Visions coming into focus

Gary Roberts, Punta Gorda Herald — December 11, 2017

SOUTHWEST FLORIDA — A wide spectrum of mega-projects is changing the local landscape, promising jobs, housing, family entertainment and economic vitality.

In just the last year, five huge ventures have taken root or gained new momentum in Charlotte County and North Port, ready to deliver the kind of seismic transformation that answers long-term needs.

Here’s an update on each of the five:

Sunseeker Resort

Charlotte officials are ecstatic following the announcement that a $600 million hotelcondo resort is coming to Charlotte Harbor.

Sunseeker Resort will rise across 22 acres, offering 720 condos and 75 hotel rooms, as well as a marina, medical care facility and pharmacy.

In addition, 10 restaurants and bars will line a public boardwalk along the waterfront, linking Bayshore Live Oak Park and Live Oak Point. And there will be a 1,000-foot-long pool, the longest resort pool in North America.

“This is the most exciting hotel resort opportunity I have come across in my entire career, especially with the airline tie-in,” said John Redmond, who has 35 years of experience in the hospitality industry and is president of project developer Allegiant Air.

The design team is headed by leading national firms responsible for some of the world’s foremost luxury resorts. Allegiant, a passenger carrier at Punta Gorda Airport since 2009, also is actively marketing the condominiums, ranging from $650,000 to $1.1 million, depending on size.

Allegiant expects to break ground mid-2018, said Hilarie Grey, spokesperson for Allegiant, adding that all the necessary land purchases should be completed in the coming weeks.

The project anticipates bringing 300,000 visitors annually to the area, and generating up to $1 billion in economic impact over 10 years.

Babcock Ranch

With a grocery store scheduled to open this month and seven builders lined up to produce rooftops, Babcock Ranch is well on its way to a grand opening of imposing proportion.

“There’s a lot of construction, but by March 10 people will be able to see and experience what Babcock Ranch is all about,” developer Syd Kitson said.

With 15 model homes completed, the nation’s first “solar town” is expected to have 1,100 houses by the end of the month and welcome its first residents in January.

By the time the 18,000-acre town is finished, 19,500 units and 50,000 people will occupy this expansion into east Charlotte County. Touting an eco-centric approach, the development will preserve half the land area as green space, interspersed with 500 acres of lakes and an extensive trail system.

“Sales are going great,” he said, prompting even more activity. Just last month, the Charlotte County Commission approved the final plat for a golf cart community, consisting of 132 mixed-use lots on 56 acres. And the town square continues to take shape.

Slater’s Goods & Provisions market will soon open and there are plans to expand the K-6 Babcock Neighborhood School, currently with 175 charter school students, to K-8 next fall, including a pre-kindergarten program.

Braves stadium

On a bright October day, a group of 150 dignitaries, construction and design contractors, and well-wishers turned out to break ground for the new Atlanta Braves stadium, slated to start hosting spring training games in 2019. The large assemblage reflected both the size of the project and its overall importance to the North Port community.

“It’s a very tight construction schedule,” said Mike Dunn, vice president of Florida Operations for the Braves. “Every day we’re getting closer to opening day.”

The estimated cost of the stadium is roughly $100 million and will consist of 6,200 fixed seats, berm seating for 2,200, and suites. There will also be complex fields, a clubhouse, a public plaza and multipurpose fields for public use.

The new stadium complex is being constructed on an 80-acre site, donated by West Villages, behind the State College of Florida.

Opening Jan. 1 on Tamiami Trail will be a Braves “preview center,” providing temporary offices and an opportunity for fans to buy season tickets. People also will be able to take interactive, virtual tours of the future stadium, seeing the ballpark from the perspective of a seat in the stands.

“It’s a process that the Braves are thrilled to be part of,” Dunn said. “We’re as excited as our fans and the community.”

Arredondo

Meanwhile, another monument to entertainment is planned in Murdock Village. The Lost Lagoon water park will be the centerpiece of a commercial development that includes two hotels with conference centers, each featuring 250 rooms; five other hotels, 150 keys each; a town center retail area; outdoor amphitheater; and other amenities.

The entire project has been christened Arredondo, named for one of the early settlements in Florida, and denoting the project’s respect for local history.

“We are looking to build a nextgeneration water park,” said Bill Gridley, project spokesperson. “While we want this to be a premier destination with the latest and the greatest, we want the flavor to be Old Florida to match the community of Port Charlotte.”

In October, the development group purchased 160 acres to make way for a massive $132 million sports and entertainment district. Plans call for a six-year, phased construction project on land east of Toledo Blade Boulevard, between U.S. 41 and State Road 776.

As part of the $6.8 million purchase agreement, the county will pay the developer $6 million for making “public improvements” to Toledo Blade Boulevard. This construction will include widening the highway to four lanes, from U.S. 41 to State Road 776, plus installing street lighting, landscaping, and water and sewer lines.

Private Equity Group

The county adopted a similar strategy when it previously sold the western portion of Murdock Village to Private Equity Group for a mixed-use development.

In that deal, PEG bought 452 acres for $11.6 million, but the county will reimburse the developer the same amount for expanding O’Donnell Boulevard, plus providing sewer, water and other enhancements. PEG will then convey this 75-acre corridor back to the county, which will maintain the roadway and public utilities.

After signing the purchase agreement in November 2016, PEG is currently seeking permitting and approvals for development and construction. The first milestone in this process could be cleared next week, when the County Commission is expected to approve rezoning the land to allow 2,400 housing units, 200,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, and a 150-key hotel.

Another major advancement will be acquiring an environmental resource permit, which PEG applied for last month. Relocating some gopher tortoises will likely be the only condition for approval, PEG President Don Schrotenboer said.

“We’re not foreseeing any issues with the (Southwest Florida) Water Management District,” he said. “Things are actually ahead of schedule and we’re moving forward.”

Schrotenboer expects all the entitlements and permits to be wrapped up by summer, with construction commencing late 2018.