Big Change

By Hannah Wallace August 31, 2006

To say Alan Zirkelbach's ties run deep to the land he is now developing would be an understatement. As a boy, three decades ago, Zirkelbach hunted and camped among the woodlands and cow pastures in northern Manatee County.

Now, Palmetto-based Zirkelbach Construction is digging roads and putting in sewers to turn the land into The Woods of Moccasin Wallow, a 230-acre mixed-use center and home for his new headquarters.

Zirkelbach purchased the property, located on the west side of I-75 near the I-275 split, last year for about $7.2 million. It's one of a dozen developments that will eventually bring about 7,300 new homes to the rural area.

Moccasin Wallow Road, which borders Zirkelbach's development on the north, is expanding from one lane to six to handle all the planned development. Developers are also working with the county on a new road, Gateway Boulevard, to connect Moccasin Wallow to Buckeye Road to the north. Across from Zirkelbach's development, Taylor Woodrow is planning retail development as part of the 2,500-home Artisan Woods subdivision, which will be the area's largest.

The Woods of Moccasin Wallow will have about 1.2 million square feet of commercial, office and industrial space and 147 homes. "We see it as a lifestyle community area with grocery, hardware, a bank and offices," says Zirkelbach, 45, who has lived in Manatee County since 1973, when his family moved here from Ohio.

Along I-75, there will be about 45 acres of commercial and industrial space, ideal for businesses that need to be close to Port Manatee and the interstate. "It's a rare place where you'll have 100,000 cars going by your front door," Zirkelbach says. Reservations for commercial space will commence by year's end.

Zirkelbach envisions doctors' offices, accountants and other professionals locating in the commercial area. Denver-based Richmond American Homes is building the Zirkelbach development's residences around an existing 18-acre lake. "We tried to build around the vegetative landscape to keep it in as natural a state as possible," he says. A wooded area will provide a buffer between the residential portion of the development and the industrial acreage along the interstate.

The warehouse space is convenient for businesses that distribute from Port Manatee, where Zirkelbach is also developing the 118-acre Buckeye Industrial Park. He purchased the land last year with other investors for $6.1 million. Construction hasn't started on that project yet, but Zirkelbach is taking reservations. Leasing rates are $7.50 to $9.50 per square foot, and at Moccasin they'll be about $18 to $22 per square foot.

"We have every business use you can think of between those two sites: hotels, a shopping center, any retail use, through office, distribution and manufacturing."

The slowdown in the residential real estate market doesn't concern Zirkelbach. Because the commercial sector was never overheated, he says, "It's on a solid track, and I see a continuation of that growth."

While Zirkelbach plans both developments, he's also working with architects on his 28,000-square-foot headquarters on land he remembers romping around before I-75 was built. "We'd ride around in jeeps, but it wasn't exactly a legal activity," says Zirkelbach with a laugh.

Today as one of the largest commercial contractors in Manatee County, Zirkelbach Construction is one of the largest commercial contractors in Manatee County. His company has about $60 million in contracts this year, up 50 percent over last year.

"We're active in both development and construction," says Zirkelbach, "We used to develop and sell out to anyone, but we're being more selective and leasing more. You can't be all things to all people."

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