September 21, 2014

Community Portrait

Sarasota County - City of North Port

| 1/1/2011

» North Port is Sarasota County’s largest city, with more than 56,000 residents but is still largely undeveloped. Only 20% of the city’s land area is built out.

» With a median age of under 40 and median income of around $51,000, the city is younger and less affluent than the county’s northern tier, including Sarasota.

» Population is nearly 90% white, non-Hispanic, 5.6% African-American and 5.2% Hispanic.

Northport
Once a retiree haven, North Port now attracts a younger population, with a median age of around 38.
Created by the infamous General Development Corp., North Port in southern Sarasota County once embodied suburban sprawl as a growth strategy. The city had more than 50,000 platted lots ready for home builders and working-class residents who couldn’t afford to live in northern Sarasota County, but not much else in the way of civic infrastructure. In recent years, however, North Port has begun thinking differently about the kind of community it wants to be and has taken a planned, progressive approach to growth. The city has spent heavily on quality-of-life amenities. It has improved Toledo Blade Boulevard, the largest gateway road into the community, enhanced its parks, built schools, a small performing arts center and projects like the nearly complete North Port Youth Community Center. The University of South Florida has a branch operation in the city. Meanwhile, the city’s growing population gave it increased political clout in a county that once turned its nose up at its southern tier.

The population has grown younger and more diverse, both ethnically and economically. Once dominated by retirees, the community now has a median age of around 38 and is home to many young families, including a small but growing cadre of professionals. Under Economic Development Director Allan Lane, the city has worked to keep existing businesses while marketing itself heavily in order to diversify its business base, which currently is 90% small retail and service firms.

Warm Mineral Springs
The city is attempting to purchase Warm Mineral Springs, a big draw for European tourists.? [Photo: Scott Keeler, St. Petersburg Times]
The city has recently created a revolving loan guarantee fund for existing and prospective businesses. Most residents still commute to work elsewhere, evidenced by the 28.3-minute average commute time.

Other challenges include the effects of the real estate bust: Only 20% built out, North Port still has plenty of empty platted lots. Another is whether the city can successfully leverage a unique amenity, Warm Mineral Springs, that it and Sarasota County are attempting to purchase from a private owner. The springs, whose waters have the highest mineral content of any in the U.S., draw large numbers of international tourists but remain relatively unknown in Florida and domestically.

North Port Youth Community Center.
North Port has invested in quality-of-life projects like the North Port Youth Community Center.

A Community Portrait of Sarasota County

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