Lakewood Ranch developer John Neal makes his mark

nwilliams@bradenton.comDecember 17, 2012 

LAKEWOOD RANCH

It's been a busy week for Lakewood Ranch-based developer John Neal.

Neal and his wife, Rebecca, recently sold seven parcels of property in the Ballard Park neighborhood for $284,661 to the City of Bradenton. The property was estimated to be worth $1.325 million.

Neal would like to see a rowing facility housed in the historic house on the property and a public park on other parcels that may revitalize the neighborhood around Ballard Elementary School.

Neal also announced plans to build large-scale homes in the Highfield neighborhood in Lakewood Ranch, an area just west of Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club he is exclusively developing. Priced from the low $900,000s to $2 million, the 4,988-square-foot model will be the largest new model home in Lakewood Ranch, regarded as one of the fastest growing communities in Florida.

In addition to his work as a land developer and builder, Neal helped raise close to $6,000 in gift cards for Lavallette Elementary, a school in New Jersey devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The gift cards purchased were mailed to the school last week and will be used to purchase supplies, books and desks.

The list goes on.

And so does Neal's aspirations for the future.

"I've always been pretty busy," said the 37-year-old builder from his office on Lakewood Ranch's Main Street.

The son of former state senator and prominent Manatee-area developer Pat Neal, John Neal is steadily making his mark on the Florida real estate market.

John Neal's company, John Neal Homes, a custom design building company, is an affiliate of Neal Communities, of which his father is president and CEO. John Neal Homes has sold 41 custom designs this year, totaling $30 million in receipts. His company's honors and accolades include Aurora Awards for models in Lakewood Ranch and Parade of Homes awards from the Home Builder's Association.

Other developers and real estate insiders recognize John Neal as an up and coming talent.

"He has the good fortune of learning from the master," said Carlos Beruff, president and owner of Medallion Homes, a semi-custom home building company. "There's nothing he can't accomplish as long he wants to do it. He has enough experience and smarts to go as far as he wants."

"I think that, from a builder's standpoint, John is definitely a student of the game," said Jimmy Stewart, vice president of sales for Lakewood Ranch Communities, a subsidiary of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch. "I think he is doing a great job as far as following the current market. He's producing products the market is looking for."

John Neal graduated from Hampton Sydney College in Virginia with a degree in economics. Upon graduation, he secured a position with a Virginia mortgage firm as its information technology department director. Soon, he returned to Florida and, in exchange for updating Neal Communities' technology, became his father's pupil, learning the housing market. By 2009, John Neal Homes was fully operational.

"He knows the business from the ground up," Pat Neal said.

"There's a lot of lessons you can learn from your parents if you just

listen," John Neal said.

He didn't try to be different from his father, he says. Instead, he acted on his own ideas.

"People have their own skills. I have skills that are the same, but also skills that are different from Pat," he said. "I focused on my own skills, which were more design oriented. I've always loved the home building industry. I'm mechanically inclined."

Pat Neal said where he's failed, John has succeeded.

"He's much more a people person than I am," Pat Neal said. "He's lived his whole life in Bradenton so he knows everybody, and so they like him. I don't see John creating sparks I create. He has the human relationship."

Others concurred.

"He's got the lineage there from Pat, but I think John is coming out on his own and he's doing some different stuff that Neal Communities in the past wasn't doing with the custom homes," said Alan Anderson, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association Manatee-Sarasota and former employee of Neal Communities. "It's a good combination for the both of them. John is making his own way and it's a good path for him."

That path may include another Neal involved in politics, but not in the foreseeable future.

"I have interest in leadership roles in the community, but it's not my time," he said. "I have a business and a young family, and I want to attend to that."

Philanthropy also was a trait John Neal learned from his father.

"As a land developer, and it's not written this way very often, but I don't see my job as building plots of land for houses. I see myself building houses for communities," John Neal said.

On Tuesday, John Neal will present a Manatee High School student with a $500 check for winning an essay contest describing their favorite area nonprofit organization. The check will be donated to the nonprofit in the student's honor.

"I see it as a responsibility for individuals and community people to do what they can to make their community a better place," he said. "I'm very proud of him, in every way," Pat Neal said. "Not only in the business element. He has a beautiful family and he's devoted to his daughters. He's a good son."

Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams

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