Regional Report

By Molly Sinclair McCourtney December 31, 2009

Twenty years ago, when Lakewood Ranch existed only on paper, it was almost unfathomable that this 8,500-acre master-planned community would become home to 15,000 residents living in seven distinct villages and 1,200 businesses providing more than 10,000 jobs, and that it would receive the blessing of the U.S. Postal Service for its own postal zone: Lakewood Ranch, Fla.  

Lakewood Ranch is one part of the 30,000-acre Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, which began in the early 1900s when Milwaukee entrepreneur John Schroeder began acquiring the land. In 1922, relatives by marriage, the Uihlein family—owners of the Schlitz Brewing Company (the beer that made Milwaukee famous)—bought the property from Schroeder for a reported $2 an acre. It remained a working ranch until the 1970s, when ranch managers learned that the route for the then-proposed I-75 was going to pass just to the west. They made the strategic decision to develop a community of homes and businesses. At first, they called it Cypress Banks, but a marketing firm suggested Lakewood Ranch and that name stuck.

When the first homes in Summerfield Village opened in 1995, prices started at about $89,000. Families with children were immediately attracted to the nearby schools, parks, preserves and lakes that were created by filling in SMR’s shell-mining operations. Parents could commute to work on I-75, or they could look for jobs in the commercial and retail businesses that were beginning to sprout up in and around Lakewood Ranch. In succeeding years, with the introduction of villages such as The Country Club and The Lake Club, homes became much larger and more expensive. Lately the tough economy has Lakewood Ranch returning to affordable, workforce housing—“as inexpensive as common sense allows us to get”—according to SMR CEO Rex Jensen, who announced the company would be building 3,600 homes north of S.R. 70 in the next 18-24 months, as well as an age-targeted community.

Just the FAQs

Land, people, politics and


➧ Land

9,000 acres for 1,500

beef cattle.

8,500 acres for the Lakewood Ranch unincorporated community of residential housing and commercial business. All the residential is in Manatee County at this time. The retail and commercial businesses are located in both Manatee and Sarasota counties.

1,800 acres for a conservation easement known as the Heritage Ranch, managed by SMR for Sarasota County.

1,500 acres of land leased for tomatoes, watermelons and other crops.

1,260 acres of citrus groves.

1,000 acres for farming of turf, used for golf courses and athletic fields, residential and commercial.

600 acres for The Polo Club.

370 acres for aggregate mining of shell.

300 acres for tree nursery operations.

38 acres for gopher tortoise preserve.

The remaining acreage consists of  timber operations and wetlands and other areas that cannot be grazed.

SOURCE: Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc.➧ Demographics

15,000 residents

6,500 housing units$118,098 average

household income

42 average age

2.25 people per household

20 percent retired

38 percent work in professional or

managerial jobs

86 percent are married

65 percent have two adults

in household

28 percent have three or more people in household

SOURCE: Demographics from a 2008 study commissioned by Lakewood Ranch Commercial Realty and based in part on population within one-mile radius of University Parkway and Town Center.➧ Obama or McCain?

1,947 for McCain (63.34 percent)

1,106 for Obama (35.98 percent)

28 for others (.68 percent)

SOURCE: Manatee County Office

of Elections for Lakewood Ranch

Precinct 139➧ Religion

20 churches in or near the Lakewood Ranch community. So far there is no synagogue inside Lakewood Ranch, but CEO Rex Jensen says, “We have identified land for that, but it’s up to them to build.”

SOURCE: Lakewood Ranch➧ Education

7 pre-school/daycare facilities

7 public schools

5 private/charter schools

5 schools of higher education: Everglades University, Keiser University, Manatee Technical Institute, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and State College of Florida

SOURCE: Lakewood Ranch➧ Employers

1,200 local and

national businesses

12,000 jobs

4 million square feet of commercial space (2.5 million square feet in office space, 800,000 square feet in retail and 600,000 light industrial)

84 percent of the commercial space is occupied

200 businesses are located in the 1,273-acre Corporate Park near I-75 and University Parkway

Biggest employer: FCCI Insurance Group, with 681 workers and a multistory 260,000-square-foot headquartersVillage Life


Ranch’s seven neighborhoods

➧ Summerfield, the first village development, opened in 1995 and contains 1,351 single-family houses on 815 acres near the Braden River. Designed for families, the village has about a dozen distinctly named neighborhoods. Prices generally range upward from $300,000. Summerfield Park has soccer and baseball fields, tennis courts and a children’s playground. The 110-acres Heron’s Nest Nature Park has trails

and lakes.

