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March 14,2017 - Babcock Ranch holds Founder’s Festival
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Thousands get first look at new town in the making

March 13, 2017
By VALARIE HARRING (vharring@breezenewspapers.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze
Runners rockin’ Nikes beneath the lakefront bandshell as they accept awards. Tots chasing bubbles across a manicured lawn dotted with picnic tables. Couples sipping beverages at an al fresco cafe overlooking the water where kayakers paddle and children fish.

It was an epic weekend at Founder’s Square at Babcock Ranch with a decidely hometown feel, the atmosphere promised when developer Syd Kitson envisioned a new community of 50,000 people where cattle had roamed and rock mining equipment pulled boulders from the dirt.

The two-day Founder’s Festival held at the new development off State Road 31 just north of the Lee County Civic Center unveiled to the public the fledging community’s heart – the “downtown” park; Woodlea Hall, Babcock’s first civic building; the community’s first two business ventures, Curry Creek Outfitters and the Table & Tap, an indoor-outdoor restaurant and beer garden; along with a brand-new charter school expected to be ready for its first students this fall.

Kitson & Partners Chair and CEO Syd Kitson cuts the traditional ribbon at the opening the Founder’s Festival at Babcock Ranch Saturday. The two-day Founder’s Festival held at the new development off State Road 31 just north of the Lee County Civic Center unveiled to the public the fledging community’s heart — the “downtown” park; Woodlea Hall, Babcock’s first civic building; the community’s first two business ventures, Curry Creek Outfitters and the Table & Tap, an indoor-outdoor restaurant and beer garden; along with a brand-new charter school expected to be ready for its first students this fall.

Lee County Commissioner Cecil L. Pendergrass was among those who paid kudos to Kitson as the family-themed community festival got under way Saturday.

Curry Creek Outfitters is one of the first businesses to open in the Babcock Ranch downtown, Founder’s Square.

Model homes, ranging from the low $400,000s to nearly $1 million are now open.

“Our goal from the beginning is to create the most sustainable town in America,” said Kitson, chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners, as he stood beneath the bandshell for the official ribbon cutting. “All of you here today are here to see the birth of a new town.”

Touted as the country’s first solar-powered community, the town under construction by Kitson & Partners just across the Lee/Charlotte county line will feature 19,500 residences and 6 million square feet of commercial, office and industrial space at buildout.

Eleven hundred residential units – 700 single-family homes, 70 townhome/villas and 330 condominium units are planned for Phase 1, with the first neighborhood, Lake Timber, under way adjacent to the downtown area.

Fact Box

SOLAR POWER PROVES TO BE A POWERFUL ATTRACTION

Turnout for first public event at Babcock Ranch exceeded all expectations

Babcock Ranch, Fla. Over the past year, the nation’s most innovative, sustainable new community has been taking root just beyond the front gates of Babcock Ranch. Master Developer Kitson & Partners has now put out the welcome mat for the public to come experience this new hometown in the making, and the response is unprecedented.

Organizers of Founders Festival held over the weekend hoped to attract around 2,500 people each day for the first public event at Babcock Ranch. Law enforcement officials estimate turnout over the course of the weekend was between 15,000 20,000.

“We knew people were excited about the concept of a sustainable, solar-powered town where people can reconnect with the environment and with each other,” said Syd Kitson, Chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners. “What we learned this weekend is that we have clearly struck a chord.”

The weekend kicked off Saturday morning with 10k, 5k and 1k events that attracted nearly 600 entrants. A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first two buildings at Founder’s Square was followed by a full day of live music and family activities. While some checked out kayaks and paddleboards to enjoy Lake Babcock, others cast lines from the fishing pier or hiked trails. But tours of model homes were the most popular activity.

“It was unlike anything I have ever experienced with a community opening,” said Kitt Kearney, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Homes by Towne. “There were literally people waiting in line to get in. Many said they have been watching Babcock Ranch for a long time. They were excited that it is finally here and happy that they can now buy homes to live here.”

