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Interesting news from Lakewood Ranch, which last summer commissioned a consumer research study to study its current and potential future buyers.

Turns out that, starting in 2016, the Ranch began experiencing an uptick in millennial buyers, younger than the baby boomer core that bolstered the master-planned community after the last decade’s economic turndown. “They may be working here and are looking for a first home, or they’re interested in relocating and are pursuing job opportunities here,” says Laura Cole, vice president of marketing for the burgeoning master-planned community. A sizable number, she says, have moved to Lakewood Ranch because their parents have purchased here.

“We’re starting to see the multigenerational aspect of living here,” says Cole, citing a new Ranch corporate employee as a good example. “Her parents live here, she went to Lakewood Ranch High School, moved to the east coast, came back and is now buying here.”

In response, the community has launched a new website that emphasizes the wide range of residential products at lower price points—townhomes in the low $200,000s by Pulte and Mattamy Homes, for example. There’s also a growing number of apartments; with the opening of Echo Lake by Homes by Towne in December, Lakewood Ranch now has six apartment communities totaling 1,693 units. “We expect [those renters] will buy in our community as well,” says Cole.

Beyond price, millennial buyers want different amenities from their boomer cohorts, the study found. “Where in the past, a golf course or resort pool was important, there’s definitely a desire [by millennials] for a Main Street environment,” Cole says. That’s why, for the mammoth new Waterside community south of University Parkway, which broke ground last spring and which will eventually have more than 5,000 homes, the Waterside Place town center is so important.

The heart of it is the food component, Cole says. “How do we get an interesting, authentic food hub there?” She anticipates that the relocation of The Players Centre for Performing Arts from downtown Sarasota will make Waterside Place a destination, as will an eight-acre park with a bandshell. “It will give us an opportunity to have more open-air activities,” she says. Construction of Waterside Place will begin in January 2018.  

Not coincidentally, Lakewood Ranch was recognized as one of the top five, best-selling master-planned communities in the country by two independent national real estate consulting firms at the end of 2016, with 775 new-home sales—an increase of 45 percent from 2015.

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