MANATEE — The Manatee County Planning Commission unanimously endorsed expanding the Forest Creek subdivision by 132 houses Thursday.
The new homes would be built on a 41.6-acre addition to the existing development, which already is approved for 367 single-family houses at the southwest corner of U.S. 301 North and Red Rooster Road.
The approval was the latest sign of better days for Pat Neal’s Parrish project. Neal has developed 53 projects in Manatee and Sarasota counties since he was 18, when he developed Whitney Beach on pricey Longboat Key with his father. He also developed University Park. One of his newest projects is Central Park in Lakewood Ranch, which features houses starting at $120,000.
The community development district for Forest Creek, located off U.S. Highway 301, between Ellenton and Parrish, is a comeback success story for Neal. It fell into arrears on a bond payment in late 2009 because of a perfect storm of events, including a lawsuit, the world financial crisis and partners in the project pulling out.
The district landed on the blog of Miami Lakes-based financial adviser Richard Lehmann, whose floridacddreport.com tracks bond defaults.
The lawsuit, which was eventually dismissed, prompted Neal to halt building in Forest Creek for a while.
“I didn’t want half-finished homes standing empty,” Neal said.
Despite being left with “half the property and all the bills,” Neal decided to go ahead on his own. He bought out his partner and several others involved. The back taxes and bond interest from 2008 and 2009 came to $2.5 million, which he then paid.
In the past six months, Neal has invested a total of $3.5 million in Forest Creek.
“Forest Creek’s bond payments and taxes are now current,” Neal said.
Since spring, Neal reports selling 37 homes in Forest Creek, putting scores of framers, roofers and others to work building new homes with prices starting at $110,999.
“Forest Creek is now thriving,” Neal said.
Also this week, Neal gained approval for his 54th project from the Sarasota County Board of County Commission for the 1,568-unit Blackburn Creek project in Venice that includes a shopping center.
Of the economic downturn, Neal takes a long view.
“I’ve seen this movie before, in 1968, 1975, 1981, 1999 and 2002,” Neal said. “Florida’s economy has been cyclical.”
Annabelle Newland, Forest Creek community association manager, says Forest Creek residents are happier now, with the fresh attention and infusion of cash into the neighborhood.
“My homeowners are very satisfied,” Newland said. “They have a direct line to me.”
Coming Saturday: A look at another comeback CDD, Legends Bay.
— East Manatee Editor Jim Jones contributed to this report
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.