March 16,2017 - Kitson’s dream unfolding before everyone’s eyes
John HACKWORTH March 13, 2017
Syd Kitson sat at his desk, a picture window behind his second-story office offering a portrait of an evolving landscape.
It was just a couple of days before the Founder’s Festival open house at Babcock Ranch in eastern Charlotte County. It would be the best opportunity yet for the public to see progress at the nation’s first solar-powered city.
Kitson, a visionary who began planning this town 12 years ago, was almost giddy with anticipation.
I asked him if he felt he had poured his heart and soul into the project — one of many he is involved in.
“More than heart and soul,” he said, smiling.
And when I asked him if there were ever any doubts as he guided the project through a recession, negotiations with FPL for the solar field and a quagmire of permitting, he shook his head.
“I told you it would happen.”
As if anyone ever doubted him.
The first phase of development is expected to bring 1,100 new homes this year. Eventually, developers envision 19,500 residential housing units and an estimated natural.” 50,000 people.
Kitson and Partners plan amenities that will allow those folks to live on the sprawling development and not leave — unless they want to. There are plans in the works for a huge entertainment and sports complex with its own hotel, a food store, its own school and internet service that will surpass almost anything offered elsewhere.
“There are things in the works that you can’t see,” Kitson said. “Things like the solar, the gray water (that nourishes the landscape), the walkability, and it’s all happening. He talked about his excitement about the school meeting maximum enrollment for this fall — before even one home is filled.
Soon to come will be a business incubator where young entrepreneurs can work on their dream, a health and wellness center that will have its own medical staff and housing that employees of the ranch and others can afford.
And, of course, there are the dream homes that a handful of builders are feverishly putting up.
I was able to tour a few last week. One Stock Development model had three bedrooms and two and one-half baths, but it seemed much larger. It was truly a dream home, on a lake with a pool and barbecue area on the patio. The price? More than $450,000. Those homes will be snapped up quicker than most of us can imagine — because it is a place people want to live.
One lady stopped her car as I snapped a photo of the Lakehouse, a neighborhood meeting place. She said she wanted to move there from her gated community in Fort Myers.
Others there were from as far away as Europe. And one group, having lunch, was made up of retired investors and CEOs from all over the U.S. who are now living in Lee County. Maybe not for long, however.
“This is our field trip of the month,” said Jim Brown, who seemed to head up the group of about a dozen retirees and spouses. “We decided to come here because of the enormity of the impact Babcock is going to have. It will draw from all areas.”
Another member of the group, Dan, said he was impressed at the “undertaking. I admire the determination of whoever (got this done).”
That would be Syd Kitson, and friends.
And none of us ever doubted him.
John Hackworth is commentary editor of the Sun newspapers. You may contact him at email@example.com.