The land is cleared, the foundation poured, construction started. But the new DVA sports arena will serve not only as a sports and entertainment venue for the region but as anchor and catalyst for a new 800-acre commercial center in Lakewood Ranch once it is completed next fall.

"We're not sure of the name yet," says John Swart, president of Lakewood Ranch Realty Company, Inc., and vice president of commercial sales for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Inc. "It might be Lakewood Center or Arena Center, but we'll see a new commercial center develop in the next five to seven years."

According to Swart, restaurants, hotels, banks and perhaps other entertainment venues such as a megaplex bowling alley will move into the new commercial center off Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and S.R. 70.

Lakewood Ranch contains four major commercial areas. The established Town Center, located just east of Interstate 75 and north of University Parkway, and Corporate Park, directly south of Town Center, have low vacancies and continuing construction. The new arena center and 1,500-acre Commerce Park, adjacent to each other, still look a lot like ranch lands.

"Town Center remains the hub," says Swart. "It has the Publix and hospital." Ongoing construction in Town Center's Main Street includes 180,000 square feet of expansion with "an additional 120 retail spaces, 46 office spaces. AmSouth Bank will be the anchor, and Michael Saunders is building an office that will be open in October."

Lakewood Ranch's commercial properties remain successful in part because they build only as the properties are privately funded or pre-leased, Swart admits.

The arena seemed like a perfect fit but caught Lakewood Ranch executives by surprise. "We were totally surprised by all of that. I've been with Lakewood Ranch since 1995," says Swart, "and we knew that site would ultimately be a key corner but we'd never done any serious planning for the area."

However, the opportunity looked workable from the beginning. "The site had the available land, the traffic patterns to allow for a large amount of vehicles to come and go easily, and S.R. 70 is expanding to six lanes," he says.

The arena seemed to fit another major criterion. "We liked it because it was all private money," says Swart. "It makes it much easier than having to push through a referendum or bond issue."

An October opening for the arena is planned in time for fall hockey season with the new anchor tenant, the Gulf Coast Swords, a professional minor-league hockey team.

While the arena will serve as home base for the Swords, "the arena is multiuse and was planned that way from day one," says Phil Roberto, president of DVA Sports, LLC.

Residences are also planned around the commercial center's perimeter. "That will be a natural growth and evolution," says Swart.

While Swart says Lakewood Ranch remains open to opportunities, they are not actively marketing other properties in the area at this time. "However, we want to build cultural and recreations outlets for the community," says Swart.

DVA Sports Arena by the Numbers

350,000 square feet

11,000 seats for major touring entertainment

9,000 for sports events

2,500 parking spaces on 65 to 70 acres

Toronto-based Stadium Consultants International, designed the facility

Detroit-based Walbridge Aldinger is the contractor. (Both companies were involved in the design and construction of the Fort Myers' area TECO Arena.)

Cost of construction is $43.5 million for the building and $70 million for the entire project including hockey team, impact fees and infrastructure.

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