensen applauded Sarasota's current relationship with SMR, saying "historically, we have criticized Sarasota County. But lately they have been great to work with."
Sarasota County Commissioner Mike Moran complimented Jensen for bringing the Waterside project together.
"Somebody has to be the leader, to bring the money together, the people together," Moran said of Jensen. "This is a legacy project."