Home on the Ranch

By Hannah Wallace April 30, 2005

What's it like to give birth to a new city? C. John Clarke knows. Recently retired from the helm of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, owner/developer of the massive Lakewood Ranch community, Clarke describes his 21 years with the ranch as "exciting" and "enormously fun." You might expect "painful," too, but that's not Clarke's style.

With a reputation for both pragmatism and optimism, Clarke saw the challenges and potential in creating a community from scratch east of I-75 and straddling both Manatee and Sarasota counties. The gestation, beginning in 1985, was long and expensive, with "tens of millions of dollars" required for roads, sewers, storm water management and landscaping. To fund infrastructure construction and maintenance, Clarke's team used long-term bonds set up through community development districts, an innovative move for its time.

After infrastructure, "the next biggest challenge was trying to create a community rather than a series of subdivisions," he says. "We put a huge effort into creating community. Our focus was not on the typical retirement community. We were trying to build a new, young, vibrant town where people could work, play, go to school, go to church, shop, dine."

Clarke says the most enjoyable aspect of working on Lakewood Ranch (first as president of a management company hired by the owners, then as president of Schroeder-Manatee) was the people. "We had a wonderful team of people who had enthusiasm and grasped the vision," he says. He also enjoyed building relationships with the residents-another task that was "enormously interesting and fun."

Although retired from the development business, Clarke maintains membership at the Lakewood Ranch Country Club. An "erratic and occasional" golfer, he enjoys spending time with his children and grandchildren at the Meadows, where he lives, and the Sarasota Polo Club in Lakewood Ranch, where two of his four children reside. Retired from polo-playing ("a young man's sport"), Clarke says he and wife Lorna plan to travel extensively to visit friends and family around the world.

"Of course I'll miss it," Clarke says of his bustling work life. "The main thing I'm doing today: I'm a slave to Dr. Laurey Stryker [campus CEO] at USF Sarasota-Manatee. I'm helping to raise $6 million for enhancements at the new [Crosley] campus."

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