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May 10,2016 - Kitson earns a Standing O

Business Observer

May 3, 2016

Ten years after he engineered the blockbuster purchase of Babcock Ranch, Syd Kitson and more than 600 of his closest friends recently celebrated the start of the 19,500-home project on the county line Charlotte and Lee.

“Can you believe it?” Kitson told the crowd, which gave him a rousing standing ovation. “Welcome to Babcock Ranch: I’ve been waiting 10 years to say that.”

The deal was gargantuan. Kitson acquired the 91,000-acre ranch in 2006, an area five times the size of Manhattan. He sold about 73,000 acres to the state, keeping the remaining land on which to build 19,500 homes and 6 million square feet of commercial space. To date, bond documents show the developer has invested more than $175 million in the project and will spend another $125 million for the first phase through 2019. (For more on one of the project’s newest executives, see Page 8.)

In a deal with Florida Power and Light, Babcock Ranch will be powered with solar energy from hundreds of thousands of panels on a nearby 443-acre tract. “This is the first solar town in the United States,” Kitson says.

Eric Silagy, president of Florida Power and Light, recounted Kitson’s determination to see the project through in remarks to the crowd inside a giant tent. Says Silagy: “Syd was always standing there with a smile, asking how are we going to get this done?”

Of course, Kitson acknowledged the project stalled during the recession, when Evergreen Real Estate Partners of Chicago stepped in to back the project when Morgan Stanley pulled out. “The reason why I’m still standing here: Evergreen, our partners,” the former professional football player told the crowd.