February 09,2016 - Solar city begins to shine. Construction begins on Babcock Ranch
By BRENDA BARBOSA / Sun Correspondent
February 5, 2016
CHARLOTTE COUNTY — In the 10 years since former NFL player-turned-developer Syd Kitson sealed the deal on a sweeping stretch of pristine land straddling Charlotte and Lee counties, he never wavered from his vision to create the community of Babcock Ranch, an innovative solar city where thousands of Florida families could live, work and play.
Kitson’s resolve remained steady — even after the housing market collapsed, the economy tanked, unemployment soared and few people thought his city of the future would ever become a reality. But after nearly a decade of fits and starts, Kitson’s vision off State Road 31 has begun to take shape.
On Friday, the former Green Bay Packers player revealed his company, Kitson & Partners, has begun the work and broken ground on the community of Babcock Ranch. The group plans to formally unveil detailed plans for the first phase of construction at a kick-off ceremony, befittingly, on April 22, Earth Day.
“We want to make a difference,” he said. “We want to do something that nobody else has done. We want to set a legacy and a precedent for the future of development.
“There are going to be 6 million people coming to this state by 2030,” Kitson said Friday. “Six million people. They need to be housed, and we need to do it better than we’re doing it. And what we’re saying is: let’s do it in a way that’s unique but at the same time we’re trying to create a hometown that has that hometown feel.”
In 2006, Kitson made national headlines with the purchase of the 91,000-acre Babcock Ranch wildlife preserve, a pristine stretch of land that covers an area three times the size of San Francisco.
That same year, he signed an agreement with then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to sell about 73,000 of Babcock’s acres to the state for $350 million — Florida’s largest, single land deal in history. The agreement preserved the 73,000 acres and allowed for creation of a new town on the 18,000 acres retained by Kitson & Partners.
While the challenges of the housing market altered the original timeline for construction, Kitson said, the vision remains unchanged.
“The time is finally right, and we are excited to get to work on a new town that can meet the diverse needs of families, employers, neighbors, businesses, surrounding communities and the natural environment for generations to come,” he said. “Our focus on the environment, sustainability, technology, transportation, education and health and wellness will provide a whole new way of living — one that is conscientious, engaging and connected.”
At the heart of Kitson’s energy-efficient dream is a sustainable community with 19,500 residences for some 50,000 people, complete smart grids, charging stations for smart cars, and large arrays of solar panels as well as a vibrant downtown, nature trails and nearly 500 acres of lakes A partnership with Florida Power and Light Company (FPL) for expansive solar energy production at Babcock Ranch captured international attention when it was first announced in 2009. The 400-acre on-site solar photovoltaic power plant now under construction keeps Babcock Ranch on track to become the world’s first new town powered primarily by the sun, according to officials.
The development also would include 6 million square feet of office and retail space, along with hotels and a golf course.
“Our new town is all about connection — a connection with the land, the great outdoors, our neighbors, and with a lifestyle that values conservation, the environment, personal well-being, learning, innovation, and shared experiences,” Kitson said. “These connections are the key to creating a real community, where residents share a basic hometown pride and desire to participate and belong.”
Progress updates between now and April 22 will be available via the newly updated website at www.babcockranchflorida.com