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Tavistock's Role in Developing Rural Florida

Nobody has done more to spur interest in east-central Florida than Tavistock, the private investment firm founded by billionaire Joe Lewis. The company’s 17-square-mile Lake Nona development is one of the fastest-growing master-planned communities in the United States, attracting 1,000 to 1,500 residents a year who buy homes at an average price of $522,000. Tavistock has combined a visionary approach to development with a knack for persuading government leaders to provide incentives and investment, which have fostered the growth of the life-sciences cluster known as Medical City and a burgeoning sports-and-performance district, anchored by a new U.S. Tennis Association National Training Campus and soonto- be-built training facilities for Orlando City Soccer. The development will also be home to a training facility for accounting giant KPMG.

Tavistock has “created tremendous momentum” in the region, says Jim Lentz, founder of Harmony Development, which is building an 11,000-acre community farther south in Osceola County.

Lake Nona, which was acquired by Tavistock in 1996 and now has about 12,000 residents and 5,000 on-site employees, won’t be built out until around 2031. Tavistock has continued to expand the project’s footprint, most recently working to finalize a deal to buy 1,800 adjacent acres from the authority that runs Orlando International Airport, which would add space for more than 3,000 homes and apartments. But the community is growing so quickly that Tavistock is looking elsewhere to sustain its growth.

Enter Deseret Ranch. Tavistock executives have been cultivating a relationship with ranch leaders for more than a decade, since the head of Tavistock’s development arm hit it off with a Utah-based landplanning attorney who has worked as a “visioning” consultant for Deseret as the ranch began to develop its sector plans

The relationship paid off when Deseret chose Tavistock to be the developer for the first phase of its vast holdings: A 24,000- acre project that the two companies have named Sunbridge.

Split between Orange and Osceola counties, the long-term plans call for nearly 37,000 homes and apartments, nearly 20 million square feet of commercial space and about 3,000 hotel rooms. It also includes unique environmental jewels, such as one of the last unbroken and undeveloped chain of lakes in the Orlando region.

Tavistock’s early plans are vague but ambitious. The company says Sunbridge will serve as an “intersection of community and nature,” where every home could be its own trailhead, connecting to thousands of acres dedicated to green space, lakes and farming. Much like it carved out a lifesciences niche in Lake Nona, Tavistock says its envisions Sunbridge as the site of a future employment cluster focused on agriculture, food production and water conservation. If all goes according to plan, Sunbridge will break ground in 2018 and remain in development until 2047.

Jim Zboril, president of Tavistock Development, says the company has long viewed Lake Nona as something of a proving ground on which it can test new ideas. Sunbridge, he says, is where those ideas will be rolled out on a wider scale.

Tavistock Development Orlando

The head of the Tavistock Group’s development arm, Jim Zboril has had a hand in the development of more than 25,000 acres in Florida during a 30-year career in real estate. Rasesh Thakkar, senior managing director of Tavistock, recruited him in 2004 from Core Communities, whose developments include Tradition in Port St. Lucie, and asked him to help “activate” the land surrounding the Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, which Tavistock had acquired in 1996. Tavistock credits Zboril and Thakkar with orchestrating the creation of Lake Nona’s Medical City. His responsibilities include overseeing the preparation and launch of Sunbridge, which is roughly twice the size of Lake Nona. Both Zboril’s and Tavistock’s influence in the region seem destined to grow. There are persistent rumors that Tavistock is scouting more land in the area. And many people assume that, should Sunbridge go well, Deseret Ranch will turn again to Tavistock as it continues developing.

The Counties

Osceola

When Deseret Ranch began its planning process, Osceola County was so willing to accommodate the ranch that it signed on as a co-applicant on the largest of Deseret’s two plans.

County leaders have pushed hard for a new toll beltway that would also serve as the first piece of the broad highway network serving Deseret and the rest of the region. Osceola officials believe the road will stimulate new development.

Osceola has also invested more than $200 million in money and land for a research-and-development center called BRIDG that could be used to manufacture prototypes for the next generation of electronic sensors — and entice high-tech companies to locate in a surrounding county-owned research park, called NeoCity. The project is as much a housing play as it is a jobs play.

Orange

Orange County wasn’t interested in participating when Deseret Ranch began to plan for its development, but the relationship between county and ranch has since warmed, says Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. Central Florida’s largest government has become broadly supportive of the Sunbridge project, for instance, agreeing to a deal in which Tavistock will build a four-lane arterial road for the project in exchange for impact-fee credits. Jacobs, who has traveled to Utah to meet with church leaders, credits Orlando personal injury attorney Rulon Munns, who is Mormon, with helping to bring the two sides together. But the county still isn’t ready to endorse a sector plan with Deseret on the 70,000 acres it owns east of Sunbridge. “It’s not ripe yet,” Jacobs says.

Brevard

Deseret is unlikely to develop its Brevard property because of its value as farmland. But county leaders are excited about the ranch’s plans, says Curt Smith, chairman of the Brevard County Commission. In particular, Smith says a new east-west expressway would help by giving his county a more direct connection to Orlando International Airport — and by adding another way out in case of a hurricane evacuation.

See other stories from Florida Trend's September issue.

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