CREEKWOOD — The Chick-fil-A restaurant sitting on the edge of the Creekwood Shopping Center could serve as one way to measure the health of the 592-home Creekwood subdivision behind it.
Opening in 2001 off State Road 70 and Interstate 75, the restaurant earned a company-pleasing $1.9 million in gross revenues in its first 12 months, said Jonathan Ith, the restaurant’s owner.
Ith gives a great deal of the credit to neighboring Creekwood, where a mixture of young families and retirees live in five neighborhoods carved out of acres of woods, flowing waters and pasture land.
“Chick-fil-A is family-oriented and to me, Creekwood is family-oriented and working people,” Ith said. “And this area is still growing. Hotels are coming in and more development across S.R. 70 behind the Publix Supermarket. I see this store, within 10 years, hitting $4 million or $5 million annually.”
One key thing that connects all five neighborhoods is their warm and friendly nature, says 10-year Creekwood resident Joyce Nabor.
“It’s a very nice community,” Nabor said. “I would say what makes us unique from other communities is our combination of friendliness and beauty.”
Nabor relates a story of a Creekwood resident who saw a stranger walk right into an elderly person’s home last week.
The neighbor knocked on the door to see what was going on. She discovered that the stranger was her neighbor’s relative.
“She knew an elderly person lived there and she was concerned,” Nabor said. “She went out of her way to meet the stranger and make sure everything was OK. I find that extraordinary, but it’s not unusual for Creekwood. People here look out for each other.”
Creekwood residents actually smile at the occupants of passing cars, Nabor boasts.
“If you give them a wave, they will smile back at you,” she said.
Eleven-year residents James and Margaret Westcott’s take on what makes Creekwood unique is that it’s close to Interstate 75, Bradenton, Sarasota, Tampa and St. Petersburg, yet has nice homes without upscale prices.
The Westcotts bought their home for less than $150,000 11 years ago. Houses in Lakewood Ranch were more than $170,000 at the time.
“This was the most affordable housing in the area,” Westcott said. “Go down to Rosedale or over to Lakewood Ranch and it was more. I see Creekwood as a place for working people. And for the money, the house construction is OK.”
Costs are escalating, however. The Westcotts pay $700 a year for homeowner association dues. Ten years ago, it was $350 a year.
The evolution of the community over the past 17 years has included some struggles, residents say.
In the early 2000s, the developer, Creekwood Investors Limited of Sarasota, turned management of the community over to the residents.
One of the big issues was a rapidly declining fence along Creekwood Boulevard, Nabor said.
“The builders had put up a wooden fence, but it was not well-maintained,” Nabor said. “After a few years, parts needed repair. That was an issue.”
Neighbors decided to purchase a new privacy fence, which has done the job, Nabor said.
Retail rushes in to fill void
When the Westcotts moved in 11 years ago, there was no Creekwood Shopping Center filled with a Lowe’s, Peach’s Restaurant, Bealls, Subway and Chick-fil-A. The corner of S.R. 70 and Creekwood Boulevard was a field with cattle and cowboys.
“I remember cowboys culling the herd,” Westcott said. “Then one day about eight or nine years ago, a van came and took all the cows. I knew something was up.”
Like most Creekwood residents, the Westcotts were nervous about noise, light and traffic from the shopping center.
“But it’s turned into a blessing,” Westcott said. “It’s handy. I go to Lowe’s and Bealls.”
But not all is rosy with the shopping center.
Many businesses have come and gone, including a jewelry store, pet shop, patio furniture, music store and a K-Mart.
Nabor attributes the departures to the economy, but Ith said it’s hard for I-75 travelers to spot stores they might otherwise visit in the shopping center.
“The way it is laid out, people can’t find anything back there unless they know what they are looking for,” Ith said. “Most of the business is repeat customers or locals.”
The Peach’s Restaurant and Subway are the only businesses that Ith said have remained in the shopping center as long as he has been there.
“Not every business is on the sign out front, and half the time it is not lit or broken,” Ith said.
Traffic is also congested leaving and entering the shopping center, restricting business, he said.
“There are many close calls,” Ith said. “I wish the county would do something about it.”
How it all started
When Ralph and Janet Hager looked at — and bought — the first lot in the neighborhood of Creekside 12 years ago, real estate agents took them out in a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Like many “supersize” subdivisions, Creekwood was built in phases, starting in 1992, said Ralph Hager, Creekwood’s unofficial historian.
Three homebuilders — La Maison Homes, Medallion and U.S. Homes — built the majority of the 592 homes over the past 17 years.
The first neighborhood was called Westbrook I and was built on the west side of Creekwood Boulevard, right behind the present CVS Pharmacy, which wasn’t there at the time.
“It was all woods then,” Hager said.
When McDonald’s came in next to CVS, restaurant officials agreed to limit the intensity of security lights so homeowners wouldn’t get light in their windows, Nabor said.
Westbrook I is the largest Creekwood neighborhood and has about 170 homes.
Westbrook II came next in 1994 and was located on the east side of Creekwood Boulevard.
Lakeside I came in 1995 on the northwest side of Creekwood Boulevard. Lakeside II followed in 1996 on the northeast side of Creekwood Boulevard.
The final one, Creekside, with 100 homes, started in April 1997, said Hager.
At one time, there was additional land alongside Creekwood Boulevard near 44th Avenue Extension, but that has since been sold, making it unlikely that there will be any new Creekwood neighborhoods.
“None are planned now,” Hager said. “The land we had was sold off to Mobley Construction. They now own six lots in Creekside and the other acreage surrounding the area.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.