On April 22, Earth Day, the sun will begin to rise on a brand new world in Florida. Babcock Ranch, the country’s first solar-powered city will celebrate the unveiling of its 18,000-acre mixed-use development in Southwest Florida’s Charlotte county.
The development, which will be completed across 25 years, is the result of the largest conservation land agreement in Florida history.
Babcock Ranch is a place inspired by the past, but engineered for the present, it is a new approach to community-creation utilizing new technologies while engaging with nature. Located on an area larger than Manhattan – more than half of the town will be dedicated to natural greenways, parks, and lakes making it America’s most walkable, hikeable, bikeable, town with neighborhoods and public resources linked together by an extensive greenway and trail system.
It will be a city powered by the sun, but fueled by a concept termed “civitas” – a basic hometown pride and a calling to participate and belong. Residents will be able to choose from close to 20,000 homes in all price ranges and enjoy 6 million square feet of retail, commercial, office and community areas.
In a video introducing the concept of Babcock Ranch, Kitson & Partners’ CEO Syd Kitson, describes it as America’s “city of tomorrow” with purpose.
“While a lot of communities talk about being environmentally responsible, Babcock Ranch is the real deal; an entitled sustainable city integrated with nature that will change the way people think about living and working in the 21st century.”
Building on that declaration the very same year, Kitson & Partners joined with Florida Power & Light to announce plans to build the world’s largest solar photovoltaic power plant making Babcock Ranch the first solar powered city in the United States.
“When you turn a light on during the day when the sun is shining,” Kitson explains “it will be solar energy powering that light. At night when the sun goes down, it’s going to be powered by natural gas which is also a very clean form of energy.”
Work on the solar power plant began in October on 450 acres adjacent to the Babcock Development and is expected to be almost two times the size as the current largest array and connect to the main grid. This process will allow a consistent supply of energy on overcast days. With days of full sunshine, the solar power plant will infuse the excess power generated back into the electrical grid.
“You will literally have the cleanest source of energy possible going into Babcock Ranch. What we are really hoping to happen here is we want to be a living laboratory for companies to come in and try out their technology. You and I both know that the ‘holy grail’ for renewable energy is storage. So we are talking to companies who have the technology to accomplish those things.”
Supporting Kitson’s outreach to this industry is the study conducted by independent research firm Fishkind & Associates, where it found that Babcock Ranch would generate 20,000 permanent jobs encompassing a vast range of businesses and income levels ranging from retail to high tech, not to mention the additional temporary jobs created in construction and related fields during the next 25 years. These newly created jobs would sustain up to 50,000 residents in 19,000 households throughout the four villages and five hamlets within the City of Babcock Ranch.
Companies interested in relocating to the development would be only 20 miles north of Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers and close to Interstate 75.
Established in 1914, by Pittsburgh mayor and lumber baron, Edward Vose Babcock, Babcock Ranch is located near Fort Myers and Punta Gorda. The 91,000 acres was used primarily for Florida’s agricultural and logging industries. With the death of Babcock’s son in 1997, the Babcock heirs decided to sell the entire acreage to the state of Florida providing what conservationists called ‘the missing piece’ establishing an environmental corridor from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf Coast.
The state offered $455 million in 2005, but negotiations fell through due in part to the arrangement of the transaction and tax liabilities.
Stepping into the fallout of the broken discussions with the state, Palm Beach-based real estate firm Kitson & Partners signed a contract for the purchase of the property in July 2005, and developed a plan to sell more than 74,000 acres to the state of Florida for preservation with the state retaining all ranching operations and employees under its ownership. The deal was finalized with the Babcock family, the state of Florida and Lee County on July 31, 2006.
A decade later, the sun will rise on Babcock Ranch to power a community and light a better way toward a more sustainable Florida.