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January 04,2024 - Time names Babcock developer Syd Kitson 'Dreamer of the Year.' Here's what to know

Laura Layden
Naples Daily News

Syd Kitson

 

Syd Kitson
Time magazine has named a local developer and resident as its “Dreamer of the Year.”

The honor this year goes to Syd Kitson, the football player-turned developer, who made his dream into a reality at Babcock Ranch, where he’s created the first-ever solar powered town in America.

The sustainable, master-planned community spans 18,000 acres in Lee and Charlotte counties.

Here’s more to know about the town and its founder.

Who is Syd Kitson?
A native of New Jersey, Kitson grew up in the small town of New Providence. The middle child in a family of modest means, he loved the outdoors and sports. He played football in high school. In his senior year, his hard work paid off when recruiters came calling. He ended up at Wake Forest, where he flourished, then got drafted into the NFL. He played four seasons with the Green Bay Packers, and one season with the Dallas Cowboys. After his first career fizzled, he started his own real estate company.

When did Kitson come to Florida?
Kitson moved from New Jersey to Florida in the mid-1990s. His company Kitson & Partners, based in Palm Beach Gardens, bought up a few distressed properties, including a troubled country club in Palm Beach, before he set his eyes on Babcock Ranch in Southwest Florida, where he now has a home of his own in his dream town. He also built out Talis Park in Naples, a 460-acre luxury home development.

What is Babcock Ranch?
With smart growth and sustainability at its heart, the town will have 19,500 residences and 6 million square feet of commercial development at build out. Half of the town’s footprint is set aside as greenways, parks and lakes. Built to Florida Green Building Coalition standards, homes are designed to conserve energy and water. The town is powered by an 880-acre solar field at a nearby energy plant run by Florida Power & Light.

How did Babcock Ranch come together?
Making Babcock Ranch a reality has been no easy task. It took eight years to come to fruition. After buying 91,000 acres, Kitson’s company sold 73,000 acres to the state, preserving much of the original ranch. He then had to get Florida Power & Light on board, pitching his first-ever solar-powered town idea to its CEO. “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,” he told Time.

What is Syd Kitson’s reaction to the award?
In a phone interview with the Daily News, Kitson said the award recognizes all the hard work, by so many, that has gone into making his dream a reality. The recognition is not just important to him, but all the residents of the town, he said, because it puts a spotlight on sustainable development that is resilient and innovative.

Babcock Ranch, America’s first solar-powered town, debuted on the RCLCO list in July 2020 and has risen steadily in the rankings, which are based on total new home sales in master-planned communities across the country.

Last year, Hurricane Ian put the community to its biggest test yet, and it didn’t disappoint. With sustained winds of 100 miles an hour, sitting on top of it for eight hours, and gusts of up to 150 miles an hour, no one lost electricity and not one panel budged at the solar plant. Flooding wasn’t an issue either, and the town’s own water and wastewater utility continued to run, without a hitch, thanks to meticulous planning, with nature in mind. Asked if he’d consider doing another project like Babcock, Kitson said at 65, he’s not so sure he’d attempt it again, but he’s willing to help others, who are expressing interest.

“I’ve talked to and heard from people all over the country, actually all over the world, that are definitely looking to copy what we have done here,” he said.

To him, that’s a huge a compliment.

The potential for a larger impact is in big part what earned Kitson the title “Dreamer of the Year.” The award is meant to recognize someone who “reimagines what’s possible and builds stronger communities, for today and tomorrow,” while inspiring others to do the same.

In a statement, Bill Westrate, CEO of American Family Insurance Group, a sponsor of the award, said: “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.”

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