Buyers in the first neighborhood of Lake Timber will choose from a broad range of home styles and floor plans from five different builders Stock Development, Homes by Town, Florida Lifestyle Homes, Fox Premier Builders and Castle Harbor Homes.

“I think the takeaway for us is a realization that if you build a dream that becomes reality, people will come,” said Meryl Rojas, director of sales and marketing for Fox Premier Builders. “The visitors we met with were impressed with our serious approach to the environmental sensibilities and energy efficiency standards that Babcock Ranch represents.”

The first seven of fifteen model homes planned for Lake Timber were open for viewing during the opening weekend. Many more will be completed in the coming weeks. The good news is you don’t have to brave massive crowds to keep tabs on progress. The gates are wide open and the public is welcome to tour model homes, eat at the Table & Tap restaurant, launch outdoor adventures at Curry Creek Outfitters or enjoy the trails and lakes seven days a week.

The first models range from the mid $400,000s to nearly $1 million and include furnished homes by Stock Development and Homes by Towne.

Home prices, first expected to range from the mid $200,000s to $800,000-plus, will actually start a little lower in answer to some concerns about affordability within the new community,” Kitson told the crowd spread out upon the grass.

“We promised you we’re going to have a full range of prices,” he said.

Home prices will start from around $179,000 to the low $200,000s, he said, adding Lennar has signed to become one of the selected builders.

“Everything here is about affordability,” Kitson added.

Two other things were particularly stressed: commitment to the community’s children through the newly formed Babcock Ranch Foundation, and preservation – and enhancement – of the site’s natural attributes.

Money raised from Beer Garden sales during founder’s fest were to be dedicated to the foundation; tree plantings set for Sunday were to be part of the ongoing conservation mission, Kitson said.

Organizers of the two-day festival said they had hoped to attract around 2,500 people each day. According to police estimates, turnout was 15,000 20,000, officials said.

The Babcock Ranch project has been years in the making; from land purchase to ground breaking, it took more than a decade.

Kitson originally purchased a total of 92,000 acres in 2006, then sold 73,000 acres of the most environmentally sensitive areas to the state for preservation.

That left about 18,000 for the town Kitson will now build over the next 20 years – and of that 18,000 acres, about half have been earmarked for greenways, parks and lakes.

State Rep. Matt Caldwell, there for the ribbon cutting, hailed the concept.

“Fantastic,” he said. “It’s a vision that has been a long time coming. It’s a great example of how to achieve landscape scale conservation and still have a great place for people to live.”

Lee County Commissioner Cecil L. Pendergrass took a similar view.

“Awesome,” he said. “It’s an exciting day. Unbelievable. They’ve not only embraced the environment, they enhanced it.”

He looked around.

“This is a feasting ground for all the eagles and the hawks in the area,” Pendergrass said.

The environmental aspect was a draw for many of those who turned out.

Among them was Wolfgang Fink, a winter visitor.

“Because I’m interested in the solar energy,” he said when asked why he decided to attend.

His hometown in Germany makes full use of solar, he added.

“It’s the future,” Fink said.

Others commented on the water views and abundance of native vegetation and plantings.

“So far it’s beautiful,” said Rebecca Giusti, who made the drive from Arcadia to see her fiance run in the opening 5K. “It looks like a beautiful place to live. We’re looking forward to going into some of the models.”

Others embraced the amenities for families.

“We’ve been following the progress,” said Collin Smith as he and wife Suzie watched their daughters Gracelynn, 1, and Braelynn, 3, play with children on the Founder’s Square park splash pad. “It’s great. If the opportunity is right, we might move here.”

Model homes and the outfitters store and restaurant are now open. Regular events, including various fitness classes, yoga classes, runs, a concert series and a farmer’s market are scheduled weekly.

Visit babcockranch.com for more information, including registration, which is required for some events.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include crowd estimates.

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