➧ Edgewater, a gated community with 672 single-family homes and condominiums on 275 acres, opened in 1997. Edgewater has five distinct neighborhoods centered on the 160-acre Lake Uihlein, which was once a shell mining area but today offers places to fish and nature trails to explore. Prices range upward from $300,000.

➧ The Country Club, also opened in 1997, has 2,496 homes and townhouses on 1,565 acres. Prices in this upscale village range from the $200,000s to several million dollars. Two homes contain an estimated 13,000 square feet each, making them among the biggest in Lakewood Ranch. Just inside the security gate is the clubhouse for the Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club, a private club with 54 holes of golf, 18 clay tennis courts and a fitness center. Club membership can cost up to $52,000.

➧ Riverwalk, opened in 1999, has 431 homes on 165 acres. Prices range from $400,000 to $700,000. Riverwalk features sidewalks and trails, including the Braden River Nature Trail connecting two large lakes with Heron’s Nest Nature Park.

➧ Greenbrook, like Summerfield, is popular with families and is within walking distance of elementary and middle schools. Opened in 2001, Greenbrook has 1,688 single-family homes and condominiums on 1,000 acres. Prices start in the low $200s. Recreation areas include Paw Park for dogs, nature trails and the Adventure Park, which has soccer and baseball fields, baseball and an inline hockey rink.

➧ The Lake Club opened in 2006. Behind its security gate is the most expensive housing in the Lakewood Ranch development. When the village opened, it featured a Showcase Circle of 10 elaborate multimillion-dollar model homes by 10 different builders. All the homes in this Tuscan-inspired community of 1,500 acres are projected to be custom luxury residences of 5,000 square feet to 7,000 square feet and prices ranging up to $5 million. The Grand Clubhouse, with day spa and concierge services, is set on a scenic lake. But so far only a few houses have been built, other than the 10 models, due to the economy. About 30 people now live here, according to an SMR spokeswoman. She says that The Lake Club eventually could have up to 750 homes.

➧ Country Club East, a sister community to Country Club, opened in 2007 and is expected to have 900 homes on 1,200 acres when completed. SMR did not say how many homes have actually been built in this gated village, which has lakes, nature preserves and 18 holes of golf. Prices start in the high $200,000s.Challenges

➧ Reduced growth. Like all other parts of Florida that have experienced a slowdown in population and business, Lakewood Ranch’s growth has slowed, too, taking its toll on real estate sales and hampering retail survival and growth. Home sales are beginning to pick up, but until more companies bring more people, the ranch won’t see growth as strong as in the last decade.

➧ Irrigation for lawns and common areas. “We have water pressure problems,” says June Stroup, Summerfield resident and chair of Community Development District (CDD) 1. “There is a lot of foreign material in the water that gunks up sprinklers. And we have some pipe size issues.”The four CDDs, representing homeowners in five of the seven villages, have commissioned a $180,000 engineering study to identify what is wrong with the irrigation water that residents purchase from Braden River Utilities, a subsidiary of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc. Some residents say they have had to replace their lawns because of irrigation problems.

➧ Incorporation. The Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum, a citizens’ group, has asked Orlando’s Fishkind and Associates to compare the costs of running Lakewood Ranch as an incorporated city versus the current costs as an unincorporated community. “I get e-mails pro and con,” says forum president Jo Anne Dain, “but there is no way to know now what will happen. We are still in the process of gathering the latest data from the CDDs with regard to current costs.”

➧ Transportation.  “We would like public transit to our commercial areas,” says Michele Morgan, chairman of the 400-member Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance. She says public transit would help people get to their Lakewood Ranch jobs, especially in times of high energy prices, and bring in customers for Lakewood Ranch businesses. Since the Lakewood Ranch business community is on the border of Sarasota and Manatee, “the two counties need to talk and come up with a transit plan together.”➧ Affordable housing. “We need more of it,” says Rex Jensen, CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., the land management company that oversees development. “Our first homes back in 1995 started at $89,000, and I am committed to bring that back. We have 12,000 people working here, so we are importing and exporting workers every day. That tells me we have a ready-made market if we can design and deliver a product that will sell for an affordable price. And if people live where they work, that will help with traffic as well.”

