March 13, 2017

Founder’s Festival offers first look at Babcock Ranch

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

By GARY ROBERTS  3/12/2017


BABCOCK RANCH — At this weekend’s Founder’s Festival, celebrating the startup of Babcock Ranch, Tiffany Kern enjoyed a tour of the emerging community, but it took some effort. Competing in the 5K Sun Run, she took the scenic Sunset Trail, encircling a lake and fishing pier, crossing a bridge, and passing a dog park and model homes along the way.

“It made me excited about the neighborhood, something new and fresh,” she said.

Kern was running with the Bonita Gulf Trotters, coached by her sister-inlaw, who convinced her own father and Kern to join the do-it-yourself tour group.

“I did well. I finished the whole thing,” she gasped.

Hundreds of others who turned out for this weekend’s festivities opted for the more conventional tours of model homes in the first phase of development. But even these trips were nontraditional, as potential customers and the curious boarded buses, solar-powered vehicles and one driverless shuttle, a nod to the technology ingrained in the 18,000-acre community.

“This is so exciting. It’s here,” developer Syd Kitson told the crowd, noting the microphone he was using also was run by the sun.

Speaking from the Founder’s Square bandshell — in front of the Great Lawn and surrounded by the Table & Tap restaurant, Curry Creek Outfitters and the under-construction Babcock Neighborhood School — Kitson was thrilled to introduce the public to his life’s dream, where science and nature live in harmony.

“Our goal from the very beginning was to build the most sustainable town in America. And you can see our progress,” he said.

Kitson also had a special announcement. Lennar had just agreed to combine efforts with five other builders, providing single-family homes from $179,000 to the low $200,000s.

“We promised you we will have a full range of price and products. Everything here is about affordability,” he said.

And more is on the way. Lake Babcock will double in size to 240 acres, a cafe and grocery is taking shape, and a wellness center is about to break ground, along with more than 300 homes in Phase 2, he said.

Charlotte County Commissioner Ken Doherty recalled how the project was stalled for more than a decade, allowing the housing crisis to pass. But then Kitson stopped by his office one day and said he was ready to start.

“I breathed a sigh of relief,” Doherty said. “That’s when I knew we were out of the recession.”

And now, all can share in Kitson’s success.

“How many times are you going to see a new city coming out of the ground?” Commission Chairman Bill Truex said. “It’s really a neat concept, with a focus on conservation and the environment.”

All of which was a little overwhelming for perennial Michigan snowbirds Holly and Jay Payne, who years ago took their grandchildren out to Babcock Wilderness Adventures, when few man-made marvels existed out this way.

“This is something new and we thought we’d take a peek,” she said.

Cindy Baerman of Fort Myers was looking forward to touring the model homes, but admitted she wasn’t a serious buyer.

“I’m serious about the concept, though. I love the sustainability,” she said.

Ann Letterio of Port Charlotte had a different reason for visiting. Her granddaughter was part of the entertainment, playing in the “Pride” of Port Charlotte High School Marching Band, while also doing some marketing for Babcock Ranch on the side.

“She told her mother, who teaches at Neil Armstrong School, that they should move out here and her mom could teach at the charter school,” Letterio said.