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June 20,2016 - Babcock Ranch, America's first solar town, tries to lure FGCU
news-press.com

THYRIE BLAND, TBLAND@NEWS-PRESS.COM

11:56 a.m. EDT June 17, 2016

The developer of America’s first solar town wants Florida Gulf Coast University to be a part of the community.

Kitson and Partners, the real estate company developing Babcock Ranch, asked FGCU to be part of the Charlotte County project when it was conceived about 10 years ago and recently reaffirmed its desire for a partnership. When the company made its initial pitch to FGCU, it offered the school $3 million and 67 acres of land to build a research center.

Syd Kitson, chairman and CEO of the real estate company, has made FGCU a new offer that does not include the money. The company wants to give the university 67 acres for environmental and astronomy studies. It also wants to donate a 12,400-square-foot educational facility to FGCU, give the school rent-free use of 1,600 square feet of space in a health and wellness center and develop other partnerships with the school.

Babcock wants a relationship with FGCU based on three components: education, community partnership and research. Kitson said he believes a partnership between Babcock and FGCU will be beneficial to FGCU’s students and Babcock’s residents.

“I think what makes this really exciting for us are these educational opportunities,” Kitson said. “We get going talking about these things. It gets really exciting when you talk about what we can and cannot do. What we found is we are only limited by our imagination.”

The Babcock project is coming to fruition after being slowed by the Great Recession. The developer broke ground on the project in November. The first homeowners are expected to move into Babcock during the first quarter of 2017. The city will be powered by solar energy during the day and natural gas when the sun goes down. It will consist of 19,500 homes and 6 million square feet of retail and office space. About 50,000 people are expected to live at Babcock, and others will work there.

Babcock’s developer wants to house a charter school for students in kindergarten through the eighth grade on the bottom floor of the educational facility. The hope is to open the school by the fall of 2017 and make it a place where FGCU students who want to be teachers can train, said Debra Dremann, a senior vice president at Kitson.

The educational facility’s second floor will be for FGCU’s use on a rent-free basis. “If you really think about great towns, they are all built on really great schools,” Dremann said.

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