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Another Waterside Place milestone by Willis Smith in Lakewood Ranch

Willis Smith caps Waterside Place roofs as it heads for a spring completion in Lakewood Ranch.

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Willis Smith Construction's Nathan Carr feels comfortable about making a dinner reservation for next spring.

He expects to be dining at Waterside Place in Lakewood Ranch.

"We all will be coming here with our families," Carr said.

Carr supervises Willis Smith's project managers and he notes that Waterside Place project manager Angel Ortiz has everything running smoothly and right on schedule.

The Lakewood Ranch construction company was awarded the Waterside Place contract late in 2016 and broke ground in October of 2018. Carr and Ortiz said last week that the contracted work should be completed on schedule by March 1, 2021.

Willis Smith construction was celebrating a project milestone last week after capping all 11 of the buildings that will make up Waterside Place. All the metal trusses are set.

"That allows the interior work to commence," Ortiz said. "It allows us to do the build-out of the common areas, finish the drywall, do the trim."

Reaching such milestones on time is more impressive considering COVID-19 had slowed down many construction projects.

"We have rolled with the punches," Carr said.

Those punches include delays in needed materials. Ortiz and his workers kept everything moving forward. Fortunately, the hired contractors have not had many cases of COVID-19 to shelve the workers.

"I'm proud of our team," Ortiz said. "These guys have been working hard and they've faced a lot of challenges."

Waterside Place is taking shape as it advances to its opening in the spring.
Waterside Place is taking shape as it advances to its opening in the spring.

While many projects consisting of 11 buildings would be done in phases, Willis Smith is building Waterside Place simultaneously. For example, if a roofer is finishing all the buildings at the same time, he has to have the manpower to get it done. COVID-19 could have affected the availability of the workforce, but didn't.

Ortiz said he hopes everything continues to go smoothly, but Mother Nature plays a role.

"I don't have a crystal ball to predict natural delays," he said. "We can't operate lifts with rain and lightning storms."

Potential weather delays aside, developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch has been thrilled with Willis Smith's progress.

"Fortunately, everything has gone smoothly," said Kirk Boylston, the president of SMR's Lakewood Ranch Commercial. "We have not had a lot of COVID impacts. There is so much detail in this project, but Willis Smith has been diligent and outstanding."

Carr said the Waterside Place project is Willis Smith's biggest undertaking in terms of numbers of buildings. Booker High School's construction included 11 buildings as well, but one of Waterside Place's 11 buildings — Building C — is actually three buildings connected by two walkways.

"It takes a lot more coordination," Ortiz said of managing such a project.

When Willis Smith finishes its role, more construction will be needed. Boylston said the biggest restaurants that sign for Waterside Place will need to build out their space, which basically will be a shell, and that could take four to six months for the larger restaurants.

Boylston said Waterside Place will experience a staggered opening. However, he said the office, retail and entertainment hub will have enough businesses opening together in the spring that the public will be drawn there. Then during the rest of the year the major restaurants will follow.

Ten leases have been signed at Waterside Place, which is built on a 36-acre peninsula and will include seven park areas, and Boylston said he is in negotiations with four more, including one for office space, one for retail and two for restaurants. He categorized one as a major restaurant.

Ortiz is excited about finishing off the project, especially when he sees the businesses take over their spaces.

"I love seeing the owners' smiles," he said.

Willis Smith's Nathan Carr and Angel Ortiz say their workers overcame many challenges to keep on deadline to finish Waterside Place.
Willis Smith's Nathan Carr and Angel Ortiz say their workers overcame many challenges to keep on deadline to finish Waterside Place.



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