January 03, 2017

Person to Watch in 2017: Babcock Ranch’s Syd Kitson

By: Vicki Parsons - IT


Submitted Jan. 01, 2017

Syd Kitson

Position: CEO of Kitson & Partners

Background: Played guard for the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys

Babcock goal: To be a model community for other developers

Why is Kitson & Partners CEO Syd Kitson one to watch in 2017?

How long do you have?

In December, the Palm Beach Gardens-based developer was tapped to lead the Florida Chamber of Commerce this year, for good reason.

Not only does Kitson put a charismatic face on the group’s pro-business agenda, he’s bridged differences with conservation groups where other developers have failed, and brokered one of the biggest land deals in state history.

In Southwest Florida, look for Kitson’s long-nurtured 17,000-acre solar town, Babcock Ranch, to strut its first products in south Charlotte County; not only to consumers but also investors.

For those reasons, Kitson, along with U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney and Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs, were nominated as The News-Press’ People to Watch in 2017. They will be recognized during a People of the Year event at Florida Gulf Coast University on Feb. 21.

This is the year Babcock will build 40 to 60 homes connected to its in-ground fiber optic wi-fi cable. The year the first students will enroll in its K-8 charter school, the doors of its downtown commercial district will open, and its 75-megawatt solar plant will go live.

It’s also the year Kitson may get a green light to build a regional tourism hub around 40 amateur baseball fields in Lee County, on 300 Babcock acres he would gift to Iowa-based Perfect Game.

Because his investors believe commercial property in Florida is a good play, also expect the developer to launch other mixed use projects in Southwest Florida and beyond  —  maybe even another Babcock-sized undertaking on the east coast.

All of this doesn’t mean the new town will score huge profits in 2017. But that’s OK; it doesn’t have to.

Unlike most other master plan developers, Kitson has what a company spokeswoman called “patient money” – a back-end of $85 billion in public pools of capital managed by investment partner Evergreen, a Chicago-based private equity investor whose clients include public pension funds such as the Washington State Investment Board.

It was Evergreen that enabled the developer to wait out the mid-2000s mortgage crisis by restructuring $48.2 million in debt, and to plow capital into Babcock that’s expected to bear larger fruit over a longer horizon.

So while one measure of the town’s success will be the sale of its first homes, its value can also be seen in the snow-balling of assets and entitlements in an independent special district that levies its own impact fees.

In Florida, only one other development has been given that authority. Walt Disney World.