Lakewood Ranch: Home On The Range

It straddles Manatee and Sarasota Counties; and borders on miraculous.  That it has developed so beautifully, let alone in such (seemingly) short order, is true testament to the developer’s determination to do things right.  Yet like so many other good things that suddenly explode onto the scene, Lakewood Ranch took years of careful planning and flawless execution to become an overnight sensation.

However magnificent it is today, one recalls the early Lakewood Ranch—such as it existed in the late 1990’s—with a healthy dose of skepticism.  At first blush it appeared to be little more than a raw chunk of the sandy 28,000-acre tract that Milwaukee’s Uihlein family (think Schlitz Brewery) purchased in 1922—for $2 dollars an acre.  As a prospective home buyer, you had to reconcile what you were actually seeing (or not seeing) with the developer’s vision of how the community’s various components would eventually come together to create a brand new town.  It required a major leap of faith.

Fortunately the developer—Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Inc.—was truly focused on creating the ideal new hometown; carved from nature, yet completely respectful of the vital role that nature would play in its acceptance and livability.   Residents would be privy to a balanced lifestyle where they could live, work, play, raise a family, worship and shop—without ever having to depart the community’s gorgeous natural environs.  At first the new community was called Cypress Banks, but a marketing firm came up with a more memorable name and the new community was re-christened Lakewood Ranch.

By early 1995 the first new home in Lakewood Ranch was approved for occupancy.  Back then, the developer anticipated building homes and condominiums of every type, each selling for between $100,000 and $500,000.   35 different builders were screened before the list was narrowed to ten.  None of them initially contemplated homes valued at more than $1 million.  Such luxury, usually reserved for the waterfront, was unheard of in the hardscrabble world east of I-75.  But the lifestyle proved so universally appealing that millionaires wanted in too, creating a demand for many of the million dollar-plus homes that now exist in several neighborhoods.

Originally, it proved something of a challenge to get anyone—much less millionaires—to venture east of I-75 for any reason, much less to live there.  But an informal new polo club, hewn from 600 acres of pasture southeast of the main development—used mainly by employees of the developer who loved “a little stick and ball” in their off hours—provided the impetus for many a well-heeled curiosity seeker to investigate the neighborhood.  Anyone can live on a golf course, they reasoned, but living by a polo club was a horse of a different color (pun intended).  The road to the club—which conveniently passed much of the new development—was upgraded; and polo ranches began to suddenly sprout up all around it. Just as suddenly the idea of quality living in Lakewood Ranch wasn’t nearly as far-fetched as it once seemed. With the sport of kings firmly entrenched in its backyard, you couldn’t ask for a better measure of upscale cachet.

Living at Lakewood Ranch became even less far-fetched as large corporations moved into its commercial zone; their employees adding huge new demand for live-where-you-work housing.  Then came shopping, restaurants, challenging golf courses, schools, churches and even its own hospital and medical center. Every modern necessity, luxury and convenience that a community needs to be wholly self-sustaining are now firmly in place; and it is said that each new home in the community creates two new jobs.

A more subtle barometer of Lakewood Ranch’s success is that no matter which of the seven villages is lived in—bearing names like Summerfield, Edgewater and Riverwalk Village—residents of each will proudly proclaim they live in Lakewood Ranch.  This strong sense of overall community has led to the formation of more than 80 different clubs to foster shared lifestyle pursuits among the community’s residents.

Visiting Lakewood Ranch is a mind-boggling experience, best experienced by traveling up Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, where every aspect of community life is on display.  To the left is the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center; to the right the new Main Street complex of upscale shops, boutiques and restaurants.  Michael Saunders & Company is proud to be a corporate member of the Lakewood Ranch community; with its centrally located office wedged between the boulevard and pristine shore of Lake Uihlein.

A concentrated sampling of the homes and lifestyle opportunities available in Lakewood Ranch can be found by visiting the Lakewood Ranch Country Club, on Legacy Boulevard. Entering the gate, you’ll find homes ranging from the high $100s to more than $3 million lining three private golf courses—King’s Dune, Cypress Links and Country Club East.  Here you will also find the Athletic Center at Lakewood Ranch, which has a variety of membership plans to suit any fitness goal.  The Lake Club at Lakewood Ranch also features luxury homes priced from $1 million.

Where cattle once roamed freely, Lakewood Ranch is now the pride of Sarasota and Manatee Counties, the recipient of the The Grand Aurora Award for the Best Planned Community Design in the Southeast; and the Excel Award for the Best Master-Planned Community of the Year.  Its 100 miles of hiking trails recently won the 2008 American Trail Developers Award and the entire community has been labeled “green” by the Florida Green Building Coalition. The cattle have since moved on to greener pastures so that you can have your own “green” home on the range.

Stop by our Lakewood Ranch office—at 8325 Lakewood Ranch Blvd—for your complimentary DVD in which Mary Fran Carroll and John Clarke, the visionary developers of Lakewood Ranch, share a rich oral and pictorial history of the community.

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