LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Earth moving for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch's massive and long-anticipated Lakewood Ranch Waterside community in Sarasota County is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2016, eventually bringing 5,144 residential units and 400,000 square feet of commercial and residential development to the area.
Waterside, previously known as the Villages of Lakewood Ranch South, will be built on about 2,000 acres just south of the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park, Sarasota Polo Club and The Lake Club. All property is south of University Parkway.
At its heart will be a town center of shops, restaurants, and apartments on a 6,200-foot-long lake, the largest of about seven lakes in Waterside. All lakes were made by SMR mining operation.
"You could put five of the world's largest super tankers in the lake or six Raymond James stadiums. The lake is massive," said Richard Bedford, SMR vice president of planning.
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"It will be a very attractive place to live," Bedford said, describing a traditional, dense urban core with metal roof buildings, and an abundance of waterfront restaurants and shops served by water taxis powered by electric motors. No boats with internal combustion engines will be allowed to prevent contamination of the lakes.
Developed under Sarasota County's 2050 plan, Waterside will have 12 neighborhoods and 2,037 workforce housing units -- or about 40 percent of the total -- distributed throughout the new community. Buildout is expected to be completed in about 20 years.
Many of those who work at Lakewood Ranch live elsewhere.
"At the end of the day, you see thousands of cars leaving Lakewood Ranch on University Parkway. We want to change that by offering more affordable housing that will allow them to live here," Bedford said. "Our challenge is how to drive the price of a house down."
Immediately to the east of Waterside, SMR has another 2,000 acres called the Heritage Ranch conservation easement, which will never be developed, as part of the 2050 agreement with Sarasota County.
SMR has an additional 3,000 acres east of Heritage Ranch called SMR Myakka due south of The Concession. There are no development plans for SMR Myakka at this time.
"It's nowhere on my radar," Bedford said.
Before any rooftops go up, SMR will build all infrastructure needed to serve the new community, including roads, sewers and stormwater.
Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, which now stops at the Corporate Park, will be four-laned to Fruitville Road.
Lorraine Road, which now ends near the Sarasota Polo Club, will also be four-laned to Fruitville Road.
Deer Road, which serves The Out-of-Door Academy, will be extended south to the planned town center and west to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. The Deer Road extension will also be four lanes.
"We are building the infrastructure in advance of the homes. Water, sewer and stormwater will be in place before the first people arrive," Bedford said.
In all, 9 miles of new four-lane roads will be built in Waterside with completion planned for the second quarter of 2017.
"Our roads will be done before the diverging diamond is done," Bedford said.
Work on the $74.5 million diverging diamond interchange started in August to improve traffic flow at the Interstate 75-University Parkway intersection.
Florida's first diverging diamond interchange is expected to be completed before Sept. 24, 2017, when the World Rowing Championship comes to Nathan Benderson Park.
SMR has three engineering firms working on plans for Waterside infrastructure, and each is expected to work with a separate contractor to complete the work by the second quarter of 2017, Bedford said.
SMR plans to develop the Waterside town center first, and will have the first homes ready for sale when infrastructure is completed in 2017.
"The goal is for people to be moving into those houses at the same time as our roads are done," Bedford said. "It will all be torn up at the same time, and it will all look good at the same time."
SMR will also be building a pedestrian and bicycle friendly four-lane bridge over Interstate 75 from its Sarasota County property, landing at Cattleman Road and Benderson Park. The exact location has not yet been determined by Sarasota County, Bedford said.
Also, there will be a two-lane connector road running east-west along the southern boundary of Waterside to connect its 12 neighborhoods.
SMR first went public with its plans for its Sarasota County property in 2001 with a presentation at the Sarasota Hyatt. SMR pledged it would complete a "community rather than an enclave."
A few months ago, Rex Jensen, CEO and president of SMR, said he expected work on Waterside to start early in 2016. SMR had already contracted for $7 million of engineering work.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.