North Port Real Estate Summit hints at future commercial growth
NORTH PORT – While Corporate America is evaluating the impact of COVID-19 on future expansion, experts agree that North Port and other communities, as it is, are a sweet spot for growth. This was one of several key messages that emerged from the fifth annual North Port Real Estate Summit on Friday.
Ron Starner, executive vice president of Site Selection Magazine, said the shift to remote working sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic will continue, and businesses across large metropolitan areas will look to such as the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton statistical metropolitan area as they expand want.
“Instead of people chasing jobs, jobs are now chasing people,” Starner said. “Better to be North Port now than New York, LA, all the big cities.”
Starner, the only keynote speaker to appear at North Port City Hall, and others who appeared via Zoom at a summit billed as a hybrid summit, have long been upbeat in North Port.
At previous peaks, he cited the Atlanta Braves’ decision to build their spring training facility in the West Villages area of Wave Park in North Port as a trailblazer that put the city on the map.
Starner found that the most attractive locations: Texas, North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia – in that order – became more attractive. He also emphasized the importance of having potential development sites ready to shovel.
Brian Bailey, a commercial real estate expert at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, opened the hybrid conference with a discussion of the general state of employment growth.
Bailey noted that access to safe and affordable childcare is a major barrier to re-entry into the workforce after the pandemic.
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Another important issue, he said, is the existence of affordable Grade B and C housing that is not being built in most locations – although there are still homes in North Port considered affordable compared to other parts of Florida and the country .
Bailey noted that North Port lags behind land (35.5 square feet) at 28.4 square feet per capita; State (55.2 square feet); and Sarasota (60.7 square feet). But he also fears that given the changing economy, the country may have too much retail space. The types of businesses that occupy this space – such as day care, services, or take away grocers – are also crucial.
Jim Damicis and Tom Dworetsky of Camoin Associates – the consultants who recently completed an economic feasibility study for North Port that highlighted the need to create shovel-ready projects for future growth – provided an overview of their work.
Since the study was published, the city has pledged to use funds from the American Rescue Plan to expand water and sewage to the I-75 transportation hub with Toledo Blade, known as the Panacea area. I-75 Sumter Boulevard, known as the Gateway; and the area of warm mineral springs.
Damicis noted that expanding the utilities to Gateway and Panacea would bring the greatest economic return – Panacea in particular.
He said the market will ultimately determine what is developed, with office and hotel providing a better return on investment than manufacturing, but added that it is important to offer a mix.
While much of the summit focused on greater efforts, Sondra Guffey, a business and marketing development specialist with the City of North Port, discussed how the city is also putting in place a plan to market its commercial space in the neighborhood.
The 21 commercial centers in the neighborhood, which are typically 5 to 10 acres, offer options for everything from dog grooming and florists to daycare.
“This is actually what today’s workers are looking for,” Starner said. “It’s such neighborhoods, it’s such communities.”
Earle Kimel primarily covers southern Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.