The development of the West Villages reaches a major milestone this week with the groundbreaking of the community’s first retail center. For the approximately 5,000 homeowners who now live in the West Villages’ seven neighborhoods, retail is a top priority since none exists yet in this Mattamy Homes master-planned community.
“Retail transforms neighborhoods,” Christine Masney, West Villages vice president of marketing, said during a tour of the development. “That’s what everyone is waiting for.”
The 15,000-acre development’s building boom and home sales are on pace to create some 25,000 residential units over the next three decades, with a projected 50,000 to 60,000 residents. Sales are expected to average 1,200 annually.
“What’s important to know is that we’re building a new town,” said Paul Erhardt, president of the West Villages. “We view it in that sense. We’re thoughtfully building a master plan.”
The South County expanse of one-time ranchland ranks as the fifth-fastest-growing master-planned community in the country based on home sales.
“We’re creating a place where people will want to live, a place to experience a great lifestyle,” Erhardt said.
A 47,000-square-foot Publix Supermarket will anchor the Marketplace, as the retail plaza will be known. The 105,000-square-foot project, a joint venture of West Villages and the Sembler Co., will sport a mix of local, regional and national service providers and restaurants “designed to make life easier and more convenient for residents and visitors,” Masney said
Casual sit-down and fast-casual restaurants, a full-service gas station and service-related merchants (dry cleaner, shipping/packing center, banking, hair salon, etc.) will populate the plaza.
Outparcels and plaza space remain available, but not for just any company. Several fast-food restaurants interested in locating there were turned down, Erhardt said.
The architecture will showcase “sort of a West Indies look,” Masney said. “It will not feel like any other Publix.”
“We did not want the typical strip center architecture,” Erhardt said, calling it “foresight architecture.”
The neighborhood shopping center will be at the corner of West Villages Parkway and U.S. 41. The center is scheduled to open by Thanksgiving 2019.
The second essential element vital to building appeal is Town Center, now in the design phase as an urban-inspired retail destination where dining, entertainment and shops are combined with waterfront activities, public spaces and high-density residential.
Groundbreaking is several years away as Mattamy works through permitting with the Army Corps of Engineers to create a 60-acre lake.
“Our Town Center will be the gathering place of the community, a place where you want to go, the place you want to spend the night, where we have the dining and entertainment,” Erhardt said.
Town Center will be at the same intersection as the Marketplace.
The $125 million Atlanta Braves spring training complex will be another “fantastic building block of the lifestyle of West Villages,” Erhardt said. “It’ll be part of everyday life here.”
The complex will not shutter once spring training ends. The tiki bar inside the ballpark will be open year-round for anyone to visit for a drink and bar food, Masney said. With subscriptions to all the major sports packages, the Braves will showcase top games on the big screen and elsewhere. Concerts and movies will also appear on the schedule. A farmer’s market will locate there.
Construction is on track for completion in late March, in time for the Braves to play their final spring training game at their new park, Erhardt said.
West Villages retains ownership of an open grassy area just outside the ballpark in order to hold community events there.
Other than the finished and occupied homes, a large part of the West Villages looks like a big-boy sandbox with earth movers, dump trucks and other construction vehicles scattered all over the place. Much of the work is building roads and installing other infrastructure.
A drilling rig reaches into the sky at one massive construction site. A mountain of soil, piles of large and small pipes, all the requisite construction vehicles and a small army of workers fill the landscape that will be home to the development’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.
“This is an important milestone for West Villages,” Erhardt said of the groundbreaking ceremony for the plant in May. When complete in January 2020, the $45 million facility will be handed over to the city of North Port to operate.
Preto Road, currently under construction, will connect the future Town Center with Playmore Road to the south and eventually link up with Manasota Beach Road. Playmore, also under construction, runs east-west and links with West Villages Parkway at the intersection with the Braves ballpark. West Villages Parkway connects River Road to Tamiami Trail and the Braves ballpark and will be extended farther south.
Parks, nature trails, bike lanes, wide sidewalks and connections between neighborhoods highlight the “wellness and healthy living focus here,” Erhardt said. Blue Heron Park will open late this month with a dog park. Some of the trails along with boardwalks will be set amid the many acres of preserves.
State College of Florida opened a branch campus here, and the School District of Sarasota County and Sarasota Memorial Hospital own land for future expansion projects.
Toronto-based Mattamy Homes, recognized as North America’s largest privately owned homebuilder, is the builder in only one of West Villages seven neighborhoods. The company announced over the summer that it is beginning Phase 2 of its Renaissance development, where a 9,000-square-foot Renaissance Clubhouse is to open this fall.
The homebuilder has a current investment in the West Village approaching $150 million. “There is far more money coming in than going out,” Erhardt said.
Last month, Mattamy announced key operating results for the fourth quarter ended May 31. Highlights included home sales closures increasing 9.3 percent to 3,147 from 2,880 in the prior-year quarter. For the full year ending in May, home sales closed increased 5.9 percent, to 7,163, from 6,762 in the same months in the prior year.
Mattamy specializes in master-planned communities but also builds neighborhoods in others, including townhomes in Harmony at Lakewood Ranch and paired villas and single-family homes in Sunrise Preserve at Palmer Ranch.
The Lakewood Ranch comparison
It’s impossible to avoid comparing West Villages and Mattamy with Lakewood Ranch and Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, except Schroeder-Manatee has been in the game a lot longer with a lot more land.
All the neighborhoods in both sport rock walls with the developments’ name, grand entrances, imposing amenity centers and clubhouses, lots of lakes and green space, nature preserves, active lifestyle choices and red-hot growth.
Last week, Schroeder-Manatee broke ground on Waterside Place, which will feature shops, restaurants, offices and entertainment as well as an 8-acre peninsula park that. The town center will be the focal point for the developer’s Waterside development in north Sarasota County. Lakewood Ranch ranks second on the list of top-selling master-planned communities.
Lakewood Ranch already has its Main Street city center farther north.
If you arrived blindfolded at one of the completed residential neighborhoods in either the West Villages or Lakewood Ranch, you would have a difficult time telling which one you were in.