Bullish on economic future of Manatee County

April 29, 2014 

While West Manatee County stands poised for two major developments, Lakewood Ranch and East Manatee are proving to be the very strong economic engines. Current development and future growth plans mean new jobs, with the promise of more than the mirage that the unsustainable real estate and construction industries brought before the market collapse and recession.

Here are some excellent signs that Manatee County is on the rise:

The massive Mall at University Town Center and Nathan Benderson Park are well-known showcase assets, just south of the Manatee County line in Sarasota. The park's rowing lake is already a winner, and the mall, due to open in October, is already almost fully leased with more than 100 stores and restaurants committed to the $315 million project. All those new jobs, commerce and tourism will benefit the entire region.

This year, for the third consecutive one, Lakewood Ranch earned the honor of a Top 10 ranking in master-planned communities in the country. Home sales are surging, the developer of the 17,500-acre community, Schroeder Manatee Ranch Inc., reported earlier this year.

Lakewood Ranch Main Street, the community's key hub, will be operating at full capacity for the first time come May as the last space becomes home to an eye care center.

And three new expansive apartment complexes are in the offing in Lakewood Ranch, each with more than 200 units.

Canada's largest homebuilder, Mattany Homes, bought 235 acres from SMR with plans to construct 675 homes -- first soliciting input from the public and potential home buyers on their preferences. The company expects to break ground this summer.

SMR North 70 LLC announced plans to push ahead with an almost 700-acre development in Lakewood Ranch, with more than 4,500 residential units and millions of square feet of commercial and office space over the next 12 years.

Neal Communities predicts a banner homebuilding and sales year after a record-setting 2013. With an impressive 347 homes sales in Lakewood Ranch alone last year, the company recently launched a 713-home development in Parrish.

The company also plans on building another 1,999 residential units, as well as commercial and office space, to take advantage of the pending arrival of a huge Amazon distribution center in south Hillsborough County, just outside Manatee. The online retailer expects to open the 1-million-square-foot center just to the north of Parrish in Ruskin later this year -- bringing hundreds of new jobs to the region.

While the Long Bar Pointe and Lake Flores developments percolate in Manatee's southwest sector (the latter renamed from the original Crossroads moniker), other projects in Bradenton, Palmetto, Parrish and elsewhere are forging ahead -- too numerous to cite here. Medallion Home, Taylor Morrison and Homes by Towne are among the major development players in Manatee County.

Housing prices are rising, architects are busy and Bradenton ranks in the Top 10 among cities staging open houses.

Growth is coming again. The county and municipalities must be smart about managing that growth. At the same time, we cannot discount economic development and jobs. We owe residents and coming generations opportunities to excel and prosper.

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