Building for the Future

By Hannah Wallace May 31, 2008

When Richard Arnold points to North Port on a Sarasota and Charlotte county map, his argument that the city’s Toledo Blade Boulevard will one day eclipse U.S. 41 as a South County commercial corridor makes sense.

The east-west conduit between I-75, North Port and Murdock, including Charlotte County’s potential future town center of Murdock Village, is being expanded to four lanes this year. Sarasota Memorial Hospital will open its freestanding emergency room, medical center and imaging facility just off Toledo Blade in January 2009. Housing developments are springing up and adjacent rural land is spotted with “for sale” signs.

“Toledo Blade connects commercial centers to a city that can hold 250,000 to the interstate,” says Arnold, president of Flagship Builders and Developers. “There’s a lot of velocity here. It will resemble University Parkway to some extent with residential and commercial nodes all built in the 21st century.”

But for now, North Port is developing unevenly, with national chains such as Home Depot, Wal-Mart and a planned Lowe’s anchoring new plazas that appear to precede the population growth that would support them.

Even though that population growth has slowed to about 3 percent, North Port (population 53,732) is still Florida’s fourth fastest growing city, says the city’s economic development manager, Allan Lane. Big box retailers consider households, income, and driving time, and North Port meets their criteria.

Arnold’s development company is producing Bobcat Square, an 8.25-acre office-retail condominium project that is part of the Bobcat Village community development district. Named for the bobcats that still roam the area, the project is surrounded by a golf course community, multifamily housing and Sarasota Memorial’s future medical center.

The 72,000-square-foot project, when completed, will consist of 20 freestanding buildings with a retail plaza in the center. Each building will range from 2,000 to 5,000 square feet. One is a retail shell, while others are completely built-out as office units, with a conference room, three offices and a reception area in each. Arnold even paid the general office impact fees so that a business could buy or lease the built-out space and “open within 24 hours,” he says.

The poured concrete wall system has higher insulation value and better soundproofing than traditional cinderblock construction. The terra-cotta color scheme and campus layout with parking in front of each building give the project a human scale and a sense of pedestrian ease. One could envision office workers walking to the salon or drugstore and the retail courtyard for lunch. “We wanted to achieve architectural style and color and landscaping, [a higher] level of interest than a traditional business park,” says Arnold.

The units are selling for $175 to $200 per square foot, depending on the build out, but given the market, Arnold is also leasing the space for $16 to $16.50 per square foot plus about $4 CAM, or common area maintenance. Construction began in late 2006, and 11 of the buildings are now complete. Some owner-investors had not leased their buildings yet, but Carroll and Sutton Orthodontics, D & A Pharmacy, State Farm and Kyle Kurtis Salon & Spa are operating in the plaza. “This has always been meant to be a sell-and-build project where we identify buyers’ needs first,” says Arnold.

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