Kevin McQuaid | Business Observer
The planned Murdock Village in Charlotte County languished for nearly two decades as other communities in Southwest Florida – most namely Babcock Ranch, whose inception in Charlotte came around the same time – shook off the last decade’s devastating recession and flourished.
But now, one of the area’s most prolific land investors and a West Palm Beach-based developer and homebuilder are breathing new life into the long-stalled master-planned community.
Kolter Group’s land development division intends to oversee construction of more than 1,000 new homes and 300 apartments in the newly renamed Westport project, after buying 394 acres from Fort Myers-based Private Equity Group last summer.
“We believe that Charlotte County’s time has come,” says Jim Harvey, president of Kolter Land. “If you look at the nearby West Villages, that part of Southern Sarasota County has really exploded and gotten fairly expensive. Westport is less than 10 miles away. We’re planning a high-quality community at more affordable prices.”
Despite the sale to Kolter, Private Equity also will continue its involvement with Westport, the result of more than 40 acres of land it retained that is zoned for commercial and multifamily uses. Private Equity’s property is zoned for 300 apartment units, some 200,000 square feet of commercial space and a 150-room hotel in a project to be called “Commons at Westport.”
Private Equity officials declined to comment on its overall $11.6 million purchase of Murdock Village from Charlotte County or its future plans for its remaining acreage, and Kolter’s purchase price remains undisclosed because the company acquired the limited liability company Private Equity had established to own the land, thereby avoiding public disclosure laws.
“They’re very particular in how they approach projects and in what projects they pursue,” says Brett Low, a land dispositions and acquisitions specialist at LandQwest Commercial Real Estate Services, a Fort Myers-based commercial real estate brokerage.
“They move fast, they’re incredibly diligent and they’re very good at what they do,” says Low (See related story, following page) of Private Equity.
Harvey says Kolter will tap at least four homebuilders with existing product in Charlotte and Lee counties to build its Westport homes, which will likely be priced beginning at $350,000 to $400,000 and catering to families and retirees alike.
“There’s a lot of demand for home product in the low $350,000 range,” Harvey says. “At West Villages, which is nearby and a community we look to for comparables, homes start at $350,000 and go up from there, and most are in the $400,000s, so that prices a lot of people out.”
He also believes that the design that has gone into Westport to date, together with planned amenities and the eventual mix of commercial space, will set the community apart.
“Charlotte County hasn’t seen a lot of master-planned communities with amenities,” he says. “Typically, there’ve been a lot of plotted lots and that’s it. People don’t want to live like that anymore.”
He expects the community to be built over the next six to seven years, with planned apartments to be constructed within that time frame, and all of Westport’s homes to be sold within a decade.
“I won’t be surprised to see the multifamily project go very quickly,” he says. “There’s a lot of demand in that area and there’s not a lot of inventory at present.”
In addition to its master-planned status, Harvey also thinks that the community’s proximity to existing attractions will also boost interest.
“There’s a lot of great infrastructure in place in that area already,” Harvey says, including the Tampa Bay Rays’ and the Atlanta Braves’ Spring Training facilities, beaches at Boca Grande, the Punta Gorda Airport, nearby schools, a hospital and retail centers, the North Charlotte Regional Park and an aquatic center.
Harvey also believes Babcock Ranch, a master-planned community straddling Charlotte and Lee counties that got its start roughly 15 years ago, only helps its efforts at Westport.
“We’re pleasantly surprised by how they’ve done,” Harvey says of the Kitson Partners’ project. “They’re selling 400-plus homes with very little infrastructure in place.”
Kolter, too, has an impressive array of residential projects in the works in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. In Manatee County, the company is developing a 400-home site in Parrish called Eagles Point; an 1,100-home community known as Trevesta, in Palmetto; Summerwoods, where 1,000 homes will also be constructed in Parrish; and Willow Walk, another 800-home community in Palmetto.
In Sarasota County the company is developing some 750 home sites in two communities, Worthington and Artistry.
And while Charlotte County trimmed its position through the Private Equity sale, the county will continue with the development. It still owns 120 acres on the eastern side of Murdock Village, where another amenity-rich residential development has been proposed.
Charlotte County has owned the village property since 2006, after paying more than $100 million for the entire 1,100 acres that comprises Murdock Village.
Harvey, for one, says the county’s continued ownership is a boon to the overall project.
“The county has been a great partner in this,” Harvey says. “They recognize that the time is now and that they made a huge investment and they have to recoup that investment through sales and subsequent development.”
“Charlotte County has been very easy to deal with,” he says. “They want business there. We’d love to put in a grocery store in Westport, in fact, and an extended-stay hotel is also definitely being talked about.”