More than 25 years ago, when a little-known developer announced that a mammoth master-planned community called Lakewood Ranch would rise from the vast, empty cow pastures of east Manatee and Sarasota counties, people in Sarasota scoffed. After all, who would want to live so many miles from the beaches and the culture that have made Sarasota famous? Besides, this would be an “instant city,” without the character and charm that made Sarasota’s long-established neighborhoods so unique.
No matter that the developer confidently predicted that Lakewood Ranch would be a beautiful, self-contained city where residents could “live, work and play.” People had heard Florida developers make grand promises before, and besides, developers have a way of coming and going so quickly here that someone new with a new set of grand promises would probably take over in a few years so.
But guess what? Lakewood Ranch, all 33,000-plus acres of it, today is a thriving metropolis of almost 18,000 homes and nearly 43,000 residents—and growing. (A total of 39,968 homes is currently planned at build-out years from now.) Those residents have come from all over the compass, drawn by the look, the location and the lifestyle of their homogeneous hometown. They’re well-off, well-educated and about half are still working. Many insist they wouldn’t live anywhere else than in the friendly, perfectly planned community, where there’s so much to experience and enjoy that they could go weeks—months—a lifetime!—without ever leaving.
Carved out of the 48-square-mile Schroeder-Manatee Ranch in east Manatee and Sarasota counties—owned since 1922 by the Uihlein family (they owned the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company, “the beer that made Milwaukee famous,” for more than a hundred years)—Lakewood Ranch debuted its first “village,” Summerfield, in 1995. Homes started in the high $80,000s; recent listings were in the upper $200,000 to upper $300,000 range.
The original developer, SMR, is still on the job, and the original “live, work, play” marketing campaign came true. Now there are more than 17,000 residences in 28 “villages,” from apartments to golf-course-view executive mansions; 1,800-plus thriving businesses, everything from mom-and-pop pizzerias to major corporate headquarters; lots of educational opportunities and medical facilities, from a hospital to LECOM, one of the country’s largest schools of dentistry, pharmacy and osteopathic medicine, and a huge range of recreational amenities including 11 community parks and 150 miles of trails.
As Lakewood Ranch hurtles past its silver anniversary, new communities continue to come online. Among them are Taylor Morrison’s Azario at Lakewood Ranch, with an eventual 1,750 residences off State Road 64 in east Manatee County (it recently debuted its 18-hole golf course); and Waterside village—the first Lakewood Ranch residential village to reach into Sarasota County—extending south to Fruitville Road that will add 5,144 more residences.
Lakewood Ranch recently once again was named the best-selling multigenerational community in the U.S. by national real estate consulting firm RCLCO, with 838 new home sales through the end of June 2020, besting last year’s numbers by 2 percent. Its overall second place position put it among the top-selling master-planned communities in the country for the ninth consecutive year.
No, it isn’t Sarasota. And if you ask the residents, that’s a very good thing. Indeed, there are many reasons to love Lakewood Ranch—even if you don’t live there.
Lakewood Ranch By the Numbers
Size: 33,000-plus acres
No. of residents: 42,850
Average age: 47
No. of residential “villages": 28
No. of residences: 17,704
Price range: $200,000s to over $1 million
A-rated public schools: 6
Private schools and colleges: 12