I always enjoy talking to developers, even if I don't always like their projects. They're mostly an optimistic, high-energy group of visionaries, willing to risk huge amounts of capital-financial and human-to take a raw piece of land and fashion it into a place where we want to raise our families, shop, work and go to school. If they're really good, they understand the importance of natural resources and vistas and employ green building principles (see our story about how those principles are producing profits in this issue).
Most developers I've talked to travel nonstop from job site to city hall to neighborhood meetings to their offices; they're always on call, wearing hard hats one moment and a suit and tie the next. Some are remarkably accessible, giving out their cell phone numbers and returning calls on the weekend. Patrick Kelly, the developer of the billion-dollar Sarasota Bayside, actually gave us his home number in Ireland. When I needed a photo and called, Kelly's wife answered in her sweet brogue that her husband couldn't get to the phone right then, but no worries, she'd make sure I got one. And she did!
The 10 men we've singled out in this issue as the region's top developers for 2007 have spent years getting their projects out of the ground. Contrary to popular opinion, it's not easy to win project approvals these days, which is as it should be. In addition to jumping through permitting hoops, they're facing a residential housing slump and increased construction and land costs that are making development even riskier. Gone are the heady days just a couple of years ago when buyers impulsively plunked down $20,000 deposits to reserve a space.
Nonetheless, these developers are confident they're in the right market, and that's good for us as a region. They're not the only risk takers, either. In another feature in this issue, we've described 10 other developers who are taking on the challenge of providing affordable housing. And new developers continue to arrive from out of state: Michigan's huge Burton-Katzman Development Co. Inc. and Chicago-based John Buck Co. have submitted proposals to develop the city-owned property on Palm Avenue in Sarasota, and another, the locally owned Lion's Gate, recently surfaced proposing a downtown project that would rival Patrick Kelly's.
If just these projects materialize, we're talking tens of thousands of units in the next 10 years. Sometimes, when I'm driving around in traffic, that number sounds terrifying. Then I think about all the new people and energy and talents that these new homes will eventually attract. That sounds terrific.
Correction to our January "Top Companies" feature: Gold Coast Eagle Distributing in Sarasota had 2006 annual sales of $83 million, sold 5.8 million cases of product, and currently employs 155 people.