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January 13,2016 - Back at the ranch

By: Jean Gruss | Editor/Lee-Collier

January 01, 2016

Syd Kitson says the rebound in the population growth puts Babcock Ranch on the map for 2016. File photo

Syd Kitson says the rebound in the population growth puts Babcock Ranch on the map for 2016.

Kitson & Partners, developers of Babcock Ranch Why 2016 is important: Babcock Ranch could be the newest nexus of development on the Gulf Coast.

One of the biggest land deals in Gulf Coast history is about to be realized. Babcock Ranch, spread over 91,000 acres straddling the Lee and Charlotte county line, was the exclamation point on the real estate boom of the last decade. West Palm Beach developer Syd Kitson and Morgan Stanley acquired the working ranch in July 2006 and sold most of it to the state for $350 million.

Now, nearly a decade later, the state’s economy has recovered strongly enough that Babcock’s time has finally come. Kitson retained 17,000 acres of the ranch and plans to build 19,500 homes and enough commercial space to fill the equivalent of 104 football fields. When it’s built out, it will be similar in scale to Lakewood Ranch near Sarasota.

“It’s right in the path of growth,” says Kitson, a former Dallas Cowboys professional football player. “Babcock Ranch is the new town.”

Indeed, with 800 people moving to Florida every day, population growth is once again pumping up the state’s construction and real estate economy. “During the recession there wasn’t a lot of development going on,” says Kitson, chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners. His conclusion: “They’ve got to move somewhere.”Builders are eyeing areas such as Charlotte County as large tracts of land become scarcer in Collier and Lee counties. Indeed, Babcock Ranch is now the buzz among homebuilders eager to find lots for their backlog of buyers.

Now backed by private equity, Kitson says it was fortunate that it was too late to start development at the end of the boom. “It would have been much more difficult if we had started and had the infrastructure in the ground,” Kitson acknowledges. Instead, the developer spent the recession planning and obtaining permits for the project. “Everything has been completely approved,” Kitson says. “We were able to go in and get ready.”

Of course, Babcock isn’t the only project Kitson has been working on along the Gulf Coast. Other recent projects have included Talis Park, a luxury residential community in Naples, and Bay Pines development in Pinellas County. But despite the brutal recession, Kitson never gave up on the vision that Babcock Ranch could be the next new town.“Talis Park has been a monster success for us,” Kitson says. “Babcock is going to be equally successful.”

Certainly, other developers might not have been as tenacious. “We deserve it after going through that downturn,” says Kitson.

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