Developers behind one of the decade's most ambitious housing communities in Southwest Florida are shaping their plans with an eye to another popular beach destination 470 miles up the coast.
Partners Carlos Beruff and Larry Lieberman want to transform their 523-acre tract of west Manatee County land into a resort-style village modeled after the WaterColor community near Destin in the Florida Panhandle.
Much like WaterColor, early blueprints for Long Bar Pointe are anchored by a luxury resort, an assortment of housing options, a central shopping area and post-card views of Florida waters.
But Beruff and Lieberman plan to borrow additional details of the St. Joe Co.-backed WaterColor from the Charleston, S.C.-style architecture of the homes to the wooded walking trails and contour of the neighborhood streets.
"Subdivisions are cold, there's no sense of community," Beruff said last week during a chartered jet trip to scout WalterColor with engineers and other principals of his Bradenton homebuilding company.
"This is the feel we are trying to create. Every property doesn't lend itself well for this ours does."
WaterColor and Seaside
WaterColor and its older neighbor, Seaside, flank a half-mile stretch of the Gulf of Mexico midway between Pensacola and Panama City.
Both communities center around a small downtown shopping hub dotted with clothing boutiques, antique stores, cafés, wine bars and realty offices.
Condominiums and apartments sit atop the retail on the second and third floors.
Homes in the 499-acre WaterColor district generally are two and three stories each, with townhomes mingled between single-family houses. The architecture takes notes from Key West cottages, southern estates in Charleston and the Victorian accents brought to America by British colonists.
The houses sit closer to one another than most traditional subdivisions in Southwest Florida, and the front setbacks from the street also are minimal, with driveways and most parking garages accessed through small alleys behind the homes.
Waist-high picket fences are common. So are southern-style front porches propped up by large columns with hammocks, patio furniture and barbecue grills concealed by the mature Florida landscape.
There is now a 50-foot height restriction on all new construction in WaterColor to prevent any mid-rise vacation condos, like the ones that line Gulf of Mexico Drive on Longboat Key.
"I want to reduce the amount of concrete and reduce the amount of face curb," Beruff said. "You can't tell where the single-family and multi-family end because they all commingle together. It's just a great look. It creates a sense of neighborhood."
The brick paver roads in the central part of town are narrowed to reduce speeding, with thin curbing and parallel parking for house guests.
Pedestrians on bikes and upscale golf-carts almost outnumber the motorists.
The entire village is connected through trail walkways that snake from the residential to the resort and commercial areas, with dozens of small pocket parks adorned by benches and trees.
Boardwalk and 2,700 residences
Beruff hopes to create a similar vision for the 2,700 residences he is planning for Long Bar Pointe with comparable size and density to WaterColor.
But for the development to become as successful, Beruff also knows he must find a reason to bring local traffic into the community, so it is not exclusively dependent on district homeowners and resort guests.
That is where Long Bar's proposed boardwalk comes into play.
The half-mile promenade overlooking Florida mangroves and Sarasota Bay would be a public park for joggers and nature observers similar to Sarasota's Marina Jack. It also is where the majority of Long Bar's retail and restaurants will be.
Beruff believes the bay attraction can become the staple for his development, like the beaches are to WaterColor.
He also has proposed bringing in a water taxi to the village shuttling the public between Bradenton Beach and the Long Bar commercial hub.
More than 500 communities around the globe have used the urbanism model at Seaside as a basis for their development, said Jon Ervin, director of marketing and communication for Visit South Walton.
"You can travel there, park your car and have no reason to get back in for the rest of the day," Ervin said. "The lifestyle and pace is different not just the construction. It has a very picket-fence feel."
Perhaps the most vital aspect of the Long Bar Pointe plan for Southwest Florida would be the addition of a new five-star hotel filling a hole in the market that local tourism officials have worried about for years.
There are no hotels in Manatee County rated above three stars, which allows luxury Sarasota hoteliers like the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota to pick up bookings from Bradenton-related tourism, including many athletes visiting IMG Sports Academy.
Although the 250-room resort at Long Bar Pointe would satisfy that perceived need, officials at the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau declined to comment on the project, which has sparked tension with local environmental groups.
Also in the tourism vein, the Long Bar Pointe resort is expected to include a 70,000-square-foot convention center and chapel for destination weddings.
That is an area of the tourism business that Anna Maria Island has tapped for years, drawing a national and international audience as a wedding site.
"This will be the single most important project in Bradenton for the next decade," said Stan Rutstein, a commercial real estate specialist with the Re/Max Alliance Group. "The core of Bradenton really needs to get going again, and this will drive that."