January 04, 2024


By: Vicki Parsons - IT

SYD KITSONThe dearmer of the year


Chairman & CEO of Kitson and Partners
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In the darkest of times, dreamers are the distant flickering speck of light, burning the night oil to manifest change when the world needs it most. For the second time, TIME and American Family Insurance have named their Dreamer of the Year, a person who inspires, protects, and innovates to reimagine life as we know it.

This year’s TIME and American Family Insurance Dreamer of the Year, Syd Kitson, is a real estate developer and former professional American football player who left the playing field for a different green venture. His ambitious project, Babcock Ranch, is a sustainable, master-planned community in southwest Florida: a blueprint that has come to life through his groundbreaking vision.

SYD KITSONBabcock Ranch is the first solar-powered town in America, spanning over 18,000 acres and taking over eight years to come to fruition. “We bought 91,000 acres. That’s 143 square miles, an area five times the size of the island of Manhattan. We sold 73,000 acres to the state of Florida, meaning 90% of the original ranch is in preservation forever” explains Kitson. The development provides a model for sustainable living by integrating green technologies and eco-friendly practices into its design and operation.

In need of a partnership with the local utility to bring his dream to life, Syd tenaciously pitched his first solar-powered city idea to the CEO of Florida Power & Light during a two-floor elevator ride.

“Dreaming fearlessly to me is thinking of those great ideas, those big ideas, those game-changing ideas, and making them a reality. It’s that intersection of dreaming and doing, and that is what can change the world.”

In 2022, the ranch’s durability was tested in the eye of the storm when Hurricane Ian tore through the area. Babcock Ranch stood unscathed and with full access to power thanks to buried electric and cable lines, and 150,000 megawatts of solar power that fuels the town, harvested from the 700,000 panels across 840 acres of land. None of the structures or critical infrastructure at Babcock Ranch flooded during or after Hurricane Ian, but this wasn’t luck. Before laying out the master plan, the developers extensively researched the natural flowways, reviewed topographical and soil maps, and studied tree surveys and reports on the hydrology, historical land use, and wildlife of the property to ensure they were building a community that could withstand the elements. The development strategy was not to compete with Mother Nature, but to stand in harmony with her and let nature take its course.

Kitson’s influence has had a global impact with developers eager to learn from him and copy his blueprint. But instead of reveling in his trail-blazing success, his wish is for his dream to evolve beyond him for the betterment of the cause. “The greatest compliment is when somebody copies you,” shares Kitson. “And even better, if they can take it to another level.”

The Dreamer of the Year is someone who reimagines what’s possible and builds stronger communities, for today and tomorrow. “Supporting dreamers who make a difference in our world directly aligns with our mission at American Family Insurance of inspiring, protecting, and restoring dreams,” explains Bill Westrate, CEO of American Family Insurance Group. “Syd Kitson has created something unique and special at Babcock Ranch – a resilient community that is designed to overcome what Mother Nature throws at them. We’re proud to partner with Syd and learn together as American Family continues to protect and restore communities that are at greater risk due to rising climate impacts.”

“I want to thank TIME and American Family Insurance for this tremendous honor for you to recognize us, for the work that so many people are doing,” shares Kitson. “It’s wonderful. It’s an honor. And I thank you very much.”

“My name is Syd Kitson and I dream fearlessly.”

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