A classified ad might read: In search of a master developer who can perform a resurrection in hotbed Southwest Florida, between Sarasota and Punta Gorda.

Charlotte County in December issued requests for proposal from builder-developers to create a public-private partnership to develop Murdock Village, a mixed-use community it has in mind for the 1,200-acre parcel it owns near Interstate 95 between North Port and Punta Gorda in burgeoning southwest Florida. But it, too, is in search of quality.

The project is approved for 3,200 residential units and up to 3 million square feet of commercial space. Exactly how that plays out will be up to the eventual developer. “The only thing we're saying is that we want it to be neo-traditional, with apartments above retail and commercial spaces, and with lots of walkability,” says redevelopment manager Debrah Forester.

Forester says her office has been in discussions with several big builders to develop the expansive property, including Lennar and WCI, both of which are based in south Florida. Negotiations were furthest along with Lennar, she says. But when talks broke down over the amount of the “break-up fee” the company was seeking, the county decided to move forward with its RFP.

The site has been assembled by the county from small urban lots created when Florida land developers blue-printed subdivision after subdivision when there was little or no demand for them. The long-gone General Development Corp. alone platted more than 70 subdivisions in the area, often several square miles in size but usually with minimal infrastructure.

In the Murdock redevelopment area, for example, only 80 quarter-acre lots have residences on them. Compounding that, the remaining lots are subject to self-renewing deed restrictions which limit them to single-family use. In 2002, the Urban Land Institute recommended that the land be “un-platted” and re-assembled into larger pieces more appropriate for development. The county complied. All the land save for 74 lots along an intended commercial strip along State Road 41 has been acquired, says redevelopment manager Forester, and now the process is on hold pending a deal with a single master developer.

“This is a bold step for any local government,” the county says. But unless it acts now to seize an opportunity to establish “an economic and social hub for the future” by re-engineering and redeveloping the site, it may not be able to afford to do so in the future. To date, the county has spent more than half the $75 million estimated cost to assemble the property.

The property has enough entitlements in place for between 3,900 to 4,900 residences, and at least a million square feet of non-residential development before a state mandated regional impact review process would be triggered. And other than a requirement that a 100-acre park on the site be saved—or an equivalent built elsewhere on the property—and that a couple of main corridors be preserved along with a “significant” town center as part of the plan, Murdock Village is practically an empty canvas.

Florida's Finest (Sarasota market) SOURCE: HANLEY WOOD MARKET INTELLIGENCE

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Punta Gorda, FL.