SARASOTA -- Lakewood Ranch Communities inaugurated its interactive lounge at The Mall at University Town Center on Wednesday, a key element in the marketing of the 50-square-mile master-planned community.
Figuring prominently in those plans is the development of thousands of homes in the community's long-planned Villages of Lakewood Ranch South in Sarasota County, said Rex Jensen, president and chief executive officer of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.
SMR has been making plans and negotiating with Sarasota County to launch the first major development under that county's 2050 plan.
Construction on its Sarasota property could begin in early 2016 or maybe a little earlier, Jensen told the Herald.
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Planning on developing a kiosk at the mall started in May 2014. The final results feature a sweeping wooden counter with display panels that show ever-changing scenes of Lakewood Ranch, seats, brochures, and electronic tablets.
The goal of the mini-visitor center is to reach out in a low-key way to visitors to the mall who perhaps never heard of Lakewood Ranch, Jensen said.
The mall will be staffed by a knowledgeable ambassador from Lakewood Ranch.
Eventually, visitors will be able to use one of the tablets to design their own brochure focusing on areas they want to investigate more.
"This is an incredible, visual way for people to get to know Lakewood Ranch," said Heather Kasten, executive director for the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance.
SMR's partnership with the mall for the interactive center is for a five-year period, but Jensen said he was optimistic that it would be for an even longer period.
The interactive center is an unprecedented way to help drive traffic east of I-75 to Lakewood Ranch, said Jimmy Stewart, vice president of sales for LWR Communities.
Octavio Ortiz, general manager of The Mall at UTC, said the interactive center tells the story of Lakewood Ranch in a tasteful way.
The interactive center is in the intermediate court near H&M.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.