➧ Maintenance costs. In a tough economy, many residents oppose  higher assessments for maintenance of landscaping of common areas and other services, says Robert Stepleman, the Country Club resident who chairs CDD 2. “You have people in this district living in $200,000 condos and others in multimillion-dollar houses, so there is a difference in the services and maintenance they want and expect.”Attributes

➧ Good schools and kid-friendly neighborhoods, according to longtime resident Doug Spring, who lives in Summerfield village. He says his fifth-grade daughter walks to her elementary school. The village has parks and preserves and is loaded with children, Spring says. “We go broke every Halloween buying treats for all the kids lined up at the door.”

➧ No snow and good fishing, says Jo Anne Dain, who moved with her husband to Lakewood Ranch in 1995.  “We were among the first 200 residents,” she says. They lived in Summerfield several years before moving to their present home in Edgewater. She’s happy because of all the activities, clubs and recreation. Her husband is happy because he can go fishing instead of shoveling snow, as he did all those years they lived in Reno, Nev.

➧ Great golfing, says Shirley Bennett, who moved here from New Jersey. She bought her home in Country Club village in December 2002 because she is a golfer and wanted to be “where the action is.” She joined the 54-hole Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club when the cost of membership was about half as much as the $52,000 that it can cost today. “This is perfect for me; I love living here.”

➧ Handy location, says Michael Griffin, who operates an advertising and marketing business from his home in the Greenbrook. “I still fly between here and Chicago, and it is great having three airports in this area. It is also easy to get to the beaches, Sarasota and Tampa. This is a wonderful place to live.”

➧ Family-oriented for all ages, says Scott Lamoureaux, who has lived in Country Club for seven years with his wife, Donna, and their two daughters. He is director of golf at the nearby Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club. In recent years, his parents, Carol and Ray Lamoureaux, moved to Country Club. “And now my grandfather, Phil McPhee, is in assisted living in the Windsor,” Lamoureaux says. “So there are four generations of us here. I couldn’t imagine a better place for a family.”

➧ Polo games and tailgate parties, says Maggie Mitchell, manager of the Sarasota Polo Club, one of the largest in the country.  The LWR polo enterprise covers 600 acres, including 130 acres for the polo club and its nine fields and 470 acres for 35 private residences, each ranging from five to 40 acres. For the season, which began Dec. 20, the club expects to have 45 to 50 players and 500 to 1,000 horses, mostly thoroughbreds. “We draw 800 to 1,000 people for our Sunday events, which are open to the public, and they have lots of tailgate parties,” Mitchell says.People

to Know

A must-know list of Lakewood Ranch residents

➧ Rex Jensen, smart and feisty chief executive officer of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, who says he “hates government” and the hurdles of regulation, but favors development of more affordable housing in the Lakewood Ranch community.

➧ Don O’Leary, longtime ranch resident and community activist described by some friends and supporters as the unofficial mayor of Lakewood Ranch. A retired New York firefighter, O’Leary has served on a “million committees” at Lakewood Ranch, which he says has “everything—shopping, clubs, polo, tennis, golf, movies, restaurants. It’s gorgeous and there’s no other place to live.”

➧ Michele Morgan, chairman of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, a group of about 400 businesses in and near Lakewood Ranch. “We are on the border of both Sarasota and Manatee counties, so we wanted an organization that would further our voice. The majority of our members are smaller businesses, so we have come together to make sure our needs are met, whether it is transportation, infrastructure, impact fees.”

➧ Jo Anne Dain, president of the Lakewood Ranch Civic Action Forum, a nonprofit citizens group that puts on educational forums addressing political issues of concern to the community as well as candidate nights. The forum is now waiting for a final report on whether it would be cost-effective for Lakewood Ranch to become an incorporated city.

➧ Robin Uihlein, president of The Polo Club, and third generation of the Uihlein family, which acquired the Schroeder ranch in 1922 and began expanding and developing the property now known as the Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., which includes the Lakewood Ranch community. The Uihlein (pronounced E-line) family owned and operated the Schlitz Brewing Company in Milwaukee for many years.

➧ Mac Carraway, president of SMR Farms and the current chairman of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce. Insightful and soft-spoken, Carraway is also comfortable working in the cow pens when ranch cattle manager Jason McKendree needs help rounding up cattle for vaccinations, branding/marking or shipping. Carraway also oversees other farm operations at Lakewood Ranch, including the citrus orchards, turf farming and trees.

➧ Lisa M. Barnott, editor of the tabloid–size community newspaper, Around the Ranch. The editorial board includes Rex Jensen and other SMR executives. Around the Ranch provides detailed coverage of Community Development District budgets and resident reactions. ■

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