With Kirk Boylston, the president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial Realty, standing among structures that will make up the new Waterside Place entertainment hub in Lakewood Ranch, you might think the conversation would focus on potential restaurants and taverns.
But no, Boylston was bubbling over with enthusiasm about something else.
"We're going to have this island splash pad that will be the best splash pad anywhere," Boylston said, his excitement overflowing. "It's a circular piece that you step on and water comes up."
It was May 21 and the temperature was in the 90s, so Boylston might have been slightly overheated, but his point was well taken. In every direction he looked, he could come up with something that he can wait to see, use or taste.
"This is going to be a special place," said Boylston, who agreed to tour the site with Tom Johnson, the marketing and leasing coordinator for Lakewood Ranch Commercial, with about a year left to completion.
Last October, the site had yet to be developed vertically. Now, though, the footprint of Waterside Place mostly is visible.
Boylston and Johnson walked down Stellar Street and Halcyon Trail — the names given to Waterside Place's main streets — and talked about the incoming restaurants and businesses. Among the restaurants along the waterfront, and there will be several, will be one or two with a beer garden concept. Beach volleyball likely will be played along the shore of Kingfisher Lake.
While Lakewood Ranch Commercial, a subsidiary of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, has 10 signed contracts for spaces in Waterside Place, Both Boylston and Johnson say they have plenty of other deals in the works. Johnson said he isn't pushing anyone to sign a deal about a year out from the project's completion out of respect for what businesses are going through during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Johnson said he still has interested restauranteurs and business owners touring the site every week.
"We are being extremely picky," Boylston said. "We want the very best at what they do if they are coming to our community. We have something here nobody has."
What Waterside Place has is a hub built almost entirely along the bank of a 280-acre lake. It will be surrounded by 1,400 apartments and will have a marina and water taxi service that will cater to homeowners all around the lake.
The project broke ground Oct. 4, 2018 and is only expected to be a month late from its original February, 2021 projected completion, despite the pandemic.
"We have had no material delays," Boylston said. "People were worried the trusses wouldn't show up. That hasn't happened. We've also had no trouble getting the workers out here. All the businesses who have signed up are still on board."
When Waterside Place opens, Boylston said it would be fair to say about 50% of the restaurants, offices and shops will be open for business. He said some of the bigger restaurants will need extra time to complete more complex build-outs.
Originally, a food hall was planned for Waterside Place, but that has been replaced by smaller pods that will be attached to each side of the stand-alone restaurant buildings. Businesses such as Crop Juice, which has signed, will occupy those spots for people strolling the main streets.
All the site amenities and landscaping will be in place by next April.
"We've planned out how we are going to arrange the pavers, how we will stain all the wood, what the light fixtures will be, how the Wifi system will work and what the public trashcans will look like," Boylston said.
Then there is the splash park on the island.
The fabricated bridge (walking bridge) is ready to go and just needs to be delivered to contact Waterside Place to the island.
Expect to see Boylston as one of the first ones over that bridge.