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East County Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018 4 years ago

SMR's main task: Building Waterside

Side or Ranch: Jay Heater.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

St. Petersburg's Norman Fisher, a real estate investor, scribbled furiously.

He was taking notes at the Urban Land Institute's "Lakewood Ranch Case Study" presentation on Jan. 10 at the Sarasota Polo Club.

A line of speakers from Schroeder-Manatee Ranch were describing the new Waterside at Lakewood Ranch project, as well as sharing lessons learned from creating what currently is the third-best selling master-planned community in the United States. That designation has been made by two major independent real estate consulting firms, RCLCO and John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

"These guys really do their research," said Fisher, who had just filled another page.

Fortunately for those who will enjoy the planned "Waterside Place," or Main Street South, if you will, SMR's executives have been taking notes as well.

Whatever your opinion of SMR might be, the creation of Lakewood Ranch has been a stroke of genius in pure business terms.

What I find even more impressive is that SMR's executives haven't ignored what they might call missteps along the way.

Personally, I love strolling Main Street at Lakewood Ranch and enjoying the restaurants and taverns available, along with the events. But SMR's goal is to make Waterside Place not just a hub of the new community, but even a better amenity than Main Street.

For example, Kirk Boylston, the president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial, said the SMR team is not about to forget that Waterside Place is on the water.

"On Main Street, you don't know the lake is there."

Indeed, Main Street was built like a fortress with all the good stuff inside, and the parking lot outside. There are no sunset cruises or views of Lake Uihlein. Well, I should amend that to say Ed's Tavern does have a couple of tables available on the lake.

In general, though, the lake might as well be, for those visiting Main Street, one of those tiny retention ponds.

Let me reiterate, I am one of the more than 5,000 people who enjoy Music on Main on the first Friday or the month, and I love the offerings. But, yeah, it could have been nice to dine on the lake.

Waterside Place will have multiple dining opportunities on the lake, along with a bridge to an island park which will host activities. SMR will test a water taxi system that will, hopefully, take residents to the hub without having to drive.

Sunset cruises? That is a possibility.

Richard Bedford, SMR's vice president of planning, fielded other questions from those in attendance.

"Will you allow kayaks on the lake?"

"Yes," Bedford answered.

"Paddle boards?"

"Maybe, maybe not. These big lakes will have really big gators, and eventually the two could come together."

Bedford said gas-powered boats and jet skis will be out, as well water skiing.

Back on dry land, Bedford talked about the sidewalks at Main Street being two narrow.

"It is clumsy," he said. "So we got out a tape measure. If we make the sidewalks (at Waterside Place) 24 feet, we can do what we want."

Wide sidewalks would allow businesses to have outside seating while those strolling through have space to move. In some cases, he said sidewalks might curve close to a business that wants visitors to window shop, while in other cases it might veer away from the front of the building to allow outside seating.

Originally, Boylston said the plan was to have upstairs condos above retail at Waterside Place. That was the case at Main Street, but that plan has been "torn up" at Waterside Place.

"With condos, unless it is a super urban area, you have a lot of issues," said Boylston, who said offices and businesses are more likely to find a home upstairs.

Boylston also talk about promising businesses exclusives at Waterside Place, such was the case at Main Street. If you opened an Italian restaurant, for example, no one could open another one in the hub.

"We think that was really bad," Boylston said. "It can tend to promote mediocrity. This time we are not doing that."

It takes a certain humbleness to reveal moves that are less that perfect, especially if you belong to a group that has been lauded for its creations. To do it in public, where people like Fisher are deciding whether to invest, takes even more inner strength.

Waterside Place won't open until 2020, but you can put me down for one of those sunset cruises.

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